In 1944, my grandmother, our host, informed us that she no longer had enough money to support us. In reality, the war had interrupted all international financial transfers. We now had to find another refuge. Everyone left in different directions.
My mother took me to Malaga, in Spain. Franco was ruling. After his victory over the republicans, he reestablished the monarchy, only without a monarch. Spain was a kingdom, the royal coat of arms was everywhere on display, yet with no sovereign aside from a pretender, the completely legitimate Count of Barcelona. But Franco didn’t get along well with him.
The Allies accused Franco of aiding Hitler, and excluded him from the international community. It is a great injustice, as Franco was the only one to say no to Hitler. Hitler had come to the Spanish border in an attempt to persuade Franco into letting the Nazis pass through the country on their way to North Africa. Franco was stubborn, and Hitler flew into a rage, stomping his feet and shouting at the short, plump Spaniard, who simply replied, “No, no, no” to each of Hitler’s demands. However, Franco did, I believe, offer to send Spanish iron to Germany, and because of this the general opinion is that he was a tyrant.
Isolated internationally, with the borders sealed, Spain grew hungry. There was nothing to eat. And to make matters worse, bandits occupied the hills and mountains surrounding Malaga. I remember the shortages quite well. There were never any vegetables and fruits were exceedingly rare. Meats were infrequent at best and always dry. The fish were paltry. The oil was so thick that it could hold a spoon upright, and the sugar was always cut with salt. Yet somehow there was always cake.
Ultimately, Franco came up with a rather ingenious way to feed his country. He invited Eva Péron to Spain for a formal visit. Through her husband General Péron, the dictator, she governed Argentina. This lady of the humblest origins appeared at her balcony in the finest clothes, adorned with exquisite jewels. She spoke to the descamisados, the shirtless, and was welcomed by them. She became the idol of the country. She wanted to debut her beautiful gowns and be seen in the Courts of Europe. Franco understood. He welcomed her as he would a queen, with all the pomp and ceremony. There were carriages, honor guards, and more. It was pure courtesy, even while Mrs. Franco, always proper, looked down distastefully at the beauty with a low-cut neckline sparkling with diamonds.
I remember this visit well; I recall seeing it on a program at the cinema before a showing of the Wizard of Oz. After the visit, Argentine wheat and meats poured into Spain. Franco had won.
Photographs by Justin Creedy Smith