It is a paradox.
Adolf Hitler´s ally, General Franco, sent Fascist volunteers to fight with his armies on the Eastern Front, while thousands of fellow Spaniards were imprisoned and killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Yesterday, 27th January, marked World Holocaust Day in memory of the more than six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
The National Socialist regime that ruled Germany between 1933 and 1945 exterminated millions more people whom they considered sub human including Poles, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and political opponents.
One group, often overlooked were Spanish Republicans, who had fled Spain following Franco´s victory in the Civil War in March 1939 and who were captured in France when that country fell a year later in Hitler´s Blitzkrieg in June of 1940.
Spaniards from the Republican army had readily volunteered for the fight against the Nazis, the majority joining the French but also British Army when war broke out in 1939.
Upon their capture following the Allies collapse the German had initially sought to repatriate them to Spain but Franco replied that these “Rojos” were no longer Spaniards.
From then, Spanish Republicans and Jews then became intertwined in a parallel existence of Nazi oppression and inhumanity.
The Mauthausen concentration camp, located in Austria, became the symbol of Nazi cruelty as well as the final destination of most of the Spanish Republican prisoners.
Of the nearly 10,000 Spanish deportees, around 7,500 went to Mauthausen. Some 5,000 died there.
Prisoners were brought from all over conquered Europe and had to display their national origin on their uniform alongside their prisoner category.
Labelling had a direct impact on the prisoners chances of survival.
Spanish Republicans carried the Blue badge of foreign prisoners including their specific apatride status given that their citizenship had been revoked.
Soviet and Slavic prisoners were “significantly worse placed than those from northern Europe” while Spanish Republicans who at first were deliberately murdered, due to their idelogical hostility to the regime, but with the arrival of Soviet POWs their status was relatively higher in the Nazi order and camp hierarchy which meant their chances of survival improved.
While Spaniard were being murdered by the Nazis, Franco´s Spain sent 45,000 Falangist volunteers to fight with them on the Eastern Front of which some 5,000 never returned.
A street in honour of the division´s fallen still exists in the Chamberi district of Madrid.
Most of the Jews deported to Mauthausen came later from mid 1944 following the invasion of Hungary and the liquidation of its Jewish population.
As the Allies advanced many of these were transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
Few survived, either sent immediately to be murdered in the gas chambers or worked to death in the most inhuman conditions, many in an already weakened state.
To mark the World Holacaust Day Madrid´s Centro Sefarad-Israel has organizing this exhibition with the aim of publicizing and reflecting on the trajectory shared by the Spanish Republicans and the Jews who were interned in Mauthausen.
“Mauthausen: Shared Memories” also aims to contribute to the construction of the memory of the events linked to deportation and rescue from oblivion and pay homage to the people who suffered it.
An exhibition that, through five rooms and thanks to different personal stories compiled with audiovisual material, photographs and objects, documents the history of the relationship between Jews and Spanish republicans, which intersected in the Nazi concentration camps.
Mauthausen was the last camp to be liberated by the US Army on 5 May 1945.
Of a total of around 190,000 people imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamps at least 90,000 died.
The exhibition runs until 17th June.