Holocaust Memorial in Almeria: Spaniards at Mauthausen
Holocaust Memorial in Almeria: Spaniards at Mauthausen


‘Guerra Civil Española’ or in EnglishThe Spanish Civil War’ (1936-1939): its significance, as well as horrors, has been outmatched (not without a reason) by the long shadow of the Second World War. It is conventionally mentioned as the pretext for the large conflict in Europe, a military firing range for the German, Italian, and Soviet forces. Since Spain stayed largely out of WWII except by sending volunteers to the Eastern front, and its economy showed a kind of resurrection in the 1960s, the reign of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco has been for decades perceived through the lens of established myths and cliches. While the pro-Franco historians still see the Spanish Civil War as a necessary evil to withstand Communism, half a million of its victims were not the last martyrs. For those who fought against Franco or were in one way or another considered as the enemy, or politically unreliable, the Spring of 1939 was only the beginning of a much more prolonged period of terror and suffering in the hands of those, who regarded themselves as triumphant. Mass executions, malnutrition, work battalions, the spread of disease, displacement, exile, and later death in the Nazi concentration camps: this was the fate of those who lost that war. 

Brutal general Francisco Franco led the nationalist assault on republican Spain
The Brutal General Francisco Franco led the nationalist assault on Republican Spain in 1936
Madrid, Spain, May 1939, The victory march in front of Franco
The so-called ‘victory parade’ in front of dictator Franco. Madrid, May 1939
The original caption reads The people of Europe recognized the fateful decision of this war and formed, with few exceptions, Freikorps. Here, Spaniards in Madrid show their sympathy for Germany
A parade of the analog to the German Freikorps in Madrid: the fathered crowd was shown by propaganda as sympathizing with Germany

Francisco Franco Bahamonde, the leader of the Nationalists forces, who unleashed a brutal civil war to overthrow the government of the so-called ‘Second Spanish Republic’, ruled Spain until his death from health problems in 1975. From the very beginning of his rebellion, he made no secret of an intention to unleash terror against his enemies and opponents. The cessation of fire in April 1939 brought neither a safe to the opponent troops nor to the civil population. The death from shells and bullets in the battlefronts and bombings of the cities gave way to other means of relieving people of life. From now on, the war against the population was fought by less obvious means: extra-judicially executions, military courts, harsh conditions in the pow and concentration camps, prisons across the country, labor battalions, lack of medical treatment, and malnutrition, pursuing the exiles and deportations. Franco and his institutionalized regime used the repressions of unprecedented scale as a long-term undertaking and the machinery of state terror was eager to classify and punish people en masse. The martial law declared in 1936 would not be repealed until 1948. The repressive framework of the pseudo-legal state apparatus emerged during the war and targeted Republicans and their supporters as key objectives. 

Citizens man a Barcelona barricade against the Nationalists two days after the start of the coup
Civilians in Barcelona defend a barricade against the Nationalists two days after the start of the coup in 1936
Captured Republican militiamen, September 1936. Such prisoners were often executed
Captured Republican militiamen, the photo was taken as early as September 1936. Such prisoners were often executed
Republican Prisoners of War
Another rare photo of the Republican Prisoners of War

The cleansing of the recently conquered and surrendered provinces, taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, at once overcrowded the prisons all over Spain which now had to incarcerate ten to fifteen times more people than they had been created for. Many detainees were held for months, some for more than a year even before any interrogation and trials, and the establishment of temporary prisons and using the former military barracks, schools, and hospitals brought no relief to thousands of inmates. In the first year of the state repression between April 1939 and May 1940 at the very least 100 000 people faced trials and were sentenced either to death or to incarceration, and 270 000 were awaiting their fate. The regime used forced labor as a means of oppression providing the construction of railways, roads, mines, dams, and irrigation channels and the private sector with prisoners. The regime forced these people to ‘reconstruct’ the regions devastated by the war, largely by the Nationalists themselves, so the Republicans had no way but to pay for the war unleashed against them by Franco forces, as well as for their own incarceration. More people died in Spain from the spread of disease and malnutrition in the prisons and penal battalions than from executions due to unsustainable conditions in the prisons and work camps, particularly during the cold winter of 1940-1941. 

