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Post Bernd Rother's "Franco y el Holocausto"
Created by John Eipper on 01/21/17 5:51 AM

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Bernd Rother's "Franco y el Holocausto" (David Pike, -France, 01/21/17 5:51 am)

I followed the good advice of WAISer Angel Viñas and ordered the fine work of Bernd Rother, Franco y el Holocausto. Now that I've read it, allow me to make a few points, from the trivial to the important.

The Trial of the Ministries in 1949 was the 11th of the twelve trials under the Nuremberg Tribunal. Bernd Rother mentions SS-Brigadeführer Edmund Veesenmayer, who was the Nazi strongman after the removal of Admiral Horthy (far right, but for Nazis not far right enough). What is curious is that the identification plaque in front of him at his trial spells his name Vesenmayer. Do I detect a sly grin on the face of this Nazi arch-criminal? Is he about to plead that this is a case of mistaken identity? It should be added that this mass murderer was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment and served less than two, since he was released on December 16, 1951 in time for Christmas. He lived to the age of 73, dying in 1977 in Darmstadt, peacefully in his bed.

Bernd Rother devotes six pages to France, but without mentioning either of the two men who held the position of Vichy Minister for Jewish Affairs (CGOJ). Should we suppose that the repatriation to Spain of Spanish Jews living in France was done behind the backs of the French Ministers? Xavier Vallat was put in that position by Admiral Darlan. Found by the German authorities to be insufficiently anti-Semitic, he was replaced on May 6, 1942 by Darquier de Pellepoix. Darquier, who had risen within the Nazi Weltdienst (the Anti-Semitic International), never disappointed his German masters. Just before the Liberation, Darquier fled to Spain, where he took the name of Estèbe and lived in Madrid with his Tasmanian wife Myrtle. In 1947 a French court sentenced him to death in absentia. He remained in Spain, dying in 1980, peacefully in his bed.

Rother writes of the Spanish Jews released from Bergen-Belsen, but makes no comment on the Greek Jews of Spanish descent who were sent from Salonika to Mauthausen in 1944. Even more surprisingly, nothing either on the Hungarian Jews sent to Mauthausen from Budapest.

It might be useful if I extract pieces from my A Spaniard's Death Camp Notebook, which is at press and due out in April.

The Greek and the Hungarian Jews were the last major national groups to be deported. They were marked for rapid extermination, but with the Soviet overrunning of former Poland there was no Vernichtungslager left in German hands. In that sense, Mauthausen was moving up from its classification of KL Stufe Drei to that of a veritable Vernichtungslager. The Hungarian Jews came in as the very last big intake, although they were followed by those evacuated from other camps. The plan to deport them was the work of Adolf Eichmann, and it was in Mauthausen that he drew up the plan for the last round-up.

Eichmann had no particular connection with Mauthausen until certain batches of Jewish prisoners in Poland began to be sent westward in 1943. The first such groups arrived as early as April and November of that year, and others in January and February 1944. It was from within the Mauthausen SS garrison, on March 10, 1944, that a special group of SS troops was formed, to be placed directly under Eichmann's command and known as Sonderkommando Eichmann. Its mission was to deport Hungarian Jews, and as long as Auschwitz was safe from the Soviet advance, that was their destination. On March 19, Eichmann led this special action commando to Budapest, and no fewer than 430,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to their death.

In the course of this efflux, Eichmann visited Mauthausen in May 1944, but the visit was in no way memorable. Whatever was recorded did not survive; no SS on trial spoke of it, nor did any surviving prisoners, and although Eichmann was part Austrian with a home in Linz, this visit to Mauthausen in May 1944 was probably his first and last. In September of that year, Mauthausen received its first large group of Hungarian Jews when some 8,000 were transferred from Auschwitz, consisting of skilled workers for employment in the ever more important weapons factories. These workers were at once dispatched to one or other of the three Gusen Nebenlagern, where the weapons factories (producing V1s and V2s) were set up inside the mountains, impervious to Allied bombing.

