How Spanish Nazi victim Enric Marco was exposed as impostor

Enric Marco (file pic at Mauthausen) Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Enric Marco, now 94, remains unrepentant about his deception

Spain's dwindling number of survivors will mark the 70th anniversary on Tuesday of the liberation of Mauthausen, the Nazi concentration camp in northern Austria where most of the 9,000 Spanish deportees ended up.

Of the 7,532 Spaniards interned at Mauthausen, only 2,335 survived.

It is only because of the dogged detective work of a Spanish historian that their memory has not been sullied by an impostor, who 10 years ago was president of Spain's main association of Nazi victims, the Amical de Mauthausen.

Enric Marco was exposed shortly before he was due to share a platform at the camp with then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

High-octane speeches

Madrid-based historian Benito Bermejo, an expert on Spain's deportees, became interested in Marco after meeting him at a conference in 2002. Bermejo found his story especially intriguing as Enric Marco claimed to have been imprisoned in Flossenbuerg, a camp in Bavaria and an unusual destination for a Spanish deportee.

Bermejo read all the versions he could find of Marco's past, starting with his claim that he had been an anarchist forced to flee to France from his home city of Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War had been lost.

"I was curious, interested, but then I became very perplexed."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Marco had not fought against fascism but had signed up as a voluntary worker in Nazi Germany

"[Marco's] version of events changed each time he told it, both about the camp and how he had got there," Bermejo told the BBC.

Benito Bermejo also found it mysterious that on the few occasions he tried to talk to him face to face, Marco did not want to discuss his experiences in Nazi Germany.

As head of the Amical de Mauthausen, Marco showed a penchant for high-octane speeches packed with horrific details of life in Flossenbuerg.

He moved several MPs to tears when addressing Congress on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2005.

Searching the foreign ministry archive, the historian found an official request from army command in Catalonia for information on Marco's whereabouts, as he had failed to present himself for compulsory military service in 1943.

The foreign ministry replied that Marco was at that time employed by the Deutsche Werke naval shipyard in Kiel, northern Germany.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Marco had been due to share a platform at Mauthausen with Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (R)

Far from fighting fascism, he had signed up as one of 20,000 Spaniards who worked for the Third Reich under a 1941 agreement between Franco and Hitler.

"So now I know that Marco was not a deportee, that he went to Germany voluntarily and that there is something strange going on," says Bermejo.

But he still had doubts over the extent of Marco's deception because some volunteer workers who got into trouble with the Nazi regime did end up in concentration camps.

Marco was briefly imprisoned in Kiel but never convicted, let alone sent to a camp.

For months Bermejo sought an explanation from him. Then, with the 60th anniversary event at Mauthausen days away, he sent a report to the prime minister's office and the Amical association. And he waited.

"What more could I do? I decided that going public with what I knew would be a kind of declaration of war and very controversial at that moment."

Rise and fall of Enric Marco

  • Born 12 April 1921 but always claimed birth on 14 April, 10 years before start of Spanish republic
  • Mother in mental asylum from his birth until her death in 1956
  • 1978 - becomes secretary general of CNT (National Confederation of Labour) union when legalised after Franco's death
  • 1980 - expelled from CNT
  • 2001 - awarded Creu de Sant Jordi honour by Catalan government
  • 2003 - becomes president of Amical de Mauthausen
  • 2005 - resigns in disgrace and forced to return Creu de Sant Jordi

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Marco collaborated with Spanish writer Javier Cercas (above) in a book entitled El Impostor

On his way to Austria, the day before the Mauthausen ceremony, Bermejo read in a Spanish newspaper that Marco had had to return to Barcelona as he was "indisposed".

In El Impostor, a book by Javier Cercas in which Marco collaborated, the writer suggests Marco was confronted at Mauthausen with Bermejo's findings by his Amical colleagues and that he admitted being a Third Reich volunteer worker.

'Close to disaster'

Marco eventually admitted publicly that he had never been in a concentration camp.

Now 94, he remains unrepentant about his deception, arguing his aim was to keep the memory of Hitler's Spanish victims alive. "Who would have listened to me if I hadn't created that persona?" he said recently.

"It is frightening to think that if he hadn't finally owned up, things could have been very different. The fact that Marco flew to Austria shows how dangerously close we came to a disaster," says Bermejo.

Enric Garriga, today's Amical de Mauthausen president whose father was deported to Buchenwald, believes the association was damaged by the scandal.

"The figure of Marco, who was a liar, was used to say that everyone was lying."

For Jose Marfil, also 94 and one of the few genuine remaining Spanish survivors of Mauthausen, the fight to remember must continue.

"We have to do everything possible to keep the existence of those camps alive in people's memory because we [survivors] are going to disappear."

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