As Franco’s forces closed in on Bilbao, the Basques evacuated 100,000 women and children to France and England by ship
As Franco’s forces came close to the city of Bilbao, 100,000 women and children were sent to France and England by sea



As the Spanish Civil War was moving to its end in the Spring of 1939, tens of thousands of Spaniards, mainly those who fought or supported the Republic, streamed across the Eastern border with France. Apart from the former soldiers and political activists, journalists, and pro-communist intellectuals, women with children and elderlies sealed protection from the intense air and artillery bombings and the Nationalists’ reprisals. The French government expressed no enthusiasm toward accepting thousands of exiles, particularly due to the existing prejudices against foreigners and immigrants, in no small measure previously intensified by the migration of the German Jews in the 1930s. Those who crossed the border for protection from Franco’s forces were taken to the hastily created refugee camps, mainly in the Southern part of France near the sea. Only a small proportion of those exiles would get their lucky tickets to leave for England or the United States and the greatest part were cramped in dirty and crowded camps. Since the win of the Civil War by the nationalists, it became apparent to the strong supporters of the Republic, that they had no way but to stay in unsustainable conditions in France. To stay alive and relatively safe, they had to live beyond the barbed wire, with lice and mud in exile. 

Spain, March 1939, Spanish refugees arriving at the French border
March 1939, the column of refugees arriving at the French border
Refugees from the Spanish civil war crowd the roads to Perpignan at Le Perthus, France
Thousands of refugees from Spain crowd the roads to Perpignan at Le Perthus, France

Among those camps created in 1939 to hold the unwanted foreigners from Spain, the most notorious is known as the ‘Gurs’ camp, set up, particularly for the Spanish refugees. The camp got its name from the nearby village at the foot of the lower Pyrenees in southwestern France, approximately 80 kilometers from the Spanish border. After covering tens of kilometers of mountain roads, the refugees would have to experience malnutrition, poor medical care and infectious hepatitis and dysentery, live with rats and lice beyond the wire. The camp was established in the April of 1939 wat before the start of WWII and the establishment of the notorious Vichy Regime. In early 1940 Gurs accepted 4000 German Jews as well as political opponents inside France. Even a choice to live in unbearable conditions instead of at the hands of the enemies did not last long as France lost the war with Germany and signed the humiliating armistice in the forest of Compiegne on June 22, 1940. The fate of the German Jews as well as Spanish Republicans and other refugees from two nationalistic regimes was not in great danger

Gurs camp France
A panoramic view over the infamous Gurs internment camp in Southern France

The Franco regime wasted no time in getting their revenue from the French defeat, though Spain did not participate in the conflict. Once the armistice in Compiegne was declared to be signed on June 22, 1940, in the same evening the Spanish government sent a message to the French embassy in Madrid with the list of the prominent Republicans they expected to get back. This first appeal was followed by another in August directly to Marshal Philippe Pétain with a demand to extradite 636 prominent Republicans immediately at the threat of Spanish territorial claims to French colonies in North Africa, supposedly backed by the Nazi regime in Germany. Pétain felt no sympathy for the Spaniards’ exiles as he regarded them as communists, yet the old Marshal ignored Franco’s appeal. The Vichy government replied that the case of every refugee would be reviewed in the French court individually in accordance with the Fran-Spanish treaty of extradition from 1877. The Spanish government was infuriated with such a solution. At the same time, the Vichy police put many prominent refugees under surveillance. 

France, January 1939, Spanish refugees crossing the border
Spanish refugees crossing the French border in January 1939
War’s end. Half a million Republican refugees stream across the Pyrenees into France
Republican refugees stream across the Pyrenees into France
Spanish Republican soldiers fleeing Gen. Francisco Franco's forces arrive in France in February, 1939
Among half a million refugees were the former Spanish Republican soldiers

Getting back to the infamous Gurs internment camp in southern France, since the summer of 1940 under the Vichy administration, the living conditions continued to deteriorate which resulted in the death of 800 refugees in the following year. While Marshal Philippe Pétain rejected mass deportations from his unoccupied zone of France, in October 1940 the Germans deported 6500 Jews to South France from the Baden region. A greater proportion of them was sent to Gurs, thus making the issue of overcrowding more severe than ever. In total 22 000 men, women and children would pass through the Gurs camp until 1944, 18 000 of them were Jews. It is estimated that at least 1100 detainees died on the territory of the camp. Gurs camp was mostly closed in November 1943 but was opened again in 1944 to incarcerate the political opponents and the resistance fighters. After the liberation of France, the camp was used to hold former collaborators as well as German pows until the end of 1945 and the final closure of Gurs. 

Spanish refugees at Le Perthus, France, in 1939
Spanish refugees at Le Perthus, France, 1939
Spanish refugees approaching the French internment camp of Argelès-Sur-Mer
Spanish refugees approaching the French internment camp of Argelès-Sur-Mer led by a French policeman
Spanish refugees on the beach in the southeastern town of Argelès-sur-Mer
Spaniards on the beach near the town of Argelès-Sur-Mer in Southern France

The stubbornness of Marshal Pétain in fact made it possible for up to 150 000 Spanish refugees to stay in South France until liberation and thus avoid mass deportations to Franco’s forces. The Spanish communists among the exiles even managed to form resistance guerilla units, particularly the so-called ‘XIV Corps’ which possessed the strength of 3400 fighters in South France at the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. In one of the departments, the proportion of guerrilla men meant a significant presence of the Spaniards. Technically they were incorporated into ‘Francs-tireurs et partisans français’ (FTPF), but their final goal was the liberation of Spain from the Nationalists of Franco. 

