24 September 2023

Smuggling lines along the Western Spanish border with France in the 1940s

by Marc Masurovsky

In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Axis criminals and profiteers engaged in murder, extortion, torture, theft, executions, black market operations, and espionage activities during the German occupation of those countries. In the face of Allied military successes and faced with bolder Resistance operations, they looked to Spain as a refuge. For that, they needed cash and connections to cross into Spain and resume their activities or go into hiding. These individuals often carried fungible items like currencies, securities, gold (preferably) and silver bars, gold coins, precious stones, jewelry, works and objects of art. They even brought cars to sell them for a quick infusion of pesetas.

In order to ensure trouble-free border crossings, it helped to be on familiar terms with the police, the military and the border force which required the recruitment of reliable locals to help ferry these people and their looted property into Spain. Added to that mix the complicity of security services, government officials, businessmen, “notaires” and lawyers to shield you from trouble and officialize future commercial and financial transactions. The local populace staffed the smuggling chains. To the extent possible, local and provincial officials ensured the smooth functioning of these semi-clandestine operations for a fee. In this regard, local Falangists and members of the Guardia Civil were of assistance.

The main open crossing point for Nazi war criminals, Fascists and economic collaborators (with a little help from French and Spanish police and military) lay between Hendaye, Pyrénées-Atlantiques (France) and Irun, the Basque Country (Spain), and from there to San Sebastian—about 20 km south of the border. That ended in August 1944 when the Allies pressured Spain to put an end to the northward traffic in wolfram, a strategic ore used by the Nazis in the production of steel alloys for their war effort. The closure of the official Franco-Spanish border placed the clandestine routes across the Pyrenees in the spotlight.

These routes ran across the western Pyrenees (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), linking French hamlets and small villages to localities in Navarre and the Basque country, within a 50 km radius. Based on Allied intelligence sources, these clandestine cross-border routes were used most often:

1/ Dantxarinea, France (or Duncharinen)—Elizondo, Navarre, Spain—Doneztebe-Santesteban (Spain)
This route ran an estimated 40 km by road.

Two men, Andres [Andreas] Lazaro, from Elizondo, and Elso, from France, managed a “chain” for ferrying goods from France to Spain for the account of German interests. It is worth noting that Elizondo was also used as a local turnstile for smuggling gold acquired in the Western Hemisphere and ferried across the border to France as well as Nazi looted gold coming into Spain.

2/ Bidarray [Pyrénées-Atlantiques] (France)—Errazu [Erratzu] [Navarre] (Spain)

After safe passage from Bidarray to Erratzu, Spanish police picked up clandestine border crossers, took them to Elizondo and from there to Santesteban.

3/ Otxondo/Espelette (between the Basque Country and France; on the French side)—Elizondo (Spain)

For unknown reasons, this route was cited by Allied intelligence as a favorite of smugglers.

4/ Anduitzem Borda farm (Sare, France) –Bera (Vera del Bidasoa, Spain)

This line started at the Anduitzem Borda farm in Sare, France. and extended to its end point, the village of Vera del Bidasoa, Spain. It was organized for the Germans by a member of the Guardia Civil named Marquez who lived in Bera (Vera del Bidasoa). It is likely, although not confirmed at this point, that those who were ferried to Bera were taken to Donetztebe/Santesteban.

5/ Eraso-Alcasena line

The Eraso-Alcasena line was used to smuggle gold obtained in the Western Hemisphere at reduced rates and sent illegally to France where higher prices could be obtained. It ran through Elizondo since Señores Miguel Eraso and Alcasena hailed from Elizondo and participated in the smuggling of Nazis and others into Spain through their home town. 

Wolfram, a critical ore to manufacture steel allows, was also smuggled through Elizondo into France for German account. Eraso was the main point of contact here. In 1945-6, gold acquired in Western Hemisphere ports with US currency and brought back by sailors to the Iberian Peninsula was sold in Bilbao and from there conveyed via Barcelona and Irun into France where rates are allegedly higher making this illegal gold trade highly profitable.

Miguel Eraso was involved in some manner with this activity and enjoyed close ties to Spanish military authorities along the border. The vicar of Erratzu/Errazu, Padre Apesteguia, was allegedly involved, as well as a cattle dealer named Acien, based in St-Etienne de Baigorri.

