Holocaust memorial day – Spaniards in Nazi concentration camps

Though not a strictly literary matter, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this blogger can’t help jotting down a few thoughts on Spaniards and Nazi concentration camps. Before I came to the Iberian peninsula I thought that Spain played only a minor role in World War II and didn’t think about possible Spanish victims of the German extermination machinery. Then I learned (summarized very briefly) that the German airforce, in support of the rebels around Franco, had used Spain as “training ground” during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39); that Franco afterwards had to pay back Hitler with raw material deliveries; and that the relation between the two dictators was such that a lot of Spaniards who had opposed Franco and fled to neighboring France at the end of the Civil War, shortly afterwards, when France had been “overrun” by the German army, ended up in Nazi concentration camps. A lot of them had joined the French army, and Franco did not consider them Spanish any longer.

I don’t know if any came as far east as Auschwitz; according to the Spanish Wikipedia, the camp of Mauthausen-Gusen (Austria) is considered “the camp of the Spanish”, as it were mainly Spanish bricklayers who built it and as around 7.300 of its inmates came from Spain. One of them was the Catalan photographer Francesc Boix (1920-1951; Wikipedia) whose photos helped in the prosecution of war criminals. The concentration camp of Ravensbrück (Germany) was the destiny of 400 women from Spain; one of the few survivors is Neus Català (Els Guiamets, 1915), whose life experience was put into literary form by Carme Martí in Un cel de plom [A sky of lead]. One of the best-known Spanish writers who had been at the Buchenwald concentration camp (near Weimar, Germany) was Jorge Semprún (1923-2011; Wikipedia). The Long Voyage and Literature Or Life, among others, reflect on this experience. The Wikipedia article on Mauthausen gives a total of approximately 10,000 Spaniards who ended up in Nazi concentration camps.

The Spanish ministry of culture published in 2006 Libro Memorial: Españoles deportados a los campos nazis 1940-1945 [Memorial book: Spanish deported to the Nazi camps] by Benito Bermejo and Sandra Checa that was meant to list all of them.

A lot of information on the Holocaust memorial day in general can be found at the pages of The Guardian.

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