Spain honours Ladino language of Jewish exiles | World news

More than five centuries after King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled Spain’s Jewish population, the still-spoken language of the exiles is to be formally honoured by the country’s leading linguistic authority.

The Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) has announced plans to create a Judeo-Spanish branch in Israel that will sit alongside the 23 existing academies dedicated to the Spanish languages across Latin America and in countries such as Equatorial Guinea and the Philippines.

Speakers of Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, fled Spain and settled elsewhere in Europe as well as in the Middle East, north Africa and Latin America.

The director of the RAE, Darío Villanueva, described Judeo-Spanish as “an extraordinarily important cultural and historical phenomenon” that was overdue an academy of its own.

“The Jews who were expelled in 1492 dispersed around Europe and the Americas, taking with them the Spanish language as it was spoken at the time of their expulsion,” he told the Guardian.

“All of this has been miraculously preserved over the centuries. There’s literature, folklore, translations of the Bible and even modern newspapers written in Ladino.”

Not only did Ladino preserve many archaic Spanish words, Villanueva said, it was also influenced by the languages of the countries in which the refugees settled.

Villanueva said nine Ladino specialists had so far been appointed to help pave the way for the new institution, which will form part of the Association of Spanish Language Academies.

“Through these nine academics we can now [lay the foundations] for a Judeo-Spanish academy to be based in Israel, just as we did in the 19th century with the Latin American academies.”

He added: “The idea isn’t to absorb Ladino into modern Spanish, it’s the opposite: to preserve it.”

Isaac Querub, the president of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, welcomed the move to recognise what he called the “rich and profound cultural legacy” of Ladino.

“It’s the language that mothers have used to rock their babies to sleep with for more than five centuries,” he said. “It’s the language that’s been used to pass down recipes and the one that is spoken in the intimacy of home. Even after all these hundreds of years, it’s still being used.”

Querub said the move was one of the encouraging steps that Spain had recently taken to make up for the injustices of 1492, but he said he would prefer the institute to be based in Spain rather than Israel.

Shmuel Refael, director of the Salti Centre for Ladino Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said the language represented a “culture and an identity” for the Sephardic Jews whose community developed on the Iberian peninsula before 1492.

He estimated there were around 400,000 people in Israel with some knowledge of the language. “It depends on what you consider a ‘speaker’ to be: someone who knows a few words of the language, or someone who can read and write the language,” he said.

Two years ago, both Spain and Portugal brought in laws to facilitate the return of the descendants of the thousands of Jews who were forced from the countries at the end of the 15th century.

The Spanish government said its offer of citizenship was intended to correct the “historical wrong” in which the country’s Jewish population was banished, forced to convert to Catholicism or burned at the stake.

Portugal said that although it was impossible to make amends for what had been done, the offer of nationality represented “an attribution of a right”.

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Family of Swede who vanished after saving Jews sue Russian state | World news

The family of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the second world war before disappearing when Hungary came under under Soviet rule, are suing Russia’s security service for access to its files, their lawyer said Thursday.

“The relatives of Wallenberg filed the lawsuit at the Meshchansky court in the Russian capital on Wednesday,” their lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, told AFP.

The Wallenberg family “wants to force the FSB [the successor to the KGB] to give it access to the originals of the documents” that concern Wallenberg’s fate, Pavlov said.

He said Wallenberg’s relatives have made many attempts to gain access to the FSB archives dating back to the Soviet era. These were either rejected or the documents they received were incomplete, Pavlov said.

“This case isn’t just about the possibility of restoring the memory of a remarkable person. It is also yet another attempt to fight the inaccessibility of the FSB archives,” he said.

As a special envoy in Nazi-controlled Hungary, Wallenberg issued Swedish identity papers to tens of thousands of Jews, allowing them to flee Nazi-occupied Hungary and likely death.

But when the Soviets entered Budapest in January 1945 – months before the war ended – they summoned Wallenberg to their headquarters. After that he disappeared, aged 32.

In 1957, the Soviet Union released a document saying Wallenberg had been jailed in the Lubyanka prison, the notorious building where the KGB security services were headquartered, and that he died of heart failure on 17 July 1947.

But his family refused to accept that version of events, and for decades have been trying to establish what happened to him.

They specifically want to know if Wallenberg was “Prisoner number 7” who, according to records, was interrogated on 23 July 1947 – six days after Wallenberg’s alleged death.

The family learned of the mysterious prisoner from two historians who said they had been told by FSB archivists the prisoner was likely to have been Wallenberg.

“The majority of our questions revolve around this prisoner,” Wallenberg’s niece, Marie Dupuy, told AFP.

“Every time, they [the Russian authorities] tell us that they are not able to answer. But we are sure they know.”

In 2000, the head of a Russian investigative commission conceded that Wallenberg had been shot and killed by KGB agents in Lubyanka in 1947 for political reasons, but declined to be more specific or to cite hard evidence.

Last year Sweden officially declared Wallenberg dead, but his body has never been returned to his family.

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Europe’s border shifts and citizenship denial | World news

I too have been denied German citizenship (Letters, 17 June) because my mother and grandfather, both victims of Nazism, have been determined not to be German. This ruling ignores the historical context of fluid nations and borders. My mother came to England in 1939 on the Kindertransport. She was born in Berlin in 1925 to a German mother, whose German family is documented for three generations. But my grandfather came from Kolomyja. When he was born, Kolomyja was in the Austro-Hungarian empire. But at the end of both world wars, nations and their boundaries were redrawn. In 1919 Kolomyja found itself part of the newly created Polish republic. In 1945 it was transferred to Ukraine. My grandfather served in the German army in the first world war, spoke German and lived and worked in Berlin for 20 years until he was deported in 1938 by the Nazis. He was murdered in a forced labour camp. I do not know what he would have considered his nationality to be or if the concept had any meaning for him. I do know that he was murdered in the Holocaust because he was a Jew who lived in Germany.
Christina Craig

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