Here are some tentative findings:

Elizondo served as a nerve center for much of the smuggling activity in the Navarre region. The main originating points for the smuggling activity were situated within a 35 km radius from Elizondo. Sare (France) is 31.7 km from Santesteban, assuming it was a destination point for activity generated at Sare. In more general terms, Santesteban/Donetztebe acted as some kind of temporary transit station before people/goods spread out to other parts of Spain—Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, etc.

Elizondo appeared to be a transit point for Nazis and other “obnoxious” individuals crossing from France into Spain. These people were greeted by Spanish soldiers who then took them to Elizondo and from there 14 km west to Doneztebe-Santesteban.

More to follow…


Records of the Office of Strategic Services (RG 226)

RG 226 M1934 Reel 17 NARA

RG 226 Entry 108b Box 220 NARA

21 September 2023

Solidarity is an aspiration devoutly to be wished

by Marc Masurovsky

If you search for a definition of the word “solidarity”, this is what you find:

“Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.”

In other words, “solidarity” requires unity of feeling or action amongst individuals and entities that share a common interest and support one another. It also implies that they all work together to achieve a common objective. Let’s apply the concept of “solidarity” to the interwoven notions of cultural plunder, art looting, and the restitution, repatriation, return of those plundered cultural goods to their rightful owners, be they individuals, groups, entities, or governments.

Past history teaches us that governments, entities, groups and individuals have systematically deprived others of their artistic, cultural and religious objects for a variety of reasons, ranging from greed and avarice to naked hatred of the rightful owners for reasons of race, gender, creed, and/or ethnicity. The international community, in all of its wisdom and desire to improve the lot of people around the globe, has agreed that it is wrong, illegal, and immoral to steal artistic, cultural and religious objects. If one does this, justice needs to prevail in part through the recovery, restitution, repatriation of these objects to their rightful owners.

Colonial expansionism unleashed cultural and other heinous crimes against communities living in areas coveted by the colonialists, resulting in the deprivation of life, identity, and culture for millions of people around the world. Successive wars fueled by racial and ethnic hatred of others have provoked the deaths of tens of millions of individuals and the outright theft of the property of those who were targeted for physical elimination and removal from the surface of Planet Earth. Make no mistake, these conflicts are still with us today and they are always accompanied by crimes against the culture, identity, and beliefs of the victims (case in point: the 1990s wars in the Western Balkans, and currently in Libya, Ukraine and Yemen.)

Since the 1990s, individuals and entities have come forward to hasten the restitution and/or repatriation of these looted objects wherever they may have ended up, either in private hands or in State-controlled collections and institutions. They focus separately on:

-the confiscations of Jewish-owned property displaced by the Nazis and their allies between 1933-1945;

-the expropriations of indigenous cultural objects through colonial conquest and occupation;

-the systematic illegal extraction of archaeological objects from source nations; and

-the plunder of Native American communities and First Nations in North America.

We have identified four categories of looted or plundered cultural goods:

1/ goods forcibly removed from geographical areas targeted for seizure and exploitation by colonial powers;

2/ goods forcibly removed by State authorities, with the help of military, police, and parastatal forces, from communities living within State borders;

3/ goods forcibly extracted from the territories of nations for ideological or commercial reasons under the cover of military conflicts or civil strife;

4/ goods forcibly removed from their rightful owners during acts of genocide, most notably during the Nazi era, the Holocaust and World War II.

Until the early years of the 21st century, there was no perceptible dialogue between the advocates of justice and restitution representing these four groups of looted cultural goods.

Archaeologists and so-called source nations worked in their corner, denouncing the irreparable loss of antiquities which ended up inevitably in private and public collections. Mainstream domestic and international Jewish organizations were never keen on seeking the actual physical restitution of objects plundered from Jewish victims between 1933-1945, preferring instead global schemes by which victims and their families would receive the equivalent of a “check in the mail.” Indigenous communities plundered during periods of domestic territorial expansionism and national unification (some call it “progress”) were left to their own devices for decades before there was widespread outrage at their plight. The systematic and on-going looting of their communities continues to benefit private collectors and cultural institutions worldwide. Advocates and organizations representing these four categories have worked separately in their silos, competing against one another for the attention of private donors, foundations and governments to enlist their aid in furthering the cause of their “clients.”

