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SPAIN: David Wingeate Pike--Spaniards in the Holocaust



David Pike, who was my assistant at Stanford's Bolivar House and is now Distinguished Professor at the American University of Paris, has continued his remarkable research activities into the period from the Spanish Republic (1931-36) to the end of World War II. The two themes are combined in Spaniards in the Holocaust. Mauthausen, the Horror on the Danube (London: Routledge, 2000, pp. xxiv, 442, $70). It is a volume in the series "Canada Blanch Studies on Contemporary Spain," edited by Paul Preston and Sebastian Balfour.

Mauthausen is on the Danube, not far from Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is hard to realize that his beautiful spot was the site of a prison camp where among others Spanish Republicans were held. While we constantly hear about the Jews in concentration camps, we must remember that other groups were victims too, including many of the defeated in the Spanish Civil War. When I visited Mauthausen some years ago, my guide was a Spaniard who had survived.

Part I of Pike's book, entitled "The SS archipelago", describes the complex organization of the various Nazi prison camps. Part II is entitled "Mauthausen, Category Three," since that was the category into which it fell, reserved for those designated the worst enemies of Nazi Germany. It was really a group of camps, administered from the main one. Pike's book is devoted to the Spaniards, since some of them survived and provided him with the most detailed information.

The Austrians do not come out very well. A large proportion of the 15,000 SS troops stationed at Mauthausen were Austrian. Proportionate to population, more Austrians than Germans were members of the Nazi Party and volunteers for the SS.

Part III, "Survival" describes the life of the prisoners. Especially moving is the chapter "Holy Night", describing the horrors of a Christmas celebration at the camp. The title is of course a reference to that most beautiful of Christmas carols, "Heilige Nacht", written in the Austrian village of Mariafarr by Joseph Mohr. Under the Nazis "Christmas" was celebrated with bloody pagan rites. Incidentally, staring at the map of Austria I see that there is a town called Judenburg. I wonder how it got its name and what happened there during World War II. Things got worse at Mauthausen as German defeat seemed inevitable, and there were fears of a general massacre.

Part IV, the last, is entitled simply "Liberation." It was a joint US-Soviet operation, from the west and the east respectively. Pike carefully describes the complicated negotiations which took place between the two "allies". Pike thinks the Nazis got off lightly: " Of the 15,000 SS of Mauthausen who murdered up to 200,000 prisoners in the most ignominous of ways, fewer than 200 paid for it with their lives."

Pike has clearly relieved the horrors of Mauthausen, and he makes us relive them. He is in no mood to forgive and forget. The heading of the Epilogue is the German saying which translates as "Forgetting evil is permission to repeat it." This is a basic question. Should we show the deep resentment which marked the end of World War I or the generous understanding at the end of World War II which offset the Nuremberg trials of the guilty with the rehabilitation which made possible the flourishing West Germany of today? Fortunately the West did not follow the advice of Henry Morgengthau Jr., to make Germany a wasteland reduced to agricultural activities. Pike ends by lamenting how Communist sympathizers such as Jacinto CortÚs have distortexd the record. Pike has done a remarkable job of tracking down all the Spaniards capable of providing information.

Pike's book has a remarkable scholarly apparatus. The notes, the annexes, the bibliography and the index fill pp. 313 to 442. There are a number of tables. The plates are divided into two sections. The first, of the camp under the Nazis, includes one of Heinrich Himmler visiting the camp. Another shows the camp gypsy orchestra leading the parade which marched Hans Bonarowitz to his death. In sharp contrast are the kind faces of the American liberators in the second section of photographs.

It should be taken for granted that this important book will be translated into German and Spanish.

Ronald Hilton - 8/02/00


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