To be quite honest, I had no idea there were any Spanish prisoners at Mauthausen.
That's perhaps an unusual way to begin a blog post. But it reflects a real gap in the literature about the Holocaust, one that Sara J. Brenneis
identifies and fills in her new book Spaniards in Mauthausen: Representations of a Nazi Concentration Camp, 1940-2015
(University of Toronto Press, 2018). Brenneis is interested in the ways Spanish prisoners (most of whom had fled Spain the aftermath of the Republican defeat in the Spanish Civil War) experienced the camp. She writes movingly about the efforts of the Spaniards to use their position as privileged prisoners to preserve records of their experience, records that give us great insight into their lives.
But she's especially concerned with the way this experience was remembered. As she points out, that memory reflected the distinctive political and historical context of Spain. Some accounts by survivors and researchers did appear, particularly in the period immediately after Franco's death. But Franco and his legacy ensured that public accounts would be both rare and circumspect. Only recently has there been a resurgence of interest in Spain, one that brings with it both historical and methodological experimentation and investigation.
It's a fascinating book, one that sheds new light on an experience most scholars have passed over.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the
Reacting to the Past series, including
The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda,