Spanish Town Called 'Kill Jews' Has Changed its Name

Castrillo Matajudios
A regional government changed the name of a Spanish village that translated to Camp Kill Jews or Kill Jews Fort. Ricardo Ordonez/REUTERS

Updated | A town in northern Spain called Castrillo Matajudios, which translates to Camp Kill Jews or Kill Jews Fort, has changed its name. The village of roughly 50 residents, which is located 165 miles from Madrid, will now return to its historic name, Castrillo Mota de Judios, or Jews' Hill Camp.

The majority of residents voted in favor of the change last year after the local mayor broached the issue to regional government. On June 18, regional officials finalized the change, according to the government's Official Bulletin of Castilla and Leon. The official notice said the reason for the name change was "to recognize the Jewish origin of the town and considering that the current name is racist."

Lorenzo Rodriguez
Village residents first voted on the change last year. Village Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez presents a ballot. Ricardo Ordonez/REUTERS

Historians believe that the Jews' Hill Camp name dates to 1035 and referred to the exiled Jews who settled there. By the 1620s, however, documents listed the name as Camp Kill Jews. It's possible that the change from mota to mata, or hill to kill, was accidental, but historians have said that it more likely was related to the Spanish Inquisition and the royal decree of 1492, which forced Jews to flee the country or convert under threat of death. Jewish converts may have changed the name then in order to show their loyalty to the anti-Jewish cause.

Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez has in recent years made an effort to emphasize the Jewish history of the village. The official city seal features the Jewish Star of David, and last October he hosted the Israeli ambassador to Spain, Alon Bar, on a visit.

Village seal
The village has a Jewish history, evident in its official seal, which contains a Star of David. Wiki Commons

The name change comes one week after the Spanish government finalized a bill that will allow descendants of Jews expelled in 1492 to apply for citizenship. Those descendants will have to submit documentation of their Sephardic Jewish heritage and take an exam on Spanish language and history, among other conditions.

The effort to make Spain more welcoming for Jews occurs as anti-Semitism seems to be growing in Europe and more people are immigrating to Israel. As Slate points out, in France last year, local officials declined to change the name of a hamlet called La Mort aux Juifs, which translates to "Death to Jews," after a request by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization. A deputy mayor who oversees the hamlet reportedly told Agence France Presse: "Why change a name that goes back to the Middle Ages or even further? We should respect these old names."

Shimon Samuels, director of international relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says the bill for Sephardic Jews and the Spanish village name change do not go far enough. "I know that yes, there is a 'nice to the Jews' attitude at the moment," he says, "but on the other hand, anti-Semitism has not stopped in Spain. I've made two interventions in the past two weeks." One of those involved a Madrid city official who had posted anti-Semitic statements on Twitter. "This type of thing is not being combatted enough," Samuels says. "I'm happy that the village has finally changed its name, but I don't think it's the end of it."