For nearly 400 years, a tiny Spanish town has gone by a name that should make the blood curdle: Castrillo Matajudios, or Castrillo Kill Jews. Now, residents of the town have voted to do away with the offensive name, but you won’t believe how the town came to be called that in the first place.
Agence France-Presse reported this week that, in a 29-19 vote, the residents of Castrillo Matajudios decided to change the northern Spanish town’s name to Mota de Judios. Mota de Judios translates to “Hill of the Jews,” according to the town’s mayor, Lorenzo Rodriguez. It’s a name that predates the “Kill Jews” moniker, even though the other, anti-Semitic name dates back to 1623.
The decision came because residents were finally fed up with the jokes, questions, and outrage they were facing from outsiders, who took the ostensibly anti-Semitic name at face value.
“When you travel elsewhere,” Rodriguez told AFP, “you always have to explain, because people say, ‘You kill Jews in Castrillo.'”
That’s not the case, of course, and the mayor explained that the origins of the town are quite the opposite of anti-Semitic.
The town was founded in 1035 as a safe haven for persecuted Spanish Jews. As it was settled on a hill, it was called “Hill of the Jews.” The town eventually changed its name to Matajudios in the wave of anti-Semitism surrounding the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. That act of religious persecution was a precursor to the better-known Spanish Inquisition, though perhaps no one expected that Matajudios would retain its offensive name for so long.
And why did the town change its name? One archaeologist believes that the descendants of the founders of the town changed it in order to demonstrate their piety. The original founders had been Jewish, and only those Jews who converted to Roman Catholicism were allowed to stay in Spain. Those who did not convert faced expulsion or execution by burning at the stake.
The town’s current residents hope that the name change will allow them to move past the troubled history of the area, but the move will not nearly close the book on anti-Semitism in Spain and Europe at large. The town hall will review the vote on June 3, and the process for changing the name could take between six months to a year.