Jewish Communities

herberlaineThree dusty boxes full of documents on the ground floor of a chalet near Madrid keep the story of a well-known German diplomat based in Toledo, very well connected with the aristocracy of Madrid and the Government, who suffered a rocambolesco kidnapping by the Gestapo “for Be antinazi, “comments the Ceballos family whenever he has the opportunity to speak of Erich Heberlein, the business advisor to the German Embassy in Madrid, a very cultured and reserved type, with a surname of violin maker and beauties that became An uncomfortable character for Hitler and paid him with his deportation and that of his wife to various concentration camps.

“Two Spanish men dressed as civilians” went to their farm in La Legua, Toledo, early in the morning from June 17 to 18, 1944. Heberlein thought it was a Civil Guard couple who used to patrol around, but That night the plans were different. “We were taken by lonely roads and after walking my wife and I saw several cars from the embassy for several kilometers. There were six German men, some of whom I recognized as members of the Gestapo. They took my wife, Margot Calleja, and me. They pushed me and I sat down by force, but as we passed near the Gate of Hinge I saw soldiers and I began to cry out for help. The bandits who were next to me closed my mouth and the German in front of me gave a hard blow to the face with some hard object … “.

The German personal diary details a calculated and secret abduction to prevent the sudden disappearance from raising suspicions in his surroundings. An operation that also points to a secret report from the German Embassy in Madrid sent to the German Foreign Ministry nine days later, which has had public access, which offers the details of the mission and tries to untie the Spanish police to avoid the conflict A diplomat who broke out months later, spurred by the English ambassador, Samuel Hoare, very interested in denouncing the passivity of Franco’s government despite his good relationship with the diplomat, who had been living in Spain since the 1920s.

“I received Winzer, head of the Gestapo in Spain, and made it clear that I was there because I did not agree with the policy of leader Hitler”

The imposing building of the German embassy on the Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid, hid the marriage for a few hours. “I received Winzer, the head of the Gestapo in Spain, and made it clear that I was there because I did not agree with the leader’s policy.” Heberlein recounts the uproar of his shouts in German, opposing the abduction. That this had not been necessary.I had to maintain the fiction of my illness and said that I had always intended to return to Germany as soon as I was healed … “

The diplomat had already suffered another punishment a year before the abduction, his transfer to Berlin with the ambassador in Madrid, Von Stohrer, both dismissed for their lack of sympathy with the regime. Shortly afterwards he applied for a work permit for health problems and finally granted it in the spring of 1944, which he took advantage of to disappear and take refuge with his wife in Toledo without intending to return to Berlin in spite of the attempts of the ambassador Von Bibra to To be reinstated before “actions were taken” against him.

The head of the Gestapo in Spain made it clear “that he would travel to Germany in worse conditions” for his betrayal. “And there I spent the night without food or medical help,” thinking of the trap set hours earlier when those policemen knocked on the door of his house with news of his son Oscar, allegedly wounded in the war.

Transfer

The secret report reveals that several members of the Gestapo, including Winzer, drove the German to Barajas airport on the night of June 18 “in a vehicle of the embassy police” to avoid raising suspicions. A plane was waiting for the hostage in a secluded part of the hangar to fly to Biarritz. Instead, Margot was accompanied by several road agents, but was forced to write a letter to her sister-in-law to silence possible rumors, in which she explained her reasons for returning to Berlin after learning that her son was injured and asked her to take care of Of your home in Toledo. But these lines and others that Erich and Margot wrote to their friends to keep up appearances had little effect “because of the abnormal and inexplicable situation,” acknowledged the marriage’s niece in a letter sent to Ambassador Dickoof six days later imploring news for his Inexplicable absence.

The German diplomat Erich Heberlein

The transfer of Margot to Biarritz was of film, according to relates to Ceballos Sofía, its niece granddaughter. “He entered a grocery store after convincing his captors that he needed it and told the owner to notify the Spanish authorities that they were being taken prisoner.” Apparently the man warned, although there was no answer. Apart from the audacity, the Germans involved acknowledged that the marriage kept well the appearances, perhaps thanks “to the weak character of Heberlein, very submitted to his wife”. They found that separating them was a wise thing and they did not see each other again in six months.

