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Spain, the Jews, and Franco

by Haim Avni

Bibliographic information

TitleSpain, the Jews, and Franco
AuthorHaim Avni
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001
SubjectHistory
Pages288


Description 

The role played by Spain during World War II regarding the Jews has long been a matter of controversy. This volume, first published in Hebrew to wide acclaim – it was cited as “the authoritative work on the subject and a model of its kind” – seeks to set the record straight. Based on extensive interviews and documented by materials from Spanish and Jewish archives, it offers a full and objective account of the rescue of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied countries by the Franco regime.

This investigation is viewed within the context of Spain’s curious relationships with its Jews since the Edict of Expulsion in 1492. Spain – a Catholic state with a history of Jewish persecution dating from the Inquisition – retained a particularly ambivalent attitude toward its Jewish nationals abroad. Although the latter, mostly Sephardic Jews, were subject to the same fate as that of the other Jews in Europe at the time of Nazi scourge, they were also Spaniards by law, and therefore protected by the government of Spain against measures taken by German authorities.

Despite the Nazi war machine and Franco’s own political bureaucracy – as well as Allied restraints and the weakness of the world Jewish organizations – Spanish foreign diplomatic representatives in Hungary, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and France were able to intervene to rescue thousands of Spanish and other Jews. Even after 1942, when the Final Solution was decreed, Spain continued to be a safe heaven for every Jew who arrived there – and 7,500 Jews reached Spain between 1942 and the end of the war, bringing the actual number of Jews saved via Spain to something under 40,000.

Spain, the Jews, and Franco reveals an important chapter of contemporary Jewish history. The death of Franco and the restoration of Spanish democracy lend this book and added urgency.





About the Author 

Haim Avni ---

Haim Avni was born in Vienna in 1930 and emigrated at an early age to Israel, where he was educated. He is the head of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Previously, he served as director of the Institute’s Division for Latin American and Spanish and Portuguese Jewry. His publications include Argentine – “The Promised Land”: Baron de Hirsch’s Colonization Project in the Argentine Republic (in Hebrew) and Argentina y la historia de la inmigracion judia 1810-1950 (in Hebrew and Spanish).




Contents 

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1 The Emancipation and Modern Anti-Semitism

2 Spain at the Start of World War II

3 Transit and Patronage

4 Spain As a Haven for Refuge

5 The Rescue of Spanish Nationals

6 Defending Jews in Their Own Countries

7 Fact and Fantasy

8 In the Post-Holocaust Generation

Appendix

Abbreviations

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Map

Illustrations follow page



Excerpt 

JEWISH REFUGEES

Until the beginning of the summer of 1942, Nazi and local authorities in western Europe concentrated on stripping the Jews of their property and economically ostracizing them from society. Mass arrests took place from time to time, as in Amsterdam in February 1941 and in the 11th arrondissement of Paris in August and December. But these arrests, each of which involved hundreds of Jews, did not include mass murder, nor were they frequent or methodical. In May and June 1942, the Jews of Holland, Belgium, and occupied France were forced to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothes. Not long afterward the Nazis finished their preparations for extermination. On June 28, the head of the SD and the Security Police informed his subordinates in western Europe of the arrangements: in July trains would be placed at their disposal to transport their victims to the “work camps” in Auschwitz. At first, 40,000 Jews from Holland, 10,000 from Belgium, and 40,000 from France would be taken.

In France the transport order was limited initially to foreign Jews, which was meant to fan the flames of anti-Semitism among the citizenry. Any activity in Paris against the Jews was postponed until after July 14, so that the ardor of Bastille Day would not be dampened; in the meantime, all details were being prepared meticulously. The day after the holiday, hundreds of French policemen swept through Jewish sections in the Paris suburbs, armed with lists that had been provided them. Although some Jews had been forewarned, most were taken by surprise and given only a few minutes to pack some belongings before they were taken away. Under heavy guard, thousands of men, women, and children were herded into a sports stadium in Paris. After five days without food,š crowded, in stifling heat, and without proper sanitary conditions, they joined those imprisoned in Drancy. A few days later, trains began to leave for Auschwitz.

The abruptness of the imprisonment of 12,874 people, the cruelty of its execution, the heart-rending scenes of children being torn away from their parents, and the fact that an entire community was suddenly arrested regardless of sex or age under the pretext of being taken to the East to work shocked many Frenchmen no less than it shocked Jews. Some Jews then began their flight from the occupied areas and sought refuge in Vichy France.

