Photo: Shawn Appel | Unsplash

Originally published in Spanish: “Las amistades del Le Pen catalán”. Juan Francisco Fuentes. El País.

6th June 2018

I believe the story has never been recounted in writing, although its unwilling protagonist, socialist politician Luis Araquistáin, told it in private a few times, more amused than offended. Araquistáin was ambassador in Berlin during the Second Republic, the time of the nazi ascent to power, and as such he was invited to a dinner that Hitler held for the diplomatic corps. The Spanish ambassador assisted with his wife, Gertrude Graa, Trudy, a strikingly beautiful woman, born in German-speaking Switzerland. German was her mother tongue and during the dinner she was seated to the left of Hitler. Her Nordic beauty, her family was of Baltic origin, and her native German immediately dazzled Hitler, who initiated a lively conversation with her. The more he admired Trudy’s beauty, the stranger he found that she would have linked her life to a character as deeply Spanish as the ambassador, seated on the other side of the table. In the end, the Führer couldn’t help himself and blurted out the question that he was mulling from the beginning: “How could you marry that subhuman”?

Hitler’s low esteem of the racial quality of Spaniards was helpful for the contacts that a sector of Catalan separatism established with the III Reich right before the Spanish Civil War seeking German support for Catalonia’s independence. Documentary evidence was found years ago by historian XOsé M. Núñez Seixas in the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts [the political archive of the Foreign Affairs Ministry] in Berlin, where an extensive memorandum written in Spanish from 1936 is preserved. Separatist group Nosaltres Sols! [We Alone -TN]sent it to Hitlers government through the German Consulate in Barcelona. Part of the document details a plan that a director for Nosaltres Sols! had presented to the III Reich Propaganda Ministry the previous year. An addenda to that initial proposal had been attached, titled “an extension to our project”, detailing the terms of the collaboration.

There was an emphasis on the alignment of interests between Germany and Catalonia against France and Spain, historical similitudes between Pan-Germanism and Pan-Catalanism, and the shared rejection of the international order established by the Treaty of Versailles. The authors of the memorandum offered to promote secessionist sentiment in Southern France, send reports to Germany about military targets in Spain and, in case of war, provide armed groups that could be “trained by you.” The purpose of the plan presented by “our patriotic organization N.S. [Nosaltres Sols!]” was summarized at the end with a very simple idea: “a free Catalonia would entail the final crumbling of France and the existence of a country friendly to Germany in the Western Mediterranean”.

This rapprochement to nazi Germany by separatist factions was consistent with the openly racist positions promoted by some related periodicals (“Scientific foundations of racism”, Separatist Notebooks) and with the remarks made by some of its leaders, such as Batista i Roca, who tried again to negotiate with Germany when the Civil War was ongoing, or the sadly infamous Badia brothers, who are back in the spotlight these days due to the admiration that Quim Torra has expressed for them. The opinions held by the new Catalan president about Spaniards are not far from that subhuman concept used by Hitler when referring to the Second Republic ambassador to Berlin. It is thus hardly surprising that he is resolute in honoring that faction of Catalan nationalism that, back in the thirties, was willing to do anything to achieve, as the memorandum delivered to Hitler states, “total and absolute freedom for Catalonia”. They were, in Torra’s own words, “the pioneers of independence”. Men like like Josep and Miquel Badia, Batista i Roca, Josep Dencàs and Daniel Cardona, prominent members of Estat Català and Nosaltres Sols”, that in hard times were able to see that independence was the only way, since no political regime in Spain, whether dictatorial or democratic, monarchical or republican, would change matters in the slightest. “What a lesson, what a magnificent lesson”, exclaimed the current Catalan president in an article published four years ago, unaware -or not- that among the services rendered by Nosaltres to the cause was that detailed collaboration proposal presented to Hitler’s government shortly after the victory of the Popular Font in Spain.

These are the dangerous acquaintances that Quim Torra has collected in his tour of pro-independence history on the look for worthy heroes. It is somewhat ironic that his zeal for doing them justice reveal that which nationalist agitprop tried to hide for decades of untiring effort: the supremacist origins and fascistic fickleness of some of the groups that surrounded Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Estat Català in the thirties. That is the main source of historical inspiration for the man that Pedro Sánchez called “the Spanish Le Pen”.

A lot has happened in the short span since the socialist leader described the Catalan president in those terms. The secretary general of PSOE has become Prime Minister thanks to the votes of parties that have supremacism and hatred for Spain in their DNA. Among them is PNV, whose founder, Sabino Arana (there’s a street with his name in Barcelona) was lavish in in racist and anti-Spanish remarks “the maketos: those are our moors”. Not in vain, the authors of the Nosaltres Sols! memorandum, reserved for “our brothers in Euskadi” a significant role in the supremacist project that sought the backing of the III Reich. It’s not surprising that in Quim Torra enshrines his dangerous acquaintances to the pantheon of Catalan nationalism illustrious men. It is, however, a little unnerving to see the leader of PSOE elevated to power by a political troupe so far detached from the ideals and the history of Spanish socialism.

Right after the end of the Civil War, Francisco Largo Caballero made some devastating self-criticism of the experience that collaborating with republican parties -including ERC- had meant for PSOE: “and that we got on board with these people!”. Let’s hope for the common good that Pedro Sánchez may never have to repeat such words.