Nazis, Justice, and Postwar Spain

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Walter Eugen Mosig joined the Criminal Police in Berlin when the Nazis came to power in Germany, being a Party member himself. In 1936, he was sent to Spain by the German police as an observer of the Spanish Civil War, establishing contact with the rebel Nationalist forces led General Franco. In 1942, back in Germany, he transferred to the SS Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), and joined the Foreign Intelligence arm of the Nazi Party, the Sicherhietsdienst (SD). Due to his experience in Spain, now a neutral state under Franco’s dictatorship, he was posted to Madrid in early 1943 as an intelligence agent involved in the hiding of Nazi funds within Spanish companies.

Mosig stayed in Spain with the war’s end, to avoid the sure arrest he would have suffered in Germany occupied by the United States and its Allies, due to his membership in the SS. Soon enough he was offered a position within the Spanish intelligence community that he had worked so closely with during the war. Because of his wartime work, and especially because a leading Nazi was now employed by the Spanish Government, both the United States and the United Kingdom asked for Mosig’s arrest and repatriation to occupied Germany. Given a heads-up by his Spanish associates that he was in trouble, Mosig abandoned his post and went into hiding. Eventually Mosig was arrested by Spanish officials who came to realize that the US considered him one of the most important Nazis still in Spain. He was repatriated to occupied Germany in August 1946, where he was placed in the US-run Civilian Internment Camp 76 in Hohenasperg, Germany. From there he was transferred to the US internment camp in Ludwigsburg. During a movement of prisoners from this camp in October 1947, Mosig escaped. Within a week he was back in Madrid. He remained in Spain for another year and then in 1948 he immigrated to Cordoba, Argentina.

Mosig’s story is one that I write about in my book Hunting Nazis in Franco’s Spain. It is remarkable in many respects. His story shows how integrated Nazism was across Europe, including in officially neutral states like Spain that were really quite pro-German. It also shows the extent to which the United States after World War II sought to rid the continent of Nazism. Finally, it shows how that effort, although extensive, most often didn’t produce the result of trial and imprisonment that many of us think of when we think of justice. Certainly we all recognize that many Nazis with criminal pasts, whether technically war criminals or not, got off. Yet the American ambition to denazify Europe, which extended outside of occupied Germany itself, is often overlooked. Looking at it within the locale of post-war Spain—a country under dictatorial rule, with a government that had worked closely with Nazi Germany and one that had been flooded with Nazi money and Nazi agents during the war—opens up numerous questions about what justice meant in Europe after the Second World War. I think reflecting on the hunt is just as worthwhile as considering the results.

DAVID A. MESSENGER is associate professor of history at the University of Wyoming and the author of Hunting Nazis in Franco’s Spain.