During the last days of July, leaders of Jewish organizations learned that Jews in Vichy France were also about to be arrested. Indeed, Theodor Dannecker, the head of the SD in France, moved about the detention camps of Gurs, Rivesalte, Les Milles, and others, reviewing the stock of victims that Pierre Laval and his cohorts had promised to supply for the Nazi death machine. The prohibition against leaving France imposed on foreigners was intended to prevent more Jews from fleeing, as they were to be deported, and preparations for a large-scale shipment in August had gone into high gear. A coordinating committee of Jewish and non-Jewish welfare organizations, headed by a representative of the Young Men’s Christian Association, which had met since November 1940 in Nîmes, made last-minute efforts to defer the order. A delegation of non-Jewish welfareš organizations appealed to Marshal Pétain, asking for his intervention; he was too old and weak, however, and most likely unwilling to help. Laval and his supporters in the Commissariat Général aux Questions Juives hid behind the flimsy excuse that by handing over foreign Jews they were buying the safety of French Jews. Despite all efforts, boxcars crowded with Jews began to move from the Vichy concentration camps in the direction of Germany, and a wholesale hunt for more Jews was unleashed in the south of France.

During July and August the final, crucial stage in the history of the Holocaust in France began—mass extermination. Most Jews still were unaware of what was happening. Even among the leadership of the organizations —and primarily among the activists of the parent organization, the Union Générale des Israélites de France, which had been established in November 1941 at the behest of the Germans—were many who clung to the belief that the promises of Laval and Pétain would help them.

Out of the events of August 1942 and the subsequent arrests and deportations, representatives of the Quakers and the YMCA in the United States tried to organize the rescue of five thousand children by arranging their emigration to the United States. With the heads of Jewish organizations they sent letters of protest to the Vichy government and appealed to public opinion in France and the rest of the world. In the summer of 1942 the Catholic and Protestant churches expressed sympathy for the suffering of the Jews. Monsignor Saliège, the Archbishop of Toulouse, spoke out from the pulpit voicing his shock at recent events; Cardinal Gerlier, the Archbishop of Lyon, joined forces with Marc Boegner, head of the Protestant Church in France, and tried to pressure Pétain to stop the deportations; Abbé Glasberg in Lyon cooperated closely with a Jewish welfare organization, the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants Israélites (OSE; Society for the Rescue of Jewish Children), and with others in an effort to save children and hide adults. The plight of Jews unquestionably aroused the sympathy of the Christian community, sometimes even of those who formerly had been antagonistic toward them.

The new situation facing foreign Jews in France forced many to use forged papers and go underground. Jewish and non-Jewish organizations had been engaged in underground activities for some time; with the force of circumstance, their work intensified. Catholic and Protestant church groups aided Jews in finding hiding places. This means of rescue was the least complicated, but it did not ensure the personal security of those in hiding. Another option was to flee to Switzerland. Along the French-Swiss border were places where crossing was not difficult, and by the summer of 1942, German border patrols had not yet been strengthened. Passage to Spain, the other escape frontier, involved a long and arduous journey through rough mountain terrain. Those fleeing to Switzerland could not expect to leave there before the end of the war, and the fact that this country was surrounded on all sides by Axis powers well could have aroused fears for its future. But democratic Switzerland at least appeared to offer some guarantee of decency toward the Jews and their personal security, at least as far as the local Swiss authorities were concerned. Nevertheless, refugees could not know what awaited them in Spain and had to weigh the chance of crossing Spain and reaching the Atlantic coast through Portugal against the risk that they might fall prey to the Germans. For these reasons very few attempted to save themselves from persecution in France by fleeing across the Pyrenees. Those who did so possessed passports and partial documentation, providing them with some possibility of eventually emigrating overseas.

No organized efforts at rescue through Spain had been mounted by the summer and fall of 1942, so no great assistance could have been expected from existing Jewish organizations. One of the few who tried to flee through Spain was the young doctor Joseph Gabel, a refugee from Germany who arrived in France in 1940 after several years in Belgium. Gabel had been mobilized, like many other Jewish aliens, in a French forced labor camp. Groupement de Travailleurs Etrangers. During a short leave granted him by the director of the camp, he applied to the OSE in Marseille for information and aid. There he and three other refugees were given a hand-drawn map describing the crossing into Spain from a point near Perpignan. With this inexact map, the four set out without benefit of professional guides. Although they lost their way, their luck did not desert them, and they managed to cross the border. From the OSE they had also received a small sum of money to cover their expenses in Spain. Although this could not be described as a regular function of the OSE, it was apparently the initiative of Ruby Epstein, the deputy director of the office and a Jewish refugee from Belgium, who used his personal connections for such purposes. This kind of individual assistance may have been given to other refugees as well, but because of the unusual circumstances they were probably few.




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