The wasp nest: the origins and proliferation of neonazi organizations in Spain

By Demetrio Gomez Avila, CIDH Pro Igual

This is the second issue in the mini-series of articles exploring the connection between neonazi organizations and hate crimes in Spain. The introductory article was published last month at the Pro Igual blog and is available here.

The connection between contemporary hate crimes and neonazi movement has its origins in Spain´s troubled history since the end of the WWII. At the time when some countries sighed human rights treaties and created institutions to ensure that past atrocities would never happen again, some other countries – including Spain – did everything in their power to help nazis flee and evade responsibility for their participation in the biggest crimes committed against humanity. Thus, the country on the one hand acquired a toxic asset of influential nazi criminals settling and operating on its soil, and on the other hand missed out on the development and maturing of human rights institutions capable to contain the proliferation of anti-democratic and violent forces in the society.

Despite official declaration of neutrality following the fall of the Third Reich, the Franco regime provided a refuge to the nazi fugitives, turning Spain into a genuine safe haven for hundreds of high-profile nazi criminals, including “Dr. Death” (Aribet Herbert Heim). Upon their arrival, the nazis immediately established a network of communication and mutual assistance via three principal organizations that facilitated their escape and resettlement. (One such smuggling organization was called ODESSA, a German abbreviation of the “Organization of former SS-members.”)

Thanks to this mutual assistance network, as well as the tax haven the Franco´s Spain presented to them, the nazis have strengthened their cohesion as a group and grew their financial resources flowing from money laundering during unfettered property speculation on the Mediterranean coast. The old nazis lived in complete tranquility, passing their ideology and methodology on to new groups of violent extremists quietly growing and maturing within the Spanish society. By 1966, the nazi fugitives together with radical Falange members created CEDADE (Circulo Español de Amigos de Europa), the only neonazi organization in Europe legally established since the end of the WWII. Among CEDADE members were former officers of Gestapo and SS (including Otto Skorzeny and León Degrelle), high-ranking Spanish military and members of Franco´s Guarde. CEDADE was dissolved only in 1993.

Last but not least list link in this chain of events was a total absence of any judicial action against the nazis in Spain. Survivors of nazi crimes almost did not press charges, with a notable exception of Violeta Friedman, and the Spanish authorities did nothing to prosecute any nazi crimes on their own. The nazi fugitives enjoyed complete and utter impunity. They published fighting manuals, delivered revisionist speeches and presentations, and harbored Holocaust deniers wanted internationally. Some of their published materials (i.e. SS-Werewolf Combat Instructions) serve as a reference point for neonazi groups around the world, while the so-called “Liberia Europa” in Barcelona is known as one of the chief distribution centers of nazi publications in Europe.

Following the establishment of democracy in Spain, the nazis had to adopt a low profile to avoid deportation and subsequent criminal prosecution. At that time, international hunt for Dr. Heim brought investigators to Alicante and Malaga, and although not resulting in the capture of Heim, it shed light on a lot of forgotten information. The German police that traveled to Spain to complete investigation uncovered scores of former SS officers hiding and actively operating in Spain. (An excellent account of the nazi post-WWII activities in Spain is given in Joan Cantarero´s book “La Huella de la Bota.”)

Thus we can see that there is a clear ideological and generational connection between nazi criminals finding a refuge in Spain after the WWII and the modern neonazi or pro-nazi organizations. Contemporary nazi criminals cannot and must not be dismissed as “maladaptable youths” “acting on an impulse,” but must be taken seriously as heirs and bearers of a deadly ideology, acting as part of an organized clandestine movement and responsible for carefully thought-out and extremely violent acts. Spanish judicial system must react accordingly, dedicating adequate resources and energy to stop and prevent legal functioning of neonazi organizations and pursue perpetrators of hate crimes with all severity of the law.