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Did Franco want to bring Spain into World War II?

Chritopher Leitz writes; "Although it is extremely doubtful that Christopher Jones will ever be weaned off his pro-Francoism, I'll add a final comment to the discussion regarding Franco's assumed "help" for Jews escaping persecution. Please see the following excerpt from a longer piece that I have written on Spain and the Holocaust".

Excerpt from Christian Leitz, "Spain and Holocaust" (forthcoming)

The verdict of the three historians, Antonio Marquina and Gloria Ospina, and Bernd Rother, that have undertaken the most detailed research on the topic, is clearly negative. Marquina and Ospina's conclusions are, to say the least, highly unflattering to Franco and his regime while Rother, though more cautious in his choice of words, also clearly emphasises the very exaggerated nature of statements made by Franco apologists.

Marquina and Ospina completely reject hagiographic treatments of Franco which make the dictator out to have played a special role in the apparent rescue of thousands of Jews. Both accept that Spanish officials helped to save the lives of Jews, yet such acts of rescue took place despite rather than because of the policies of Franco and his ministers. When it came to the rescue of Jews, Franco was not the Spanish gentleman that he has often been portrayed as. Instead, 'the documents of the period of Serrano Suner and those of the period of Count Jordana demonstrate that Franco and his ministers were in total agreement about the obstructionist direction and profit orientation of Spain's policies towards the Sephardic Jews.'

In fact, Jordana's successor as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Felix Lequerica, needs to be added to this list, too. Previously, as Spain's ambassador to the Vichy regime, Lequerica had left no doubt in people's minds that he firmly believed in the expulsion edict of 1492 and that Jews only deserved protection if they were of economic benefit to Spain. Clearly, the regime's attitude towards Sephardic Jews was not based on humanitarian considerations, but rather on a cost-benefit analysis. In Marquina and Ospina's scenario, Franco was reluctantly forced to reverse in part at least the terrible crime of 1492 while at the same thanking the Catholic Kings for having relieved Spain of the Jewish "burden".

Basing his assessment on a wider reading of sources, both primary and secondary, and while at times critical of Marquina and Ospina, Rother essentially endorses their conclusions. As the most recent author to examine the subject matter Rother provides a very useful critique of the existing literature; in doing so he reaches the not surprising conclusion that 'the numerous publications which engage in full or at least in part with our topic arrive at entirely dissimilar answers.' Rother's answer on the regime's position and policies vis--vis refugees and Sephardic Jews is clear. Between 20,000 and 35,000 Jewish refugees managed to enter Spain during the war, only a small percentage remained there. In the vast majority of cases the regime's officials did not turn back refugees at Spain's border, rarely, however, for humanitarian reasons or because of a rejection of Nazi policies. Instead, the crucial factor was Portugal's readiness to accept these refugees. 'Had Portugal - which did itself expect a rapid departure overseas [of the refugees] - refused the transit of the refugees, Spain's policy would have turned out differently.' The Franco regime gave its hesitant placet to transiting refugees not however to refugees staying in the country.

Implicitly, Rother agrees with Marquina and Ospina's conclusion that Franco was not intent on allowing the very small Jewish communities in Spain to become a "burden" again. This attitude is also reflected in the regime's attitude towards Sephardic Jews that possessed or claimed Spanish citizenship. Particularly in the second half of the war, from early 1943 onwards, the Franco regime showed an increased interest in the fate of Sephardic Jews for two reasons. According to Jose Maria Doussinague, then general director for foreign policy and as such one of the highest-ranked officials in the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the regime could not leave Spanish Jews abroad at the mercy of Germany's anti-semitic legislation because the Allies, in particular the US, would then become more hostile to the Spanish government and because the regime had to make sure that Spain, not Germany was to profit from the assets of Spanish Jews. In line with Marquina and Ospina's verdict Rother denies that humanitarian motives influenced either Doussinague, Jordana or indeed Franco.

After the war the Franco regime embellished its wartime record by pointing at its pro-Jewish activities. And in view of the 20,000 to 35,000 refugees that entered and transited Spain and about 5,000 Jews in occupied Europe (3,500 in Hungary alone) that received other forms of vital protection from Spanish officials the embellishment has a factual foundation. The notion of the Franco regime as pursuing a "Christian and humanitarian" policy (claiming even to have done more than the mighty US and UK) was advanced by its officials and even by Jews. In view of the evidence, however, the notion is clearly a myth. Instead, one must concur with Rother's final and balanced verdict: 'Quite a few of the persecuted reached safety via Francoist Spain even though it had not been expected to grant help to Jews. Yet, much more would have been possible if the government in Madrid had only wanted to do so.' To which should be added that the regime, in addition to its reluctance to providing refuge to too many Jews, resisted outright the possibility of protesting or even pleading against the murder of the Jews - of which it was aware since at least July 1943 (and of deportations since mid-1942).

Antonio Marquina, Gloria Ines Ospina, Espana y los judios en el siglo XX; la accion exterior, Madrid, 1987, 223. Marquina and Ospina are also not impressed about Portugal's policies towards Jewish refugees; see ibid., 166.

Bernd Rother, 'Franco und die Judenverfolgung', Vierteljahreshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 46, 1998, 196-7.

Rother, Spanien, 11.

Ibid., 130-2. In June 1940, when the first major wave of refugees reached the Pyrenees, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, issued about 2,000 Portuguese visa - against the wishes of his own government; Rother, Spanien, 114. See also Jose Alain Fralon, A Good Man in Evil Times; The Heroic Story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes - The Man who saved the Lives of countless Refugees in World War II, trans. Peter Graham, Carroll & Graf, 2001. Fralon claims that, in a period of six months in 1940, Mendes wrote visas for more than 10,000 refugees.

Rother, Spanien, 165.

Rother, Spanien, 339-40.

See in particular Chaim U. Lipschitz, Franco, Spain, the Jews, and the Holocaust, ed. Ira Axelrod, New York, 1984.

Ronald Hilton - 11.03.03