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Post History's "Contingency Factors"
Created by John Eipper on 12/07/12 6:19 AM

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History's "Contingency Factors" (Angel Vinas, Belgium, 12/07/12 6:19 am)

I agree with the posts by Istvan Simon and Gilbert Doctorow (6 and 7 December, respectively). May I mention another case of the "contingency factor" at work?

It has to do with Hitler´s decision to help Franco after the military rebellion of July 17, 1936. It depended on Franco´s ability to commandeer a postal plane of Lufthansa plying the Canary Islands route. Thanks to that plane he sent a mission to Berlin. Thanks to the personal acquaintance of the former Landesgruppenleiter of the small Nazi party in Spain, Friedhelm Burbach, with one of the emissaries, Burbach got in touch with Alfred Hess, brother to Rudolph, who opened the way to Hitler.

The leader of the coup, General Mola, also appealed to Germany and fell back on the acquaintance of Spanish monarchists with leading but second-rank figures in the Third Reich. This went back to the mid-1920s. When Mola´s emissary arrived in Berlin, Hitler had already decided in favor of Franco. The carefully constructed plans of Spanish Monarchists with Italian fascists also favored Franco. The Italian war matériel contracted for supply on July 1, 1936 was eventually directed to him.

Above all, the nominal leader of the rebellion, General Sanjurjo, died in a plane crash near Lisbon. The way was open for Franco to become the leading military figure in the insurgents. The rest is history.

JE comments: "Contingency factors" may just be a fancy term for Macmillan's "events, events." Much of twentieth-century Spanish history was determined by one plane crash, just as the US post-1865 was defined by an assassin's bullet. And then there are the historical actors who didn't die: what if Corporal Hitler had been ground up in the slaughterhouse of the Western Front?

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  • History's "Contingency Factors": Spain (Robert Whealey, USA 12/09/12 4:08 AM)
    Angel Viñas's account (7 December) about what happened in Berlin on 25-26 July 1936 is indeed an innovation. All the accounts, including the books of Viñas himself, up to 1989, when my book on Hitler was published, assumed that Johannes Bernhardt and Adolf Langenheim were the two Nazis on that Lufthansa plane. The role of Friedhelm Burbach, who went to Alfred Hess before the two emissaries got to see Rudolf Hess, Deputy to the Fuhrer, adds a new wrinkle to Hitler's thinking about Spain in July.

    It is still unclear to me the importance of this "contingency factor." It certainly proves that Angel Viñas is one of the foremost researchers on the role of the Axis intervention into Spain's civil war.

    JE comments:  I think Angel Viñas had in mind the contingencies that led to Franco as the leader of the rebellion.
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    • Friedhelm Burbach (Angel Vinas, Belgium 12/10/12 1:31 AM)
      Thanks to Bob Whealey for his post of 9 December. Burbach´s role is described in a memo which he wrote to Franco after WWII, so as to prevent his deportation to occupied Germany. I also spoke to Burbach's family both in Spain and Portugal, which ratified it. Burbach died in an accident at the end of the 1950s.

      I am one of the guys who fell for Bernhardt´s self-interested account. Unfortunately the person who spent many years trying to document Bernhardt´s dark side suddenly died some fifteen years ago, and his family sent all his material to the rubbish bin. I came in too late to try to save it.

      In general one can say that the political and military Spanish archives have now been opened (although important exceptions remain, as in the UK or Russia). New evidence is coming to the fore in masses regarding the Civil War and the post-war period.

      We´re now in a position to rewrite the Civil War on an expanded documentary basis. Many of previous accounts will become obsolete. I´m happy to say that Bob Whealey's will withstand the test of time, since it was based on primary evidence. This won´t be the case with the many books which are "refritos" of (based upon) secondary literature.

      JE comments:  A question for Angel Viñas and other WAISer historians:  what's a historian to do when you realize you've been hoodwinked or "taken in" by a self-interested individual?  This must be a painful epiphany, both professionally and personally.

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      • When a Historian Gets "Hoodwinked" (Angel Vinas, Belgium 12/11/12 5:51 AM)
        I thank John Eipper for his follow-up query to my post of 10 December.  He raises an important question. When I realized that Johannes Bernhardt had hoodwinked me, I tried to set the record straight and published a new version of Franco's fateful mission to Berlin. Obviously I didn´t disguise the previous account. It wouldn´t have been right. I must say that Bernhardt´s version squarely fit into then available documentary evidence. He was a very clever man, and rose from nothingness to becoming Göring´s representative in Spain during the Civil War and the post-war period, always gravitating towards the center of power. As SS-Standartenführer, he also got into Himmler´s good graces.

        From the operational point of view, the experience with Bernhardt made me suspicious of oral sources. I turned to documentary evidence as the mainstay for any further analyses. Obviously not all the past is encapsulated in documents, but historians have long mastered the technique of how to critically handle documentary evidence.

        This is not to deny, however, the importance of oral sources altogether. There are fields of inquiry in which such sources are literally invaluable. In the Spanish case, many instances of brutal repression and killing wouldn´t have come to light if oral information hadn´t become available.

        JE comments: A historian's integrity is only enhanced if s/he acknowledges getting "taken for a ride" by an informant. I thank Angel Viñas for sharing this valuable lesson.

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