Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Spain and the Nazi Occupation of Poland, 1939-44

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Spain and the Nazi Occupation of Poland, 1939-44

Article excerpt

Spain was not a great power in World War II, or even a belligerent, and its ability to influence the course of that conflict was very limited. Given the devastation of its own civil war (1936-39) and its difficult economic and diplomatic situation, Spain was not in a position to play a major role in World War II. The results &the Spanish Civil War had been significant: over 400,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of exiles, destruction of Spain's industry and infrastructure, and victory for a regime that advocated self-sufficiency for a nation that was sufficient in little more than olive oil, oranges, and sunshine. Spain's political isolation ran parallel to its economics, with cool relations with France and the United States, countries that had clearly favored the Spanish Republic, and open hostility toward Great Britain, especially over that government's ongoing occupation of Gibraltar, an irritant to Spain's new Nationalist government. (1)

As a major beneficiary of Nazi aid during the Spanish Civil War, the government of Francisco Franco shared many common ideological imperatives with the Third Reich, as well as many of the same enemies. Spain did not, however, embrace Hitler's anti-Semitism or racism against Eastern European Slavs. Despite being marginalized from the war, the Spanish government was well aware of the results of the conflict as it related to Poland and that nation's Jewish population. Driven by pro-Polish sentiments, individual Spanish diplomats and soldiers protested and worked in small ways to hinder Hitler's vision of genocide against the Poles and the Holocaust of the Jews. While not enough to have a significant impact on the course of World War II or Nazi campaigns of extermination, these efforts stand out as exemplars of how nations and individuals might have acted, and thus could have changed much of the history of this dark period. The failure of Spain to do more to rescue Jews reflects more on the general ambivalence of the Franco government to many political questions of the period, rather than the results of a deliberate policy.

Spain did not have an official policy toward Nazi persecution and extermination of Jews. Anti-Semitism was not part of the official ideology of Spain's Nationalist government, Catholic Church, or fascist Falange, but its expression was tolerated in all three organizations. Ecclesia (Church), the official magazine of the Catholic lay organization Accion Catolica (Catholic Action), condemned Nazi ideology, but it also praised Spain's expulsion of Jews in 1492 as an event that strengthened the Catholic Church by removing a non-Christian element from that country. (2) Franco and other Falangist leaders made occasional negative characterizations of Jews, typically conflating them with the Soviet Union through such references as "Judeo-Bolshevism" or "Judeo-Marxism," but the primary enemies of the Falange, the Spanish government, and the Catholic Church remained communism, liberal democracy, separatism, and capitalism. (3)

Franco's government, despite its reputation as a decisive dictatorship, never adopted a comprehensive plan concerning the Jewish question during the Second World War. At times a place of refuge for Jews, Spain periodically closed its border, interned Jews, ignored their requests for aid at its diplomatic offices, or simply acted in ways that seemed to demonstrate obliviousness to the problem. This lack of planning reflects the general approach of the Franco regime to many problems. Because the Spanish government was a coalition of very disparate interest groups--military officers, conservative Catholics, monarchists, and pro-Nazi Falangists--it often was unable to develop a coherent vision. In addition, Franco, in many ways, was a weak leader, unwilling or unable to make decisions that might alienate a key constituency of his government. While the Nationalists exercised a clear chain of command during the civil war and agreed on the broad outlines of policy during that conflict, once the war ended there was no clear consensus, leaving Franco to muddle through according to his own ideology, vague as it was when he strayed from strictly military issues. …

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