The route of the rats left the territories occupied by the Third Reich, passed through the Vatican, jumped to the Spanish coast and, in some cases, ended in South America. An unknown number of Nazi war criminals settled in Spain during the Franco regime, being welcomed with open arms by the regime. A handful of investigations by journalists and historians have shed light on the presence of Nazi fugitives of various nationalities – German, Croatian or Belgian – on the coast. The Serie Jaguar Netflix, starring the actress Blanca Suárez, has rescued in a crazy fictional plot the adventures of Otto Skorzeny and the Mauthausen concentration camp doctor Aribert Heim (the Doctor Death) in Franco’s Spain.
“I am, thank God, a war criminal”: the letters of the head of the Croatian concentration camps assassinated in Carcaixent 50 years ago
One of the epicenters of the flight of the Nazi criminals, wanted by the nascent international justice, was the Valencian town of Dénia. The cemetery of the tourist municipality preserves the graves of several Nazi refugees in Franco’s Spain. In Les Rotes, the area at the foot of the Montgó natural park, a village known as the ‘House of the Germans’ welcomed fugitives with the collaboration of indigenous allies. A well-shaped spit kept forged the symbol of Thule (a curved swastika), which represented the secret society founded in Germany in 1919 by Karl Ernst Haushofer.
“It was a Falangist family home with a very good relationship with many Germans who had arrived before the war and it became a meeting point where people were received on their way to other destinations,” explains journalist Joan Cantarero, author of The footprint of the boot. From the Nazis of the Franco regime to the new extreme right (Today’s topics, 2010). “There the presence of Aribert Heim is attributed,” adds the writer, who has investigated the trail of Nazi war criminals on the Mediterranean coast.
The villa was opened to the public in 1951 under the name Casa Finita, owned by the Falangist Josefa Gallego. Today, the swastika in the garden has disappeared, it houses the Hotel Palau Verd. Near the villa, on the Les Rotes promenade are Bremer’s Bungalows, owned by the Nazi Gerd Bremer. Access to the compound is similar, according to the journalist, to the entrance to the Mauthausen concentration camp. “In Valencia and Alicante, with the shipping companies involved, there was a lot of business for these characters,” says journalist Joan Cantarero.
After writing his novel What your name hides (Planeta, 2010), set in the Nazi shelters of Les Rotes de Dénia, the writer Clara Sánchez received intimidating letters from filonazis and relatives of some of the criminals mentioned in the book, which won the Nadal Prize. “During World War II, the Mediterranean coast was a territory where everyone operated, as White House without Casablanca “, says the author of The footprint of the boot. “It is not an easy story to investigate, it cost me a lot, I had good contacts that opened some doors,” he adds the week the Netflix series was released.
“They did not have internet but they had their contacts to be able to find out what the escape route was,” says Cantarero. José María Irujo, journalist from The country, he got the list of Nazi spies protected by Francoism in Spain, as detailed in his book The blacklist (Aguilar, 2003). Historian Carlos Seidel has also documented Franco’s collaboration with its former allies in Spain, Nazi refuge (Today’s Topics, 2005) and, more recently, University of Wyoming professor David A. Messenger published The hunt for Nazis in Franco’s Spain (Alliance, 2018). The team of Nazi hunters from the Simon Wiesenthal Center placed the Doctor Death in the province of Alicante in different periods of time.
Gerd Bremer celebrated his birthday in style every July 25. In 1979, the Dénia music band came to play the anniversary of that high German. The musician Josep Sendra, now deceased, told the journalist Joan Cantarero his memories of the scene of that day: “Mr. Bremer in the SS uniform, with the skull on his cap, high leggings and two huge Doberman dogs, one on each side”.
Another of the criminals located in Spain was Fredrik Jensen, suspected of helping to protect Aribert Heim and domiciled in the luxurious Los Belvederes urbanization, in the Nordic Royal Club of Marbella.
The Spain of General Francisco Franco was a true paradise for war criminals of various nationalities. General Vjekoslav Luburic, head of the concentration camps in pro-Nazi Croatia, lived in Carcaixent (Valencia) until his mysterious death.
The journalist and writer Francesc Bayarri has investigated the life in Spain of General Luburic as well as his mysterious murder. In his book, Appointment to Sarajevo (Austrohongaresa, 2019) has rescued the letters and agendas of the war criminal. The Croatian leader, who had financing from the Franco regime, maintained contacts with ministers, civil governors, commanders of the Civil Guard, military, policemen of the Social Political Brigade and the National Brotherhood of the Blue Division, among other elements of the regime.
Better known were two elements with many corpses behind them who lived peacefully during the dictatorship and beyond. Otto Skorzeny, the Austrian SS colonel with a huge scar on his face in charge of special missions for Adolf Hitler, was one of the main organizers of the Odessa network in Spain that allowed the escape of Nazi criminals. Léon Degrelle, a Waffen SS officer and Belgian fascist leader, also managed to take refuge in Spain, where he used the false name of José León Ramírez Reina.
Both published their respective memoir books in Spanish phil-Nazi publishers. Degrelle’s, graphically titled Memoirs of a Fascist, carries a foreword by Skorzeny. Literary relics can still be found in old-fashioned bookstores. Skorzeny died in Madrid in 1975 after a long period as a businessman. Degrelle died in Malaga in 1994.