Franco, Nazi Collaborator

Franco and Hitler meet in Hendaye, October 1940

Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain until 1975, was obsessed with the notion of a powerful international conspiracy—led by Jews, Masons, Communists, and other “reds”— against the “new” Spain that emerged from his victory in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. He referred to this plot in the very last speech he gave on October 1, 1975—less than two months before his demise, and after signing yet another handful of death sentences. By then, Franco suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease; but his hand does not appear to have trembled when it came to sending Spaniards to the gallows. The hundreds of thousands of deaths for which he was responsible do not seem to have weighed on his conscience.

In Spain, Franco’s obsessive references to a “Judeo-Masonic conspiracy” were long seen as mere rhetoric, whose only real impact were domestic persecutions of the postwar years. Recent research on the violence during and after the war—and Judge Baltasar Garzón’s groundbreaking attempts to indict those responsible—helps us understand the massive scale of the repression, although much work remains to be done. Yet there is another chapter in this horrific story that has eluded attention until recently—in part because it was considered a state secret, and in part because it took place outside of Spain.

After World War II, the Franco regime succeeded in whitewashing its close ties to Nazi Germany—which had helped Franco win the Civil War, and which continued to be Spain’s closest ally in the years immediately following. After 1945, Franco presented himself not merely as the anti-Communist “Sentinel of the West,” but also as a cunning statesman who had managed to keep Spain out of the war (when in fact he had aspired to join the Axis) and, most notably, as a savior of thousands of European Jews from extermination.

We have long known these were lies. But how different the historical reality actually was has only recently come to light. Declassified documents from the United States’ National Archives in Washington, DC, as well as from archives in London and Amsterdam, confirm an image of Franco as a profoundly anti-Semitic and Judeo-phobic dictator, while also suggesting that he was an active collaborator in the genocide of the Holocaust.

I began investigating Franco’s complicity in the Holocaust in 2004, for a newspaper piece about the 30th anniversary of the dictator’s death. Initially I was hoping to give a different spin to the usual coverage. But what was supposed to have been a brief visit to the National Archives and Records Administrations in Washington led to my discovery of more than 60 pounds of fascinating documents. Eventually these gave rise to three award-winning articles in La Vanguardia, as well as three books. The last of these, El Franquismo, cómplice del holocausto (2012) deals specifically with Franco’s complicity in the Holocaust.

My book shows that the Nazis repeatedly and insistently offered Franco the chance to receive an undetermined number of Jews from all over Europe before they were taken to the extermination camps. Historians at the University of Tel Aviv and other institutions claim that this offer was limited to the so-called Spanish Jews—that is, those who held some form of Spanish documentation as a result of the 1924 decree by which Jews of Sephardic origins could apply for Spanish citizenship. These historians also argue that Eichmann was opposed to sending massive numbers of Jews to Spain.

I do not fully agree with either of these two points. I argue instead that the Nazi offer affected hundreds of thousands more.

Census figures from the January 1942 Wannsee Conference indicate that some 11 million Jews lived in the area that the Nazis considered “Greater Germany”—populations that were therefore subject to immediate deportation. It was in this context that the offer to Franco was made. The fact that the correspondence between Berlin and Madrid makes explicit reference to areas in which Ashkenazis were much more numerous than Sephardim suggests that the offer may actually have included many more than just those Jews of Sephardic origin who possessed Spanish papers. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the Nazis, bent as they were on ridding themselves of the Jewish population at all cost and, for the sake of expediency, may have dubbed as “Spanish Jews” all Jewish populations living south of an imaginary geographic line, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Greece, and the Balkans, and probably even Poland. Actual genealogy, in other words, mattered little. If this assumption is true, then Hitler and Franco were talking, at the very least, about hundreds of thousands of individuals.

What about Eichmann? My research suggests that Eichmann simply was not in a position to oppose a state directive coming from Hitler and endorsed by Himmler. Eichmann was an efficient administrator in charge of logistics at the Department of Jewish Affairs who, when so ordered by Himmler, did not object to negotiating with the Allies (I am referring to the Joel Brand case, which I covered for the Vanguardia as well). Eichmann obeyed authority blindly and would obviously have sent the Jews wherever they told him to.

The official documentation left behind by the Nazi regime leaves no room for doubt that Franco was treated as a friend, a very special ally of the Third Reich. So much so that the Axis could be said to have run from Berlin, to Rome, to Madrid. But when the Nazis offered Franco the chance to take on the European Jews, the regime at first did not even bother responding. This total lack of reply surprised the Nazis, bureaucratic and precise as they were. They promptly repeated their offer and even extended the deadline in hopes of receiving an official reply from Spain.

