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lunes, 28 de enero de 2013

Spaniards in the Holocaust

In previous blog entries I already spoke of the little remembered involvement (until recently) of Spanish citizens on the side of the Allies during World War II, I spoke of Garbo, the famous double agent and how important it was for the success of the Normandy landings, the participation of Spanish guerrilla fighters in the French Resistance and and La Nueve acting in the liberation of Paris. However there is another important aspect of the conflict that is also necessary to point out and supposed that in January 28th 1946 a Spaniard, Francesc Boix, became one of the main witnesses of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

Currently the total number of Holocaust victims is recorded at nearly 10 million people, 6 correspond to people of Jewish origin or who were considered to belong to this ethnic group, of the remaining 4 million (Polish, Soviet, Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners ...) 10,000 were Spanish citizens.

First internees in extermination camps

In 1939, following the withdrawal of Catalonia, the end of the Spanish Civil War and the French border crossing those fleeing were interned in refugee camps (Argelés, Septfonds, Bram ...). When World War Two broke out some of these refugees were integrated into fortification companies, which in most cases put them within reach of the German Wehrmacht offensive during the French campaign of 1940. The offensive survivors were captured and interned in the Stalag (the prisoner of war camps).

In those prisoner camps the Gestapo, soon began to act, and proceeded to interrogate and identify inmates, those who were identified as Spaniards were separated from the French. This was the case, for example, of Mariano Constante, while being prisoner in the Stalag XVII A was interrogated and subjected to several beatings by officers of the German army and Gestapo agents (all spoke perfect Spanish and knew all about his life, making it impossible to hide or disguise his identity).

Since that moment these prisoners are classified as "Spanish Reds" (Rotspanier), a fact that soon would have serious consequences, as from the month of August 1940 a significant number of Spanish citizens (both civilian and military) began to be taken to the death camps and especially to the Mauthausen, which would become known as "the camp of the Spaniards" because it admitted 7,000 Republican refugees (about 5,000 of them died during the years where the camp was active).

The Mauthausen camp, located on the outskirts of the Austrian population of the same name, started to be built in 1938 after the annexation of the country by the Third Reich. Initially used labour from the Dachau camp, although the Spanish prisoners were those who ended up building the entire camp, the first ones came in stages in August 1940 convoys of days 6 (392 prisoners of Stalag XII- A) and 24 (927 civilians, often entire families, from the French town of Angoulême) and the convoy of 27 January 1941 (1,506 prisoners, including Boix).

Did the Francoist authorities know of the existence of Spanish prisoners in the death camps?

There are a number of clues and evidences to establish the knowledge of this fact by the Franco government established in Madrid after winning the Civil War. A good example of this are the verbal notes of the German Embassy, as the one of August 20th 1940, detailing the willingness of German authorities to hand over 2,000 refugees from Angouleme to Spanish Security Police (which received no response) and the order of the Central Security Department of the Reich (RSHA) of September 25th 1940 in which it was ordered that all combatants of Republican Spain ("Spain red fighters", Rotspanienkämpfer) prisoners of the Germans stopped to be considered as prisoners of war and be interned in concentration camps (the order coincided with the visit of 15th to 25th of Ramón Serrano Suñer, Francoist Foreign Affairs Minister, to Germany and his interviews with Heinrich Himmler and Reinhardt Heydrich, head of the RSHA).

Knowledge by Serrano Suñer of the existence of Spanish prisoners in the camps can also be verified by his efforts to free Fernando García-Merás Pindado and Joan Baptista Nos-Fibla in August 1941 (both were freed thanks to the intercession requests carried out by their families to the minister and threatened with a return to Mauthausen if they revealed where they had been during those months). There’s also the visit, remembered by many of the Spaniards in the camp, of the Blue Division captain Josep Queralt Castell (the Division was created by Serrano Suñer to participate in the German conquest of the Soviet Union) to try to convince his cousin Joan Subills joining the Division and thus be freed.

It is also necessary to mention that the striped uniform of the prisoners that barely served as warm clothes wore a badge on his chest to classify their origin or the committed crime in the eyes of the Nazi system. In the case of the Spanish prisoners of Mauthausen this badge was the inverted blue triangle designating them as stateless but with the addition of the letter S in Spanien above, which also shows that the SS responsible for the camp (including Franz Ziereis, its commander) knew perfectly well that they were Spaniards.

Life in the camp

Camps of Mauthausen and Gusen I (its Annex annexed camp within the complex of over 50 sub-camps located throughout Austria and southern Germany) were declared as Category III camps, namely, they were intended to enclose the "Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich", which also meant that none of the prisoners could survive once there.

