MADRID – The Spanish capital commemorated on Tuesday at least 450 of its dwellers who were deported during World War II to Nazi concentration camps in the presence of several groups of Holocaust victims and a survivor of the Mauthausen-Gusen camp.
While solemn music played, local councilors read out the names of each individual in alphabetical order, using data found in the “Memorial Book: Spaniards Deported to Nazi Camps (1940-1945),” published by Spain’s ministry of culture.
Madrid’s Mayor Manuela Carmena said the ceremony sought to make the names of the victims part of the city’s memory and to do justice so that “never again may the lives that were lost be cut short in such an atrocious manner.”
Representatives of the Jewish community, the association “Amical de Mauthausen” – which was secretly founded in Barcelona in 1962 by ex-inmates of the notorious camp – the Romani collective, LGBT groups and historical memory advocates were present during the poignant tribute.
Once all of the names had been read, the guests broke into a heartfelt applause, with some shouting the slogan “There can be no democracy without memory.”
An octogenarian survivor of Mauthausen, Eufemio Garcia Alvarez, later told journalists he had been very moved by the homage.
Garcia arrived at Mauthausen in August 1940 when he was only six years old, along with his parents and a sister.
As he got off the train, the SS officers awaiting it separated the children and women from the men above the age of 14.
He never saw his father again.
Many Spaniards who had supported the Republican government (1931-1939) during the Civil War were either executed, imprisoned, exiled or deported, as fascist military dictator Gen. Francisco Franco – a close ally of German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini – launched a campaign of mass repression against anyone suspected of being a “Red” that bordered on genocide, according to historians.
Hitler helped Franco out during the war by, among other measures, sending the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion, escorted by Benito Mussolini’s Aviazione Legionaria, which carpet-bombed civilians in the Basque ancestral towns of Durango and Guernica in 1937 – a test for the destructive capabilities of German aviation in the prelude to WWII – and was decisive in the Battle of Madrid.
After 1945, Franco attempted to distance himself from the Axis Powers to curry favor with the Allied victors by whitewashing the close ties between his regime and the Nazi and Fascist states.
Now, almost 80 years after Spanish Republicans were used as slave labor and died by the thousands in Mauthausen, groups such as the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) are attempting to lift the victims – many of whom fought in the French Resistance after the Republic was toppled by Franco’s rebel troops – from the depths of oblivion.
The ARMH has been lobbying cities and regional parliaments throughout the country to hold tributes such as the one in Madrid: the regional parliaments of Galicia and Cantabria recently had similar ceremonies commemorating their own local victims.
An ARMH spokesman told EFE that the parliament of Madrid, however, had declined to do so with the 549 victims from the region who were deported to Nazi camps – including the erstwhile Socialist prime minister of the Second Republic, Francisco Largo Caballero –, as the president of the regional assembly, Paloma Adrados Gautier, claimed such a tribute would be disrespectful towards the Holocaust’s other six million victims.
The group said this was just a weak excuse by a member of the right-wing Popular Party, which was founded by seven former high-ranking officials in Franco’s regime and has consistently fought against any measure honoring the Republican side of the civil conflict.