Juan Romero Romero has been waiting for this moment for 75 years. He and the rest of the Spanish survivors of the Nazi concentration camps saw in 1945 how their French, Belgian or British captive companions were treated as heroes in their respective nations. They, on the other hand, could not even return to their homeland because the Allies allowed Franco, the last remaining fascist dictator in Europe, to remain in power. Three decades of exile later the tyrant died and the Spaniards in striped pajamas believed that, finally, their time had come. They were wrong again. Democracy arrived, yes, but it arrived with an amnesia designed to guarantee impunity for the executioners, consolidate the manipulated historical account and prolong the oblivion and humiliation of the victims of the dictatorship.
Juan Romero watched the years pass in his French exile, from the town of Ay. While he received the highest decorations from the Gallic State, including the Legion of Honor, he resigned himself to his country would continue to pay him with the greatest indifference. He saw, through television, governments pass through the Moncloa Palace and was attending the funeral of his companions in deportation. One by one his comrades disappeared until he was alone. At 101 years old, this Cordovan from Torrecampo is the last survivor of the more than 9,300 Spaniards and Spaniards who knew first-hand the horror of Hitler’s death camps.
His last disappointment with his beloved Spain was at the end of last July. The Government, finally, organized a tribute to him together with the late member of La Nueve Rafael Gómez Nieto, but he did so in Paris. The 150 kilometers that separate their home from the French capital constitute an insurmountable distance for those who exceed the century of life in the era of COVID-19. “My father is very disappointed because he wanted him to do it in Ay to be able to attend,” his son Bernard confessed then. The event, which Carmen Calvo was to preside, was further devalued when the first vice president had to cancel her attendance.
At 101 he says he is “tired, but happy”
This Saturday Spain is going to pay at least a small part of the debt it had with Juan. By rescheduling her frustrated trip to Paris, where she will meet with the city’s mayor and the French prime minister, Carmen Calvo wanted to include a visit to Ay to personally pay tribute to the last Spaniard from Mauthausen. The vice president will dedicate a few words to him and will deliver, on behalf of the Government, the declaration of personal reparation. “Her career is marked by the fight for freedom and democracy in Spain and also in Europe,” say sources very close to Carmen Calvo to explain the opportunity and the need for the act. “A recognition that, although late, he can receive in life by all those compatriots who have not been able to; we owe them the memory and the recognition,” said sources.
The tribute will begin at eleven in the morning at Ay City Hall. Its mayor will act as host and will intervene together with the vice president to remember not only Juan, but the twenty Spanish survivors of the Nazi concentration camps that settled in that French town after the Second World War. The last Spaniard from Mauthausen will be accompanied by his children and grandchildren, as well as the descendants of the rest of the deportees who rebuilt their lives in that town.
“I am tired, but happy,” confesses Juan Romero. In a telephone conversation with elDiario.es he is excited and proud that, finally, the recognition of his homeland is going to come to him. More than for himself, he is happy because he believes that it is a tribute to each and every one of his colleagues … to all Spaniards who, like him, they ended up in the Nazi concentration camps by order of Franco and Hitler. The old Cordovan fighter will also receive, soon, a new joy. His town, Torrecampo, has decided to declare him the town’s favorite son.
Juan Romero spent four years in Mauthausen. There he was about to be assassinated on several occasions and suffered hunger, slave labor, mistreatment, humiliation and illness. Destined by the SS to call kommando After disinfection, he had to be in charge of collecting the clothes and belongings of hundreds of men, women and children who entered the gas chamber. A traumatic event that 75 years later it continues to cause nightmares.
Pending of the new Historical Memory Law
This Saturday’s act will mark a new step for the recognition of the Spanish victims of Nazism. In 2019 the Government declared May 5, the day on which the anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen is commemorated, as a Day of Tribute to deported Spaniards who died in concentration camps and to all the Spanish victims of Nazism. In January 2020 the Executive inaugurated the first national monument to the deported Spanish.
These gestures are valued positively by the memorialist associations that, however, still distrust the real commitment of the Executive with this issue. The key will be in the content of the new Historical Memory Law that the Council of Ministers plans to approve in September.
For Emilio Silva, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH), the process reminds him of what happened with the previous – and, in his opinion, very insufficient – law of 2007: “At that time it was allowed to pass the time without doing anything and what is needed to help the victims of the Franco regime, above all, is political will. If there were, then tomorrow the forensics, the state archivists, the toxicological institutes that carry out drug tests could start working tomorrow. DNA, the universities that investigate … and an office could be created in 24 hours to serve families, “he defends.
The First Vice Presidency affirms, however, that “the Government’s commitment is to place the Democratic Memory as one of the fundamental State policies.” Sources close to Carmen Calvo affirm that the law will not remain half-way and that it will defend the Democratic Memory because that “supposes defending justice, peace, forgiveness and, ultimately, democracy.”