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The History of the Jews in New Zealand

Chapter II — The Jews Come to Holland

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Chapter II
The Jews Come to Holland

Nominally, no Jews lived in Portugal after 1497. The country teemed with new Christians, or Marranos—pigs, as they were called by their unconverted brethren. The bulk resided in Lisbon and in the other seaboard ports, forming the majority of the shipowning and merchant class. As unobtrusively as circumstances allowed, the new Christians left the Iberian Peninsula by every ship, sailing to new lands where they hoped to discard the distasteful mask they were forced to wear. Every ship carried Marranos to the north, east, south and west. The caravels of Juan Sanches, a Saragossan Marrano, reached Mexico and Peru, Haiti and Santo Domingo in the early sixteenth century. Their numbers in the New World grew to such proportions that Queen Juanna of Castile hastily introduced the Inquisition into her newly acquired territories. By May 1520, Charles V had established his inquisitorial machinery throughout the Americas and his priests and Jesuits gloried in the task of eliminating heretics and heresy in Mexico, Peru, Central America and the West Indies. Despite the cruelty of the edicts and bans, distance lent enchantment, stimulating emigration until, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Philip III became so perturbed that he promulgated an anti-emigration law, restricting certain classes settling in the Spanish colonies. He proclaimed: "We command and decree that no one recently converted to our holy faith, be he Moor or Jew, or the offspring of these, should settle in our Indies without our distinct permission."

About 1641, a notice addressed to the inhabitants of Lima and Los Charcos, the Bishoprics of Quito, Cuzco, Rio de La Plata, Paraguay, Tucuman, Santiago and Conception in the Dominions of Chile, Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Guamanga, Anequippa and Trizillo, invited the populace to inform the Inquisitors of anybody suspected of Judaism and heresy. Explicit instructions set out directions for the detection of Jews, Mohammedans, Lutherans and Alumbrados—persons who have made themselves saints and pretend to ecstasies and revelations.

Numbers left Portugal for North Africa and Turkey and many undertook to settle in the new colonies established in India and in the trading stations set up in Cochin and the East Indies. Whenever the Marranos escaped from the influence of the Spanish and the Portuguese they would discard their page 17 Christian cloak and reveal themselves openly as practising and conforming Jews. In India, the Grand Inquisitor began to operate in September 1565, this step being followed two years later by a command prohibiting Marranos leaving for the East Indies and making every captain responsible for any Jew discovered on his ship.

Some of the earliest refugees from Spain and Portugal fled to the Canary Islands and from there to Flanders. Not long after the beginning of the sixteenth century, colonies of New Christians established their headquarters at Bruges and Antwerp, and, strong in faith, secretly attended organized services conducted by rabbis especially invited and smuggled in from Italy. Their courage attracted other Italian Marranos to settle in Flemish cities. They even dared surreptitiously to publish a prayer-book. Their systematic smuggling of crypto-Jews from Portugal on their merchant ships led the Netherlands authorities to set up an unofficial Inquisition in Zeeland, which compelled some of the Marranos to land temporarily in England until such time as the coast would be clear for them to disembark in Flanders.

The continual widespread dispersion of the Portuguese Marranos to every part of the globe unquestionably resulted in a marked contribution by the Jews to the rise of Portugal as a great maritime nation. As soon as the crypto-Jews arrived in a new settlement they opened up trade with their relatives and brethren who had remained on the Portuguese seaboard. Bonds of blood, faith, struggle and persecution held the Marranos close together, each hoping that eventually they would attain a country where freedom would be found and where they could practise their religion without hindrance. The Marranos in Portugal through their wealth, position and experience would help their brethren overseas until they had established themselves in their new abode. The Marranos overseas sent goods and merchandise to their previous homeland in amounts which had never been reached before. Trading-houses abroad became a means of insurance in case of flight. The spice trade from India, although a royal prerogative, was exercised by the King through capable merchants, a large proportion of whom were New Christians. Francisco and Diego Mendes governed a mercantile and banking house which enjoyed virtually a monopoly of the spice trade between Lisbon and the Netherlands. Wary Marranos opened up branches in Antwerp, London, Hamburg and Amsterdam, and whenever suspicion fell upon them they would take refuge in their businesses abroad.

