The Spanish dictator, General Francisco Franco, whose apologists usually claim that he protected Jews, ordered his officials to draw up a list of some 6,000 Jews living in Spain and include them in a secret Jewish archive.
That list was handed over to the Nazi architect of the so-called "final solution", the German SS chief Heinrich Himmler, as the two countries negotiated Spain's possible incorporation into the group of Axis powers that included Italy, according to the El País newspaper today.
The newspaper printed the original order, recently unearthed from Spanish archives, that instructed provincial governors to elaborate lists of "all the national and foreign Jews living in the province ... showing their personal and political leanings, means of living, commercial activities, degree of danger and security category".
Provincial governors were ordered to look out especially for Sephardic Jews, descendants of those expelled from Spain in 1492, because their Ladino language and Hispanic background helped them fit into Spanish society.
"Their adaptation to our environment and their similar temperament allow them to hide their origins more easily," said the order, sent out in May 1941.
The order creating Spain's Jewish archive treated Judaism as a racial identity, rather than a religious one, referring to "this notorious race" and casting its net wide in a way not seen since the Inquisition sought out false converts to Roman Catholicism.
Such people, it warned, "remained unnoticed, with no opportunity of preventing their easily-carried out attempts at subversion".
The list does not seem to have included Jews fleeing from Vichy France – where similar lists were being drawn up – or the rest of Europe, who were mostly sent on to Portugal.
SS officers posted to Spain kept a close watch on Spanish Jews and were especially troubled by some who were considered close to leading members of Franco's regime. According to El País, these included the writer Samuel Ros, whom German agents tried to stop being allowed to write in official publications.
With Hitler and Benito Mussolini defeated in the war, Franco and his Portuguese neighbour Antonio de Oliveira Salazar became the sole remaining right-wing dictators in Europe.
With the allies under pressure to oust Franco, his regime tried to cover the tracks of its collaboration with Hitler and rewrite the history of its policy towards Jews. Most of the Jewish register was destroyed. Copies of some parts of it, however, remained in the provincial governors' offices and these have since been found in archives of the central province of Zaragoza.
Spaniards have long argued over Franco's attitude to the Jews, which appeared to vary according to what was most useful to his foreign policy.
At a victory parade in Madrid in 1939, when his alliance with Hitler was at its strongest, he had denounced "the Jewish spirit which permitted the alliance of big capital with Marxists".
Later in the war, however, Spain became a major escape route for Jews fleeing Hitler's persecution. Critics claim that Spain's help was deliberately exaggerated to improve Franco's standing in the US.
The Israeli former prime minister Golda Meier once told the conservative Spanish news magazine Epoca that her country remained grateful for "the humanitarian attitude take by Spain during the Hitler era, when it gave aid and protection to many victims of Nazism."
Giles Tremlett Madrid On 23 October 1940 in Hendaye, near the Franco-Spanish border, Adolf Hitler met General Franco. Hitler had sent him troops and aircraft during the Spanish civil war and now wanted Franco to join the Axis powers.
Franco, however, had his own demands: Gibraltar and parts of French north Africa. Hitler is reported to have furiously declared that he "would rather have three or four teeth pulled out" than spend more time with the ungrateful Spaniard. Franco agreed to join the war at a future date but Spain eventually stayed out of the conflict.
Source: The Grauniad