Hitler's Spanish unit stirs divisions.
The conservative Government in Spain has offered the families of Spanish volunteers who fought and died for Hitler the opportunity to have their remains identified and repatriated from Russia. The project, which is being run by the Defence Ministry, has provoked criticism from left-wing groups and newspapers, because an estimated 35,000 dead republican soldiers from the Spanish Civil War remain in forgotten and unmarked mass graves.
The Blue Division, raised by the dictator Franco in gratitude to Hitler for the Nazis’ crucial intervention on the side of the rebels against Spain’s republican army in the 1936-39 conflict, fought alongside Wehrmacht infantry divisions on the Eastern Front.
Nearly 5,000 Spanish volunteers lost their lives in the siege of Leningrad and eventually Franco withdrew the 19,000-man division in late 1943, leaving behind a “Blue Legion” of 1,500 fanatics. The Soviet Union released its last Spanish prisoners in 1954.
The Ministry of Defence is offering the opportunity to descendants of the volunteers via an internet site, a telephone line and details of an agreement with a German foundation dedicated to recovering the lost dead of the Eastern Front. The families can choose between having the remains of their loved ones repatriated for burial or a reburial in a war cemetery in Pankovska, Russia, which the ministry is helping to build.
El Mundo, Spain’s second bestselling newspaper, criticised the Government for not offering the same facilities to the bereaved of Spain’s thousands of republican dead, who have been campaigning for recognition and rights. In an editorial it noted that many Spaniards killed by the republican government forces during the war had been exhumed by Franco and returned to their families, while about 35,000 republican dead were ignored.
[Source: David Sharrock in Madrid, The Times, London, UK, 25Oct03]
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