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Spain and the Jews in the Second World War

Michael Alpert

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 42, 2009 Spain and the Jews in the Second World War MICHAEL ALPERT How many Jewish refugees from the Nazis did Spain admit? Was Spain's conduct generous because Francisco Franco, the all-powerful general who in 1940 had recently won a thirty-month civil war, had Jewish ancestry? The second question is more easily dealt with. Franco's Jewish ancestry was rumoured and was reported by Sir Robert Hodgson, a British diplo? matic agent to Franco's government in the latter part of the Spanish Civil War,1 and repeated by Sir Samuel Hoare, the British ambassador in Madrid during the Second World War.2 The Nazis ordered an investigation into Franco's ancestry, which was, unsurprisingly, inconclusive, given that it is hardly likely that facilities would have been made available in Spain to the Nazis for this purpose.3 General Franco may well have been descended from Jews, as may many other Spaniards. After all, most of the Jews of Spain were converted to Christianity in the fifteenth century, and inter? marriage between them and Christians was widespread. Furthermore, the surname 'Franco', which means 'free of tax', is borne by some Jews of Spanish ancestry because medieval kings used to give favoured Jews exemption from taxation. However, all that is a long way from saying that Franco cared about his possible Jewish ancestry, or that it had any effect on his actions. He was a fervent Catholic. It might be more relevant to say that during the colonial wars of the 1920s he showed some friendly feeling towards Jews who lived in the Spanish Zone of Northern Morocco.4 Yet that is all, and, as will be seen, far more profound and significant motives governed the behaviour of Franco and the Spanish State towards Jews who sought its protection during the Second World War of 1939-45. It is widely accepted that many Jewish refugees managed to gain admit? tance to Spain, which was neutral though highly sympathetic to Germany, 1 Sir Robert Hodgson, Spain Resurgent (London 1953) 109. 2 Sir Samuel Hoare, Ambassador on Special Mission (London 1946) 49. 3 G. Alvarez Chiliida, 'La eclosi?n del anti-semitismo espanol: de la IIa Rep?blica al Holocausto', in G. Alvarez Chillida and R. Izquierdo Benito (eds) El anti-semitismo en Espana (Cuenca 2007) 189. 4 See G. Alvarez Chillida, El anti-semitismo en Espana: la imagen deljudio (1812-2002) (Madrid 2002)396. 201</page><page sequence="2">Michael Alp er t in the darkest days of the Second World War. While there is truth in this, the fact that it is known so well is itself a reflection of the success of Spanish propaganda. Before putting Spain on the scales of judgement, however, historians ought to investigate the position of the Spanish regime, put into power with the help of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9. In 1945, with Nazism destroyed, the Franco regime saw itself isolated. It remained an international pariah for a number of years, unin? vited to the United Nations, its frontier closed and foreign ambassadors withdrawn. What made Spain respectable again was a combination of factors, among them the Cold War and the consequent fierce anti Communism of the USA. Furthermore, the Spanish regime back-pedalled its Fascism while it strongly underlined its Catholicism, thus making itself more acceptable to Christian Democrat parties of Western Europe and the influential Catholic vote in the United States. For all these reasons, and also because Spain was furious that Israel had voted against its membership of the United Nations, in 1949 the Spanish Government published a booklet, called in English 'Spain and the Jews'. In this fifty-page publication, which was widely circulated, the Spanish regime gave its version of how it had saved thousands of Jews during the War, claiming that Spanish diplomacy had made great and successful efforts to save many European Jews from the murderous Nazis. This public relations effort of the Spanish regime was remarkably effec? tive, even in the Jewish world itself. Jews who had managed to get into Spain during the War were treated relatively well - at least given the inter? nal Spanish situation - even if they were interned in austere camps. In books such as Trudi Alexy's well-known The Mezuzah in the Madonna's Foot,5 we read accounts by Jews who found refuge and were well treated, particularly by ordinary Spanish people. Obviously, those who were not saved because Spain closed its gates to them were not able to leave memoirs of their gratitude. Frequently, furthermore, historians and other writers about Spain and the Franco regime repeat what they have read, either in Alexy's book or the more authoritative work by the American rabbi Chaim Lipschitz, Franco, Spain, the Jews and the Holocaust.6 This work did not investigate Spanish sources closely, although Rabbi Lipschitz was invited to Spain and provided with an official driver, hotel and a suitable set of translated documents. The result of this, surprisingly enough given its obviously biased sources, was a book which is quite well written, less naive and better balanced on the whole than more recent history writing gives it 5 T. Alexy, The Mezuzah in the Madonnas Foot (New York 1993). 