Was Franco the ‘good’ fas­cist?

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - HISTORY ROBERT PHILPOT

ON THE La Coruña road in Madrid’s se­date north­ern sub­urbs lies the royal palace of El Pardo. On a scorch­ing sum­mer’s morn­ing, the royal hunt­ing lodge, with its ta­pes­tries wo­ven from car­toons by Goya and Bayeu and its mag­nif­i­cent oak-tree­lined grounds, is eerily quiet.

While de­tail­ing its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Haps­burgs and Bour­bons, there is no men­tion in the English-lan­guage guide of the palace’s most re­cent and long-stand­ing res­i­dent: Gen­eral Francisco Franco. Af­ter he emerged vic­to­ri­ous from the three-year civil war in which 500,000 of his fel­low coun­try­men per­ished, Franco set up res­i­dence at El Pardo. From here, he de­cided the fate of the Span­ish na­tion for nearly 40 years.

With the 40th an­niver­sary of the self-styled Caudillo’s death this month, Spain will be forced — al­beit briefly — to re­visit a pe­riod in its history that the founders of its democ­racy agreed in the late 1970s was best for­got­ten.

That Franco’s regime sur­vived four decades is strik­ing. That it sur­vived in 1945 when — with the ex­cep­tion of his au­thor­i­tar­ian Ibe­rian neigh­bour, Por­tu­gal’s An­tónio de Oliveira Salazar — all of other traces of fas­cist rule were ex­punged in Europe was more re­mark­able still. While of­fi­cially neu­tral dur­ing the war, Spain’s sym­pa­thy for the Nazi cause was ill-dis­guised and that neu­tral­ity did not save Franco from be­ing seen as an in­ter­na­tional pariah in the late 1940s.

The ex­i­gen­cies of the Cold War — skil­fully ex­ploited by Franco’s ef­fort to por­tray him­self as the anti-com­mu­nist “sen­tinel of the west” — and the regime’s care­fully chore­ographed at­tempt to present it­self it less as a fas­cist relic of the 1930s, and more as sim­ply the guardian of tra­di­tional Catholic val­ues, helped to ease the iso­la­tion to which Spain had been sub­jected. This was sym­bol­ised by the start of US eco­nomic and mil­i­tary aid in 1953 and Spain’s ad­mit­tance to the United Na­tions in 1955.

But cen­tral to Franco’s ef­fort to re­ha­bil­i­tate his im­age was the ef­fort to re­cast Spain’s role in the Sec­ond World War: in­stead of be­ing the non-com­bat­ive ally of those who had sought to an­ni­hi­late Euro­pean Jewry, it would de­pict it­self as the na­tion that pro­vided a vi­tal es­cape route for those flee­ing the Holo­caust. Stung by Is­rael’s 1949 vote against Spain be­ing ad­mit­ted to the UN — and the charge of its UN am­bas­sador, Abba Eban, that it had aided and abet­ted Hitler’s per­se­cu­tion of the Jews — Franco’s For­eign Min­istry rushed out its re­but­tal. Over 50 pages, Spain and the Jews de­tailed how the heroic ef­forts of its di­plo­mats had saved 50,000 Jews from the death camps.

For the dic­ta­tor­ship, this was po­ten­tially treach­er­ous ter­ri­tory. Pub­licly, the regime’s at­ti­tude to­wards the Jews was mixed. On the one hand, the Na­tion­al­ists promulgated no leg­is­la­tion specif­i­cally tar­geted at main­land Spain’s tiny Jewish pop­u­la­tion, or the rather larger num­ber of Jews in its Moroc­can pro­tec­torate. In­deed, Franco pub­licly de­nounced racism and an­ti­semitism in Morocco dur­ing the Civil War and Jews served in his forces with­out of­fi­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion.

And while Franco re­opened the Catholic churches, which his an­ti­cler­i­cal Repub­li­can op­po­nents had closed and plun­dered dur­ing the Civil War, the sy­n­a­gogues, which they had also tar­geted, re­mained closed. But this, too, was not specif­i­cally an­ti­semitic: Protes­tant cer­e­monies were not al­lowed, ei­ther. “The dom­i­nance of Catholi­cism in its pe­cu­liarly in­tol­er­ant form,” writes the his­to­rian Michael Alpert, was Franco’s con­cern, not hos­til­ity to­wards a few hun­dred Jews. This ap­par­ent un­will­ing­ness to fol­low their fas­cist al­lies in Ger- many and Italy down the path of an­ti­semitism re­flected the fact that, as Franco de­clared in ref­er­ence to the as­sim­i­la­tion of most of its Jews in the wake of the Ex­pul­sion of 1492, Spain did not have a “Jewish prob­lem”.

On the other hand, an­ti­semitic bile poured from the pages of the Falangist press and mea­sures against Jews in oc­cu­pied Europe — though not their mass mur­der — were re­ported with few signs of dis­ap­proval.

At his vic­tory pa­rade in May 1939, Franco vowed to re­main alert to the “Jewish spirit which per­mit­ted the al­liance of big cap­i­tal with Marx­ism”, while, a few months later, he se­verely crit­i­cised Eng­land and France and jus­ti­fied the per­se­cu­tion of “those races marked by the stigma of their greed and self-in­ter­est”.

