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Spain, lair of Nazis | Culture

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Paris had already been liberated. The fall of Berlin seemed imminent. The world war was ending. And hundreds of Nazis took refuge in Spain: a friendly country, a brother regime. Not only rank-and-file Nazis came, but also senior officials from the Third Reich, from Mussolini’s Italy, from other fascist regimes such as the Independent State of Croatia or collaborationists from Vichy France. The defeated crossed the Pyrenees on foot or by car. They also arrived in small boats or planes. And they remained secret, hidden in the Spain of the forties.

They had the protection of the Franco regime. With false names. Stayed in the spas of Sobron, Urberuaga de Ubilla, Molinar de Carranza, Jaraba or Caldas de Malavella. Stayed at the Palace, in Viso houses or in Marbella. They were trying to avoid their deportation. They avoided the foreign spies who came to capture them or, directly, to liquidate them. This is how he portrays them Under the mantle of the Caudillo (Alianza), an essay written by the historian José Luis Rodríguez Jiménez after decades of study and which constitutes the largest investigation done so far on a secret topic purged from the Spanish archives.

A case: Reinhard Spitzy. German SS captain. Military spy for the Nazi Abwehr. He knew that they were looking for him in Spain and he hid well. He took refuge in a sacred place. He entered the house of the priest of Oreña, then in the collegiate church of Santillana del Mar, living as a monk, and so on until he ended up being known as “Brother Ricardo of Ireland” in the Burgos monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, in Castrillo del Val. , where he would spend more than a year. The author says that in order to fulfill his escape plan to Argentina, Spitzy sold the construction plans for an anti-aircraft rocket to the Spanish Army through the Falangist general Juan Yagüe. Thus he received protection and false Spanish documentation for himself and his family, and in 1948 they left for Argentina, the great haven of Nazi peace in America.

Cover of the book ‘Under the mantle of the Caudillo’.Editorial Alliance

Another case, with a very different ending. It was June 1945. French police officers with a false identity entered Spain in search of Michel Szkolnikov, who lived in the Madrid neighborhood of El Viso with his Berlin partner, Elfrieda Tietz, alias Hélène Samson. Both had profited in occupied France by trafficking on the black market for the Germans. The plan was to capture him, take him to France and interrogate him there. But the agents of democratic France got out of hand. “Due to the beating they gave him to subdue him, Szkolnikov died in the car, only about thirty kilometers from the capital. The French agents decided to burn the body and disappear, but they would be arrested shortly after by the Spanish police,” says the author, professor of Contemporary History at the Rey Juan Carlos University.

The book is a journey through those secret lives marked by the European defeat of Nazism and fascism and individual fear of trials and possible executions. Hunters hunted. It is also a look at an uncomfortable reality for the Franco regime. First, because the allies knew that Spain had become the European country that hosted the largest number of Nazis, fascists, extreme rightists and collaborators with the Third Reich since the second half of 1944. And that presence was a cause of tension with the allies in half of Spain’s international isolation.

However, the landing also became an opportunity for the Franco dictatorship, which helped Nazis and collaborationists hiding in Spain. And he didn’t do it just out of ideological harmony. There were interests. As the author of the book explains to EL PAÍS, two main reasons influenced its protection. From the outset, “given their knowledge of Spain-Germany collaboration, it was not appropriate for them to be interrogated by Allied personnel.” And later, these German and French fugitives had carried out economic management, espionage and political police functions on the front line and could continue to contribute their experience to these tasks. They were, therefore, a recyclable talent for Franco’s Spain. Potential spies.

An example: the High General Staff recruited several German spies who had operated in Spain and Spanish Morocco during the Second World War. The essay traces the misty steps of someone who used many names – such as Wilhelm Friedrich Heinrich Knipa, José Luis Gurruchaga Iturria or Friedrich-Ludwig Von Freienfels – to investigate members of the republican exile who carried out peaceful and violent opposition to Francoism.

Belgian Nazi collaborator Léon Degrelle in the mansion he built in the Sevillian town of Constantina.
Belgian Nazi collaborator Léon Degrelle in the mansion he built in the Sevillian town of Constantina.Provided by Jean Louis Urraca Cornette.

Rodríguez Jiménez, who received his doctorate with a thesis dedicated to the Spanish extreme right from late Francoism to the consolidation of democracy (1967-1982), highlights one aspect. It wasn’t just the quantity, but the quality. High-ranking Nazis such as the head of the government of Vichy France, the phil-Nazi Pierre Laval, came to the Francoist rabbit hole. Franco handed him over to the new French authorities, under pressure and to ingratiate himself, and then he was shot. Afterwards there were no longer such docile deliveries. Lesson learned.

His collaborationist ministers Abel Bonnard, of Education, and Maurice Gabolde, of Justice, were also in Spain. Or Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, anti-Semitic journalist and ultra politician who headed the General Commissariat of Jewish Affairs of the Vichy Government and collaborated with the Gestapo in the deportation of French Jews to extermination camps. In Spain he had a new identity: Juan Esteve, professor of French at the School of the High Staff of the Army and at the Central School of Languages, and translator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Unnoticed in the mountains of Madrid lived Karl Bömelburg, head of the Gestapo in France. They had given him up for dead, but he was still in Spain until his friend Ramón Serrano Suñer accompanied him to the Barajas airport on his way to Switzerland. Also hiding in Spain was the main Belgian collaborator with the Third Reich, Léon Degrelle, a radical and narcissistic politician with a bizarre life who serves as the guiding thread of this essay that traces lives that went from totalitarian hegemony to clandestinity.

This was the case for the head of the Hitler Youth, Bernhard Feuerriegel. He entered Spain in July 1944. Assisted by the cover-up network coordinated in Madrid by Clara Stauffer, he obtained a new identity. It was already Bernardo Fernández, a native of Tarragona and a mechanical expert by profession. So he secluded himself in Madrid, in the house of a trusted lady. He fell in love with his daughter. He married her. And he ended up working as a music teacher in that permissive Spain with the escaped Nazis.

Nazism Spain
Arrival in Madrid of the Artistic-Sports Team of the Hitler Youth as it passed through the Plaza de Cibeles, in 1941.EFE

In the case of Josef Hans Lazar, press attaché at the German Embassy in Spain, thanks to his friends he was able to fake an attack of appendicitis that earned him a long stay at the Ruber clinic. Later, according to the author’s hypothesis, he was welcomed into a convent of Irish nuns in Salamanca. Much less discreet was Meino Von Eitzen, a Nazi Abwehr spy and prestigious horseman, who established himself in Vigo under the cover of being the manager of the company Depósito Español de Carbones SA and filled his stables with horses.

Yes, there was a telluric political effect, almost undetectable, among so many hidden Nazis in post-war Spain. “Degrelle and other Nazis,” explains the author, “were promoters in Spain of denialist theories about the Holocaust, with the purpose of whitewashing the Nazi past and their own to try to make Nazi ideas more acceptable to new generations.”

In the upper echelons, however, it did not go beyond that. José Luis Rodríguez Jiménez says that “the influence of Nazi and fascist refugees in Spain was null because the Franco regime had been forced to begin a process of defascistization with the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini.” The last Spanish contingents in the Blue Division were already returning from the front. The fascist salute was going to stop being official and obligatory a few months later. Spain was reinventing itself. A was born ski platform fascist called Francoism.

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