Spanish refugees, mainly republicans and members of the International brigades, guarded by French troops at a camp on Argeles beach in 1939
Spanish refugees, mainly Republicans, and members of the International brigades guarded by French troops at a camp on Argeles beach, 1939
A small group of Spanish children sit at a table in the Rivesaltes internment camp, playing with blocks. 1942
A group of Spanish children sits at a table in the Rivesaltes internment camp in 1942
Group portrait of foreign workers assigned to the food supply department at the Gurs internment camp. Two of them were former Republican fighters
A group of workers was assigned to the food supply department at the Gurs internment camp. Two of them were former Republican fighters



While the Nationalists in Spanish lacked no manpower in the Civil War, the final result of the rebels against the legally elected government was not possible without support from two other European dictatorships: Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Francisco Franco particularly derived inspiration from the success of National Socialism established by Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933. The Nationalists relied on the Italian and German military support in materials and weapons, which gave Franco a strategic advantage in the War, which is underestimated. Apart from the supply of modern ornaments, Germans used Spain as a military exercises battleground for their Wehrmacht, particularly by bombing Spanish cities, notably Guernica. This involvement in the Spanish Civil War also provided Hitler with a means to draw attention to the German rearmament and annexations in Europe he himself made since 1935. Another reason was the fight against communism. 

Nazi Germany supplied the rebel generals with planes to move North African mercenaries into Spain in the world’s first large-scale airlift
Hitler’s Germany supplied Franco’s Nationalists with air transport to move North African mercenaries into Spain in the world’s first large-scale airlift
Nationalist troops by a bomb crater in Guernica
Nationalist troops by a bomb crater in Guernica, the city devastated by the German Luftwaffe

Military assistance in fighting against its own people was not the only means of cooperation between Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s forces in Spain during and after the Civil War. As early as April 1938, one year before the end of the war, Heinrich Himmler, the notorious Reichsfuhrer SS and one of the architects of the upcoming Holocaust, suggested Franco’s government more transparent cooperation in police matters. The Germans were interested in extraditing the Jews, communist activists, and Socialists who had fled to Spain since 1933, and the Spanish Nationalists targeted left-wing opponents in Germany and later in France. As early as July 31, 1938, the two sides signed an agreement that significantly simplified the exchange of leftists between the two regimes. The German exiles were handed to Gestapo interrogators in their office in Madrid and many were later transferred to Germany without bureaucratic procedures. The permission to take the most prominent German targets was given by Franco personally. The cooperation between the Gestapo and Franco’s political police went even further and the latter was trained by the former. Later Heinrich Himmler was awardedOrden Imperial del Yugo y las Flechas’ (Imperial Order of the Yoke and Arrows), the highest state and military order in Franco’s Spain. This order would be formally abolished only in 2022, eighty-five years after the establishment and forty-seven years after Caudilio’s death. 

German troops, sent to Spain to aid Franco in his fight against Republican forces, march through a Spanish city
German troops march through a Spanish city
Franco and Hitler
Two dictators: Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco
Adolf Hitler meeting with Francisco Franco (Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamonde, 1892-1975) in the French town of Hendaye. October 1940
Hitler meeting with Francisco Franco in the French town of Hendaye. October 1940

After the humiliating defeat of France in 1940 and the signing of the Armistice, the Franco-Nationalists experienced far fewer difficulties in the German-occupied part of France than in the Southern Vichy area, when it came to the extradition of their political opponents. As time showed, the Spanish refugees in France were among the first groups to suffer from the June 1940 consequences. The Nazis had neither Mexican sentiments to accept exiles, nor the judicial scruples of the Vichy government. In August 1940, the same month the Francoists demanded getting back the Spaniards in the Vichy area, José Finat and Escrivá de Romaní, Spanish General Director of Security since 1939 visited Berlin and had meetings with both Himmler and the notorious Sicherheitsdienst chief Reinhard Heydrich. The two sides agreed to improve the networks of police liaisons with full diplomatic immunity in Spain and Germany, thus giving Franco’s officers direct access to the Republican exiles in Germany and in the occupied part of France. Along with that, the Germans included the exiled Spaniards in the list of potential enemies of the state. Toward 1944 up to 30 000 refugees were deported from France to Germany, and from 10 000 to 15 000 of them were taken to the Nazi camps. Also, at least 10 000 Spaniards were regarded as prisoners of war and the Vichy government did nothing to protect them. At least 4000 were sent to the Channel Islands, British land occupied by the Germans, where the forced labor left only 59 of them alive toward the end of the war. 

