Don’t call it Castrillo Matajudíos anymore. According to the Spanish newspaper ABC, the tiny village in northern Spain whose name translates to “Camp Kill-Jews” has officially dropped the offensive moniker and reverted to its more benign original name, Castrillo Mota de Judíos or “Jews’ Hill Camp.”
Founded in the 11th century, the village adopted the name Matajudíos many years later, in 1627, possibly in an effort to dissociate itself from a despised community (Spain infamously ordered its Jewish residents to convert or flee in 1492). The Guardian elaborates:
Although Jews were killed in the area, researchers believe the village got its name from Jewish residents who converted to Catholicism and wanted to reinforce their repudiation of Judaism to convince Spanish authorities of their loyalty. Others suspect the change may have come from a slip of the pen.
In a referendum held last May, the 57 inhabitants of the village voted 29–19 in favor of rebranding their hometown. Why not 57–0? Well, as Spanish-Jewish linguistics professor Dr. David Levey explained to the Independent at the time, Spanish people don’t really think about what these old place names mean:
Dr Levey argued that Spanish words such as Matamoros (literally, “kill the Moors”) – the historic word used to describe the Muslims who once ruled a large part of Spain and which, back in 2006, some 3,200 Spaniards were reported to have as a surname – “are so strongly ingrained that most Spanish people aren’t really aware of the connotation”.
“If they say the word Matamoros, they don’t make any association with killing Arab people,” Dr Levey added. “And I’d imagine the same with Matajudios.”
At the same time that Castrillo Matajudíos was voting to change its name, the western Spanish town of Valle de Matamoros (“Valley for Killing Moors”) announced that it had no plans to do the same. Matamoros is also the name of a city in northeastern Mexico, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Anti-Semitic place names die harder in France, apparently. La Mort aux Juifs (“Death to the Jews”), a hamlet some 70 miles south of Paris, has twice rejected requests to rename itself, once in 1992 and again last August, when the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote France’s interior minister to demand that the name be changed.
The rebranding of Castrillo Matajudíos to Castillo Mota de Judíos is not the only way in which Spain has grappled with its anti-Semitic past recently: A new law passed earlier this month will allow Sephardic Jews descended from those expelled in 1492 to claim Spanish citizenship starting later this year. Hundreds of thousands of people may be eligible for citizenship under the new law, but as the law was being discussed in Spain’s legislature last month, some lawmakers argued that it was unfair not to extend the same rights to the descendants of Muslims who also faced forced conversion or expulsion in Renaissance-era Spain.