Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Thank You Francisco Franco

Like many people born in the fifties, my opinion of Francisco Franco was shaped by aid that he received from Nazi Germany in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. The infamous photo ops of him standing with Hitler provided iconic focus for my hatred of Franco that was finalised with Picasso's famous Guernica painting.
As youth gives way to middle age, so too does today's news become history, taking on shades of gray that would have been unthinkable at the time.
No one can deny the torture and execution of political prisoners that strengthened Franco's grip on power. It would likewise do violence to history to ignore the repression of the Catalonians and Basques, in which their very languages were driven underground.
Despite the checkered record of Franco Spain, a separation must be made between criticism of his authoritarian philosophy and his treatment of Jews.
Although Spain was a one party state, it shares with the United States and other countries political divisions in its leadership and people. Some of these divisions concerned anti-semitism.
In America you had Joe Kennedy, whose voicing of pro German sentiments resulted in his being recalled in disgrace from his ambassadorship to Great Britain. In Spain, there were those who likewise used their positions to collaborate with Nazi anti Jewish policy.
A more nuanced version of Spanish history is getting more attention. It is widely known that Franco himself issued instructions to his embassies and consulates abroad to issue Spanish passports to anyone claiming Spanish ancestry, no matter how far in the past. He pointedly instructed them to take such assertions at face value. (See following link) http://wais.stanford.edu/Spain/spain_sephardicjewsunderfranco112302.html
This is widely credited with saving the lives of thousands of Jews, including some with dubious claims to Sephardic ancestry. A noted book, "Spain,Franco and the Jews", by Haim Avni gives an extensive historical and biographical background to Franco and Spain's twentieth century Jewish policy. It mentions that Spain was battered and impoverished in the aftermath of its civil war which ended in 1939. National poverty was a stronger deterrent to Spain accepting large numbers of Jewish refugees within its borders than was antisemitism. The Spanish government under Franco did allow those in transit to remain in Spain on their way to other destinations. Those who stayed in Spain during the war were supported by refugee organisations and kept out of the Spanish work force. Those who lingered within Spain's borders were taking a portion of a quota reserved for the next in line. Those who entered Spain illegally did so at considerable risk.
The Nazis did however honour documents issued by Spain declaring their bearers to be Spanish subjects. These documents saved thousands of Jews who never set foot in Spain but survived under Nazi rule with some degree of protection.
During the 1967 war, many Egyptian Jews were jailed by Nasser's government under grim conditions. While stationed in Morocco in the 1920's Franco reportedly headed a unit that halted a pogrom against a Jewish village.
What was most instrumental in saving many Jewish lives was Franco's refusal to let German troops pass through Spain and into Morocco. Had permission been granted, the Jewish communities in Morocco would have certainly been in peril. Franco cited the exhaustion of the Spanish people in the aftermath of the civil war that ended in 1939 as reason for his refusal. Hitler bristled at what he perceived to be Spanish ingratitude to Germany for its aid to Franco's Falangists in their fight against the Republicans. Since Spain was an ally he could not invade , and the Jews of North Africa were thereby saved.
Why did Franco help Jews? It has over the years netted him the most limited political dividends. His ancestry has been traced and it is common knowledge that both he and his wife have Jewish ancestry. Was Franco driven by Jewish sparks in his Spanish soul? Or was he motivated by a simple yearning for decency? Franco's reticence about this subject has deepened the mystery of his feelings for Jews. Whatever his motive, he undoubtedly stands in the world of truth with the merit of the thousands he saved.
The most recent genocide in our time was in Rwanda in 1994 when close to a million Tutsi were slaughtered in a hundred days, mostly by hand and by machete. The French, as the former colonial power sent in a token military presence and did nothing to stop the slaughter. The United Nations was likewise useless. All bemoaned the Tutsi genocide after the fact. When action was needed, the world was silent.
I do not share Franco's philosophy of government or condone his treatment of Catalonians and Basques. Franco's hand picked successor, King Juan Carlos has proven capable in addressing Catalonian and Basque aspirations in a manner not injurious to Spain.
With all of these reservations, I thank G-d for Franco's kindness to the Jewish people. I only wish that the Tutsi in Rwanda could have had a decisive leader like Franco protecting him instead of the impotent French and the laughable United Nations. I am awaiting a political hybrid that will combine democratic freedoms with Franco's decisiveness. Meanwhile people will die in new conflicts as diplomats pontificate.
In every book of shame are chapters of honour. Francisco Franco has contributed several such chapters to the book of the holocaust. Though far from perfect, he has earned a claim to Jewish gratitude. Gracias Francisco, Thank You Francisco Franco, Todah Rabbah Francisco Franco. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

filomeno2006 said...

Utilizó con Hitler la diplomacia del "Yes But" o "Si, home, si claro, claro, claro, pero...." en la entrevista de Hendaya de 1940........Astucia galaica......