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“There was a holocaust in Spain, too”

German-born Jew Harry Natowitz has left money in his will to help victims of the Franco regime

Harry Natowitz lost 20 members of his family during the Holocaust. Ampliar foto
Harry Natowitz lost 20 members of his family during the Holocaust.

On the night of November 9, 1938, the so-called Kristallnacht, when the stores, homes, offices, and places of worship of German Jews were sacked and burnt, Harry Natowitz was aged just 10. "When I woke up the next day, I had no school, and my father had lost his business," he explains. "I was a kid, but I knew about the Nazis, and that they hated us, and that my father had not allowed me to play in the street for two years. We lived like recluses."

That morning, the family began what would be a very long journey. While his parents did the rounds of consulates in Berlin, bribing officials in a bid to obtain a visa out of Germany, Natowitz was sent to Belgium to stay with relatives. There he met somebody who would have a profound influence over him: his cousin Isidoro Springer, a member of the International Brigades who had fought in the Spanish Civil War.

"He took me to see other members of the International Brigades, and they would sit around talking for hours about the battles they had fought in: the Ebro, the Jarama, and they would sing songs. It was the first time that I had heard about Spain: I had only spent two years at school. He was very sad about the way the war had ended in defeat for the Republic. He was an idealist. He later fought against Hitler and died at the hands of the Gestapo in 1943," says Natowitz.

Eventually, the family emigrated to Bolivia, via Chile. From there, they decided to try their luck in Argentina: "It seemed like the promised land to us," says Natowitz. "There were also many Spaniards around, who had fled after Franco's victory. Their stories were similar to ours. They had fled fascism, like us. When I met them, I understood what my cousin had been talking about."

Between 1968 and 1971, Natowitz was in Madrid, working as a representative for a German firm that made industrial machinery. He says that he would sometimes take out German clients who were visiting Spain. "They would ask to go to the Valley of the Fallen: they could not believe that this kind of monument [to Franco] was allowed to exist. It is shameful that it still does, so many years after his death."

When Natowitz wrote his last will and testament, he decided to leave money to the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which was set up to collect testimonies about the victims of Franco, and to give a decent burial for those shot during the Civil War and put in mass graves. "I wrote to them asking for their bank account details, and they were very surprised. They invited me to one of the funerals they had arranged. I thought that I would be a neutral observer, and that it would not affect me. But I cried like a baby when I saw the children and grandchildren transfer the remains of their loved ones. I lost 20 members of my family in the holocaust. There was a holocaust in Spain as well, even if many Spaniards are unaware of it. It is a scandal that 40 years after the death of Franco there are still thousands of bodies lying in mass graves. It makes me very angry."