Along the Atlantic coast on the border with Spain lies a small french town called Hendaye, and there Hitler met with the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco on October 23, 1940. Franco and his fascist Falange party had with the help of Hitler (and to some extent Mussolini) won in the Spanish civil war (1936 – 1939) against the left-wing Popular front. The latter supported by the Soviet Union. In the autumn of 1940, when the battle for Britain was in full swing, Germany’s foreign minister Ribbentrop suggested that Hitler should meet Franco to get him to join the war. With joint forces, Britain would once and for all be forced into negotiations. One way was to occupy Gibraltar and thus prevent British ships from entering the Mediterranean that way. Gibraltar had been under British rule since 1704, giving it full control of all the traffic between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Hitler was aware that Franco believed that Gibraltar should rightfully belong to Spain. The purpose of the meeting was thus to try to persuade Franco to occupy Gibraltar (operation Felix) together with German troops in January 1941.

Franco and Hitler met at the train station in Hendaye and both arrived in their respective trains accompanied by their entourage. The meeting itself took place on Hitler’s train and lasted about ten hours, including breaks. Franco’s Spain had on June 12, 1940 declared themselves neutral in the war but had of course followed the war development and understood that Britain was struggling but not defeated anf therefpr still in the game. Hitler explained to Franco that Spain had an excellent opportunity to join the war, but Franco was all the more hesitant. Franco did not want to involve Spain in a conflict where he calculated that the costs could well exceed the profits. Hitler also suspected that Franco’s demands for a possible entry into the war would be too large, including land areas in South France and North Africa. Areas that Hitler could not guarantee without the approval of Pétain and Mussolini.

Hitler nevertheless hoped that Franco would give him an answer on the same day because the next day he would meet the leader of the German-friendly Vichy regime, Marshal Petain, in Montoire. But Franco could not give Hitler an answer for the moment, only in December did Franco announce that he intended to remain neutral and stand outside the war. Hitler said shortly after the meeting that he would rather have a tooth pulled than met Franco again. They never met again either. Franco understood or suspected that entry to Germany in the war could have devastating consequences. The Italian fascist leader Mussolini was of a different opinion and actively participated on the side of Germany. Mussolini and Italy had to pay an extremely high price for this while Franco came to rule Spain until his death on November 20, 1975.

Current status: Preserved (2011).

Address: 58 Boulevard du Général de Gaulle, 64700 Hendaye.

Get there: Car.

My comment:

The Station has of course undergone some changes and been renovated since the meeting. But by comparing photos from the meeting, it is actually possible to see some similarities, for example, the pillars that Hitler and Franco defiled past on the platform remain. Such details may seem completely unnecessary and some may even think it is a form of romanticization and trivialization of Hitler. But history does not just have to be about understanding, interpreting and learning, many times it can be as simple as just put oneself in a spot where history has taken place.

Follow up in books: Kershaw, Ian: Hitler – A Biography (2008).