Town Dubbed 'Fort Kill the Jews' Sees 'Auschwitz' Graffiti as Jews Move In

A Spanish town that was called "Fort Kill the Jews" for nearly 400 years woke up to antisemitic graffiti on Thursday after news that a Jewish family was moving in.

Between 1627 and 2015, the small village of about 50 residents bore the name of Castrillo Matajudíos or "Fort Kill the Jews." It was originally named Castrillo Motajudíos or "Jews' Hill Fort" in 1035 when Jews fleeing from a nearby pogrom settled there, according to historians. In the 1620s, during a period of extreme religious persecution carried out by the Spanish Inquisition, the word "mota" (hill) was changed to "mata" (kill).

Eight years ago, the town returned to its historic name after Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez initiated a referendum and the majority of residents voted in favor of the change. A notice from regional officials announced that the name was changed "to recognize the Jewish origin of the town and considering that the current name is racist."

Early Thursday morning, vandals spray-painted "Auschwitz" on a village sign and altered signposts to read the town's old name of "Fort Kill the Jews," according to photos shared on Twitter by Mayor Rodriguez.

Castrillo Motajudíos
A Spanish town that was called "Fort Kill the Jews" for nearly 400 years woke up to antisemitic graffiti on Thursday. Here, officials hold signs announcing the name change of "Castrillo Motajudíos" in October 2015. CESAR MANSO / Stringer/AFP

Rodriguez said the perpetrators also set fire to several garbage containers throughout the village, which could have spread much greater danger.

"Only the collaboration of neighbors prevented the fire from causing a tragedy," he said. "But [the perpetrators] will not separate us from our objective, the recovery of Jewish memory in Castrillo. Courage and truth always win over hate and cowardice. We will never kneel."

Rodriguez told the website that the vandals might be associated with neo-Nazi or other antisemitic groups from Madrid, Valencia or Santander. He believed they acted upon learning that a Jewish family was moving into town in the next few days, he said.

These Jews would join one other Jewish family that moved to Castrillo Motajudíos earlier this year, according to El País. They were the first Jews to return to the town since the Middle Ages.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) also condemned the vandalism on Thursday. In a statement, the FCJE urged the relevant authorities to strengthen preventative measures against such attacks and to identify the perpetrators involved, adding that it stood in solidarity with the people of Castrillo and Mayor Rodriguez.

Castrillo Motajudíos has been repeatedly targeted with antisemitic graffiti and threats since its name change in 2015. Last December, vandals defaced several sites across the village, including the town hall entrance, the signpost on the road entering the village, a planned location for a future Sephardic center and a sign commemorating the town's sisterhood with the Israeli city of Kfar Vradim. The name of Tomás de Torquemada, the first leader of the Inquisition, was among the graffiti shared by Rodriguez.

In the United States, reported antisemitic incidents hit a record high last year. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has compiled annual reports of assaults, harassment and vandalism since 1979, the 2,717 incidents reported through 2021 exceeded the previous record in 2019 and marked a 34 percent increase from the 2,026 incidents reported in 2020.

Newsweek reached out to Castrillo Mota de Judios for comment.