MADRID (Jul. 28)
Last month a judge of the Civil Court of Madrid dismissed a suit of special significance to every Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. The suit was instituted by Violeta Friedman, a grimly determined survivor of Auschwitz who now lives in Madrid, against one of the world’s most notorious Nazis, Leon Degrelle, who also resides here. He has a luxurious penthouse in the city and several villas on the fashionable Costa del Sol. He continues to bask in Hitler’s reputed tribute to him — “If I had a son, I would wish he were like you.”
A Belgian, he was condemned to death after World War II by the Belgian government for war crimes as a Nazi collaborator and as the founder of the notorious Rexist movement. But Degrelle, unlike Vidkun Quisling in Norway and Pierre Laval in France, was lucky. Fleeing from Norway, Degrelle crash-landed in Spain, where his admirer Generalissimo Francisco Franco granted him citizenship.
The action 40 years later in Madrid Civil Court resulted from Degrelle’s appearance on July II, 1985 on national television, when he boasted about his fascist past and declared his undying love for Hitler, whom he compared to Napoleon. On July 29, 1985 in an interview published by the weekly Tiempo he amplified his TV comments to include a sweeping denial of the existence of the Holocaust and the gas chambers. The Nazi Party might be dead, he said, but its ideology lived on.
It was at that point that Friedman could no longer keep silent. She had been taken at 14, with her family, to Auschwitz from Transylvania. Her family was exterminated but somehow she managed to survive, despite a severe spinal injury, until her liberation by the Russians in 1945. She had observed, with mounting frustration, the futile attempts by the Belgians through the years to have Degrelle extradited, and the criminal’s superb success in confounding his accusers.
She began with a letter to El Pais, the leading daily, one of a series of letters over the following several weeks. Degrelle responded with an invitation, also through El Pais, for her to visit him so that he could convince her of the justness of his views. Friedman declined, unless their conversation could be covered by reporters and a TV crew.
DETERMINED TO CONTINUE HER BATTLE
Some months ago, she managed to find a lawyer who would initiate legal action to prevent Degrelle from continuing to flood the country with his lies, and this unprecedented trial was set for June 11. In his preliminary deposition to a judge, Degrelle repeated his allegations (another of which was that Josef Mengele was a gentle soul who had been much maligned). But he refused to appear at the trial on the grounds that he feared Jews would kidnap him.
Friedman insisted to this reporter that all she wanted was for the court’s opinion to be carried widely by press and TV, and that he be asked for a financial indemnity to the Spanish survivors of Mauthausen. Once again, with the dismissal of the action on June 11, the Nazi warlord had escaped justice.
The valient Violeta Friedman is determined to continue her lonely battle, and she has launched an appeal. She has little or no support from her Jewish community or from the Israel Embassy. People seem uneasy in her presence. It appears to be a case of “let sleeping dogs lie” or possibly a fear of retaliation by the militant rightwing organizations in Spain which support Degrelle.
A number of efforts were made to discuss this matter with Israeli Ambassador Shmuel Hadass, but he was unavailable for comment.