Long-Lost Diary of Secret Jew in 16th-Century Mexico Found

Private collector spotted the manuscript, is paying to return it to National Archives
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2017 1:22 PM CST
Long-Lost Diary of Secret Jew in 16th-Century Mexico Found
Luis de Carvajal the Younger wrote these manuscripts in 1595. They'd been missing for nearly a century.   (Courtesy of the Government of Mexico)

On Dec. 8, 1596, 48 people were burned at the stake in what Haaretz calls one of the "most dramatic" autos-da-fe the New World had seen. Among those to die was 30-year-old Luis de Carvajal the Younger, born in Spain to a family of Jewish "conversos"—forced to convert to Catholicism but carrying out Jewish rituals in secret. Under torture, de Carvajal betrayed more than 120 clandestine Jews, reports the Times of Israel. It is de Carvajal's diary, written in minuscule script on paper measuring 4 inches by 3 inches and later found hidden in his clothing, that has long captivated historians as perhaps the earliest surviving artifact to offer insights into the arrival of Jews in the New World. Now, more than 80 years since it went missing, a collector has found it, and paid generously to return it to Mexico, reports the New York Times.

In December 2015, a London auction house listed the manuscript, without any connection to de Carvajal, as having been in a Michigan family's possession. It was then listed for sale, this time as a transcript of de Carvajal's original, last year at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. Leonard Milberg, 85, decided to buy the copy from Swann, only to be told by the experts he consulted that it was indeed the 180-page booklet missing since the 1930s from Mexico's National Archives. Milberg has since paid tens of thousands of dollars to ensure that it be returned to Mexico, but asked that it first be displayed at the New York Historical Society, where it will be through March 12. He says the artifact, which highlights how integral Jews were to the development of the New World, is his way of "getting back at anti-Semitism." (A Jewish "lost tribe" has been found.)

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