It is difficult to find instances of “solidarity” between these four categories and their respective communities, although, in theory, they agree on the common goal of restitution, repatriation, and return of looted objects to their rightful owners. Their professed mutual interest does not seem to include the possibility of reaching out to representatives of the “other categories.” Doing so would lead to a greater good by merging their separate agendas under the larger umbrella of a unified approach to the restitution, repatriation, and return of these objects to their rightful owners.

The Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) was created in September 1997 to document Jewish cultural losses between 1933-1945 and the postwar fate of unrestituted looted objects. Our concern has always been to address in an open public discussion the question of cultural plunder in all its forms, regardless of when and where it occurred. More than 13 years ago, HARP crossed the bridge to get acquainted with the cultural heritage community, including archaeologists, anthropologists and other professionals documenting ancient cultures and the damage and destruction wrought upon them. One group stood out at the time—the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage and Preservation (LCCHP). An instant synergy evolved between HARP and LCCHP over issues of plunder and restitution. Our representatives participated in and attended seminars, workshops, and fora organized by LCCHP. This cooperation has since extended to the Antiquities Coalition. 

Since 2013, HARP has forged ties with the Amelia (Italy)-based Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA). HARP has been teaching a one-week provenance research workshop during ARCA’s three-month annual certification program focused on Holocaust-era losses and postwar restitution, a novelty in an environment mostly populated by cultural heritage specialists, archaeologists, and art law/art crime professionals.

HARP took interest in the continuing thefts of sacred Hopi artifacts from their communities in Arizona and New Mexico, the smuggling of these objects to France where certain auction houses sold these objects, in some instances, for tidy sums. All this under the nose of US Federal authorities. HARP advocated for the Hopi nation before an administrative court in Paris, not once, but six times, in a vain effort to stop these sales and return the sacred objects to their rightful owners. Although these battles were thankless, they helped make a point that, just because HARP specializes on Jewish cultural losses, it should not ignore the pain of other groups constantly subjected to similar forms of cultural plunder, largely unpunished. For the past ten years, HARP has forged ties with the Amelia (Italy)-based Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA). HARP has been teaching a one-week provenance research workshop during ARCA’s three-month annual certification program focused [use gerund] on Holocaust-era losses and postwar restitution, a novelty in an environment mostly populated by cultural heritage specialists, archaeologists, and art law/art crime professionals.

HARP’s pivoting to a more ecumenical approach towards plunder and restitution has attracted some critics. A major Jewish organization once told HARP to remove the word “Holocaust” from its organizational name –HARP­­­–because of our defense of the Hopi nation. That senseless comment signaled an unhealthy parochialism and reaffirmed our resolve to pursue a path towards a more universal approach towards cultural plunder. HARP defines cultural plunder as a universal crime against humanity and promotes an interfaith, inter-ethnic, inter-cultural, global discussion on how to prevent future acts of cultural plunder and protect all cultures from commercial and ideological predation while prioritizing Jewish cultural losses from the Nazi era.

No other Jewish group seems willing to invest itself in an all-embracing dialogue about plunder and restitution. It reminds me of reports and correspondence written in 1940-1941 by officials of Jewish relief groups in France, pleading for assistance from non-Jewish organizations to help stranded, starving, interned Jews. The answer was always the same: you take care of your own, we take care of ours.

We are now in the Fall of 2023. Why do we continue to live in our separate corners, looking askance at the “others”? What will it take to bring these four categories under one big tent and forge a common strategy whose sole purpose is the restitution, repatriation and return of these objects, regardless of where they were forcibly removed, regardless of who or what instigated these crimes, and regardless of when these crimes occurred?

The lack of solidarity will spell the long-term failure of these restitution and repatriation campaigns to the immense relief and delight of those who currently hold these looted objects and continue to acquire them despite the general outcry of such behavior. It’s a bit like the movie “Catch me if you can!”. Unfortunately, this is not a game. It’s about the destruction of society (and humanity) to the great benefit of the perpetrators and at the expense of you, me and them.