Himmler in Spain, October 1940
The notorious Reichfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler in Spain, October 1940
The head of the German police, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, walks along the line of the Spanish guard of honor, during an inspection of the Alcazar fortress._
Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, walks along the line of the Spanish guard of honor, during an inspection of the Alcazar fortress.



The historical fate of Jews in the middle ages in Spain is probably more notoriously known than elsewhere in Europe. As far back as 1492, the same year Columbus discovered America, King Ferdinand, and Queen Isabella, the benefactors of that journey, expelled all Jews and Muslims from their country leaving only those who agreed to convert to Christianity. Even four centuries later when the Civil War in Spain absorbed the country, there still were very few Sephardic Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. Nevertheless even before the triumph of the Nationalists led by Franco, the Spanish Jews experienced a generally hostile attitude encouraged by the Catholic Church, an institution that even Adolf Hitler strongly disliked in his relations with Franco. Both Hitler and Caudillo had paranoia of the supposed Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy, yet Franco never issued either the expulsion of the Jews or the annihilation, despite his 1939 speeches condemning the ‘Jewish spirit’ and the ‘Anti-Spanish alliance of the capital and Marxism’.

The Spanish Jews had legal equality in the state in accordance with the laws of the Second Republic (1931-1939) but after the seizure of power, Franco’s government made efforts to repeal the former law. While during the Civil War, more people fled Spain and came in, since 1939 Franco’s government restricted the entry of Jews, including the Sephardic Jews with Spanish passports, and the Synagogues were not permitted to reopen. While the government tried to minimize the flow of refugees, especially during and after the Battle of France in 1940, even the harsh restriction allowed refugees to travel through Spain if they had visas to Portugal, England, or the United States, though severely limiting the number of Jews. 

Jews await deportation from Rivesaltes 1942
Spanish Jews await deportation from Rivesaltes in 1942
Jewish prisoners await deportation from Rivesaltes to Drancy. September 1942
Jewish prisoners await deportation from Rivesaltes to the infamous Drancy camp. September 1942

While Franco’s government implied even more severe restrictions in October 1940, between 1940 and 1942 up to 30 000 Jews passed through Spain on their route to other countries, thus saving themselves from the Nazi’s genocide in Europe. After the German occupation of Southern France in late 1942, Spain experienced a new flow of Jewish exiles from France, which forced Franco to close the border to anyone without a transit visa in March 1943, yet the wave of illegal refugees became a reality. Franco’s government established several internment camps and later agreed to let 7000 Jews stay there after the intervention of the Western Allies, particularly England. The government even let several relief agencies, including the Red Cross, take care of the detainees in the camps. At the same time, the belief that the Spanish dictator was a savior of Jews is Franco’s myth as his refusal to provide safe passage to more Jews left tens of thousands of people in the Nazi hands. More than that, his pure involvement in WWII did not mean that Franco was not aware of the fate of thousands of Spanish citizens in the Nazi camps, including the Mauthausen. He experienced personal disdain toward Republicans, whose death was more acceptable for him than their survival. Only a small proportion of the 4000 Sephardic Jews with Spanish citizenship in German-occupied Europe were permitted to enter and pass through Spain, particularly from the Greek city of Thessaloniki

A Spanish protective passport issued in Budapest on 01.11.1944
A Spanish protective passport was issued to Gelleri Miklos in Budapest on November 1, 1944



While the first 1939-1940 year after the end of the Civil War saw the greatest proportion of the atrocities, non-martial executions, exploitation of the pows, incarceration, and political repressions inside the country, the fate of the exiled Spaniards in occupied France and Nazi Germany is the shocking example of Frncoists’ indifference and the revenge to political enemies. After the fall of France in June 1940, as I have already stated above, Franco wanted a limited list of prominent Republicans for extradition, yet tens of thousands of refugees were left in the Nazi hands without a clear position. In fact, the Germans sent several inquiries in the summer of 1940 to Madrid, but Franco’s government failed to accept the offer to take all exiles back. The Spanish Nationalists openly regarded their political opponents, prisoners of war who fought in France, and even women and children as ‘criminals’ and those who were not anymore considered Spaniards. The lack of definite agreement and the passive position of Franco left the Spanish refugees in France in the hands of the Nazi regime, who had even fewer sentiments toward tens of thousands of people, at least 10 000 of them (the highest estimate goes up to 15 000) ended up in the German concentrations camps, most of them in the Mauthausen-Gusen network of camps in Austria near Hitler’s favorite Linz. 

