Felix Schlayer and the Nazis

Few here are both able and willing to read any language but their own, so there has been a sudden burst of excitement concerning the translation into Spanish of the memoirs of Felix Schlayer. Schlayer was a Swabian engineer and the inventor of the Heliaks (PDF, $$$), a helicoaxial threshing machine. He was also Norway’s senior diplomatic representative in Madrid at the outbreak of Spain’s most recent civil war, and that’s what people are interested in.

In Diplomat im Roten Madrid (“Diplomat in Red Madrid”, translated into Spanish with the somewhat different title of Matanzas en el Madrid republicano, “Massacres in Republican Madrid”, excerpt of a prior translation here), Schlayer relates various events, including the slaughter of political prisoners committed by the Republicans at Paracuellos de Jarama, the greatest massacre of the Civil War, and he leaves us in no doubt as to the culpability in this of Stalinist thug Santiago Carrillo, who has washed his hands and is currently viewed as an amiable political grandad by large sections of the current political establishment. There’s a good summary of the events here by Knut Ahnlund, ex-Nobel academician, who views Schlayer’s testimony as reliable.

The principal strategy of the left and of official revisionism is to attempt to discredit Schlayer on the basis of his nationality and presumed political opinions. “Historian” Víctor Manuel Santidrián says, for example, that the book obviously can’t be true, having been written in German and published at the height of Nazism (1938, by Herbig in Berlin).

This is such a dishonest and cowardly defence that it’s embarrassing to have to say so. Like his colleagues, Santidrián makes no attempt to refute anything Schlayer says, and has no evidence that he was a Nazi–even were that to make his testimony automatically false. (It’s worth noting that among the other books published by Herbig in 1938 was Das Kautschbrevier, a collection of verse and prose by the cabaret star, Werner Finck. Finck had been briefly interned in Esterwegen concentration camp in 1935 and was banned again 1939 by the Nazis, at which point he “volunteered” to go to the front, presumably to avoid worse. Herbig wasn’t your archetypal Nazi publisher.)

However, when Knut Ahnlund writes that “The mass murders continued, and Schlayer was forced, on pain of death, to return to Germany”, he is at variance with what I think (Google Books doesn’t show all) Henry Helfant, American diplomat and Secretary General of the Diplomatic Corps in Madrid at the time, writes about Schlayer in The Trujillo Doctrine of the Humanitarian Diplomatic Asylum (1947): that Schlayer was pro-Nazi and sympathetic to forces fighting the Republican government, and that as a result the Norwegian government was forced to replace him. Even if this is true, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all or any of what Schlayer wrote is untrue, but there’s no reason to elide this information, as I think the right and Áltera, Schlayer’s Spanish publisher, might be tempted to do.

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