15 September 2023

A brief introduction to smuggling looted assets into Spain

bt Marc Masurovsky
France and the demarcation line (1940-1942)

During the German occupation of Western Europe (1940-1945), one of the major activities of the occupying forces and their local collaborators was plunder, looting, outright theft of Jewish-owned property, regardless of its form and shape, from residential and commercial property deeds to industrial know-how (patents, licenses, royalty agreements and trademarks), to financial instruments (stocks, bonds, shares) to artistic, cultural and religious objects. Let’s not forget those highly fungible precious stones and metals.

Regardless of the motivations for these wanton acts of thievery perpetrated on an industrial scale against their victims, the idea of monetizing this stolen property was high up on the looters’ priority list. An infrastructural web of connections was carefully woven, often aided by local and national police officials, fueled by pre-war business and political relationships, to allow for these transactions to take place for the benefit of the Reich and its collaborators. Oftentimes, this plundered moveable property was ferried across borders into neighboring countries that acted either as end points or transit centers for this property to move even further. Think Western Hemisphere, the Americas-North, Central, and South, and especially the islands lying between the Gulf of Mexico and the northern edge of South America.

In the case of thefts committed in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, looters looked to the south to sell off or “dump” their loot. Precious stones looted from Dutch and Belgian Jews were very easily transported and promised lucrative payoffs. An exception: many works of art looted traveled to Germany and other “Germanophile” markets to be incorporated into museum collections or sold at auction. Otherwise, paintings and other works of art were taken through Belgium and France into Spain, Switzerland or Italy. The main way station for this movement was Paris, which behaved as an international turnstile based on connections between dealers, collectors, art world officials, intelligence agents and the like. These works would find their way to Swiss cities and banks or make their way further south across the Pyrenees [Pyrénées] mountains into northern Spain.

The literature on the role of Switzerland as an endpoint for looted art is ample. On the other hand, Spain and Portugal, but mostly Spain, have been largely ignored as loci of such activity. We’ve heard of Axis war criminals, collaborators of all stripes and shades, making their way into Axis-friendly Spain governed by the iron fist of Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his Falange. These fugitives sought protection and shelter from prosecution and the justifiable wrath of the victorious Allied forces and national Resistance movements desirous to get their hands on these criminals and bring them to justice. 

What did these people carry with them? Little is known aside from well-documented cases like Alois Miedl, Goering’s personal banker and art agent in the Netherlands who almost single-handedly aryanized the famed Goudstikker collection. Lesser-known players have been largely ignored by the historical field. They turned out to be far more effective than Miedl (after all, he did get arrested at the border) to ferry looted goods into Spain. Still, it might be eventually worth taking a closer look at the Miedl case because he tapped into multiple networks of criminal gangs to ensure his flight to safety. In other words, even someone as important as Miedl was forced to rely on underworld figures and torturers to get across the Franco-Spanish border with his Dutch loot.

In the last years of the Second World War, southwestern France—an area bounded to the north by Bordeaux and to the East by Montpellier and to the South by the Pyrenees, had been teeming with French fascists, criminal elements who were making their way to Spain. Nazi security agents, Italian and Spanish fascists who worked side by side with Nazis and French fascists. In the midst of this beehive of terror and persecution, Allied agents together with Resistance elements did their best to provide some solace to refugees and victims seeking to make their way to Spain and to evade the dragnets established by local collaborators. They set up,at great risk, clandestine chains through which refugees and anti-Nazis could flee to relative safety. It was better to spend time in a refugee camp inside Spain than a jail cell run by Gestapo and Milice agents “up north.”
Southwestern France

In setting up these chains, it was critical to know which village, which hill, which crossroads were safe for travel away from prying eyes. Was the mayor in cahoots with the enemy? How about the local police? The priest? The judicial authorities? The baker? Not knowing was the bane of the victims and their protectors—resistance fighters and Allied agents. As you can imagine, many clandestine operatives were unmasked and arrested. Their resilience and persistence eventually saved many lives. How did one get across a porous border where no one could be trusted? As you can imagine, the odds favored the perpetrators by a long shot.