Construction work at Mauthausen, with two unidentified Spanish prisoners
A photo of the construction work at Mauthausen, with two Spanish prisoners in the foreground
Gates to Mauthausen
The Main Gates and the prisoners’ entrance to Mauthausen. I took this photo during my visit in September 2017

The location of the Mauthausen and later the Gusen camp twenty kilometers from Linz was largely based on economic considerations, particularly combining the setting up of concentration camps with the exploitation of the national resources. The prisoners in this camp were not only targeted racially to be worked, malnutritioned, and gassed to death, but also to supply the nazi regime with industry value, thus their death was exploited by the SS economically. As early as April 1938 Heinrich Himmler initiated the creation of Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH (DESt – German Earth and Stone Works Company) to exploit the lives of the prisoners in the building materials industry. The camp rose next to the giant granite quarry and took its first prisoners as early as August 8, 1938, less than half a year after the German Anschluss of Austria. Toward 1939 the camp was in full operation and the work in three nearby quarries (the Gusen subcamp was set up in 1940) was the most brutal assignment, which often implied a certain death. Work there served as a source of materials for building the Nazi Empire, particularly Hitler’s Linz, at the expense of the lives of the workers. The brutal abuses both by the SS and the Kapos among prisoners, harsh working conditions, malnutrition, and poor medical treatment gave Mauthausen not only a high production rate but also a high mortality rate, supervised by 15 000 SS men, who served here from 1938 to 1945. 

Prisoners at forced labor in the Wiener Graben quarry at the Mauthausen concentration camp
The infamous Wiener Graben quarry at the Mauthausen concentration camp
Mauthausen Quarry
The infamous stair of death in the quarry
Stairs of death Mauthausen
This is how the infamous Stairs looks nowadays

Among those 190 000 men and women from forty nationalities who passed through the Mauthausen network between August 1938 and May 1945, and among at least those 90 000 who perished here, were the former Spanish refugees, particularly Republican fighters. The first Spaniards who entered the main camp on the hill on August 6, 1940, were the former Republican fighters, who fled to France and later fought against Germany in 1940. Being previously incarcerated in the Stalag XIII-A pow camp in Moosburg an der Isar near Munich, these four hundred men were shocked by the severe conditions and humiliation in Mauthausen. They were openly told that the only way to leave the camp is through death. While those first Spaniards in Mauthausen were men and former soldiers, as early as August 24, 1940, another train came to the camp. The twenty overcrowded cattle wagons brought 927 Spanish refugees, only 490 of them were men and the remaining were women and children from the refugee camp near the French city of Angoulême. While women with children were then sent to Spain (there interrogated, some imprisoned, most separated from children), of those 490 men, 357 would die in Mauthausen. 

Gusen camp Austria
A panorama of the infamous Gusen sub-camp only 2 kilometers from the Mauthausen main camp

Within a year after the first convoy with Spaniards in August 1940, more than six thousand former Spanish citizens were taken to Mauthausen with hundreds more in small groups until the end of the War and camp liberation. Toward 1942 at least 7500 former Republicans, classified as ‘Spaniards’ or ‘Red Spaniards’, many of them indeed former Communist Party members, entered the gates of Mauthausen and its subcamps, thus forming the first large national group of prisoners apart from Germans and Austrians. The number of prisoners in the camp at one time rose from 1475 in May 1939 to 7400 by the end of 1941, where 60% of them were Spanish. A greater proportion of the Spaniards were assigned to construction works and quarries due to their previous pre-war experience in construction. While being hardened by the Civil War, the Spaniards got the most brutal tasks got minimal rations, were forced to work to death in the quarry regardless of the weather, and were beaten and shot to death by the SS because of their strong anti-fascist and leftist beliefs. Old men and those incapable of work were never recorded in the Mauthausen documents and were generally killed upon arrival. Such an attitude provided the Nazis with means to eliminate political prisoners, people considered a threat to the regime. Spaniards were forced to wear the blue triangle with the ‘S’ letter on their camp cloth. To SS the Spaniards fought against Germany’s ally, Franco’s Spain, and were the bearers of the political conspiracy. 

Prisoners during roll-call, between 1942 and 1944
Prisoners during roll-call at the so-called Appelplatz in Mauthausen
The appeplatz
The infamous ‘Appelplatz’ or ‘roll-call area’ with several preserved wooden barracks

The only source of information for the Spaniards in Mauthausen was the new inmates as they were not permitted (until the end of 1942) to contact anyone from the outside world and, in fact, it was impossible to get messages from Franco Spain even if they still had relatives there. Starting in early 1943 the administration allowed the Spanish prisoners to send a postcard no sooner than one every six weeks. The message in Spanish had to include no more than twenty-five words, which were carefully checked and censored anyway. As the years passed, some Spaniards got privileged positions (‘Prominenten’) in the camp administration office and some even became Kapos, who unleashed brutality toward other prisoners. While in 1940 and 1941 the death toll among Spaniards was the highest among political prisoners in Mauthausen and Gusen (in 1941 Poles and Spaniards formed the majority of the T4 victims in the notorious ‘Action 14f13’ against sick and weak), since 1942 the SS shifted their brutal focus on the Soviet prisoners of war and after that, the chance of a Spanish prisoner to survive was higher than in other nationalities. 