The methods planned to fulfil that purpose were several, which included among others a clearly deficient feeding, the possibility of being executed (shot, gassed, hanged ...), abused or tortured by any failure or whim of guards and officers, be victim of medical experiments conducted in the infirmary (where no one left alive so internees always tried to avoid the installation) and forced labour in the Wienergraben quarry (owned by companies property of the SS and intended to provide materials for public works), sadly notorious for the steep stairway, where prisoners were forced to carry heavy granite blocks.

That's when the Spanish resistance organisation was born, which served as the basis for all other nationalities in the camp for creating their own ones and finally create the International Committee, in order to save the maximum number of prisoners and that what happened in the Mauthausen concentration camp system to be known, this meant building a chain of solidarity to protect the weaker prisoners, sharing the little food available, protecting them from the influence and actions of the accomplice prisoners of the SS and trying to get those with deteriorating health carried out work that would not impose death in a short time.

Camp photographs and lists of deportees

With the arrival of new convoys of prisoners and the evolution of war Mauthausen and its subordinate camps soon be devoted to tasks related to the war industry (such as the manufacture of weapons and parts for production of Me 262 jet fighter ). It is at this time when the situation of the Spanish survivors of the first phase of internment improved slightly (but were not yet out of danger), which meant that some managed to reach positions related to the operation of the field in the Erkennungdienst, the Lagerschreibstube or the Politische Abteilung, this will have a great importance in the following years and upon release in 1945.

The Erkennungdienst (the Identification Service) was the camp photo service aimed to document the various aspects of the activities carried out in the camp and take photographs for the prisoners’ identification sheets. Spaniards Antonio Alonso García, Francesc Boix and José Cereceda Hijes went to work in the service in August 1941. Garcia and Boix had experience prior to the outbreak of the Civil War as photographers (Boix also worked as a photojournalist for the magazine Juliol of Joventuts Socialistes Unificades (JSU) and there’s also the fact that Mariano Constante also met him in Barcelona in 1938).

Some of the photographs clearly documented the crimes committed in Mauthausen, something that from 1943 onwards and the Stalingrad defeat became a dangerous and highly incriminating evidence. It is at this time when Berlin gives the order to destroy the photographs and negatives; however Boix rescued about 2,000 and, with the help of the clandestine organisation, hiding them in various parts of the camp.

Over time it was considered that the permanence of the photographs in the camp was too dangerous for the inmates, so it was then that the young Spaniards of Kommando Poschacher (arrived to the camp in 1940 when they were teenagers and authorised to work in the quarry of said company, near the station of Mauthausen) took out the photographs and hid them at Anna Pointner’s home, with whom he had become friends after meeting several times going the quarry (the fact that the husband of Mrs. Pointner had been arrested by the Gestapo after the annexation of Austria also helped facilitate contact).

Regarding Spaniards working in other sectors of the camp administration we have, for example, Joan de Diego, Casimir Climent and Josep Bailina. De Diego managed to enter the Lagerschreibstube (the secretariat of the camp) as third secretary thanks to its relative fluency of German, knowledge of typewriting and the difficulties experienced by staff to transcribe Spanish names, Climent and Bailina became part of the Politische Abteilung (the Political Office).

All of them had access to the documents generated by the camp operations, consisting of records of prisoners, the allocation of work in the kommandos, the arrival of convoys to Mauthausen, listings of deaths (double listings on which was inscribed the real cause of death on the one hand and on the other a fake) and the transfer of prisoners to deathly places like Gusen or the Castle of Hartheim. Besides having access to these documents (from them they copied data regarding Spanish prisoners) they were also able to help anyone who might be at risk, which in many cases led them to risk their life ( although they were in positions important to camp operation they remained prisoners destined to die).

Liberation of Mauthausen

In early 1945 it was clear that Nazi Germany had lost the war, the occupation of Vienna by the Soviet Army on April 13th accelerated the actions of SS soldiers of Mauthausen complex for removal or transfer in forced marches of external working groups as well as the beginning of the burning of compromising documents. It was then that deported to Mauthausen began to fear the possible mass extermination of the entire prison population; with this danger in mind the International Organisation activates the resistance groups of the International Military Apparatus, consisting mostly of people with prior military experience who, though poorly armed, had orders to seize the camp facilities where possible and avoid the predictable slaughter.

