Anusim: Clues to Columbus

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS is depicted by Italian Renaissance painter Sebastiano del Pombo. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS is depicted by Italian Renaissance painter Sebastiano del Pombo.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
 Evidence abounds that Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, was not Italian, as previously believed.
Years of painstaking research have gone into the question of his true origins – possibly Jewish and Catalonian – a subject generally neglected by Israeli universities.
The book Christopher Columbus: The DNA of His Writings, by Prof. Estelle Irizarry of Georgetown University, confirms earlier studies on this subject by investigating the Catalan writing and grammar of 15th century Spain.
Writer (and retired Spanish print, radio and TV journalist) Nito Verdera’s diligent research establishes that Columbus was a native of his own Balearic island, Ibiza (the islands of the Catalonia area of Spain), but initially made very slow progress. When I got to know him during my sojourns in this beautiful location in the mid-1970s and ’80s, I pointed out that many believed Columbus had Jewish origins. Being of Anusim background himself, this idea appealed to Verdera, spurring him to delve more deeply into this important facet of the life of Columbus.
In the ensuing years I was happy to look at Verdera’s findings and to suggest where the possibilities lay of finding more of these Jewish-Spanish-Catalan compatible clues. Slowly, his work made further headway.
He published several analyses of the style in which Columbus wrote Spanish, showing that the grammatical mistakes made by the explorer were not of an Italian, but of a Catalan.
Verdera interviewed Simon Wiesenthal in Vienna, and presented me with a recording of their discussions about the latter’s book of findings on Columbus, titled Sails of Hope: The Secret Mission of Christopher Columbus.
As a pilot in the merchant marines for many years, Verdera’s knowledge of seafaring was considerable, and he drew from the breadth of his geographical knowledge to note that the names Columbus gave to the islands in the Caribbean were taken from names then existing only in and around Ibiza.
In the third week of January 1990, Verdera visited Israel for the first time, bringing with him important papers – the results of his investigation – which included a scribble composed of three marks or letters that Columbus was in the habit of drawing at the top of all correspondence with his family. This type of lettering seemed never to be inscribed if the missive was to be shown to others who were not related to him.
Verdera had the symbol analyzed by a respected Spanish police graphologist who gave him (in writing) the important clue that without doubt, Columbus had written the symbol from right to left – the way that the Hebrew language is inscribed.
I took Verdera to the National Library in Jerusalem, part of the Hebrew University’s campus, and the letters were shown to the esteemed Dr. Benjamin Richler (librarian, cataloger of MSS at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in the Jewish National and University Library from 1965 to 2005, and director of the Institute since 1997), then head of the Manuscripts Department. He immediately expressed interest.
At that moment in the reading room were two of the Hebrew University’s top Jewish history academics: the late HU professor of medieval Jewish history Yom Tov Assis (1942-2013) and Prof. Yosef Kaplan of the Department of History of the Jewish People and Contemporary Jewry. The documents were taken to them to peruse, while no prior information was offered relating to their author or origin. Each of the professors independently determined that the letters denoted the Hebrew letters bet, samech and dalet – together forming an abbreviation for the phrase “with the help of God,” commonly used by Orthodox Jews for centuries when writing to each other.
Only after their interpretation were the two professors informed of the nature of the documents that Verdera was holding, and of the results of his own inquiries with the writing expert.
All present seemed excited, but little more was done to show any recognition in Israel of the work of Verdera, although I was always happy to speak of it in my lectures, including a Columbus Day Lecture at the University of Miami in 2003.
Verdera continued with his research and by 2007 had published seven books on Columbus. He was asked to assist with the 1992 Exhibition in Madrid: Colon (Columbus in Spanish) and the Jewish Contribution to the Voyages of Discovery, sponsored by the venerated and lamented Elie Schalit, longtime chairman of the board of Casa Shalom and the Samson Trust, who appointed Casa Shalom the exhibition’s custodians before his death.
The exhibit was subsequently displayed in many other international locations, including the University of Haifa, but received little national publicity or coverage, something that we have reason to hope will one day be remedied.
There is additional intriguing information that sheds light on Columbus’s identity.
Verdera mentions that on the day corresponding to Yom Kippur in the year 1492 it is recorded in the ship’s log that Columbus spent all day in his cabin praying.
In a book about the life of his father (The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus: By his Son Ferdinand) Columbus’s oldest son mentions that to celebrate his and his brother’s reaching the age of 13, Columbus took each of them with him on his voyages to teach them “special things.”
It could be important to note that Columbus made a special pact with Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella that no court of the Inquisition was to be set up in Jamaica, and that he afterwards moved his family there.
There are residents in Jamaica today who can trace their lineage back to him, and who, although unwilling to speak with strangers, possibly hold documents that can prove their connection. 
The writer is founder and executive director of Casa Shalom, the Institute for Marrano (Anusim) Studies, dedicated to researching, lecturing, and providing assistance to the descendants of secret Jews in reclaiming their heritage. Casa Shalom has collected information regarding the secret Jews of Mashad (Iran), Ireland, Sao Tomé, the American Southwest, South America, Cuba and other Caribbean islands, Spain, Portugal and the Balearic Islands. She can be contacted at