It’s a hot, gorgeous afternoon, and we’re about to meet our guide for the Jewish tour of Seville, Spain. The second I spot him, however, I know I’ve made a mistake. He’s got a sweet face and dumb grin that would be an asset if he were a camp counselor and we were very, very young children. This man, I’m guessing, doesn’t know much about Jewish history.
I look at my phone for details about the tour, and the screen confirms my error. I didn’t book us on a “Jewish tour.” I booked us on a tour of the Jewish Quarter, as in a tour of where Jews used to live, led by someone who has no idea what a Jew is.
There are some facts that he’s able to relate: The Jews who stayed through the expulsion of 1492, and underwent forced conversions, were anointed the charming nickname “swine.” Many of the Jewish surnames in Spain were derived from nature. Jews had once represented 20 percent of the population of Seville.
“Today,” he said with a carefree tone that baffled me, “there are none. I mean, WTF.”
For the uninitiated, “WTF” is a military abbreviation that stands for “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” – which in turn stands for “What the (Word We Can’t Print Because This Is a Family Publication).” It’s a phrase so flippant it was used as the title of a Tina Fey comedy this year. It is not, even in broken English, a phrase that should ever be employed to describe genocide. And yet, our misguided guide used the phrase quite a few times:
“When Napoleon came in, he thought the street was too narrow, so he had the synagogue torn down to make room for his horses. I mean, WTF.”
“There used to be more synagogues here, but the Christians put crosses inside all the buildings and turned them into churches, I mean, WTF.”
“This is the square where Jews were gathered together and burned alive. I mean, WTF.”
Hearing the entirety of the auto-de-fe condensed into a Twitter-ready abbreviation is unnerving enough, like kids playing Pokemon Go at Auschwitz (which is a thing). But then the guide gives—what is for me anyway—the biggest WTF moment of the afternoon. He tells us that based on his own surname he is likely descended from Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity.
The conversion was clearly successful.
There are small plaques around town to commemorate former Jewish occupants, but very little in the rhythm or collective unconscious of Seville hints at the once vibrant Jewish culture. We’ve been forgotten.
The guide’s name was Mangel, which he noted was one letter off from “Angel.” It is also one letter inversion from “mangle,” and in my disappointment I couldn’t help but think how mangled our history becomes when there is no one left to steward it. Jews used to thrive here. Now our history has all but disappeared.
I mean, WTF.
Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.