Franco Was Worse than You Thought


David Wingeate Pike explores these arguments in full in his new book, Franco and the Axis Stigma, published by Palgrave Macmillan. Mr. Pike notes: "This is not the first book to show that Franco was far from neutral in the Second World War, but none before it has shown his policy in so harsh a light."

To exactly what extent was Franco involved in Hitler’s cause? At present, it is generally agreed that Franco was implicated in the Axis cause far more deeply than he and his supporters ever admitted during his lifetime, but a certain ambiguity was left in place which ran as follows. Yes, Franco sent his Blue Division to the Russian front, but only because of his hatred of communism. Otherwise in the conflict he maintained an admirable neutrality, which he proved at the Hitler-Franco meeting at Hendaye by displaying exemplary courage under the most adverse conditions. Hence, for Franco, and for those who would argue at least something in his defense, the Second World War consisted of three separate conflicts. Firstly, a war between the Axis and the Western democracies in which the role of Spain was one of strict neutrality. Secondly, a war between the Axis and the Soviet Union in which Spain acted as a non-belligerent, sending a lone division as a token of the anti-communist stand of Catholic Spain. Thirdly, a war between Japan and the Western democracies in which Spain, having no interests or influence in the region, maintained, once again, a perfect neutrality.

The most sensitive of Franco’s documents remain closed to all researchers, but two vital areas of documentation are available, and no study of Franco’s policies in that period can dispense with either of them. The first are the German military archives in Freiburg im Breisgau. The army archives throw new light on the role of the Spanish troops of the Blue Division fighting on the Eastern front. While winning praise for their performance on the battlefield, the Spanish troops were denounced for their behavior in the civilian areas to which they were assigned, and even German generals at the level of army corps commanders were eager to be rid of them. As for the German admiralty archives, they reveal just how deeply Franco was implicated in his support of Germany, not only in its threat to British (and later Allied) shipping in the Atlantic, but also in his aid to German intelligence by maintaining permanent observation posts on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar, thus imperiling the vital convoys to Malta.

The second source of information is the Spanish press itself. In a state which remained totalitarian throughout the war (becoming a merely authoritarian state only in 1945), whatever appeared in the Spanish press, whether it be the expression of the Church, or the monarchy, or the military, or the Falange, that expression had been approved by Franco’s censors. What that press reveals is that there was never a moment, up to the very death of Hitler, that Franco abandoned hope in the Axis cause; never a moment that Franco stopped working and praying, with all his heart and soul, for the victory of Nazi Germany. Nor can we any longer dispute the fact that the news of Hitler’s death plunged Madrid into agony. “Throughout Europe the cry goes out: ‘Stand up!’ ” ran an editorial. “Adolf Hitler, son of the Catholic Church, has died defending Christianity. His tomb, the funeral pyre of Berlin, can carry a Spanish epitaph: ‘He who is buried here did not die. From death he departed into life.’ If Adolf Hitler had been allowed to choose his death, this is the death he would have chosen, that he might turn death into life. Together with the palm of martyrdom, God bestows upon Hitler the laurel of victory. Hitler died that Europe might be free. The profound mystique created in Europe by his death will end in triumph over all Humanity.”

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Robert Lee Gaston - 8/19/2008

In the 1960s, between tours of duty in Vietnam, I could usually wrangle at least a short tour in Europe. I would travel from Germany to Spain on leave. I always disturbed me to see the Guardia Civil on the street corners carrying automatic weapons. Last week I saw a group of American Cops wearing black battle dress, helmets and carrying automatic weapons. Funny, I did not feel any safer.