6 C. Lipschitz, Franco, Spain, the Jews and the Holocaust (New York 1984). 202</page><page sequence="3">Spain and the Jews in the Second World War credit. Yet Rabbi Lipschitz's book has serious gaps which will be mentioned later. The Lipschitz book was published in 1984, though it was written much earlier. Two years before, in 1982, the Israeli historian Haim Avni's well known book Spain, the Jews and Franco,1 had been translated from the Hebrew, in which it had been first published in 1974. It was based on thor? ough research, but mostly in the archives of Yad Vashem, the Israeli centre for Holocaust studies, and in those of the American Joint Distribution Committee, which succoured many of the Jewish refugees who arrived in Spain. Avni, however, quotes no unpublished official Spanish sources. This is not a criticism, because such documents were not available for researchers to consult. More recent studies, however, carried out since the arrival of democracy following Franco's death in November 1975, and once the archives of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs were opened for Spanish historians to consult, have put the question in a far less definite light than the Franco regime wanted, when it was endeavouring to attain international respectability.8 The figure of fifty thousand Jews, claimed in 1949 by the official Spain and the Jews, to have been saved by their admission into Spain, cannot be confirmed by any surviving government documents. Material written at the time concerning the admission of Jewish refugees arriving in 1940 from the Unoccupied or Vichy Zone of France, of which there must have been a great deal, has disappeared. It is known, however, that a large number of visas were issued by the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, the city to which the French Government fled in June 1940, followed by streams of refugees.9 These Portuguese visas would have justified the issue of Spanish transit visas. In this connection, on 8 February 2008, the London Jewish Chronicle published an account of the honouring in Israel's Holocaust memorial centre of a Spanish diplomat, and a relevant piece appeared in the Spanish press.10 This was Eduardo Propper de Callejon, married to a Jewish woman converted to Catholicism (whose granddaughter is the British actress Helena Bonham-Carter). He was First Secretary of the Spanish Embassy in Paris which had followed the French Government to 7 H. Avni, Spain, the Jews and Franco (Philadelphia 1982). 8 A. Marquina and G. Ospina, Espanay los judios en elsiglo XX (Madrid 1987);}. A. Lisbona, Retorno a Sefarad: la politica de Espana hacia sus judios en el siglo XX (Barcelona 1993); I. Gonzalez Garcia, El retorno de los judios (Madrid 1991). An older but still useful source in English is C. C. Aronsfeld, The Ghosts of i4Q2 (New York 1979). A recent article in English is B. Rother, 'Portuguese and Spanish Reactions to the Holocaust', Proceedings of the Tenth British Conference ofjudeo Spanish Studies (London: Queen Mary and Westfield College, 1999) I59-67 9 See J.-A. Fralon, Le juste de Bordeaux (Paris 1998, trans. London 1998). 10 El Mundo, Sunday Supplement, 10 February 2008. 203</page><page sequence="4">Michael Alpert Bordeaux in June 1940. In the absence of a consul, the First Secretary found himself issuing visas, as a matter, apparently, of honour: Spain could not be seen to be less generous than Portugal. For three torrid days that summer, Propper de Callej?n signed visas or safe-conducts through Spain. The register of those who received visas is no longer in the archives, so Don Eduardo was not remembered among the Hassidei Ha-'Olam, or non-Jews who saved Jews from the Nazis. This register may have been destroyed or concealed for fear that knowledge of it might leak out to the Nazis, at a time when Spain was hoping for titbits from the table of the expected victor. One of the people who received visas, however (of course they were not all Jews), was Archduke Otto of Habsburg. When at the age of ninety-three he gave his evidence, the Spanish diplomat was finally honoured in Yad Vashem. It is necessary to consider the question of admitting Jews into Spain from within its Spanish context. When leading British Sephardim appealed to Spanish governments in the late nineteenth century to repeal the Edict of Expulsion of 1492, the response was that the Edict was no longer operative and that Jews were free to come and settle in Spain, but that to repeal the Edict officially would be to stir up the sleeping dogs of Spanish reaction.11 Even so, sixty years later, in 1940, the forces of the Spanish Right, victori? ous after a bloody civil war, had no specific hostility towards the few Jews who lived in Spain and the greater number in Spanish Morocco. This explains the absence of any sustained campaign against the Jews of the Moroccan Protectorate and particularly against the large community in Tangiers, which was occupied by Spanish forces in 1940. Despite the powerful influence of the Nazis, Spanish authorities refused to cooperate with a German demand to record people of Jewish origin on the island of Majorca, where the descendants of Jews, known as Chuetas, were still clearly identifiable.12 Nevertheless, what might be called 'pan-Catholicism' was enforced. Jewish life in Spain became very difficult: the Barcelona synagogue, for