The Span­ish Holo­caust: Inqui­si­tion and Exter­mi­na­tion in Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Spain

Paul Pre­ston
  • Review
By – August 6, 2013

In recent years a small group of his­to­ri­ans and for­mer Span­ish gov­ern­ment offi­cials have attempt­ed to san­i­tize Gen­er­al Fran­cis­co Franco’s role dur­ing World War II, point­ing out the 20,000 Jew­ish refugees who were able to use Spain as a land bridge” to neu­tral Por­tu­gal. Lat­er, in April 1943, the Span­ish gov­ern­ment, under orders from Fran­co, per­mit­ted, for exam­ple, the estab­lish­ment in Madrid of the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Amer­i­can Relief Orga­ni­za­tions, most of whose bud­get came from the JOINT (AJDC). One result of this action was that dur­ing the sec­ond half of World War II anoth­er 5,600 Jews found refuge in Spain. Sim­i­lar­ly, in the last year of World War II Spain joined oth­er neu­tral” coun­ties grant­i­ng pro­tec­tion certificates”to 2,750 Hun­garian Jews who were not Span­ish citizens.

In spite of these actions, the July 1936 Fas­cist upris­ing against the duly elect­ed Repub­li­can gov­ern­ment was sat­u­rat­ed with ant-Semit­ic and anti-Marx­ist think­ing. As Paul Pre­ston, pro­fes­sor of Con­tem­po­rary Span­ish His­to­ry at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics points out in his bril­liant work, The Span­ish Holo­caust: Inqui­si­tion and Exter­mi­na­tion in Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry Spain, the right in Spain, both before and after the Civ­il War, regard­ed the Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion a seri­ous soci­o­log­i­cal study.” Since there were few Jews in Spain before 1936 there was hard­ly a Jew­ish prob­lem.” How­ev­er, Span­ish anti-Semi­tism with­out Jews was not about real Jews but was an abstract con­struc­tion of a per­ceived inter­na­tion­al threat. Accord­ing to Pre­ston, Jews flee­ing Nazi Ger­many pri­or to the out­break of the Span­ish Civ­il War were deemed by the right as an advanced guard of a world rev­o­lu­tion intend­ed to poi­son Span­ish soci­ety with pornog­ra­phy and prostitution.

Franco’s belief that the Civ­il War had been against the Jew­ish-Bol­she­vik-Mason­ic” con­spiracy was reit­er­at­ed in his end of the year address on Decem­ber 31, 1939. Here, Fran­co praised Nazi anti-Semit­ic leg­is­la­tion, declar­ing that the per­se­cu­tion of the Jews by the fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry Catholic mon­archs Fer­di­nand and Isabel had shown the Ger­mans the way:

Now you will under­stand the rea­sons which have led oth­er coun­tries to per­se­cute and iso­late those races marked by the stig­ma of their greed and self interest.…We, who were freed of this heavy bur­den cen­turies ago by the grace of God and the clear vision of Fer­di­nand and Isabel, can­not remain indif­fer­ent [to the dan­ger pre­sent­ed by the Jews]. A peo­ple that would sac­ri­fice the lives of their chil­dren more read­i­ly than their base interests

In short, stu­dents of Span­ish and Jew­ish his­to­ry will find in Preston’s newest work that the bru­tal expul­sion of over 100,000 Jews in 1492 – 1493 was matched only by the exter­mination of hun­dreds of thou­sands of men, women, and chil­dren who had sided with the Repub­lic dur­ing and after the Civ­il War.

Carl J. Rheins was the exec­u­tive direc­tor emer­i­tus of the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research. He received his Ph.D. in Mod­ern Euro­pean His­to­ry from the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York at Stony Brook and taught cours­es on the Holo­caust at sev­er­al major universities.

Discussion Questions