When, in 1580, Philip II of Spain became King of Portugal and closed the port of Lisbon to Holland, the Marranos in the Netherlands still procured Indian products. The flourishing and wealthy Jewish communities at Goa, the Malabar coast and Cochin, where they had erected many synagogues, sent their merchandise direct to Hamburg, from which town they were forwarded to Holland. The crypto-Jewish Hamburgers could also page 18 purchase merchandise directly from Lisbon, which consignments they passed on to their Flemish brethren. Practically all of the Indian trade with Northern Europe was conducted through the Portuguese Marranos whose hand was further strengthened by the struggle for freedom against Philip II by the Dutch and the claimant to the Portuguese throne, Don Antonio.

As a nephew of the King of Portugal, Antonio sought the Crown, supported by the New Christians as well as by a large section of the population. Philip II defeated him at Alcantara, so he fled to Holland and proceeded to Calais and then London where he resided with Dr Rodrigo Lopez, Queen Elizabeth's Jewish physician. At first the Queen of England and the States-General of the Netherlands, seeing in Antonio a means of diminishing the power of Philip, recognized him as King of Portugal. This gave protection to the Portuguese Marranos and encouraged them to increase their trade with the Indies, since the port of Lisbon was closed to the Dutch. Antonio sympathized with the Marranos, for his own mother was Iolanthe Gomez, a Jewess. The people of the Netherlands sympathized with them for, as Protestants, their common enemy was Philip II. This understanding led, from 1593, to the gradual migration of the Jews to Amsterdam where, in 1596, they were permitted to build a synagogue and practise their Judaism openly.

These good tidings, through the usual mysterious channels, reached Spain and Portugal, and immigrants poured into Holland where they immediately discarded the uncomfortable cloak of Christianity which they had worn. Among the immigrants came a youth, Menasseh ben Israel who, later in life as the Rabbi of Amsterdam, was destined to be the prophetic messenger who petitioned the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, to permit the Jews to return to England. Holland had been an exceedingly poor country. The wars with Spain impoverished it still more. The capital, therefore, which the Jews brought into Amsterdam became particularly welcome and made possible the organization of great trans-Atlantic companies and the equipping of trading expeditions.

Although the Jews were given asylum in Holland and the Dutch heeded the provision of the agreement when they joined in the Union of Utrecht which forbade persecution on religious grounds, yet prejudices against the Jews and jealousy of their influential commercial position aroused the envy of the inhabitants. Every Dutch burgher had a desire to participate in the trade with the Indies. Sailing under the Portuguese flag of Antonio, Cornells Houtman, in 1594, led the first Dutch fleet to the East Indies, having previously learnt the secrets of the trade on a visit to Lisbon—commercial and geographical data were at that time generally kept hidden from the public. After Houtman's return to Amsterdam, his successful venture led to commercial rivalry between, on the one hand, the ever-increasing number of wealthy Jewish merchants and shipowners arriving daily from the Portu- page 19 guese mainland and colonies, and, on the other hand, Dutch burghers who could see no good reason why the trade and wealth of the East should not belong to them.

When King Antonio died in Paris in 1595, the Dutch Government ceased to provide protection to its Portuguese citizens and their shipping. Portugal was now under the rule of Philip of Spain, who was at war with Holland. Private expeditions and privateers captured rich prize ships laden with precious stones and spices and the Jews could not recover the cargoes in the courts, for the Government would no longer take "enemy merchants" under its wing. Nevertheless, in spite of the jealousies and prejudices, the cultured, dignified demeanour of the Portuguese Jews won for them the respect of the populace, the right of worship and the privilege of competing in a trade which become more difficult year by year, yet which, with the passing of the generations, integrated itself within the sphere of Dutch commerce.

When the Christian shipowners of Amsterdam founded the Dutch East India Company in 1602, they determined that no Jews should become high officials or directors of the Company. When they needed the Jews, however, they did not hesitate to employ them. Don Samuel Palache and his brother Joseph, amongst the founders of the Amsterdam community, rendered valuable service to the Dutch East India Company. Joseph Palache served as Admiral of a fleet fitted out by the Sultan of Barbary to assist the Netherlands by piracy upon Spanish shipping. Samuel Palache acted as Consul for the Sultan of Barbary in the Netherlands territories.