Spanish Republican prisoners perform forced labor in the Mauthausen concentration camp 1942
A photo of the Spanish Republican prisoners performing forced labor in the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1942

The exact number of Spaniards who passed through Mauthausen and died in the camp or its subcamps has several estimates. The problem with the calculation lies in the fact that the preserved documents and records of the prisoners do not include those Spaniards, who were killed on the road, killed upon arrival, particularly sick and old. The second challenge for historians is the last weeks before liberation in 1945 when there was no record-keeping. The first estimates became public soon after the liberation and originated from the Spanish prisoners, who used to work at the so-called ‘Politische Abteilung’ in the camp administration. According to those records, of 7200 Spaniards who entered Mauthausen between August 1940 and April 1945, only 2183 welcomed the liberators, 238 were sent to other locations, and 4765 perished, or 65%. It should be mentioned that the final death toll is higher as up to 50% of the Mauthausen survivors died in the weeks after liberation. We should also remember that hundreds of Spaniards were sent and died in other Nazi camps: Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, and Treblinka. In 2019 the Spanish government published a full list (ten volumes) of more than five thousand victims, whose names and stories are known. 

Spaniards liberated from the Gusen concentration camp throw the imperial eagle from the camp gate
Spaniards liberated from the Mauthausen concentration camp throw the imperial eagle from the camp gate. This was the gate to the inner courtyard for the SS vehicles
Mauthausen concetration camp
The same entrance to the garage courtyard seventy-two years and four months later during my 2017 visit to Mauthausen



The history of commemoration of the Spanish victims in the Nazi hands has been long, challenging, and full of debates. For decades limiting the understanding of the Holocaust only to Jews and Holocaust survivors to Jewish survivors have not represented the wider categories of the victims of the Nazi genocide. A more inclusive perception of the Holocaust gives us a deeper conception of what happened between 1933 and 1945. Gradually, scholars expanded their focus of attention to non-Jewish victims: handicapped and disabled persons and other victims of Euthanasia, Romas, homosexuals in the Third Reich, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet pows, and other categories, but for decades the historiography of the Holocaust lacked a thorough investigation of all Spanish victims killed in the Nazi hands after fleeing from Frnaco’s Nationalist regime. 

Spanish nationals on their way to Paris in an American military truck, following liberation
Former Spanish refugees on their way to Paris in an American military truck, following liberation

Of course, Spaniards in the Nazi camps and particularly in Mauthausen was not subjected to extermination based on their race such as Jews, yet they faced and died of the same genocidal practices, particularly malnutrition, beatings, unbearable labor, lack of medical care, shootings, even gassing. While each of those targeted groups experienced Nazi persecution in its own way, the genocide in one way or another targeted them all, including the Spaniards. This Nazi war against the ‘undesirables’ implied to the Spanish people in Mauthausen and their post-war testimonies expand our understanding of the genocide and made them if not the survivors of the Holocaust, but the witnesses of it. Those Spaniards who lived until and weeks after liberation in 1945 left testimonies, which significance has been deliberately underestimated after WWII, particularly in the prism of the pro-Franco ‘official’ history of the Civil War in Spain. 

Republican political prisoners in gaol in Spain 1952
Republican political prisoners in jail in Spain in 1952

Throughout the decades of Franco’s dictatorship and years after his death, the story of the Republican victims of the regime after the Civil War, as well as the fate of the Spaniards left in the Nazi hands have been outside the public awareness in Spain and beyond. Ramón Serrano Suñer, the Minister of the Interior in 1938-1940 and thus one of the architects of the persecution of the leftist forces, and also Franco’s brother-in-law, would claim many years after that the Spanish government had no idea of the thousands of Spaniards in the Nazi camps. This false self-excusing statement of course was untrue and debunked not only by the preserved correspondence between Berlin and Madrid regarding the refugees and Spanish Jews. The scholars possess direct correspondence between the Commandant’s office in Mauthausen and the Spanish consulate regarding the Spanish prisoners, their belongings, correspondence, and even ashes. 

