Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Tomas de Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition

Predecessor to Hitler?

Apologists for Torquemada stop short of ranking him with the 20th Century madmen who used genocide to achieve their aberrant goals. Some scholars argue that Torquemada, unlike Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot, was motivated by genuine religious fervor and that he was a humble servant of the Lord who did not seek power for itself. Some also feel that his views and actions are consistent with the pre-Enlightenment age and so he must be judged differently.
Adolph Hitler
Adolph Hitler
But Torquemada's persecution of the Jews in Spain bears a remarkable similarity to Hitler's persecution of the Jews in Europe before and during World War II. Just as Hitler promulgated the Aryan race as superior, Torquemada believed in the superiority of individuals with "pure blood." Both Torquemada and Hitler ordered all Jews to wear identifying markers on their outer clothing. Historian John Edward Longhurst states that Torquemada sponsored "book-burning festivals" in which "Hebrew Bibles" as well as "Arabic books" were destroyed to stem the spread of what he considered heresy. Tales of evil Jews who killed innocent Christian children spread during both the Spanish Inquisition and the Third Reich, although there was no evidence that these kinds of murders ever happened. Profiteering through usury has been cited through the ages as a major crime committed by Jews, even though the practice of making loans and charging interests has benefited economies, including predominantly Christian economies.
Book burning, Nazi Germany
Book burning, Nazi Germany
In Torquemada's case, money may have indeed been the root of all evil because it seems clear that the Grand Inquisitor, the Spanish sovereigns, and the Pope were all eager to get their hands on Jewish assets in whatever way they could. Torquemada, along with Ferdinand and Isabella, reconciled the blatant seizure of Jewish property as necessary to finance their holy wars against all heathens. In their minds it was permissible to steal from heretics in order to fight heresy. In this sense, Torquemada's agenda was as cold-blooded as any of the dictators who followed him. Simon Whitechapel writes that although Torquemada's death count did not approach that of later mass murderers, "Qualitatively Torquemada stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Hitler and Stalin."
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Torquemada managed to amass a personal fortune during the Inquisition, which he used to expand the monastery of the Holy Cross in Seville and build the St. Thomas Aquinas monastery in Avila. At the height of his power he traveled with a detail of 250 armed familiars. Toward the end of his life, he grew paranoid and suspicious, constantly in fear of assassins. He was known to place a "unicorn's horn" next to his plate when he dined to ward off the effects of possible poisons placed in his food. Like all other public figures who abuse power, Torquemada was apparently blind to the inconsistencies of his own life. Torquemada died of natural causes at the age of 78 in 1498, but the Spanish Inquisition continued for another 336 years until it was finally abolished in 1834. According to Beth Randall, the apparatus set in motion by Torquemada was ultimately responsible for the murders of 30,000 Jews.
Tomas de Torquemada
Tomas de Torquemada
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