The first Jews to arrive in the tortured
Southern African country of Mozambique were
likely ancient traders and explorers, but there
are no records of Jewish presence until the
Portuguese took control of the nation in the 1500s.
The Portuguese asserted dominance over Mozambique
for nearly five hundred years but they did very
little to develop the country. The Catholic
Church refused to teach "inferior"
Africans to read and write, which led to a more
than 90% illiteracy rate in the 70s when
the nation finally shook Portuguese control.
The Portuguese did not prevent Jews from
settling in Mozambique, but they did not
encourage them. Even after the Catholic Church
stopped publicly persecuting Jews, an Inquisition
mentality shaped the public attitude to Jewish
settlers. Many Jewish settlers maintained their
faith in private; some even went so far as to
convert to Catholicism to appease their European
neighbors, most of whom were landless farmers who
the Portuguese government had shipped to Africa
with the promise of great wealth.
A small European Jewish community developed
in the capital, Maputo, and in Beira, a port city
on the northern coast. The Jews who settled in
Mozambique were mainly merchants and businessmen
who maintained very close ties with the South
African Jewish community. They were literate and
white in a primarily black, illiterate nation; in
most respects they remained isolated.
Most Europeans in Mozambique, including
almost the entire Jewish community, fled the
nation on the eve of independence in 1974. The
new government seized religious property
including the synagogue in Maputo, turning it
over to the Mozambique Red Cross, which used it
as a warehouse. The Red Cross maintained the
building, but there were no public religious
observances in Maputo for almost twenty years.
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