As Stan­ley Payne de­tails in his book Franco and Hitler, on at least six other pub­lic oc­ca­sions over the next four years, Franco used sim­i­lar lan­guage.

Per­haps most omi­nously of all, on May 5 1941, Franco’s Di­rec­ción Gen­eral de Se­guri­dad or­dered each civil gov­er­nor to com­pile a list of “all the na­tional and for­eign Jews liv­ing in the prov­ince… show­ing their per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal lean­ings, means of liv­ing, com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, de­gree of dan­ger and se­cu­rity cat­e­gory”. Th­ese lists of mem­bers of “this no­to­ri­ous race” helped to com­pile the Archivos Ju­daicos, which the regime main­tained at least un­til 1944. In 2010, El Pais claimed that, as Spain ne­go­ti­ated its pos­si­ble en­try into the war on the side of the Axis pow­ers, the list was handed to Hein­rich Himm­ler.

De­spite Franco’s seem­ingly schiz­o­phrenic at­ti­tude to­wards the Jews — it­self a re­flec­tion of his ma­noeu­vring dur­ing the war as Ger­many’s for­tunes rose and fell — it is be­yond dis­pute that many Jews es­caped from the Nazis’ clutches through Spain. That did not ap­pear to be the regime’s ini­tial in­ten­tion. On com­ing to power, for­eign Jews — along­side freema­sons and its po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents — were barred from en­try or pas­sage through Spain. How­ever, af­ter the fall of France in 1940, an es­ti­mated 20,000-35,000 Jews did man­age to cross the Pyre­nees, defy the ex­clu­sion­ary de­crees and, along­side other refugees, gain tran­sit visas to Por­tu­gal and free­dom. And, while the Span­ish did re­turn around 500 il­le­gal refugees to the Ger­mans dur­ing the course of the war, it did not do so specif­i­cally be­cause any were Jewish.

But what of the fate of Sephardim, the de­scen­dants of Ibe­rian Jewry who, scat­tered across parts of France and the Balkans, were, by 1943, im­per­illed by the Fi­nal So­lu­tion? Span­ish pol­icy os­cil­lated be­tween a de­sire not to see their per­se­cu­tion but a de­ter­mi­na­tion not to in­crease its per­ma­nent Jewish pop­u­la­tion.

As ev­i­dence mounted of the tragedy un­fold­ing in the east, and Madrid came un­der pres­sure from abroad, Spain be­gan what Payne terms a “painfully slow and halt­ing” repa­tri­a­tion of Span­ish Jews. Most no­table was the case of the Sephardim of Greek Salonica, at least 550 of whom had Span­ish pa­pers. As Franco’s For­eign Min­istry pre­var­i­cated, its con­sul gen­eral in Athens, Se­bas­tian Romero Radi­gales, mounted a heroic ef­fort to save them, man­ag­ing to move some to the rel­a­tive safety of the Ital­ian-con­trolled zone, and — de­spite their de­por­ta­tion to Ber­gen-Belsen — en­sur­ing an­other 365 were brought to Spain by train in Fe­bru­ary 1944.

But Franco’s em­brace was hardly ful­some: all along, the regime in­sisted that Sephardim could move through, but not re­main in, Spain. It was, in fact, Ni­co­las Franco, the dic­ta­tor’s brother and Spain’s am­bas­sador to Por­tu­gal, who showed more hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cern for the fate of Jews, work­ing with Jewish rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Lis­bon to as­sist refugees.

In re­al­ity, the glacial pace of Spain’s res­cue of Sephardi Jews did not seem to quicken un­til it be­came clear that Hitler’s fate was sealed. Nonethe­less, it was at this mo­ment that Spain’s hon­our was prob­a­bly saved when, af­ter the Ger­mans oc­cu­pied Hun­gary in March 1944, it par­tic­i­pated for the first time in the res­cue of nonSephardi Jews. That ef­fort — while even­tu­ally ap­proved by Madrid — owed much to the ini­tia­tive of two Span­ish di­plo­mats: its act­ing chargé d’af­faires in Bu­dapest, An­gel Sanz Briz, and, later, Gior­gio Per­lasca, an Ital­ian fas­cist to whom Sanz Briz turned over the lega­tion when he was or­dered home as the Red Army ad­vanced in the win­ter of 1944. To­gether, by is­su­ing pass­ports, let­ters of pro­tec­tion and plac­ing Jews in rented build­ings un­der the Span­ish flag, the two men saved the lives of around 5,200 Hun­gar­ian Jews.

Sanz Briz was later hon­oured at Yad Vashem. But Franco, too, had rea­son to be grate­ful to the “An­gel of Bu­dapest” — for it was to his ac­tions, and those of a hand­ful of other Span­ish di­plo­mats, that the dic­ta­tor clung af­ter the war to drape a veil of re­spectabil­ity over his own in­ac­tion.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

De­fi­ant:

Dur­ing the war, Franco

was adamant

that Spain did not have a ‘Jewish prob­lem’

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