In November 1944, Himmler, who was pursuing his own secret agenda, suspended Eichmann's operation. Eichmann was appalled, and continued to work in Hungary against official orders. Then, when Auschwitz became exposed to the Soviet advance, the prisoners were evacuated westward in mass. Mauthausen was the main recipient, at the same time that it was the main recipient of Jews now arriving from Salonika and directly from Budapest. In January 1945 a convoy from Budapest included 60,000 Hungarian Jews. A study, admittedly incomplete, of the death marches, shows a mortality rate of 59 per cent.

Meanwhile in the Hauptlager, a new camp was set up for the Hungarian Jews (and for others evacuated from the east) to the northeast of the camp. It lay outside the camp perimeter and was guarded only by wooden watchtowers. Known as the Zeltlager (Tent Camp), it consisted of six huge tents, plus eight of smaller size. This camp was in turn evacuated. In December 1944, 400 prisoners, under the command of SS-Oberscharführer Heinrich Haeger, were sent to Gunskirchen, near Wels, to construct a new camp.

In March 1945, the final death marches were from Mauthausen itself, and were like no other. The SS escorts themselves did not understand the where or the wherefore. Some convoys made for Gunskirchen. By that time, presumably because all the Jews had been transferred to Gunskirchen or because there were no Jews left alive, Lagerkommandant Ziereis ordered the demolition of the Zeltlager. An Allied bomb, and perhaps more than one, landed at that time in the area of the former camp, fortunately sparing those inside the fortress. In the empty field today, a wooden plaque marks the spot where the Zeltlager once stood.

As for Eichmann, he left Budapest just in time to escape the Soviet encirclement. In his "Confession," published in English by Life magazine in December 1960, Eichmann spoke of the last months of the war, stating that he left the city in his Mercedes on the afternoon of December 24, 1944, accompanied by the last members of the German police force.

JE comments:  A fascinating review.  Last October, Paul Preston put in a good word for Rother's book.  Perhaps there will be a new push for an English translation?


And David:  Please send the word when A Spaniard's Death Camp Notebook becomes available.  Maybe you could give us a teaser preview:  Whose notebook is it, and how was it preserved/discovered?  I presume the camp was Mauthausen--or not?

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  • Why Were the Germans Obsessed with Prisoners at the End of WWII? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/21/17 3:58 PM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Regarding David Pike's (January 21) important discussion of the Nazi death camps at the close of World War II,
    per his coming book A Spaniard's Death Camp Notebook:
    I hope David can illuminate an enigma. He described how, in the last, particularly disastrous death marches
    mounted by the Nazis emptying camps just ahead of the Soviet advance, "the SS escorts themselves did not
    understand the where or the wherefore."

    I had wondered previously why the Hitler forces, facing the urgent
    need for last-ditch defense, made such a special point to keep their human booty, the prisoners, away from
    Allied liberation, when it was clear it would come anyway. Did they want the last surviving prisoners for
    V-2 labor or some other (barely) practical reason? Was the destruction of the Jews so important to the top
    that it was clung to with dying ferocity? Was there a knee-jerk sense of German military dignity viewing
    the surrender of prisoners as strategically undesirable? Or why, with the end so near, would the hierarchy
    be concerned with hiding the emaciated prisoners from the world?

    Even if the Soviets had found and used
    them for propaganda, could it have made the Allied advance any faster? Is David aware of specific
    statements from within the hierarchy that might illuminate this glimpse of the psychological clockworks
    behind the evil?

    JE comments:  To add to Gary Moore's important questions, in the waning months of the war, didn't death transports even take priority over using the dwindling number of trains for war materiel?  Or are these History Channel oversimplifications?

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  • Bernd Rother's "Franco y el Holocausto" (Angel Vinas, Belgium 01/22/17 5:49 AM)
    I very warmly welcome David Pike's comments on Bernd Rother´s book, Franco y el Holocausto (21 January).

