Nazi and Francoist medals: The secret inheritance of a German woman who died in Spain’s Dénia

The estate of Gertrudis Sommer Ficher has been passed on to the Valencia government, and its contents reflect how former Nazis set up home in Spain with the support of Franco

Gold coins from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (top); an Order of the German Eagle from Nazi Germany.
Gold coins from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (top); an Order of the German Eagle from Nazi Germany.

Gertrudis Sommer Ficher died in the Spanish coastal city of Dénia, in the Valencia region, in 2005. She had no heirs and had left no will. After the deadline to issue claims passed and legal processes had been observed, all her assets were passed on to the Valencia regional government. The woman, of German origin, had three properties in Dénia, several savings accounts with more than €300,000 and stocks that have been sold for nearly €480,000. She also possessed items that had gone undetected until Valencia’s heritage department was informed by a bank of a security box in her name.

Inside the box, was a collection of medals, crosses, insignias and gold coins, as well as shares. The swastikas on one of the medals jumped out immediately. Very little is known about Ficher, other than that she was a foreigner and had been living alone for some time in the popular tourist destination. It was a surprising find, but not completely unexpected. In the years following the Second World War, former Nazis set up home in Denía with the support of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Over the past 20 years, this Nazi past has been the subject of various historical and journalistic investigations, novels, documentaries and even films, such as El Sustituto (or, The Replacement), which opened in cinemas in Spain a few weeks ago. This movie focuses on Dénia, which is located along the Costa Blanca in Alicante province. The film’s director, Óscar Aibar, recently told EL PAÍS of his shock when, during a break from filming, he heard a local in a bar say: “They are making a film about our Nazis.”

A scene from the film ‘El Sustituto,’ which takes place in Dénia.
A scene from the film ‘El Sustituto,’ which takes place in Dénia.

The Nazi medal found in Ficher’s safe deposit box was an Order of the German Eagle, an award of the German Nazi regime that was predominantly given to foreign diplomats sympathetic to the Third Reich. If the medal was given to a military recipient, it featured crossed swords – which do not appear on Ficher’s distinction. German dictator Adolf Hitler instituted the medal in 1937. It stopped being awarded following the collapse of Nazi Germany. Guaranteeing the medal’s authenticity has cost €1,750, as many fakes from that period circulate today, according to experts.

In addition to the medal, the box also contained decorations from the Franco dictatorship, such as the Order of Isabella the Catholic, which features a red-enameled cross, with a golden frame, and is valued at between €900 and €1,200. The box also included a Grand Star badge from the Order of Civil Merit, worth between €200 and €500, and a lapel pin, worth €20, belonging to a university group of fascist party Falange. The value of the medal collection is close to €3,000.

More valuable still are the 31 gold coins found in the safe deposit box, which are worth around €47,500. These 100 corona coins were minted in 1915 in the last period before the Austro-Hungarian empire. One side has the face of emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1848-1916), bordered by a phrase in Latin, reading: “Franz Joseph I by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, Galicia, Illyria, etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary” in reference to historical regions of central Europe. The other side features Austria’s coat of arms on top of a crowned, double-headed imperial eagle. The description on the edge of the coin has the emperor’s slogan, Viribus Unitis, meaning “with united forces.” According to studies, the First World War put an end to the circulation of this coin, with the corona being replaced by the Austrian schilling in the 1920s.

Refuge of Nazis

The Valencian regional government will auction off all the items, once it is confirmed that none of the decorations have a direct link to violent crime, according to sources from the heritage department, which works with the region’s tax office. All the money raised from the auction of this intestate inheritance – a legal proceeding to award the assets of a person who has died without a will or with an invalid document – will go to social causes and cultural sponsorship, as outlined by the 2019 decree on the subject.

Spanish writer Clara Sánchez in front of the former residence of a Nazi leader.
Spanish writer Clara Sánchez in front of the former residence of a Nazi leader. Mònica Torres

In the last 10 years, Valencia’s regional government has received more than €1.68 million from intestate inheritances. Every year, an average of 42 inheritances of this type are processed. In the case of Gertrudis Sommer Ficher, her three properties were put up for auction a few years ago, but the auction was declared void. The homes were passed on to Valencia’s heritage department and will remain in the government’s hands until the next sales attempt.

Of the three properties, two are apartments that are located in Les Rotes, a beach area away from the town center of Dénia, featuring rocky coves and clear water. This is where Nazi leader Gerhard Bremer, a former member of an SS death squad, promoted the development of bungalows (which were later converted into apartments) and celebrated parties in honor of Hitler’s birthday, with guests dressed in Nazi uniforms.

At these parties, champagne flowed and the music of Wagner livened the mood. But there was other music too. The current mayor of Dénia, Vicent Grimalt, from the Socialist Party (PSOE), was part of a village band that used to play at these parties in the 1970s, as he himself has recounted on many occasions.

Spanish writer Clara Sánchez also lived for some time in Les Rotes. She crossed paths with Bremer in the 1980s (Bremer died in 1989), an experience that left a big mark on her. Following the meeting, Sánchez would go on to write two books inspired by Dénia’s Nazi past.

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