World Bulletin / News Desk
German taxpayers are still paying pensions to Spanish fascists who volunteered to fight with the Nazis in World War II.
Following the 40th anniversary of the death of Spanish fascist leader General Francisco Franco on Friday, present-day right-wingers claim that Europe has a “moral debt” to those who fought in the Nazi war machine.
The current price tag for supporting these former fighters -- and their families -- is 107,352 euros ($114,676) a year, according to a written reply from the German government to a parliamentary question submitted by MP Andrej Hunko earlier this month.
In the reply, there was no mention of changing the policy, which was agreed in 1962.
The German government says it does not have data from the historical payments and can only recover information since 1991, after the Berlin Wall fell.
However, according to an article from German magazine Spiegel, yearly payments of about 850,000 euros were being paid to former members of the Blue Division -- the unit of Spanish volunteers that fought on the Eastern Front -- or their family members.
In 1998, a new law came into effect in Germany that established checks to see if the veterans had violated human rights during the Nazi era. According to the government's statement, the Spanish cases were also reviewed.
Germany currently pays almost 9,000 euros a month to 41 ex-Blue Division combatants. Eight widows and an orphan also benefit from the payments.
An MEP with the Basque EH Bildu party and two German Die Link MEPs denounced the payments to the European Commission last week, asking that the commission “take action against the decision of the German government”.
Others say that the payments should continue, as they are international agreements that go to a group of fighters who did not necessarily commit war crimes.
Outrage in Germany and Spain
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Jon Inarritu, a Basque MP for the left-wing Amaiur party, said: “We do not understand how Germany can continue to pay pensions to those responsible for the worst tragedy in European history.
“Could you imagine that, in a few years, a European member state will pay pensions to members of Daesh?”
The worst part of the situation, according to a joint statement from the Basque and German MEPs, is that the German government has indicated the payments will continue.
The parties claim the payments defy the founding values of the EU and are incompatible with European appeals that stress the importance of preserving the memory of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes.
“It is incomprehensible and unacceptable that 70 years after the end of World War II, Germany continues to pay pensions to Nazi volunteers, while many victims of fascist totalitarianism have not been compensated,” the three MEPs told the European Commission.
“These people joined voluntarily with the German fascists to fight by their side in the war of extinction of Eastern Europe,” said German MP Hunko.
In 1941, the Spanish and German governments created the Blue Division so Spaniards could fight alongside Germany’s Nazi infantry. The force fought between 1941 and 1943.
Spain did not officially participate in WWII as it recovered from the civil war in which Adolf Hitler’s fascist ally Franco won with German and Italian aid.
According to the German government's statement, 47,000 Spaniards fought in the Blue Division -- 22,000 of whom became casualties or disappeared.
It was not until 1962 that Germany started paying pensions in exchange for Franco’s promise that he would do the same for German survivors of the Condor Legion.
This was the Luftwaffe force that bombed anti-fascist forces during the Spanish civil war, including the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, an event immortalized by Pablo Picasso’s painting.
However, some argue that the Blue Division does not bear the same culpability as the German forces for Nazi war crimes.
According to various historians, including Russian author Boris Kovalev and American historian Wayne Bowen, the Spaniards who fought with the Nazis were not considered as cruel as their German comrades.
Kovalev’s recent book, Voluntarios En Una Guerra Ajena (Volunteers In Someone Else’s War), publishes accounts of Soviets who dealt with Spaniards in the conflict.
Some recounted violence and murders by Spaniards but, despite everything, wrote Kovalev: “The Spaniards were much more humane than the Germans.”
Bowen, a professor of history at Southeast Missouri State University and the author of Spaniards and Nazi Germany: Collaboration in the New Order, told Anadolu Agency: “Senior German officers complained about good Spanish relations with the Russians, protesting that this was not consistent with the overall approach of the Third Reich.”
Bowen pointed out the survival of a Spanish cemetery near Novgorod, Russia, was testament to the less draconian attitudes of the Spanish volunteers to Russians.
He claimed it was “entirely appropriate” for the Germans to continue to pay the controversial pensions and pointed out that the division status was not, unlike other non-German Nazi units, part of the notorious Waffen-SS.
Bowen said the payments are required by legitimate agreements made during and after the war.
“If anything, the German left should question why Germany continues to pay pensions to many Waffen-SS veterans, who represented the worst of Nazi Germany’s racial and exterminationist policies, rather than a group that openly defied these,” Bowen told Anadolu Agency.
Present-day right-wingers in Spain told Anadolu Agency that Europe should be grateful to the Blue Division veterans.
The head of Spain’s current far-right Falange party, Norberto Pico Sanabria, said even a “modest pension” would be welcome: "European society has a moral debt to those who risked their lives many miles from home to fight Soviet totalitarianism.
"If recognition for their acts materializes in the form of a very modest pension, it is welcome."