- Response to David Pike’s Review of Spaniards in Mauthausen in Hispanic Review
Mauthausen, Ss, Nazi, Concentration Camp, Spaniards, Holocaust, Francesc Boix, Constante, Antonio García, David W. Pike, Sara J. Brenneis, Montserrat Roig, Gestapo, Kapo, Austria, Sarah Brenneis, David Wingeate Pike
David Wingeate Pike’s review of my latest book, Spaniards in Mauthausen: Representations of a Nazi Concentration Camp, 1940–2015( Hispanic Review, vol. 87, no. 3, pp. 377–81) begins by claiming that the title “promises a history of Spaniards in Mauthausen.” In that “history” does not appear on the book’s front cover, I would argue that the term that doesappear — “representation” —actually communicates the book’s underlying field of inquiry, namely, cultural studies. The title also cannot expand to include the term “Jews,” as Pike suggests it might, because the focus here is on the Spaniards. Encounters that Spanish prisoners had with the relatively few Jews in Mauthausen nevertheless situate some Spaniards as witnesses to the Holocaust.
Notwithstanding the handful of errors in my book, results of human fallibility which I will correct in subsequent editions, labelling Spaniards in Mauthausena “false historiography” is disingenuous. Mistakes are human, as the reviewer himself must recognize, having made a number of them in his review of my book.
Pike has added his own meaning to my promise to put the wealth of cultural material produced by Spanish Mauthausen survivors and others “under a microscope,” which no, does not constitute merely fact-checking as a historian might, but also examining the molecules of the texts and how they interact with their environments. The book focuses on narrative and visual texts released in Spain. Other quite capable scholars have written about music in Mauthausen and the Spanish survivor communities in France.
Although I do acknowledge two Mauthausen survivors, nowhere are interviews with them cited in the book. Rightly so: Spaniards in Mauthausenis not an oral history. I benefitted greatly from existing archival interviews and ongoing oral history projects by Spanish journalists in the ten years I spent researching this book. One of the most important resources I used—aside from the reviewer’s own formidable historical volume—was Montserrat Roig’s Els catalans als camps nazis. To write that I “attribut[e] Roig’s success to her timing” is to minimize the intelligence, perseverance, and emotional fortitude that Roig brought to this foundational work, all of which I discuss at length in the book. Pike seems to have turned a blind eye as well to the English translations of quotations in Catalan from Roig’s book and many other Catalan primary sources: yet there they are, in the endnotes alongside all of the Castilian translations.
Finally, let’s set the record straight on Francesc Boix. And yet, we can’t. As Pike well knows, Boix is a slippery figure from the annals of Mauthausen, cast as hero in the memories of some fellow Mauthausen survivors and as devil in the memories of others. Boix died in 1951, leaving no written account of his actions in [End Page 105]Mauthausen. The only primary source we have is Boix’s trial testimony at Nuremburg, which I cite. In his sworn testimony, Boix states that he developed the Leica negatives and began stealing them in 1943. Was Boix developing negatives and making prints? Yes, that was his job in the photo lab. Is it possible he did not make additional copies of the negatives and stole from a single set of SS negatives? Yes. But we do not have complete and accurate eyewitness testimony to make a definitive judgement on this second point. (Pike benefitted from firsthand testimony in Spaniards in the Holocaustwhen he quoted Antoni García on page 140 as saying that Boix revealed to Paul Ricken, SS-Hauptscharführer in charge of the camp’s Erkennungsdienst or photo identification service, the existence of the clandestine communist party organization in Mauthausen, which I mischaracterized as revealing the organization’s plans). My “references to Boix push in all directions,” as Pike observes, because Boix himself...