Monday, January 30, 2017

Joan March And The CIA Files

The left-wing opposition at Santa Margalida town hall wants to revoke the title of illustrious son that was awarded to Joan March in 1956. There are three reasons why. One is because of information that has come from recently declassified CIA documents; not least the fact that he was involved with the sale of Jewish assets.

Joan March is known (and now mostly reviled) for all sorts of things. Being Franco's banker is just one. Another relates to the role he played in the Second World War and its aftermath. He also figures in the First World War, but by the time that war broke out in 1939 he had assumed a far more significant role. As the CIA files indicate, he was one of the most important businesspeople in Europe.

He used his business influences in different ways, such as with playing both sides during the war. His connections to both the British and the Germans have been well documented. For the Nazis, for instance, he supplied submarines in the Mediterranean from ships with the Trasmediterránea line. The same shipping company was the means by which Jews were transported to New York. March was paid handsomely for movements that were not permitted. When the FBI sought to intervene, it was Churchill who had a word with Roosevelt.

The CIA files really only confirm what was known about March's involvement in the war. A great deal of information had been gathered about him by the British, the French, the Russians, the Germans and the Americans. At the end of the war, the Americans and the Russians discovered a mountain of documentation related to him in Berlin. What the CIA now reveal is that a contrabandist, Michael Olian, was investigated in 1946 within the framework of Nazi war crimes. He sold assets of French Jews at reduced prices through an agreement with a Swiss bank in Madrid. Joan March was one of two beneficiaries.

March was untouchable. Although he principally treated the war as a grand business opportunity, there was also his duplicity. The Americans, or at least the Office of Strategic Services (which was to become the CIA), wanted to detain him. March had Churchill to thank for the fact that he was not detained and was to amass ever greater fortune and business power after the war. The CIA was unable to arrest March because Spain was "supposedly neutral". Obstacles were placed in front of American intelligence by "our diplomats".

The CIA files in some ways are more revealing about the post-war activities of Nazis in Mallorca. To what extent, if any, March was involved in Nazi activity isn't stated. Such involvement was probably unnecessary, as what emerges is a picture of how the Franco regime consented to the presence of Nazis and would indeed provide protection.

The Nazi presence on the island had been established prior to the war. Hans Dede became the permanent German consul in 1933 and remained so during the war. It was Dede who had pursued, with local assistance, German Jews and pacifists who had settled in Mallorca: in Cala Ratjada in particular. One was Karl Otten, who the British helped to escape. He became a propagandist with the BBC. Another was Hugo Cyril Kulp Baruch, better known as Jack Bilbo, who had established the Waikiki bar, but who left Mallorca when he recognised that the island wasn't the safe haven he had hoped it would be.

The CIA files establish that Dede had originally and ostensibly arrived in Mallorca as the employee of a company. He was categorised as being "notoriously anti-Semitic". He was also a spy. Following the war, the Allies demanded that he be handed over. It was too late. He had gone to South America. But, and as one dossier in the CIA files shows, there was apparently no shortage of Nazis residents on the island after the war. Military people and scientists, they were the focus of what in 1947, according to the CIA, was an imminent resurgence of the Nazi Party.

But was there really a resurgence? Nazism had been well embedded during the war and prior to it: there had, for example, been a Nazi rally in Portals Nous in 1938. Although there may have been Nazis on the island, did they pose the type of threat the CIA files hint at? Of the better-known names, Dede was no longer in Mallorca. Otto Skorzeny, who was to live in Barcares in Alcudia, wasn't here in 1947. He was undergoing de-Nazification, but didn't renounce National Socialism. He escaped and went to Madrid in 1948.

The point is that whatever strength of Nazi sentiment there may have been in the years immediately following the war, this didn't create a momentum. Mallorca and Spain did, after all, have its own brand of fascism to sustain it.

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