Smuggling goods and people across the border was a profitable way of life on both sides of the Pyrenees. Entire hamlets supplemented their meager resources with these clandestine acts. As long as there was an exchange of money, locals were at your service, as long as the risk could be mitigated. Knowing this, it was not very difficult for fleeing war criminals, underworld figures, intelligence agents, and economic collaborators to make full use of the “friendly” atmosphere that reigned all along the French and Spanish sides of the Pyrenees, viz., the Basque and Catalan regions separated by a mountain chain. One still had to be careful with whom one did business and in whom one put one’s trust because he/she could turn on a dime, or a franc, or a peseta, and your luck would end there. As a general rule, you were in far more trouble if you were caught on the north side of the border than on the south side. Lastly, the political reliability of the individuals running these smuggling chains ensured the temporary safety of their clients, long enough to get them to a secure area.

To be continued….

22 July 2023

The Khmunu Manuscript

by Marc Masurovsky
Part of the Khmunu Manuscript

One of HARP’s goals is to break down the research silos that separate Holocaust researchers from cultural heritage protection specialists and experts on “indigenous” and “colonial” objects. For that reason, we endeavor periodically to showcase items which do not fit into the “Nazi-era paradigm” and see what we can learn from their fragmentary and oh so incomplete histories. Can the methods used to tease out ownership details from items displaced during the Nazi era help us with fleshing out the fragmented stories surrounding archaeological, indigenous and colonial objects?

Every object with cultural, artistic, and/or religious value and significance, has a history as it travels through space and time with human assistance. Ownership trails are difficult to reconstruct in the absence of written documents. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Strategies developed in the course of several decades to elicit the troubled past of countless objects displaced during the Nazi era are readily applicable to other objects displaced under different circumstances but nevertheless suffer the same fate as they become commodified and monetized on the international art market.

In the case of papyri, ancient handwritten scrolls produced thousands of years in ancient Egypt. If we scratch the surface of the international papyrus trade, we note similarities with the trade in Old Masters and similar art objects.

Let’s now take a look at one such manuscript, referred to as the “Khmunu Manuscript” while scholars have described it as a “Handbook of Ritual Power.”

The “Khmunu Manuscript” or “codex” consists of love spells and other incantations. It was published in its deciphered and annotated form in 2014 as the “Handbook of Ritual Power," the first volume in a series entitled “The Macquarie Papyri” released by Macquarie University in Sydney (Australia). In 2018, another researcher who worked on a papyrus fragment at Macquarie University discovered that it too was a love spell. He wondered whether this fragment could have also come from the “Handbook of Ritual Power.”

The manuscript’s author(s) is (are) unknown. It is estimated to be approximately 1300 years old and handwritten in ancient Coptic script. The use of language traces its origins back to Upper Egypt, possibly near Hermopolis Magna, modern-day Al-Ashmūnayn.

One blogger alleges that the manuscript was discovered during the German Expedition of 1929-1939 (Black dates its discovery to 1929) while exploring around the temple of Thoth at Hermopolis Magna (“Khmunu”, the City of Eight). If so, how and when did the manuscript reach Europe? If the manuscript was discovered during the German Expedition, how and when did it reach Anton Fackelmann and his nephew Michael in Vienna (Austria)?

A view of Hermopolis Magna

There is no indication of the date of exportation of the manuscript from Egypt. Neither is there any evidence as to when the manuscript crossed into Austria and reached the Viennese market.

It suffices to say that the provenance record for this and many other papyri is sadly lacking. In the case of the Khmunu Manuscript, we can establish for certain that the manuscript was in the hands of Michael Fackelmann (Vienna) as late as 1981. He may have come into possession of it in the 1970s.

In late 1981, the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, acquired the manuscript from Michael Fackelmann. The relationship between Macquarie University and the Fackelmann family dates back to the 1960s and 1970s during which time the University acquired many papyri.

By Anton Fackelman’s own admission, he dealt directly with “mummy looters” in Cairo and perhaps elsewhere in Egypt. This fact alone has raised eyebrows about the ethics of Fackelmann’s collecting habits and whether it is safe to acquire any papyri from the Fackelmann family. If “mummy looters” represent one of the few ways by which to acquire papyri in Egypt, then the bulk of the international papyrus trade should be questioned as a hotbed of illicit activity.