Yet Franco was stubborn and unaffected, even when the repeated German ultimatums warned him explicitly of the “extreme measures”—that is, extermination—to which the Jews whom the Nazis considered to be the responsibility of the Spanish leader would be subjected. Ironically, Franco and his embassy in Berlin did not hesitate to claim the property and monetary assets of the deported—alleging that the deportees from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg were in fact proper Spanish citizens.

Franco and Hitler meet in Hendaye, October 1940

Was Franco then just another Nazi who should have been tried at Nuremberg for complicity in the genocide? Documentary evidence indicates not only that Spain’s foreign policy was anti-Semitic, but that the Nazi regime, in the face of Spain’s refusal to take charge of the “Spanish Jews,” actually warned Spain about Hitler’s genocidal intentions. Franco’s position reflected his concern that the Jews would be sympathetic to the Allies and a threat to his regime. In fact, Franco considered the United States and Great Britain as enemies. That much is clear from official secret documents from the time period, originating in the Spanish Foreign Ministry and sent to Berlin, in which the Western democracies are labeled as “enemies” and Germany as ally. The underlying idea was simple: Any enemy of Germany was an enemy of Spain. While Franco presented himself to the rest of the world as tepidly “non-belligerant” and, soon after, as “neutral,” the Gestapo was allowed to operate freely on Spanish soil.

The Nazi offer with regard to the European Jews generated an avalanche of telegrams, verbal notes, and other documents. From 1943 on, the discussion about the fate of the Jews generated no less than a dozen official documents per day, between Spain and Germany. Just to give one example, here is a message from Germany (written by G-Schreiber, the Nazi’s teleprinter with integrated encryption) dated January 22, 1943, sent from Berlin to the German embassy in Madrid. In this case, as in my next example, the Nazis speak of “Jews of Spanish nationality,” although they did not yet have a Spanish passport, which the Nazis hoped Spanish diplomats could provide them with along the way. Here are the Nazis:

… in the occupied territories of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, there are many foreign Jews to which the occupying [Nazi] administration has not yet applied the anti-Jewish measures. The special treatment of foreign Jews is unjustified given their behavior and reasons of military security. The same is true for individual groups in the Reich and foreign Jews in the Protectorate.

This is why it is the intention to submit all the Jews in the above-mentioned territories to the existing anti-Jewish measures starting April 1 of this year, which includes identification, internment, and then expulsion. These measures also affect a certain number of Jews with Spanish nationality.

I request that you contact the Spanish government and inform it of the planned measures. For reasons of courtesy we are informing the government before we move to give instructions. Until March 31 they will be able to repatriate Jews with Spanish nationality from the aforementioned territories under German jurisdiction. The German offices will give the necessary exit permits as soon as they have the corresponding entry visa. Corroboration for individual cases is reserved. After March 31 there will no longer be special treatment.

Even clearer seems the telegram that Hans Von Moltke, the ambassador of the Third Reich in Madrid, sent the Foreign Ministry in Berlin on January 28, 1943, in which the German diplomat specified that Spain was already aware of the limits imposed by the Nazis on the rescue of the Jews. There was no room for misunderstanding:

Today the Spanish Foreign Ministry has been informed, through the delivery of written documentation, that the Spanish government has until March 31 the possibility of repatriating those Jews of Spanish nationality…who find themselves in territories under German jurisdiction. From April 1 on, and without exceptions, these Jews, who until now enjoyed special treatment, will be subject to all the existing measures against the Jews. The director of the political division of the Foreign Ministry [Spanish diplomat José María Doussinague] expressed gratitude for being informed in advance, which he considers a sign of deference toward Spain. This director [Doussinague] says that the Spanish institutions will have to study the matter and that the Foreign Ministry will transmit Spain’s official position to the [German] embassy as soon as possible. In the personal opinion of the director, Spain will not allow Jews of Spanish nationality to enter Spain. In this context he asks if it would be possible to expel these Jews to third countries, especially to Turkey, from which they tend to originate. He was informed that, in the opinion of this Embassy, that possibility does not exist, so that they will either be repatriated to Spain or submitted to the existing rules. We will keep you informed. Moltke.

