Franco's Spain and the Jewish Rescue Effort during World War Two

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Although a little known fact, Spanish diplomats helped save many of their own Sephardic (Spanish) Jews during World War Two. Three Spanish diplomats in three different locales – Bernardo Rolland in Paris, Sebastián Romero Radigales in Greece, and Julio Palencia in Bulgaria – made surprising and systematic efforts to save the Sephardim from the Nazis. Why was Spain, a fascist country and German ally, helpful to Jews during the war? This question lies at the heart of my investigation, and this paper will suggest some possible reasons for this historical conundrum.

Spain’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492 provides a historical locus from which to consider several implications that emerge closer to WWII. The fact of individual diplomats acting on their own is equally important in speculating about possible reasons for inconsistent application of Spanish government policy. The behavior of these diplomats probably reflected considerations of modern Spanish national identity, which is intertwined with Spanish Jewry. Furthermore, the majority of diplomats came from the higher echelons of society who had class, cultural, and educational affinities with the Sephardim, creating empathy, which may account for the life-saving actions. The fact that Franco did not establish a clear agenda for his diplomats or an institutionalized training system prior to 1942 accounts for the flexibility granted to these diplomats, which they, in turn, used to save many Sephardim. The 1942 institutionalization of the diplomatic corps was Franco’s attempt to correct this problem and to create a cohort of diplomats that was an extension of his regime with the same ideological leanings.

My primary source research in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Spain helps to shed light on this historical puzzle, itself a reminder of the importance of recognizing contingency and competing interests in historiography.


honors thesis in International Comparative Studies and History, 2013




Olan, Gena (2013). Franco's Spain and the Jewish Rescue Effort during World War Two. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.