Germany agrees to remove Nazi symbols from Madrid cemetery

Capital city’s Popular Party rulers had argued there was no need to disturb Condor Legion dead

A tombstone to fallen German aviators in the Almudena cemetery.
A tombstone to fallen German aviators in the Almudena cemetery.CARLOS ROSILLO

The municipal government of the then Madrid mayor, and now justice minister in the Popular Party (PP) government, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, once made a vehement defense of several symbols of the Franco and Hitler regimes that were still on display in Madrid's Almudena cemetery, arguing that "the dead should be left in peace."

When the Madrid Socialist Party (PSM) requested the removal of these symbols "of totalitarian rule, and division between Spaniards," the PP told them they should "learn from the Germans the lesson of national reconciliation." But in the end it was the German government, also at the request of the Madrid Socialists, that some weeks ago removed the plaque in honor of the German aviators of the Condor Legion who died fighting in Spain's Civil War.

"It is unacceptable to have a plaque on public view asserting that God needs someone to kill others in his defense," said the then Socialist spokesman, Francisco López, two years ago in reference to the tombstone that reads "to the fallen for God, for Spain and for the Falange in the Montaña Barracks." The spokesman for the United Left in Madrid at the time, Alfredo Almendro, added that "year after year, monuments of this sort are the scenes of extremist and racist gatherings and songs."

A total repudiation of National Socialism can coexist with respect for the dead"

For the PP, Miguel Fernández noted that the Montaña Barracks plaque referred to "an armed event that occurred in our city in the first moments of the Civil War," in which "many simple conscripts also died," telling the Socialists to "let the dead rest in peace, and let those who remember them do so in the way they see fit." A few months earlier, about a hundred people had performed a fascist tribute in front of these symbols, arms raised in the fascist salute and singing the fascist anthem Cara al Sol.

As for the monument to the fallen of the Blue Division (the force that Franco sent to fight in Russia, under German orders) Fernández said that "there is room for debate about the advisability of Spanish participation in World War II, but we must not forget that the 46,000 men of the Division went to the worst of all fronts not to fight against democracy, but against the worst dictatorship humanity has known," in reference to the Soviet regime.

Lastly, concerning the Condor Legion plaque, Fernández said that "total repudiation of National Socialism" can "coexist with respect for the dead." The PSM had requested him to consider its withdrawal, "particularly in view of the fact that [a former Socialist mayor] Enrique Tierno Galván, who stood for tolerance, is buried a few meters away."

The PP, with a clear majority, overturned the proposal. So the PSM took the issue to the German Embassy. The German government agreed, and last month the Condor Legion plaque was removed. The Montaña Barracks and Blue Division plaques remain; but, as Jorge Lozano of the PSM puts it: "We will just have to keep trying. Look how long it took to have Franco's equestrian statue removed from Nuevos Ministerios. This is going to take a long time."

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