The articles of association of the Dutch East India Company occasioned a great amount of astonishment in its day. It comprised the first experiment in a joint-stock undertaking in which the stock was negotiable. At first the Jews did not invest in the Company as they had no desire to pour money into a company which was in direct competition with them and which showed prejudice against Jews by prohibiting them from becoming directors. Only two Jews were registered amongst the original shareholders of the Company—Stephanus Cardoza, who took shares to the value of 1800 florins, and Elizabeth Pinto, who invested 3000 florins. However, as the influence and power of the Dutch East India Company grew, the Jews gradually bought up its shares, and by the end of the seventeenth century became the principal stockholders in Holland, controlling a quarter of its stock. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the relief and sustenance of the needy Jews of Amsterdam was obtained by a communal tax on the Jewish shareholders in the East India Company, which formed a principal source of income of the community in that period and for many years afterwards. Although a Jew did not become a director of the Company nor one of the Council of Seventeen until 1748, it is not unreasonable to assume page 20 that many minor posts were filled long before that date by relatives and friends of the principal shareholders.

The initiative and forceful enterprise of the directors and stockholders of the Dutch East India Company led them to establish a station as far distant as Java soon after the formation of the Company. Supported by the Government, its success was also assured by the intrepid men who served it, who displayed qualities of courage, efficiency and devotion apart from personal ambition. A charter for twenty-one years for the sole rights to trade with the East Indies, ousted the private companies which, previous to 1603, had established posts along the Java seaboard. Booty prizes of Spanish and Portuguese shipping also attracted the brave and wily Dutch sailors.

By 1609, the interests of the East India Company had grown to such an extent that it appointed Captain Both as Governor-General in Batavia. On his way home five years later he died, the Company appointing Jan Pieterszoon Coen to replace him. Brought up as a strict Calvinist, Coen was descended from Italian Marrano-Jewish parents who had converted to Protestantism. As a young man of twenty he had sailed to India on commercial exploration and, by the early age of twenty-six, because of his high intellectual ability and bravery, the Company appointed him Director-General of the Indian trade, this to be followed later by his appointment as Governor-General of Java. His zeal to establish a Dutch colonial empire and his religious fervour prompted him to commit fearful atrocities in the subjugation of Djakarta and the foundation of Batavia as the capital of the Dutch East Indies. His depredations amongst English shipping forced him, in 1627, to return secretly to Java disguised as a sailor when he was appointed for a second term of office, his first five-year term having ended in 1624. He died suddenly in 1629 at the early age of forty-two, deeply mourned by the Company and by the Dutch Government, by whom he was considered one of Holland's ablest men.

Seven years after the death of Coen, the directors of the East India Company commissioned Antony Van Diemen as Governor-General. During his term of office the Council of Seventeen of the Company directed Van Diemen to pay attention to a territory called Zuidland. A rumour existed of a large island in the Pacific, full of gold and inhabited by Jews. Obeying orders implicitly, the Governor, in 1642, sent Abel Janszoon Tasman on a voyage of discovery in the yacht Heemskirk and the flyboat Zeehaen. If a name can be an indication of origin, Tasman probably employed Jews amongst his crew, for his quartermaster was a sailor by the name of Cornelius Joppe. On 13 December, 1642, Tasman and his men beheld shores never before seen by white men, which the master of the expedition named Staaten Land and which was subsequently named New Zealand by Captain Cook. Tasman related in his diary that on 19 December, in the vicinity of what is page 21 now called Cook Strait, he sent a boat with seven men on board to warn the Zeehaen to be on its guard and not to allow too many of the natives, who were coming out in their double canoes, to climb on deck at one time. When the boat cleared the Heemskirk, the canoes paddled towards her and the foremost native, with a blunt-pointed pike, gave the quartermaster, Cornelius Joppe, a blow on his neck that made him fall overboard. Joppe and two others swam to their vessel and were taken on board. Three of the others were killed and a fourth mortally wounded. One dead man was carried away by the natives and, without doubt, eaten. Finding little chance of obtaining supplies, Tasman weighed anchor and sailed from the place which he named "Murderers' Bay". He rounded the northern portion of the North Island, unsuccessful in seeking refreshment along the coast because he was afraid of the natives who came out to meet him. After about three weeks in the area, Tasman left New Zealand without landing and without planting the flag of his country on its shores. Neither did he find gold or Jews. New Zealand must have made an unfavourable impression upon him and thus he must have reported to his principals, for the Dutch made no further attempt to possess the land or to investigate it.