Two weeks later, and given the lack of a reply from Spain, the Third Reich reiterated the warning to Franco’s government with a new message from Berlin to its embassy in Madrid. This time, the undersecretary of the German government was copied. The communique refers to “Spanish Jews,” a term that can obviously be interpreted as Sephardim, that is to say, people of Spanish origin, descendants of those expelled at the order of Queen Isabella in 1492. It is not possible that all of these possessed Spanish papers in 1943. The Nazis state: “The general measures against the Jews will also be extended to the Spanish Jews who reside in the General-Gouvernement [Nazi-occupied territories in Poland], in the Baltic countries, and in the Eastern territories, starting April 1 of this year. I request that you inform the Spanish government of this.” On February 22, 1943, Ambassador Hans Moltke insisted once more that the Spanish government reply. Two days later, he sent an encrypted telegram to Berlin explaining the results of his attempts:

… the Spanish government has decided not to allow, for any case, the return to Spain of Spaniards of the Jewish race who live in territories under German jurisdiction. The Spanish government believes that it is opportune to allow those Jews to travel to their countries of origin, especially Turkey and Greece. The Spanish government would be willing in some cases to grant a transit visa for Spain for Jews with an entry visa for Portugal or the United States. In all other circumstances, the Spanish government will abandon the Jews with Spanish nationality to their fate.

The Spanish ambassador in Berlin has the order to discuss this matter with the [German] Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hencke replied to the director general…that in the opinion of the ambassador, the German government will not allow the Jews of Spanish nationality to leave for other countries. That the Spanish government had been advised only for reasons of courtesy, to give it the opportunity to repatriate those Jews to Spain before March 31. The director general [Doussinague] remarked that those Jews would probably be more dangerous in Spain than in other countries because they would be immediately captured by American and English agents to be used as propagandists against the Axis, especially against Germany. Otherwise Mr. Doussinague showed little interest on the part of Spain for this matter. I request new orders. Signed: Moltke.

There is something deeply unsettling about the cavalier way in which efficient German functionaries determine the fate of millions of people. When the Allied Forces entered Berlin at the end of World War II, they found the Spanish replies to these documents. Although we can infer part of their contents through the German side of the correspondence, they make clear what the position of the Spanish government was when it came to the fate of the European Jews. One of the documents is written on the letterhead of the Spanish Embassy in Berlin and carries the seal of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Next we read the reference, “D III 253g, entry: February 25, 1943” and the word “Reminder.” It says:

The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been informed by the German Embassy in Madrid that starting March 31, 1943, the Spanish Jews who reside in France, Belgium and the Netherlands will no longer enjoy the special treatment they have had until now. In German and the occupied territories, they will be subject to the general measures against the Jews if they do not leave the country before the date mentioned. The German Embassy added that the Spanish Jews will be allowed to leave the country. The Spanish Embassy desires to know if the German authorities are willing to facilitate the Jews’ travel to the East, especially to Turkey, from where most originate, supposing that it will be possible for them to obtain an entry visa. If that is not the case, the Spanish government will grant them a transit visa for travel to another country.

The Spanish Embassy requests that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intervene before the corresponding authorities to explain to them that the assets of the Spanish Jews left behind when leaving France, Belgium, and the Netherlands will be administered by the consuls and representatives of Spain and that they have to remain in the latters’ possession given that these are assets of Spanish subjects and therefore a national asset of Spain.

Berlin, February 25, 1943.

In reply to this message, the Nazis confirmed to Spain that nothing could be done for the supposed Sephardim. The dispatch with the laconic reply was sent from Berlin to its embassy in Madrid on March 6, 1943. It was secret, encrypted, and carries the number 1346. The message, to be transmitted to Spain, states that “The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been informed in writing and verbally that the exit of Spanish subjects of the Jewish race from territories under German jurisdiction cannot be allowed to their countries of origin, to Portugal, or to the United States.”

Again it is the Nazis themselves who explain what had happened. Especially revealing here is a summary by Eberhard von Thadden, the liaison between Germany’s Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop and Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for deportations, written for the German Embassy in Madrid. The document is from December 27, 1943:

In negotiations that took place between 1942 and February 1943, the Spanish government insisted that it was not interested in the Spanish Jews. Later, the repatriation of all Spanish Jews was authorized [by the Germans]. Repeatedly, Spain failed to adhere to the deadline for their return.…In spite of this, and as a precaution, the expulsion of the Spanish Jews did not commence until November 16. Please explain unequivocally the position of the Spanish government and underscore that the government of the Reich has done everything possible to resolve the problem in a friendly way and to avoid difficulties. We did this taking into consideration the Spanish nationality [of the Jews] despite the fact that it can be assumed that all the Jews have an anti-German attitude.