example, could not be reopened. Communities were not allowed to exist as legal entities. Religious services were held in conditions of extreme secrecy for fear of the participants being accused of holding an illegal meeting, a serious offence in Franco's Spain. Numerous Jewish fami? lies had themselves baptized because it was difficult for people who could not produce a certificate of baptism to obtain employment or even to have their children's births registered. Jewish children in schools had to attend Catholic religion education lessons, as had the children of the far larger number of free-thinking Spanish parents. Even Jewish marriage could not be formalized, and it was not until 1941 that a civil registration of marriage 11 M. Alpert, 'Dr Angel Pulido and Philo-Sephardism in Spain', Trans JHSE 40 (2005) 105-19. 12 Alvarez Chillida (see n. 3) 149. 204</page><page sequence="5">Spain and the Jews in the Second World War was allowed for those who could prove they were not baptized Catholics. All this was not because of hostility to a few hundred Jews, but because the civil war had been fought, among other reasons, to restore the dominance of Catholicism in its peculiarly intolerant Spanish form. As a consequence, the general tone of Spanish public statements and jour? nalism, at least while Germany seemed about to triumph, was strongly in favour of the latter. The anti-Semitism of the Spanish press was pervasive, though it was vague and general. While Spain was probably still unaware of the full consequences of Nazi Jew-hatred, reports emerging from occupied Europe informed readers about the harsh restrictions imposed on Jews, and newspaper editors tended to approve of them at least in principle. Although Spanish politicians were not in sympathy with Nazi theories of race, they probably agreed with Franco when he proclaimed in one of his speeches that, fortunately for Spain, she did not have a 'Jewish Problem'. Franco's speeches in 1939, 1940 and 1941 contained statements of approval of Nazi behaviour,13 even though it is known from other statements and writings, and particularly from what must be an original primary source - a film script written by Franco himself - that the Spanish general believed that in Spain the Jews had been 'purified', as it were, by the Spanish aristocratic tradition.14 Unfortunately, that admiring view of Sephardi Jews was not translated into real action. Spain did not have a 'Jewish problem' and certainly there was little enthusiasm for allowing Jews into Spain given, if only for one reason, that it was well known that most of the Jewish world had been hostile to the ambitions of the Franco side in the Civil War. Nevertheless, no special law was promulgated in respect of Jews in Spain, despite Nazi influence over the Spanish police. No property was confiscated and no political charge was made against the tiny Jewish communities of Barcelona or Seville or those of Morocco for their activities, this at a time when tens of thousands of Spaniards were being arrested and sentenced under the so-called Law of Political Responsibilities. The language of anti-Semitism was widespread in the media of the Spanish regime and of the official party, the Falange, but it was not generally and seriously absorbed to the extent of taking practical action. The succouring of Jews Documentary evidence is so scrappy that estimates vary between 20,000 and 35,000 for the number of Jews who fled the Nazis through Spain, them? selves a proportion of a much larger number of refugees and stranded Allied 13 P. Preston, Franco (London 1993) 347. 14 Alvarez Chillida (see n. 3) 189. 205</page><page sequence="6">Michael Alpert military personnel. A reliable and conservative estimate might be 30,000 Jews entering Spain from France.15 Most Jews entered Spain legally, with some sort of document. This was so particularly in the summer of 1940, while there was a further period when refugees attempted entry after German forces occupied the whole of Vichy France in November 1942. Many, however, came illegally, without visas, over the Pyrenees, guided by smugglers. If caught, they would be interned until the American Joint Distribution Committee or perhaps some neutral consulate could get them released, but in a minority of cases they were returned to France. This was the reason for the suicide of the German Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamin. Helped over the mountains, following a route already taken by such well-known people as Alma Mahler, the widow of the composer, the party which included Benjamin was arrested. The Spanish police chief at the eastern Pyrenean frontier said that he had orders from the provincial governor to return the group to France because they did not have French exit visas. In the event, whether the orders were not quite so clear, or they were changed or for some other reason, the police chief changed his mind. The Spain of 1940 was often inconsistent in its policies and in their execu? tion. Benjamin took an overdose and died, but the party of refugees was allowed to stay. In any case, the fact that the town, Port Bou, assumed that Benjamin was a Catholic and gave him a Catholic burial - even though he was a suicide - shows that the threat to return the group to France was nothing to do with their being Jewish.16 The 'Spanish Proteges' The