One of the Fackelmann family’s strongest critics is Dr. Michael A. Freeman, who describes himself as a “Greek historian and manuscript researcher” working at Duke University. [link to Freeman’s page at Duke] Freeman reports how, in January 1969, Anton Fackelmann acquired papyri from a “mummy looter.”

“Dr. Anton Fackelmann claims, for example, that he extracted P.Duk.inv. 34 and 16 other pieces of early Ptolemiac papyri from the chest of a mummy purchased from a mummy looter in Faiyum, Egypt in January 1969. Among these papyri are five documents verifiably dateable to the early Ptolemaic period, ca. 256 BCE (P.Duk.inv. 23, 24, 25, 26, 28). If one takes Fackelmann at his word—that is, that his papyri were all extracted from the same Ptolemaic mummy—this would date all 17 pieces of the cartonnage archive to the mid-third century BCE.” Freeman’s critique is largely based on the dating methods Fackelmann used to prove that some of the papyri were from the early Ptolemaic period, which would increase their value. As Freeman states, “Early Ptolemaic papyri were exceptionally rare and difficult to acquire in the 1960s-70s.”

A closer look at the ownership histories (provenance) of papyri acquired by Duke University reveals that from the 1960s on many papyri either came directly from the Fackelmann family or one of the Fackelmanns appears in the fragmentary chains of custody either in first or second position. More often than not, Anton Fackelmann appears after an “unknown source”. These provenance gaps (missing information in the chain of custody) beg questions like:

Anton Fackelmann studying a papyrus

- Where, when and from whom did Anton Fackelmann acquire these items?

- Were there no other intermediaries between the Fackelmann family and the “mummy looters”?

- Have any documents been produced which detail the exportation from Egypt and importation into Austria of these papyri?

In a more general way, Prof. Roberta Mazza (University of Bologna, Italy) points out the due diligence failures inherent to the global papyrology market and wonders how thousands of papyri were removed from Egypt in the 1960s and 1970s without any questions being asked about their provenance and origin by Egyptian officials and Western experts, collectors and, most notably, the museums that acquire and house them. Prof. Mazza describes how mummy cartonnage has been exploited as a source of papyri that eventually wend their way through looters’ hands into the clutches of Western collections. The papyri extraction process destroys the mummy cartonnage and, thus, a valuable piece of Egyptian cultural heritage. What is the value of mummy cartonnage when weighed against that of a potentially priceless fragment of papyrus? Who makes that decision? Is it in the interest of science or the interest of the individual collector or museum to acquire this fragment?

Prof. Mazza charges these papyri collectors and experts with indulging in “colonial” behavior at a heavy cost to Egyptian cultural heritage: “Western papyrologists, scholars and pseudo-scholars are destroying mummy masks and panels” much like Christian evangelical collectors like the Green Family of Hobby Lobby fame whose “search for papyri from mummy cartonnage is dictated by the wish to retrieve biblical manuscripts, and through them the word of God…” a specious reason if there ever was one.

Whatever the motives behind this scholarly and pseudo-scholarly obsession with papyri, Western behavior has all the hallmarks of predation for the sake of acquisition and scholarship. How does this apply to papyri constantly appearing on the international art market? Buyer beware, chances are that they were looted.

In sum, the most reliable pieces of information in the history of the Khmunu Manuscript are:

Ancient Egypt (maybe Hermopolis Magna)
Michael Fackelmann, Vienna (Austria)
Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia)

The location of the manuscript in or near Hermopolis can be reasonably deduced based on the contextual information surrounding the papyrus.

Less reliable is the information regarding its actual find and how it came into the hands of the Fackelmann family.

Additional research requires doing a deep dive into the Fackelmann archives in order to sort out the transfer of the Khmunu Manuscript from Egypt to Austria. More generally, the international papyrus trade needs to be thoroughly investigated in order to ascertain how severe the problem is when it comes to the extraction and acquisition of papyri. A word of caution to those who have acquired papyri from the likes of Fackelmann. The absence of provenance is not a good sign and points to possible theft by  “mummy looters.”

Caveat emptor.

Sources for images:

- Khmunu Manuscript pages were taken by Dr. Malcolm Choat, Macquarie University
- Hermopolis Magna photo courtesy of Wikipedia
- Anton Fackelmann photo courtesy of Claremont College Digital Library.