After World War II, Franco's Spain claimed and received credit for rescuing or giving refuge to many thousands of Jews:...



After World War II, Franco's Spain claimed and received credit for rescuing or giving refuge to many thousands of Jews: ""Don Quixote Faces Hitler,"" in a historian's words. Avni's study, published in Hebrew in 1975, methodically establishes that, on the contrary, aid was meager, grudging, and mostly expedient. Yet the book is not only an addition to the Holocaust literature, comparable to Bernard Wasserman's Britain and the Jews of Europe 1939-1945 and Michael E. Marrus and Robert O. Paxton's Vichy France and the Jews. In some fascinating respects, the story has no parallel--for this was not only fascist Spain, but also ultra-Catholic Spain, where the 1942 edict expelling the Jews was still in effect. So what were the now-endangered Jews to Spain? Some were actually Spanish nationals--Sephardic Jews who had somehow maintained Spanish citizenship for 450 years in Turkey and Palestine, in Greece, in Bulgaria and Rumania, in France. (Forced to choose sides during the Civil War, a number had even supported the Nationalist cause.) For these, the Spanish government felt some responsibility--as a matter of self-respect and out of ""sentimentality for the Sephardic diaspora."" So some were protected from deportation and death. But they were not wanted in Spain: the few admitted were supposed to pass through ""as light passes through glass, leaving no trace."" (And they were as prone as the Spanish, Avni notes, to distinguish themselves from the East European Ashkenazi--to the point, in some cases, of claiming different ""blood."") Then there were the refugee Jews-in transit to the West after the 1939 fall of France, in flight from the Holocaust after the 1942 German invasion of the south of France. In the first period, Spanish policy was erratic, but not discriminatory against the Jews--who like other refugees, had transit visas from German or Vichy authorities. In the second period, ""Spain was required to take action in order to save Jews""--and impelled to by the turning tide of war. Refugees who managed to elude or bribe French and German border guards were given temporary haven. Protection was extended, after foreign appeals, to non-Spanish Hungarian Jews. And it was then that the Sephardim were aided--bringing the total tacitly or actively assisted to about 40,000. For this small number, Avni blames not only traditional Spanish hostility--documented from the Enlightenment to the postwar period--but also Jewish disunity and Allied indifference. The Spanish/Jewish story climaxes, after a fashion, with the opening of a Madrid synagogue in 1968--but Spain still does not recognize Israel. The long-range perspective, and the offside facets, make for unusual reading in the genre.

Pub Date: April 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1982