Dozens of Nazi documents like the ones cited here suggest Franco’s complicity in the genocide—a complicity that was hidden from the Spaniards and the world, and covered up with a different version of events. And yet it is important to remember that while the deportations went on, some Spanish diplomats acted on their own account against the orders from Madrid and managed to save several thousand people. It was only when the war changed course and the Allies began applying pressure to Franco, that the dictator invoked the heroic actions of his ambassadors to garner sympathy from the victors. Did he really manage to fool them? The archives captured by the Allies contain the same evidence that was no doubt known to their secret services. They reveal a reality for which Franco never paid the price.

Eduardo Martín de Pozuelo Dauner is a journalist based in Barcelona. He has written for La Vanguardia and is author, most recently, of El franquismo, cómplice del Holocausto (2012).


6 Responses to “ Franco, Nazi Collaborator ”

  1. Bill Brown a.k.a. Marrón el rojinegro on June 23, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Nothing surprising but I am pleased to see it documented.

  2. stolenlife on March 24, 2014 at 2:46 am

    Show me where the Nazi regime documented the genocidal intentions to kill the Jews. You can’t, because it doesn’t exist and therefore your preposterous interjection of such in this article makes you quite a propagandist.
    If you truly had in all those 60# (one small box of documents would weigh that much) of documents actually seen such proof, you indeed would be quoting from it. However, what you are quoting is how Germany wanted Spain to take “their” Jews off of their hands. If the intention was to kill them, there would have been no need to send them anywhere else in the world.

  3. stolenlife on March 24, 2014 at 3:00 am

    Just a common sense note here: Germany was begging Spain to take the Jews being that the documented repeated requests were made. What does that tell your common sense critical thinking? Certainly NOT that Germany was planning on killing them but in fact trying to relocate them. Spain expelled the Jews in 1492. Over a hundred nations in the world have expelled the jews. Anyone with half a brain would question “why”. Once you have researched that answer, then and only then, open your mouth about injustice!

  4. Jay on June 15, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Hitler did not want to piss off Franco by taking Jewish assets for Germany, if the persons were spanish nationals. Germany did not want to anger spain if they killed spanish Jews! Spain was the chess master of neutrality! Hitler never had any intention of dominating Spain he was Franco’s partner in crime!

  5. Landloper on October 6, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Thanks for maintaining this site – there is plenty of interesting stuff to read and to think about. As to the subject of Hitler and Franco, it seems to me that Franco may have played a blinder by using Mussolini and Hitler to provide his weaker Nationalist forces with support against the numerically superior and better armed leftists, but managed to avoid giving either of his backers much back in return. Hitler attempted friendship and threat at the same time. While soliciting Spain’s entry into the Axis, he also took care to build up German armour and air forces along the on the Spanish border(1941-1943). Franco remained publicly friendly towards Hitler but took care not to imperil Spain’s future by siding with the Axis powers, and, at the same time sent a message to Hitler by fortifying his border against the Nazi threat. We can all be thankful that Franco had the sense and the nerve to lead Hitler and Mussolini a merry dance for three years. Had Spain joined the Axis it is difficult to see how Gibralter and Malta could have been supplied, how the North African Campaign could have been sustained, and how the Suez could have remained in Allied hands. Franco might not be an appealing figure, he’s a reactionary and a bit too conservative for me, but he did save Spain from Stalinism, and he did the world a favour in managing the tricky and dangerous job of remaining more or less neutral despite massive pressure to become part of the Axis. Of course, had the left won, Spain would have been a Stalinist dictatorship and would presumably have begun the war on the side of Hitler like the socialists in the Soviet Union, but then joined the Allies once Hitler foolishly launched his invasion of the USSR. I belive a Stalinist setup would have been mosre costly in Spanish lives than the dictaorship of Franco. Firstly because he kept Spain out of the war despite blandishments and threats from the Nazis, secondly because Stalinism requires periodic bouts of genocide against those caught in its power. In short Franco’s brutality seems likley to have had a narrower and less extensive scope than that of the communists had they taken power. Reactionary, yes, but Franco was a reactionary who saw off Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler.

  6. Luis Martos on June 12, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    To those of us with feelings for Spain, this topic does not grow old: it is amazing none of these biased writers state all the facts, it is amazing how they distort the truth. Franco fought against the communists, Joseph Stalin in particular, who today is acknowledged as a mass murderer. Yet writers like Eduardo Martin de Pozuelo would not mention it in this article. My family lost two members aged 15 and 16 years old when the republicans under the banner of the communists arrived to their town and executed them.

    In the United States a lot of ill will is dedicated to fascism, while the horrendous abuses of communists are white washed. In Spain it is the same way. An earlier post indicated the diplomatic skills and statesmanship displayed by Franco when dealing with Hitler, at the end, Spain came out a vibrant economy and culture.