But the guards and officers, including Ziereis, fled leaving Mauthausen to a mixed force of firefighters and police from Vienna that offered no resistance when the deportees took over the camp during May 3rd and controlled it until the arrival on day 5th of a patrol of the 11th U.S. Armored Division commanded by Sergeant Albert J. Kosiek, which was received with great joy by the survivors (it was then that the famous banner to welcome the liberators with the text "The Spanish antifascist salute the liberation forces" also written in Russian and Spanish painted by Francesc Teix was displayed).

After the arrival of the bulk of U.S. forces under the command of Colonel Robert Seibel by day 6th and them taking control of the camp this was the time to collect all the evidence to prove the crimes committed. Boix went to Mrs. Pointner’s home to recover photographs hidden there and de Diego, Climent and Bailina listings recovered lists hidden in the camp offices (these lists would be the basis for knowing the number of Spanish deportees).

A few weeks after the liberation of Mauthausen U.S. troops began searching for the SS guards who were known to be hiding near the camp. On May 23rd, a patrol commanded by officers Kobus, Smith, Penn and Witterschein, accompanied by former prisoners, locate the cottage where Ziereis, former camp commander, is hiding. He was gunned down when he tried to flee. Moved to the Gusen camp (converted into a military hospital) Ziereis died at sunset on 24th, before his death he was interrogated by Colonel Seibel and two American counterintelligence officers, in the interrogation were also present Boix and Hans Marsalek, second secretary of Mauthausen One of the topics discussed during those hours was the presence of Spanish Republicans in the field, a fact that Ziereis stated that was with the approval of Vichy and Franco governments.

Francesc Boix's testimony at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal

After the liberation the photos saved by Boix and Kommando Poschacher were the protagonists of a photo essay in the magazine Regards (that already had excelled in favour of the Republic during the Civil War and published photos taken by Robert Capa and Gerda Taro during the conflict) and the special issue of the newspaper Ce Soir devoted to Mauthausen.

The publication of the photographs soon interested the Allied services investigation war crimes, prompting Boix to testify before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg during the afternoon sessions of the 28th and morning 29th of January 1946. During these sessions were, among others, the following photos (these are accompanied by part of the trials transcriptions):

Boix: This was taken in April 1941. My Spanish comrades who had sought refuge in France are pulling a wagon loaded with earth. That was the work we had to do.

The photos were also used to test how the defendants knew of the existence of the death camps; this was the case of Obergruppenführer Kaltenbrunner, the visit of whom to Mauthausen could be proven:

Boix: This picture was taken in the quarry. In the rear, to the left, you see a group of deportees at work. In the foreground are Franz Ziereis, Himmler and Obergruppenführer Kaltenbrunner. He is wearing the gold Party emblem.

Dubost: This picture was taken in the quarry? By whom?

Boix: By the SS OberscharFuehrer Paul Ricken. This was between April and May 1941. This gentleman frequently visited the camp at that period to see how similar camps could be organized throughout Germany and in the occupied countries.

Boix was also a witness at the Dachau American military trial in which 61 members of Mauthausen personnel were accused of war crimes. Some of the photos displayed in the Nuremberg trial were again showed on this occasion to demonstrate the operation of the camp system.

After the war and his testimony in the trials Francesc Boix settled in Paris and continued to work as a photojournalist, often for publications related to French and Spanish Communist parties. His health during those years was seriously affected by its passage through Mauthausen, a fact that caused his death on July 7th, 1951.

Other Spaniards deported to concentration and extermination camps

I wouldn’t like to end this long article without talking, albeit very briefly, about other Spanish citizens that went through the camps, in this case for his participation in the French Resistance against the German invader. Those were the cases of Neus Català i Jorge Semprún.

Neus Català was acting as a liaison when she was denounced in 1943, arrested by the Gestapo and later interned in the Ravensbrück camp in 1944. In this camp, created basically to detain women, also housed young children. There where also conducted medical experiments on inmates as well as using of slave labour in ammunitions manufacture.

Jorge Semprun, grandson of conservative politician Antonio Maura and future Minister of Culture (1988-1991), he was in The Hague (where his father was an ambassador) during the Civil War and then moved to Paris in 1941 to study philosophy at the University of Sorbonne. After the German conquest of France he joined the Resistance and was arrested in 1943 after being denounced, later to be interned in the Buchenwald camp.

Links and bibliography

As you may have been able to appreciate, if you read all the blog entries related to the participation of the Spanish Republicans in World War II, this is a complex issue of which I hardly have offered a sample. If you want more information I offer some links (besides of those already included in the article text) and an extensive bibliography (if you know of books written in English regarding this matters don’t hesitate to leave its data in the comments section).

