Five years ago, an investigative journalist browsing through Spanish government archives stumbled on a list of 104 Nazis who hid in Spain after World War II and were being sought by the Allies.
But the Nazis were never handed over.
Irujo was shocked to discover how they escaped punishment not only with the connivance of the Catholic church and the fascist dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, but that they also were shielded later by Spain’s democratically elected governments.
“Spanish cemeteries are infested with graves of Nazi spies and criminals who lived free among us without a care in the world,” the author told JTA recently about his book.
The 250-page book, which appeared in bookstores earlier this month, is already in its second edition.
Irujo begins “La Lista Negra” by quoting Violeta Friedman, an Auschwitz survivor who fought against Holocaust denial in Spain. She called the country “a trash can of Nazis.”
According to Irujo, Spain during World War II was “a nest of spies” from Germany, Britain and America.
But the author says the Allied agents were outnumbered and easily outfoxed by the Germans, “who were pampered and protected by Franco and the church.”
The Nazis lived a life of luxury and decadence in Madrid and Barcelona at a time when Spain was devastated and impoverished by the 1936-39 Civil War. That conflict had brought Franco’s military regime to power — partly thanks to help from Hitler, which was arranged by members of Hitler’s Spanish espionage network, Irujo says.
According to the author, the spies — who included businessmen and diplomats — set up a network of front businesses that clandestinely supplied the German military.
Around 350 firms were controlled by Sofindus, a holding company whose president was Johannes Bernhardt, an SS officer.
Other key figures included Reinhard Spitzy, a former SS agent and aide to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop; Hans Hoffmann, German consul in Malaga; and Hans Lazar, chief of Nazi propaganda in Spain.
Sofindus affiliates bought up huge quantities of tungsten, mined from the hills of the northwestern region of Galicia, often by political and civil war prisoners. The alloy was used to harden the armor of German tanks, Irujo writes.
“Without that tungsten, the German war effort would have ended many, many months earlier,” said Shimon Samuels, European director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Samuels, who spoke at the presentation of “La Lista Negra,” said Irujo had done “a remarkable job” in debunking the myth of Spanish neutrality in World War II.
“What he’s done is to create, for the first time, a picture of Spain as a collaborator state” through “straw men, through false names, through the complicity given by Spaniards to Nazi companies and Nazi officials,” Samuels told JTA.
Along with the blacklist, Irujo found official reports on the wanted men prepared by Franco’s aides. They advised the dictator “not to hand over a single one of them because they were vital for the national economy.”
The Nazis were given shelter in monasteries with the help of the church, or tipped off about search efforts. Many used Spain as an escape route to Latin America.
Many war criminals, especially those on the blacklist of 104 names, would have been easy to find, since the Allies provided detailed information on their suspected whereabouts.
Irujo says the documentation in the archives suggests that as many as 700 Nazis lived in Spain since World War II. Only 200 were handed over, mostly lower-level figures.
“After the war, even more Nazis arrived in Spain, including some who were much worse than those already here,” Irujo said.
The new arrivals included Otto Remer, a former SS general who saved Hitler from an assassination attempt in 1944. A leader of the neo-Nazi movement after the war, his extradition to Germany was blocked by the Spanish parliament in 1996. Remer died in Malaga several years ago at age 84.
Another fugitive was Leon DeGrelle, a former leader of the Belgain section of the Waffen-SS, who escaped a death sentence in his native Belgium by escaping to Spain. The Spanish Constitutional Court did convict him of libel in the 1990s for denying the Holocaust, but only after Violeta Friedman spearheaded a long legal battle.
Irujo notes that even after the restoration of democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, the Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez also blocked efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice.
During that time — known as “The Transition” — Spaniards wanted to put the past and everything related to the dictatorship behind them to ease reconciliation efforts.
Even the current prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, has failed to follow up on his promises to create a commission of inquiry into Spain’s Nazi activities, according to Samuels.
But many people are beginning to question the excesses of the Franco era, as plans are being drawn up to exhume mass graves from the civil war.
“La Lista Negra” fits in with that new spirit of historical questioning and can have an important educational impact, now that all but a handful of the Nazis are dead, Samuels said. “It’s too late for war crimes trials,” he said. “But it’s not too late to pass on the lessons to the younger generation. It’s important for young Spaniards to understand what it means to collaborate with an ideology of hate.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.