Nestled in the arid plains of northwestern Spain lies a little village that for a few hundred years has gone by the name Castrillo Matajudíos—in English, Castrillo Kill Jews (or Jew-Killer).
How did it get such a name? There are a few different stories. It may be named for a medieval massacre in which citizens of the nearby town of Castrojeriz killed 60 men in the prosperous Jewish community there and drove the rest out of town, to Castrillo. Another account says that the area they fled to was at first called Motajudíos, or “hill of the Jews” and an error by a scribe in the 17th century resulted in the switch from “mota” to “mata.” Yet another version suggests that after the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, in which Jews were forced to either convert to Catholicism or be expelled (or killed), the converted Jews of Castrillo changed the name of their town to Matajudíos to prove their loyalty to their new religion.
However the name came to be, it looks pretty unfriendly, to say the least—but for a long time people in the region didn’t seem to notice. The mayor of the town, Lorenzo Rodriguez, said, “Those of us who have lived all our lives in Castrillo Matajudíos don't give it a second thought. But the moment you go elsewhere it sounds bad.” Well, yes.
In a referendum held on Sunday, the town voted 29-19 to change the name. It will now be Castrillo Mota de Judios, or “Hill of the Jews.” Mayor Rodriguez, who had threated to resign if the vote went the other way, was pleased with the outcome, saying, “the phrase ‘Matajudios’ did not correspond to the way this village thinks or acts these days, nor with our village flag, which has the Star of David on it.” He plans to restore the town’s old Jewish quarter.