Links of interest:

Amical of Mauthausen
Amical of Ravensbrück
Mauthausen Memorial
Deportees register at the PARES portal of the Spanish Ministry of Culture
Deportees register of the Spanish Ministry of Justice
Avalon Project by Yale University with transcriptions in English of statements by Francesc Boix on January 28 and 29, 1946 at Nuremberg trials
Nizkor Project with transcriptions in Spanish of statements by Francesc Boix on January 28 and 29, 1946 at Nuremberg trials
Website of Joaquim Amat Piniella, Mauthausen deportee and author of the book K.L. Reich

Bibliography in Catalan:

Diari d’un fotògraf
Bram 1939

Agustí Centelles
Edicions Destino
ISBN: 978-84-8710-105-9

Els catalans als camps nazis
Montserrat Roig
Edicions 62
ISBN: 84-297-4969-1

Els espies catalans
Domènec Pastor Petit
ISBN-10: 84-8437-794-6
ISBN-13: 978-84-8437-794-8

Elisabeth Eidenbenz
Mes enllà de la maternitat d’Elna

Assumpta Montellà
Ara Llibres
ISBN: 978-84-92907-51-9

Els Maquis
Esther Rodríguez
Cossetània Edicions
ISBN: 84-9791-109-1

Felip Solé i Enric Pujol
Angle Editorial
ISBN: 978-84-96521-76-6
Francesc Boix, el fotògraf de Mauthausen
Benito Bermejo
La Magrana
ISBN: 84-8264-385-1

Joan de Diego
Tercer secretari de Mauthausen

Rosa Toran
Edicions 62
ISBN: 978-84-297-5917-4

La maternitat d’Elna, bressol dels exiliats
Assumpta Montellà
Ara Llibres
ISBN: 84-96201-59-7

Ravensbrück, l’infern de les dones
Montse Armengou i Ricard Belis
Angle Editorial
ISBN: 978-84-96521-75-9

Vida i mort dels republicans als camps nazis
Rosa Toran
ISBN: 84-8437-308-8

Bibliography in Spanish:

El convoy de los 927
Montse Armengou y Ricard Belis
Plaza i Janés
ISBN: 84-01-37926-1

El hombre que liberó París
Amado Granell y la última batalla de la República

Rafael Torres
Ediciones Temas de Hoy
ISBN: 978-84-8460-613-0

El oro de Canfranc
Ramón J. Campo
Biblioteca Aragonesa de Cultura
ISBN: 84-8324-123-4

Garbo: Doble agente
El espía español que cambió el curso de la Segunda Guerra Mundial

Tomás Harris
Ediciones Martínez Roca
ISBN: 84-270-298-2

Juan Pujol, el espía que derrotó a Hitler
Javier Juárez
Temas de Hoy
ISBN: 84-8460-372-5

La estación espía
Las claves de la derrota de los nazis en los Pirineos

Ramón Javier Campo
Ediciones Península
ISBN: 84-8307-656-X
ISBN13: 978-84-8307-656-9

La guerra ignorada
Los espias españoles que combatieron a los nazis

Eduardo Martín de Pozuelo e Iñaki Ellakuría
Random House Mondadori
ISBN: 978-84-8306-768-0

La línea de la libertad
Una historia real de heroísmo, espionaje, suspense y valor
en la frontera francoespañola durante la II Guerra Mundial

Peter Eisner
ISBN: 84-306-0563-0
La Nueve
Los españoles que liberaron París

Evelyn Mesquida
Ediciones B
ISBN: 978-84-666-2070-3

La penúltima frontera
Fugitivos del nazismo en España

Rosa Sala Rose
Papel de liar / Ediciones Península
ISBN: 987-84-9942-082-0

Lealtad y traición
Jorge Semprún y su siglo
Franziska Augstein
Tusquets editores
ISBN: 978-84-8383-265-3

Los Años Rojos
Españoles en los campos nazis

Mariano Constante
Galaxia Gutenberg (ISBN: 84-8109-502-8)
Círculo de lectores (ISBN: 84-672-1206-3)

Los senderos de la libertad (Europa 1940-1944)
Eduardo Pons Prades
Flor del Viento
ISBN: 84-89644-74-8

Memorias de un republicano español en el holocausto

Ignacio Mata Maeso
Ediciones B
ISBN: 978-84-666-3193-8

Mi vida en los campos de la muerte nazis
Prisciliano García Gaitero
ISBN: 84-8012-508-X

Republicanos españoles en la Segunda Guerra Mundial
Eduardo Pons Prades
La Esfera de los Libros
ISBN: 84-9734-109-0

This entry it's also available in the following languages:
Castellano Català

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