Gracia Mendes Nasi
The Oskar Schindler of the Inquisition 1510-69
Targeted by the brutal Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Inquisitions, non-catholics living in southern Europe were subject to torture by mob, ransacking, and ultimately expulsion from their home countries. However, the Jews of this period had a guardian angel looking over them: wealthy shipping magnate (and smuggler) Gracia Mendes Nasi. Born Beatriz de Luna, she had, like many others, to keep her religion a secret. But as she got more involved with the running of her merchant husband’s business, she grew emboldened to do exactly what she wanted - Inquisitors be damned. When the Inquisition began, she established a massive network of safe houses, spies, and messengers to shuttle refugees from as far away as Lisbon to Jew-friendly Constantinople. She eventually moved to Constantinople herself and began living openly as a Jew, using her Jewish name of Gracia. She even tried establishing a fledgling Jewish state in what is modern-day Tiberias, Israel. She helped so many hundreds of people and did so much good, that several people thought she might be the Jewish messiah. Much of the Sephardic Jewish population of today owes its continued existence to her exhaustive work.