Spain had up to one million people detained in around 300 concentration camps set up by the forces of late dictator Gen. Francisco Franco who led a military uprising that in 1939 overthrew a democratically-backed Republican government, an investigative journalist told EFE in an interview published Saturday.

According to Carlos Hernández de Miguel, between 700,000 and one million Spaniards linked to the defeated republic were detained in such camps which he said had been forgotten by history.

“Repression was one of the main pillars of Franco’s Spain," said Hernández de Miguel, who conducted an investigation lasting more than three years into this chapter of the country’s history.

“Few documents survive due to the massive destruction of files that took place during Franco’s dictatorship and the first years of the transition toward democracy," he said.

For Hernández de Miguel, who has compiled his findings in a book entitled, "Franco’s concentration camps," the dictatorship in effect turned Spain into “a gigantic concentration camp.”

After the end of World War II, Spain engaged in the mass obliteration of anything that could link Franco’s regime with Nazism in such a way that there now exists what the author called “a brutal chasm in the archives appertaining to that period in history.”

Hernández de Miguel maintains that, despite some differences, there was a clear analogy and elements in common between Spain’s concentration camps and those set up by the Nazi regime to the point where Gestapo commanders participated in training Spanish police forces.

The system applied in Franco’s Spain was designed to respond to the dictatorship’s needs, which the author said were, “the extermination of the most active elements of the Republican sector” and the creation of a slave workforce.

“There were no gas chambers in Franco’s concentration camps, but extermination was practiced and captives were exploited as slave labor,” he said. “There was no Jewish or Gypsy genocide in Spain but there was a real ideological holocaust, a final solution against all who thought differently,” Hernández de Miguel said.

His research has led him to investigate dozens of archives which in turn enabled him to identify 296 official concentration camps established in as many Spanish cities and towns.

The southern region of Andalusia heads what Hernández de Miguel called “the ranking of horror,” with 52 concentration camps.

This was followed by the eastern region of Valencia with 41, he said. Central Castilla-La Mancha contained 38 camps while Castilla y León had 24 and northern Aragón had 18.

Southwestern Extremadura contained 17 such camps; Madrid had 16, Catalonia counted with 14, Asturias had 12, Galicia and Murcia had 11 each, while Cantabria had 10, the Basque region contained nine, the Canary Islands five, Navarra had four, La Rioja had two while Spain’s enclave of Ceuta in northern Africa had five, he said.

Throughout the dictatorship’s close to four decades of existence, many documents relating to this past reality were gradually destroyed, Hernández de Miguel said.

However, he said one of the most “important moments” in the destruction of files took place in the mid-1960s.

Hernández de Miguel said that between 700,000 and one million people were tried or officially accused and he added it was "very sad" that they had not been properly recognized as victims of Franco's regime.

Following the end of the dictatorship there was "a pact of silence" during a period now known as the Transition to democracy that was understandable at the time, he said.

However, this did not justify the fact that from the middle of the 1980s onwards no effort had been made “to put History in its rightful place.”

The journalist, who also wrote the book, "The last Spaniards at Mauthausen," said he regretted that Spain had not dedicated the means to ensure that those concentration camps may be known by new generations who could thus be "vaccinated" against any possible return to those times.

By Harold Heckle