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Saturday, August 09, 2003
Franco, the Jews' Fascist Friend
from the forgotten history files
While Switzerland and Turkey turned back Jews into the arms of the Gestapo or the waters of the Black Sea, some who headed for Europe's westernmost outpost found an unlikely saviour in the shape of Spain's fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Spain... was neutral, trading profitably with both the Allies and the Axis, supplying Germany with vast quantities of vital war materials such as wolfram, from which tungsten is extracted. Spanish businessmen also sold diamonds and platinum to Germany, goods often smuggled in from South America. Unlike in Switzerland, however, this profitable traffic did not affect Franco's comparatively humane Jewish refugee policy. Estimates vary of the numbers of Jewish refugees given sanctuary in wartime Spain - from which Jews were expelled en masse in 1492. Chaim Lipschitz, author of Franco, Spain, The Jews and the Holocaust, claims as many as 45,000 were saved.
A Spanish passport or protection papers could prove a life-saver for Sephardi…Jews who could trace their lineage back to Spain, even if they lived in the borders of the Third Reich. A 1924 Spanish citizenship law gave citizenship to many Sephardi Jews of Spanish descent living in France and the Balkans. Following the wholesale expulsion of the Spanish Jewish community in 1492, many Jews had found sanctuary in the Ottoman empire, which then stretched through Bulgaria up to Bosnia. Sephardi Jews who held Spanish passports were not considered refugees, but Spanish citizens. Repeated Spanish diplomatic communications to the governments of Vichy France, Italy and Romania emphasize that Spain did not recognize differences based on religion among its citizens. If necessary Jews with Spanish citizenship would be evacuated to Spain together with Spanish diplomatic personnel.
Franco also refused Nazi requests to return German Jewish refugees. Madrid's position was that Spain would be happy to return German citizens back to Germany, but as the German government did not consider German Jews to be German citizens, Spain could not return them without their consent.
Why was Franco comparatively pro Jewish? Franco was a Fascist, not a Nazi. Like Mussolini, he stood for a fusion of nation and state, but race and anti-Semitism was never a major component o f the Fascist creed in Spain. Nor was it initially in Italy, at least until the introduction o f the 1938 racial laws. Many Italian Jews joined the Italian Fascist Party. Franco agreed with Hitler on the need for a crusade against Bolshevism, and even despatched Spanish soldiers to fight on the eastern front against the Russians, the Blue Legion. But Franco had no sympathy for Hitler's notion's o f a pure Aryan race and the need to exterminate the Jews.
Many Jews also found refuge in Spanish Morocco, specifically Tangier... One reason that Franco was pro Jewish was that he had many friends in the Tangier Jewish community, according to Edward Reichmann. `All Franco's friends there were Jews, prominent Jewish businessmen,' he said. The Reichmanns' Hungarian roots proved a lifesaver for several hundred Hungarian Jews in wartime Budapest.
Renee Reichmann, mother of Edward, persuaded J. Rives Childs, a US diplomat in Tangier to appeal to General Orgaz, the Spanish High Commissioner, to issue visas for 1200 Hungarian Jews. He agreed, and once the visas to enter Morocco were issued the Spanish embassy in Budapest provided provisional passports, stating that the holder had the right to enter Spain, and that the Spanish authorities asked for all assistance to be given to the bearer of the passport. Under the auspices of the Red Cross, the 1200 Jews were placed into apartment buildings under the protection o f the Spanish embassy. Thanks to the close ties between Spain and Nazi Germany, the Hungarians respected these protected houses' diplomatic status.
Spain also protested to Admiral Horthy in spring 1944 when the deportations to Auschwitz of Hungarian Jews began. Spanish protection papers became highly sought after. As Chaim Lipschitz writes: `In some instances ... Spain's protection was actually the most effective of all, due to the diligent efforts of Charge d'A ffaires Sanz Briz.'
Adam LeBor and Roger Boyes, Surviving Hitler: Choices, Corruption and Compromise in the Third Reich, London, Simon & Schuster, 2000 pp 245-247.