    This book was first published many years ago. I reviewed it for Hispania when it was available in German only. When it was translated into Spanish, the publisher brought in my review as a sort of preface. I haven´t read it for years. If my memory is correct, Rother´s main purpose was to demystify the allegation common in the Francoist historiography that the Franco regime did its utmost to save Jews from the Holocaust. In order to do so, the anti-Jewish measures taken in the summer of 1939 were brushed away. Basically, they dealt with the expulsion of Jewish doctors from the medical associations and the restriction in the issuing of visas for Jews. Thanks to Cristina Calandre´s indefatigable efforts, I brought them into my book La otra cara del Caudillo.

    Almost all documentation regarding political and diplomatic relations with the Third Reich in the 1940-1942 period has disappeared from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives. This is coincidental with the tenure by Franco´s brother-in-law, Ramón Serrano Suñer, who since tried to build himself a new "legend."

    Antonio Marquina and Gloria Espina went to great lengths to exploit the remaining documentary evidence. It turned out that Serrano had no interest in saving Jews or "red" Spaniards for that matter.

    After Franco died there has been some effort to overdo whatever measures were taken by Spanish diplomats to save Jews, frequently without instructions from Madrid. I acknowledge however that this part of Spanish foreign policy has never been my cup of tea.

    JE comments:  WAISer Sasha Pack and I had coffee with Ángel Viñas in Buffalo two years back, and I was surprised to learn from Ángel just how hermetic Spain's official archives remain to this day.  Regarding the protection of Jews during the war, did Spain have any rogue diplomats who issued visas independently, as did Portugal's Aristides de Sousa Mendes?

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    • Spanish Diplomats Who Helped Jewish Refugees (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/08/17 7:05 AM)

      Back on January 22nd, John E asked:  "Did Spain have any
      rogue diplomats who issued visas independently [to Jewish refugees during WWII], as did Portugal's
      Aristides de Sousa Mendes?

      Oh, yes. There were several. Out of my cuff I could mention Angel Sanz Briz, Sebastián Romero Radigales, Julio Palencia, Miguel Ángel Muguiro, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, who I think coincided in Bordeaux with his Portuguese colleague, Bernardo Rolland, and some others.

      The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which I feel a special attachment, has been at pains to highlight the exploits of these diplomats. Some of them have been declared righteous among the nations by Israel. At least one whom I won't name went from fervid anti-Semite to saviour of Jews.

      What the Ministry has never done is try to recover the vanished documentation of Serrano Suñer's times. In my blog (www.angelvinas.es) I've run a series of posts denouncing Serrano´s efforts to create a legend for himself. It turns out that all of the regime used to love Jews...

      The hole in the Spanish documentation to which I refer is, I believe, unique in the annals of Spanish diplomacy.

      JE comments:  At what point did the long-lived Serrano Suñer (Franco's brother-in-law) seek to re-fashion himself as a defender of the Jewish people?  Sometime during the 1960s, when Israel moved to the front lines of the Cold War, as Spain had done a decade earlier?  I'm looking forward to reading Ángel's posts on the topic.

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      • Why Does WAIS Say "German Holocaust"? (Edward Jajko, USA 03/10/17 3:52 AM)
        I have trouble with the semantics of the WAIS subject heading "German Holocaust."

        The Holocaust of WWII is the holocaust beyond description or exception, and has had no need of descriptive modifiers. To some it is the Jewish Holocaust, but that title ignores the many other victims who were specifically targeted; although Jews were the preponderance of those who were murdered.

        In any event, while the guilt falls on the Germans, to say "German Holocaust" implies that it was the Germans who suffered, not the Jews of various nationalities, the Poles, the Gypsies, and others.

        After all, people don't refer to the "Turkish Genocide"(well, Turks do), but to the Armenian Genocide. It is the object of the action, not its author, that should modify this sort of noun. And with the Holocaust, the Sho'ah, no descriptive modifier is needed. Certainly not "German."

        JE comments: The WAIS subject menu is fixed and predates my time in the editor's chair. Still, Ed Jajko's point is well taken. We'll make the change to "Holocaust/Shoah."

        The victim/executioner semantics of Holocausts is not that simple, however.  "Nazi Holocaust" is a commonly used term; put in quotation marks and you get 389,000 Google hits.  No one would suggest that it's referring to Nazi victims.

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