Seeking Kin: What became of a refugee couple sheltered in a Spanish monastery?

The Santa Maria de la Vid monastery in Burgos, Spain gave shelter to Karl and Ruth Albrecht, refugees from Nazi Germany. (Marianne Perdomo/Creative Commons)

The Santa Maria de la Vid monastery in Burgos, Spain gave shelter to Karl and Ruth Albrecht, refugees from Nazi Germany. (Marianne Perdomo/Creative Commons)

The Seeking Kin column aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends.

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Karl and Ruth Albrecht, a couple who fled Nazi Germany, were given shelter in 1941 or 1942 at Santa Maria de La Vid, a monastery in Spain. He was Catholic, she was Jewish.

Santiago Arroyo, a resident of Burgos, a northern Castile city near the monastery for Augustinian monks, tells of a connection his family has to the period and wonders what became of the couple.

Don Grigorio Arranz became friendly with the couple because as a physician, his work often took him to the monastery. His daughters, Pilar and Remedios, knew them, too. Pilar, now 96, is the mother of Arroyo’s wife, Lourdes Nieto Arranz.

Many years ago Arroyo, a wine salesman and a Catholic, first heard Pilar speak about the Albrechts. An admirer of Israel and of Jews, he contacted “Seeking Kin” after reading a column in an Israeli newspaper with a website he checks regularly.

Arroyo isn’t sure how long the Albrechts stayed at La Vid, but it was at least a few months. One of the Albrechts stayed part of the time in Madrid, traveling to and from the monastery. The couple often spent Sunday afternoons with the Arranzes or came for dinner or dessert.

Remedios, now 94, told Arroyo that Ruth Albrecht was a beautiful woman with dark hair, but doesn’t remember much about Karl, who in Spain went by Carlos.

The family recalls the Albrechts attending a conversion ceremony in the church for another German refugee, a Protestant man named Walter.

“They remembered that Ruth remained standing or sitting, not kneeling, before the sacrament,” Arroyo said of his mother-in-law and her sister.

Another recollection is of Karl sipping brandy when an agitated Ruth arrived, telling Karl they had to leave.

"He said, ‘For now, this is the most important thing we have to do — just enjoy it,’ ” referring to the brandy, Arroyo said.

And then the couple departed the monastery and, presumably, the country, for good. They hoped to reach America, and Arroyo is curious to know whether they made it.

The Albrechts were in their mid-40s and childless, but perhaps their American friends, neighbors or relatives will read this column and help him put the pieces together, Arroyo said.

According to Haim Avni, professor emeritus at Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry, the Albrechts’ story is unusual but plausible. The couple likely entered Spain with transit visas, allowing them to remain in the country legally only until the ship on which they held tickets departed. Had they missed the ship or entered the country illegally, they likely would have been detained at the Miranda de Ebro prison near Burgos, he said, adding that either scenario might explain how they ended up at La Vid.

An expert on the Jews of Spain, Portugal and Latin America, Avni also figured that the Albrechts were in Spain before the fall of 1941, when Germany ceased issuing exit visas to Jews.

But with Spain neutral in the war and not occupied by Germany, why did the couple need to hide?

Avni explained that Spain’s leader, Francisco Franco, was allied with the Nazis until the U.S. invasion of nearby North Africa in late 1942. But before and after the invasion, Spanish police cooperated with the Gestapo, and “Jews in Spain were worried that if they were caught, they would be turned over.” The concern was particularly acute among German Jews, Avni said.

“It could be that this couple searched for secure shelter in this monastery,” he said. “The Germans were not specifically looking for Jews, but they looked for who they wanted. They didn’t have to kidnap anyone; the minute they asked for someone, the Spanish police would find and get them.”

Since he initially contacted “Seeking Kin” last year, Arroyo has sought additional information from the current residents of La Vid but came up empty. None of the monks living there is old enough to have been there during the Albrechts’ stay, he said.

The case is personally significant, Arroyo said, because “it’s part of our history that’s not very well known. To have someone in our rural setting who came from the outside world is very appealing. It put [people] with flesh and bones in a town in the middle of nowhere,” he said of the Albrechts.

Arroyo would like to find any of their relatives to “tell them part of their history, of when their ancestors were fleeing tyranny in Europe and met a family in the middle of nowhere, in Castile,” he said. His wife’s family, Arroyo continued, “still remembers them and still cherishes their friendship.”

The Albrechts, he figured, “would be glad to know the story.”

(Please email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you know the whereabouts of the Albrechts or their relatives. If you would like “Seeking Kin” to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends, please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. “Seeking Kin” is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people.)

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