- Spaniards in Mauthausen: Representations of a Nazi Concentration Camp by Sara J. Brenneis
Mauthausen, SS, Nazi, Concentration Camp, Spaniards, Holocaust, Francesc Boix, Constante, Antonio García, David W. Pike, Sara J. Brenneis, Montserrat Roig, Gestapo, Kapo, Austria
The key is not in the title, which promises a history of Spaniards in Mauthausen, but rather in the subtitle, in line with similar comprehensive works such as those by Noël Valis (2007) and Mari Paz Balibrea (2017). It is thus a historical account of the representations, not a historical work in the traditional sense. Our author stresses the importance of "integral history," which seems to mean the amalgam of historical fact with what has passed into legend. Roig and Pike fail to qualify as integrative historians: "Neither considers memoirs or fictional accounts by Spanish survivors as primary sources. [Regarding memoirs, the present writer denies the charge.] Both their texts leave the historical narrative of Spaniards in the past, not looking beyond the memories of survivors for their chronicles. … I constitute the archive by forging links between dispersed documents" (33). Survivors' accounts are indeed primary, and a solution in bibliographies could be a combined section headed "Other Primary (Survivors' Memoirs) and Secondary Sources," affixing asterisks to the memoirs. When, however, Brenneis leans on Art Spiegelman ("History is far too important to be left solely to historians," ), then her "integrative" route of combining historical accounts with legend leads ineluctably to false historiography.
Brenneis presents the book as "a comprehensive chronological study of the Spanish representations of Mauthausen created, published, exhibited, or screened [End Page 377] from 1940 to 2015" (36). Fiction is thus included in the study. She adds, "To this end, fact-checking each and every detail in the array of works produced … is not the goal of this study," and then, "It is only by placing these cultural artifacts under a microscope [i.e. by fact-checking] that we may gain a more profound understanding of the interactions" (37).
The work provides a wealth of information from research conducted in Spain, Austria, and the United States, but not, significantly, in France and its famed Amicale de Mauthausen. (The French are oddly downplayed: they are not included among the neutrals fighting for the Republic in the Civil War ), even though the French contingent was the largest. Perhaps as a result, in ten years of research only two survivors of Mauthausen were interviewed: Ramiro Santisteban and Alejandro Bermejo. Brenneis points out that Spanish survivors and their families who have remained in France tend to participate with its Amicale, instead of with the Amical in Barcelona, and that a lingering rivalry—in some years a full-blown animosity—remains between the two associations (261). Indeed, the cause is ideological, and equally so the friction between the Amicale and the FEDIP, also in Paris.
Our author considers visual imagery a central medium and examines all the media. She reports that artwork created by Spaniards in Mauthausen has survived piecemeal (52) but she makes no mention of music, of how the prisoners formed a symphony orchestra in which the Spanish flautist Antonio Terres took part, and after the war held court in his café in Ivry. Hence Brenneis's study includes theatre and film, but gives priority to literature. A quarter of the survivor memoirs have been written in Catalan without being translated into Castilian, but one may ask why the book's few passages in Castilian are translated into English but not the more frequent passages in Catalan.
The role of the Spaniards in Mauthausen is duly presented. Brenneis shows that when they arrived in 1940–1941 they occupied the lowest rung in the camp hierarchy, beneath even the Austrian and German criminals who had comprised the majority of the camp's population up until then (42). Brenneis ignores the Czechs and the Poles, and misses the point: the criminals (the Green triangles) were at the top, not the bottom, when it came to the SS selecting Kapos. As for the Prominenten, those privileged posts given to the...