On the photo Prince Juan Carlos de Bourbon (on the left) and General Franco (on the right). 5 June 1969, Madrid, during the parade on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the end of the Spanish civil war
Prince Juan Carlos de Bourbon and the elderly General Franco on 5 June 1969 in Madrid, during the parade on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the end of the Spanish civil war
Franco and U.S. President Gerald Ford riding in a ceremonial parade in Madrid, 1975
Dictator Franco and U.S. President Gerald Ford riding in a ceremonial parade in Madrid, May 1975, half a year before Franco’s death

Franco’s repressive regime prevented public awareness of the fate of the Spanish citizens in WWII and in the Nazi concentration hands. While the 1960s witnessed a new wave of scholarship and public discussion of the genocide in Europe in the world, Spain remained terra incognito on the subject, even considering individual testimonies by the Mauthausen survivors, made generally private or even public. Only after Franco’s death in 1975 and a period of transition, did new evidence of his cooperation with Hitler and the fate of the Spaniards in WWII and the Holocaust emerged in public discussion in Spain. Amical de Mauthausen, an organization to commemorate the memory of the victims, became public as late as 1978. The Spanish citizens found out that thousands of their fellow citizens perished in the Nazi hands and particularly at Mauthausen, a word only a few of them previously heard about. Unfortunately, the process of free exchange of opinions and information about both the Civil War and the Spaniards in WWII became obvious only in the late XX century when many of the survivors had already passed away.  

Spaniards in Mauthausen 1945
A group of former Spanish prisoners poses with a flag at the former roll-call area with the Main gate in the background
Gusen, Austria, Two Spanish prisoners at a memorial ceremony for their friend, after the liberation
Two Spanish prisoners at a memorial ceremony for their friend, after the liberation of Gusen camp

It was in the 2000s when the Spanish citizens paid attention to the legacy of the 1930s and 1940s and the years of Franco’s dictatorship on a full scale, which made the revaluation of the historical memory possible. Both the scholars and people were challenged with the prism through which they should speak about the Holocaust, while Spain was formally neutral in WWII and the majority of the Spanish victims of the genocide were non-Jews. The history of the prisoners and victims of Mauthausen finally reached the 2000s generation by means of published memoirs, testimonies of the survivors and the recollection of their children, documentaries, cinema, the internet, and free access to information. The legacy of the Spaniards in the Mauthausen finally made its impact on the modern conception of the Holocaust and the Nazi racial and political means. 

Spanish Memorial in Mauthausen
A modest Spanish memorial erected in Mauthausen in 1962
Spanish prisoners in Mauthausen
Memorial plaques in the Mauthausen crematorium premises. Take notice of several in Spanish

The new millennium brought two rivers of commemoration of the historical legacy into Spanish society. The first one is the public memorialization of the Republicans and the opponents of Franco’s regime killed or persecuted during and after the Civil War. The second one is the representation of the Spaniards in the Nazi camps and evidently in Mauthausen in collective memory in Spain, those who were dehumanized by the Nationalist regime in Spain, then left in the hands of Hitler and finally left out of Spanish memory for decades. Although the Spaniards in Mauthausen were not subjected to systematic extermination for their race or religion, they were persecuted and killed in many of the same ways as the Jews.

Amical de Mauthausen
The members of the ‘Amical de Mauthausen’ organization during the annual visit to the camp, the photo is from the Internet
Holocaust Memorial Barcelona
Undistinctive Memorial to Holocaust victims in Barcelona. I was surprised to come across it in the local park during my 2017 visit to Spain



The modern tourist destination in Southern Spain, Almeria with its palm trees and 20+ in the winter has a long and challenging history since the X century. After a millennium under the reign of different rulers, the city became an important port with a population of 50 000 at the turn of the XX century. In 1912 the Bishop of Almeria was among twenty-two Spanish regional Christian leaders who supported the so-called ‘National Anti-Masonic and Anti-Semitic League’. Nevertheless, the proclamation of a necessity of war with Judaism brought now harsh consequences to the region. In 1931 Almeria’s population was in general enthusiastic toward the establishment of the leftist ‘Second Republic’, which would later result in the brutal reprisals under Franco. During the Civil War, the population of Almeria went through not only the state of war but directed attacks. The most notorious one took place on May 31, 1937, when the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer 186 meters in length, and another four destroyers bombarded the city of Almeria at dawn. The attack caused the destruction of thirty-five buildings and demanded the lives of twenty people. 