record of Spain, however, is much worse and less excusable when it came to protecting Jews who did have a claim to Spanish help. In German occupied Western Europe some 4000 Jews - 2000 of them in Paris to which many Eastern Judeo-Spanish-speaking Sephardim had migrated - had Spanish passports. According to the Yad Vashem communication that Lipschitz cites, about 3000 French Sephardim received general protection as long as Spain was not asked to repatriate its citizens.11 They had usually registered with a Spanish consul in the Balkans and believed they enjoyed 'Protected Spanish' status. This, however, did not give the right to settle in Spain, although a number of Ottoman Jews had taken advantage of their status as Spanish-protected citizens to come to Spain in the First World 15 This estimate is made by J. A. Lisbona, 'Los heroes de Budapest', in M. Gonzalez-Arnao (ed.) Aventura de la Historia (Madrid 1999) 24. 16 M. Brodersen, Walter Benjamin: A Biography (London and New York 1996). 17 ipschitz (see n. 6) 45 (my italics). 206</page><page sequence="7">Spain and the Jews in the Second World War War from France when that country and Turkey were at war. Yet few other such 'Spanish proteges' had fulfilled all the bureaucratic requirements for full citizenship as had been laid down by the Spanish decree of 20 December 1924, at the height of the wave of Spanish philo-sephardism.18 The result of the denial of protection was most tragic in Salonika in Greece. Tens of thousands of Sephardim lived in this city, the centre of the 450 year-old diaspora of Spanish Jewry which had gone to the Ottoman Empire when expelled from Spain in 1492; the city had at times had a Jewish majority. A combination of Nazi insistence and Spanish delay and fear that no other countries would absorb refugee Jews if they were admit? ted to Spain meant that in the summer of 1943 almost the entire Jewish community of Salonika was deported and murdered (the Yad Vashem figure of 42,830 deported from Salonika has been cited).19 The Germans considered that the Jews in Salonika who held Spanish passports and the 2000 similar Sephardim in Paris were Spanish nationals, which implied that the Spanish State would have been able to save them. In the end, by a combination of chance and independent action by Spanish consuls, about 300 Sephardim in Paris were saved by the consul, Bernard Rolland, before he was recalled to Spain, and 1357 Greek Sephardim were finally evacuated and crossed into Spain, in a train sealed and protected by the Red Cross, in February 1944. They were transferred to Spanish Morocco and, after other vicissitudes, ended up in Palestine.20 Rabbi Lipschitz's book makes no mention in its index of the doomed Jews of Sarajevo, Belgrade and Monastir, or of those of the islands of Rhodes and Cos and other places in the Nazi-occupied Spanish-speaking Jewish world where many Jews were registered with Spanish consuls. To save these Jews would mean having to accept that they had the right to repatriation, to live as residents in Spain, or so it seems to have been feared in Madrid. While, on the one hand, the Spanish regime, as always inconsistently, issued instructions to its representatives to try to prevent deportations of Jews, on the other, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid allowed the Nazis and the Vichy puppet government to apply anti Jewish regulations to people whom Spain should have protected. For Madrid was not ignorant of the mass murder of Jews caught up in the German advance into the Soviet Union beginning in June 1941. In addition to diplomats accredited to countries invaded by the Nazis, Members of the Blue Division, the 18,000 Spanish troops who fought on the German side in Russia, reported what they had seen. 18 Lisbona (see n. 8) 36-8. 19 Lipschitz (see n. 6). 20 Hoare (see n. 2) 237. 207</page><page sequence="8">Michael Alpert In 1943 the Nazi authorities gave an ultimatum to neutral states. They should repatriate their Jewish citizens or the Germans would assume that the Jews did not enjoy neutral protection and would be deported to Polish ghettoes and concentration camps.21 Whereas neutral countries such as Switzerland, Sweden and Portugal looked after their citizens, and Italy, though a war ally of Germany, actively protected Jews in those places where it was able, the Spanish record is, to say the least, questionable. The Nazis over and over again deferred deportations of Jews who had a claim on Spain. Even so, Spain would accept only those Jews who had confirmed their citizenship, which meant only 250 of those living in France who had a claim on Spanish protection.22 Others, whatever their claim to protection, did not receive it. The figures show that, aside from the 26,000 to 28,000 or so who, with or without some sort of authority, came over the French frontier, a further 800 Spanish Jews were brought to Spain from Western Europe, plus the 1350 from Salonika mentioned previously, while 200 Jews with Spanish citizen? ship were protected against deportation in Romania and Bulgaria (the figures presented in the various sources do not always agree; these statistics are my estimates). This inconsistent and foot-dragging record, excusable perhaps given the absence of a clear policy, contrasts with the valiant personal efforts of some Spanish diplomats in Eastern Europe. Spanish