More than 132,000 Jews have applied for Spanish citizenship since the government offered residence to relatives of those expelled during the Inquisition more than 500 years ago.
The deadline has now passed for Sephardi Jews – hailing from the Iberian peninsula – to claim rights to citizenship after the window for applications closed.
Most have applied from South America. But in Britain the rules have created an unexpected opportunity for some members of the Jewish community to avoid the impact of Brexit by gaining a European passport.
The total number of Jews applying to return is not far off the estimated 200,000 who are thought to have fled in the 1490 after facing the option of converting to Catholicism or being burned at the stake.
The initiative in Spain has been coupled by a similar offer by the Portuguese government to atone for the persecution of Jews. Meanwhile in Austria last month the parliament ratified a law extending citizenship to descendants of Nazi victims who fled during and after Hitler’s Third Reich.
Figures from Spain’s justice ministry show that by the end of August, one month before the September 30 deadline, 117 British Jews had applied for Spanish citizenship under the scheme introduced in 2015.
It remains unclear how many more British Jews have applied in the final rush to meet the Spanish deadline that saw 72,000 applications flood in last month alone, more than in the previous four years combined.
“Most of them were from citizens in Latin American countries, mainly Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela,” Spain’s justice ministry said.
But more than 420 British Sephardic Jews have been granted Portuguese passports under that country’s citizenship initiative, also launched in 2015.
In 1492 the Catholic monarchs of Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, ordered the country’s approximately 200,000 Jews to convert to Christianity under the aegis of the Inquisition.
Unknown thousands opted for exile, some entering Portugal, which also imposed compulsory conversion or exile by the end of the 15th century.
“It was a pragmatic decision,” Londoner Adam Perry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency of his decision to apply for Portuguese citizenship, adding that it was “also a form of protest action against Brexit, with which I deeply disagree”.
“The Spanish government’s law helps Sephardic Jews to close a circle, healing a wound that was opened more than five centuries ago,” Marcelo Benveniste told The Telegraph about his decision to apply in 2015.
All four of Mr Benveniste’s grandparents moved to Argentina from the Greek island of Rhodes, where they had continued to speak Ladino, a language also known as Judaeo-Spanish.
Spain asks Sephardic Jews wishing to gain citizenship to show that they can speak Spanish, as well as proving their hereditary connections.