Admiral Scheer in Gibraltar in 1936
German ship Admiral Scheer in Gibraltar in 1936

In the Spring of 1937 Almeria or more precisely the road to the city became a scene of tragedy. Followed by the captures of Malaga by Franco’s forces in April and the wave of repressions and more than 1500 executions, up to 100 000 left Malage in the direction of Almeria. On their exile of almost 200 km long, women, children, and elderly were constantly attacked from the sea, air, and on the ground, thus turning the escape route into a massacre for people without military protection causing the death of more than 3000 refugees. Once the columns reached Almeria, the city was severely bombed by the Nationalist air forces killing both the exiles and the local population in the streets and destroying the city center. After the so-called ‘liberation’ in 1939, the province witnessed brutal reprisals: arrests, trials, and executions. 1507 people were tried in Almeria toward the end of 1939, 1412 in 1940, and 1717 in 1941 with a total number of executions of 375 and more than two hundred prisoners who died in the overcrowded city prison, which were cramped with six thousand people instead of five hundred it had been built for. 

As Franco’s planes strafed refugees escaping the overrun town of Málaga, Bethune and Sise desperately moved women and children to safety
As Franco’s planes attacked refugees escaping the town of Málaga, several charitable organizations desperately tried to move women and children to safety
View of Almería during the Second Spanish Republic (1931–39)
View of Almería during the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939). The imposing Alcazar fortress dominates the landscape

When it comes to the number of people from the region who went through or died in the Mauthausen camp, historians put the figure of Andalusians as high as 1500, of which more than a thousand died in the camp, 144 of those deaths were from Almeria particularly. ‘Amical de Mauthausen’, an organization to commemorate the memory of the victims, emerged from hiding as late as 1978 at the time when Spain finally saw the testimonies and memoirs of the Mauthausen survivors, including those from Almeria. The exiled Spaniards outside the country donated the construction of the monument at the memorial park in the camp in 1962, but the wave of monuments in Spain itself became a reality at the end of the XX century. A necessity to incorporate the history of the Spaniards during WWII and in Mauthausen was backed by the few survivors who were still alive half a century after the end of the War. 

Antonio Munoz Zamora, the former fighter for the Republican army, was the most recognized Mauthausen survivor in the Andalucia region and a passionate advocate of the construction of the memorial in Almeria. Seventeen when the Civil War started, Zamora fought in several battles and fled the country to France with his division in February 1939. After years of hardship first in the French, then in the German camps, including Dachau, in August 1944 he entered Mauthausen. Zamora weighed only 29 kilograms on the day of the camp liberation on May 5, 1945. After a period of recovery, he left Austria for France and returned to Spain as late as 1963, where he continued his undercover opportunism to Franco’s dictatorship. Antonio Munoz Zamora was a prominent representative of the Amical de Mauthausen’ organization.

Antonio Munoz Zamora
Probably the only accessible photo of young Antonio Munoz Zamora

In 1999 Zamora finally promoted the construction of the memorial aimed to commemorate the memory of the Almeria people, who lost their lives in Mauthausen. The monument was unveiled on May 5, 1999, the anniversary of the camp liberation, in the Almadrabillas Park next to the old freighter depot in the presence of local authorities and Zamora with his family. In the same year, the former prominent Mauthausen survivor was awarded the Andalusian Medal. He used to visit the memorial until his death on October 8, 2003

Holocaust Memorial in Almeria
I visited the site at sunset in December 2019. In fact, the memorial is dominated by the old cargo depot construction of the authorship of the school of Gustav Eiffel. More than a kilometer long
Mauthausen Memorial in Almeria
The figure of a man weak and tired by the weight of the stones from the Mauthausen quarry
Memorial in Almeria to Mauthausen victims
The figure of a dead body beneath symbolized the deadly forced labor in the quarry and particularly the notorious ‘Stais of Death’

The memorial was created by the Almeria sculptress Mariángeles Guil (born 1959), an author of unique works in Spain, Mexico, and Italy. She is regarded as the only Andalusian avant-garde sculptor of the twentieth century. The memorial consists of two spaces. The first one is the monument in the form of a staircase, which resembles the way many of the Mauthausen prisoners were worked out to death in the nearby quarry. The statue is surrounded by a field of 142 stone columns for every victim of the camp from Almeria. The later historical investigation revealed that at least 252 people from Almeria went through Mauthausen, 144 of them perished in the camp between 1940 and 1945. Since 1999 the site has become not only a place to visit once a year in May, but a meeting point. Unfortunately, the Mauthausen Memorial in Almeria was vandalized several times. In 2000 the memorial became a part of the documentary made by the director, Felipe Vega devoted to the Mauthausen survivors, particularly to Muñoz Zamora and Joaquín Masegosa Rodríguez (1918-2001). 

Monumento a Victimas Almerienses de Mauthausen
Monumento a Victimas Almerienses de Mauthausen from the back with 142 white pillars around
Monumento a Victimas Almerienses de Mauthausen
I was sadly impressed by the poor condition of the memorial at least during my 2019 visit. I hope the local authorities launched renovation since then