The report makes clear the intentions from the beginning. “The fact that Heberlein lives peacefully can not be accepted in the future. You have to find a way to leave … “And the best solution was to keep him imprisoned in Berlin, going through different prisons in Bayonne, Bordeaux, Poitiers and Paris. Meanwhile, the authorities offered false signals of the new address of the marriage in the capital to play to the absent one.

Heberlein spent days cornered and stood in one of the tiny cells of the Potsdam prison waiting for a transfer. They interrogated him twice, “without knowing very well what they wanted,” said the diplomat in one of his letters dated in 1951 in which he requested an economic compensation for all suffered in those years. The kidnapping was ordered by Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop, but some Gestapo agents were confused with the matter “and they did not know very well what to do” with that marriage.

Another Calvary began on 12 December. They moved Heberlein to Sachenhausen, the nearest camp to Berlin, an enclosure reserved for political opponents for years. He met his wife Margot and they stayed there for ten days. The next stop was Buchenwald, consisting of 22 dependent complexes, where about 100,000 inmates died. They spent five weeks locked in a five- or six-storey yellow building built for camp staff that the SS preferred to use as a military prison, and the couple shared their days with fifteen other illustrious prisoners, such as General Friedrich von Rabenau; The well-known shepherd of the resistance Bonhoffer; Vassily Kokorin, Molotov’s nephew and protégé of Stalin; General Von Falkenhausen; Captain Gehre, Müller; Count Von Alvensleben, Colonel von Petersdorff; Doctors Hoepner, Waldemar, Rascher and Payne Best, British intelligence officer.

He endured his confinement based on soup, bread, bacon, jam … and the old radio of General Falkenhausen

A curious gang who endured their confinement with soup, bread, bacon, jam … and the old radio of General Falkenhausen to learn about the progress of the war.

The following destination, Regensburg

The night of April 3 marked the beginning of the transfer in an old and shabby truck with capacity for eight people, half of the group. Passengers entered and within a few seconds, as Eric Metaxas relates in his biography about Bonhoffer, a siren sounded announcing an air raid. The guards fled to safety and the prisoners were holed up in the vehicle. The atmosphere returned to the calm after a while, the truck started, but stopped a few meters and began to smoke everywhere. More than one passenger thought it was a death van used by Germans to gass Jews and people with intellectual disabilities.

The trip became infernal, at an average speed of 1 to 14 kilometers per hour, and constant stops to recharge and clean the ducts. The prisoners settled on the second floor of the old prison and tried some vegetable soup, bread and coffee after many protests of hunger. The next day, the Heberlein encountered many prisoners who had spent time there, including Fritz Thyssen and his wife, another marriage kidnapped and imprisoned for his disaffection of the regime, although the industrialist was a fervent advocate in the early years. The passage through Regensburg was fleeting and that same afternoon the prisoners returned to be mounted in a van in the direction of Schönberg.

After their liberation, they returned to Spain and settled their residence in Toledo

The breakdowns were repeated and they spent the night in the old vehicle, but the next morning appeared a dozen German intelligence agents with a bus to take them to the old school of a town that doubled its population in a few months by the advance Of the Russian troops. The next stop nine days later was Dachau, although hardly any information of the passage of the Heberlein by this field is handled. And the notes of the diplomat do not go beyond dates that confirm that they were few days. The road again surprised them one last time and the inmates arrived at an alpine fortress in the Tirol controlled by the Central Office of the Security of the Reich.

In principle, the plans were to use these political hostages as bargaining chips in future negotiations with the Allies, but eventually the 139 prisoners moved to the Hotel of Lake Braies thanks to the intervention and liberation of the Wehrmacht. There Erich and Margot recovered their freedom on May 4, 1944, a date marked for the beginning of a new life, although the following four months were difficult and they had to demonstrate that they had no connection with the Nazis before returning to Spain and to fix His residence again in Toledo.

The boxes of the Ceballos cottage will continue to keep the memory of the diplomat and his diaries, without half measures: “I was determined not to return to Germany for my horror and hatred of the Nazi regime that has triggered this war that will necessarily lead to complete ruin Of Germany …, “Erich Heberlein said in his diary.

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