Consuls rescued Jews The Germans occupied Hungary in 1944 and began systematic deportations of Jews to Auschwitz. In 1944, as the notorious Adolf Eichmann pressed for Hungarian Jews to be deported, a Spanish diplomat in Budapest, Angel Sanz Briz, with the apparent consent of Madrid, took over seven buildings, protected them under the Spanish flag and saved, according to the most recent estimate, some 5000 Jews, most of whom were Ashkenazim, to whom he issued documents which satisfied the authorities.23 When the Red Army was about to enter Budapest, Sanz Briz, who represented a country not recognised by the USSR, had to leave and the Jews he had protected were looked after by a mysterious Italian adventurer called Giorgio Perlasca who had been left stranded by the Italian collapse. Since he had fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Franco side, he was given Spanish citizenship and diplomatic status. Perlasca was active in providing food for the various prem? ises in Budapest where protected Jews lived under the Spanish flag. 21 Marquina and Ospina (see n. 8) 180. 22 Ibid. 185. 23 See n. 15. 208</page><page sequence="9">Spain and the Jews in the Second World War That is to say, then, that a few thousand Sephardim and others were saved or brought to Spain by the efforts of Spanish diplomats. Actions, in Bordeaux, Paris, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia by Eduardo Propper, Bernard Rolland, Angel Sanz Briz, Jose Rojas and Julio Palencia respec? tively - and others by consuls of other nations - were taken independently and sometimes against the wishes of their respective foreign ministries. The Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristide Sousa Mendes, died in poverty and disgrace.24 One must ask: could much more have been done, given the condition of Spain, or indeed, in a context where other countries were unwilling to accept refugees? Based on the present state of study of those primary sources that remain, a fair but conservative estimate of the number of Jews saved from Nazi murder, in one way or another, by Spain or individual Spaniards - which is not the same thing - is, at the absolute maximum, 40,000 Jews, but proba? bly several thousand fewer. Spanish behaviour towards people fleeing over the frontier from France, only some of whom were Jews, was probably as laudable as that of any country in a similar situation. Yet the position taken towards people who had a proper claim on Spanish protection - either because they had citizenship or a history of registering as protected citizens - was obstructive and affected by what Spaniards today, who look back crit? ically on the Franco regime, might well see as a sort of inherited, atavistic fear of the supposed danger that a few thousand Jews would mean to Catholic Spain just at the moment when the regime's stated aim was to re Catholicize Spain after liberal and free-thinking values had been vanquished by the Franco uprising and the Civil War of 1936-9. It can fairly be said that the general Jewish attitude during the Civil War had been against Franco. Given that Franco represented traditional Catholic Spain and that he was being aided militarily by Hitler, it could not have been otherwise. A less immediate explanation for attitudes to Jews in the early Franco years must go deeply into Spanish history, to the phenom? enon of the Spanish Inquisition which throughout its history feared that the presence of Jews would subvert the Christianity of the descendants of Jewish converts, a fear which kept Jews out of Spain until the nineteenth century. While this could not still have been meaningful in the 1940s, the fears expressed in personal letters from one minister or one Spanish general to another, some of which have survived and are quoted by Spanish histori? ans, and remarks by Franco himself in occasional speeches, must be described as paranoid. Spanish leaders seem to have thought seriously that a small number of Jews would have that corrosive or divisive effect on soci 24 Fralon (see n. 9) ch. 8. 209</page><page sequence="10">Michael Alp er t ety that made reactionary Spanish historians consider that the Inquisition and the Expulsion of 1492 were justified. The Spanish view was not racist in the Nazi sense. It did not, for exam? ple, affect the Spanish Jews of Morocco. Despite the pervasive anti Semitism of the media, there were no arrests, no imprisonment or ill-treatment of the few Jews as Jews on mainland Spain. Jews were denied their civil rights, but so were other non-conforming Spaniards, oppressed by the recently victorious Franco regime. Jews were not denied their prop? erty rights or those of association any more than most Spaniards. Nevertheless, Spain's behaviour towards a few thousand Sephardim to whom it had an obligation cannot be fully excused or explained away. All the same, it should not be forgotten that the ultimate responsibility for their suffering was not Spain's but the Nazis'. As for Franco himself, no official document clarifies his attitude, and his interview on the subject with Rabbi Lipschitz is admitted by the latter to have been 'fruitless and inconclu? sive'.25 Perhaps this was because General Franco took no active part, help? ful or not, in whatever Spain did to help Jews escape from Nazi rule. 25 Lipschitz (see n. 6) 4. 210</page></plain_text>