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Nazi and Francoist medals: The secret inheritance of a German woman who died in Spain’s Dénia | Culture

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Gertrudis Sommer Ficher died in the Spanish coastal city of Dénia, in the Valencia region, in 2005. She had no heirs and had left no will. After the deadline to issue claims passed and legal processes had been observed, all her assets were passed on to the Valencia regional government. The woman, of German origin, had three properties in Dénia, several savings accounts with more than €300,000 and stocks that have been sold for nearly €480,000. She also possessed items that had gone undetected until Valencia’s heritage department was informed by a bank of a security box in her name.

Inside the box, was a collection of medals, crosses, insignias and gold coins, as well as shares. The swastikas on one of the medals jumped out immediately. Very little is known about Ficher, other than that she was a foreigner and had been living alone for some time in the popular tourist destination. It was a surprising find, but not completely unexpected. In the years following the Second World War, former Nazis set up home in Denía with the support of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Over the past 20 years, this Nazi past has been the subject of various historical and journalistic investigations, novels, documentaries and even films, such as El Sustituto (or, The Replacement), which opened in cinemas in Spain a few weeks ago. This movie focuses on Dénia, which is located along the Costa Blanca in Alicante province. The film’s director, Óscar Aibar, recently told EL PAÍS of his shock when, during a break from filming, he heard a local in a bar say: “They are making a film about our Nazis.”

A scene from the film ‘El Sustituto,’ which takes place in Dénia.
A scene from the film ‘El Sustituto,’ which takes place in Dénia.

The Nazi medal found in Ficher’s safe deposit box was an Order of the German Eagle, an award of the German Nazi regime that was predominantly given to foreign diplomats sympathetic to the Third Reich. If the medal was given to a military recipient, it featured crossed swords – which do not appear on Ficher’s distinction. German dictator Adolf Hitler instituted the medal in 1937. It stopped being awarded following the collapse of Nazi Germany. Guaranteeing the medal’s authenticity has cost €1,750, as many fakes from that period circulate today, according to experts.

In addition to the medal, the box also contained decorations from the Franco dictatorship, such as the Order of Isabella the Catholic, which features a red-enameled cross, with a golden frame, and is valued at between €900 and €1,200. The box also included a Grand Star badge from the Order of Civil Merit, worth between €200 and €500, and a lapel pin, worth €20, belonging to a university group of fascist party Falange. The value of the medal collection is close to €3,000.

More valuable still are the 31 gold coins found in the safe deposit box, which are worth around €47,500. These 100 corona coins were minted in 1915 in the last period before the Austro-Hungarian empire. One side has the face of emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1848-1916), bordered by a phrase in Latin, reading: “Franz Joseph I by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, Galicia, Illyria, etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary” in reference to historical regions of central Europe. The other side features Austria’s coat of arms on top of a crowned, double-headed imperial eagle. The description on the edge of the coin has the emperor’s slogan, Viribus Unitis, meaning “with united forces.” According to studies, the First World War put an end to the circulation of this coin, with the corona being replaced by the Austrian schilling in the 1920s.

Refuge of Nazis

The Valencian regional government will auction off all the items, once it is confirmed that none of the decorations have a direct link to violent crime, according to sources from the heritage department, which works with the region’s tax office. All the money raised from the auction of this intestate inheritance – a legal proceeding to award the assets of a person who has died without a will or with an invalid document – will go to social causes and cultural sponsorship, as outlined by the 2019 decree on the subject.

Spanish writer Clara Sánchez in front of the former residence of a Nazi leader.
Spanish writer Clara Sánchez in front of the former residence of a Nazi leader. Mònica Torres

In the last 10 years, Valencia’s regional government has received more than €1.68 million from intestate inheritances. Every year, an average of 42 inheritances of this type are processed. In the case of Gertrudis Sommer Ficher, her three properties were put up for auction a few years ago, but the auction was declared void. The homes were passed on to Valencia’s heritage department and will remain in the government’s hands until the next sales attempt.

Of the three properties, two are apartments that are located in Les Rotes, a beach area away from the town center of Dénia, featuring rocky coves and clear water. This is where Nazi leader Gerhard Bremer, a former member of an SS death squad, promoted the development of bungalows (which were later converted into apartments) and celebrated parties in honor of Hitler’s birthday, with guests dressed in Nazi uniforms.

At these parties, champagne flowed and the music of Wagner livened the mood. But there was other music too. The current mayor of Dénia, Vicent Grimalt, from the Socialist Party (PSOE), was part of a village band that used to play at these parties in the 1970s, as he himself has recounted on many occasions.

Spanish writer Clara Sánchez also lived for some time in Les Rotes. She crossed paths with Bremer in the 1980s (Bremer died in 1989), an experience that left a big mark on her. Following the meeting, Sánchez would go on to write two books inspired by Dénia’s Nazi past.



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Way too early for housing starts to engender feelgood factor

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Analysis: Strong indicators for construction tempered by affordability, supply chain and targets

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College Park to remain in full use for Trinity sports clubs

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The board of Trinity College has agreed to pursue an alternative site for the building of a temporary exhibition pavilion during the renovation period of its Old Library, saving College Park from what several affected sports clubs said would have proven “hugely detrimental” to their training and competition needs.

Concerns had been raised over the timing and level of consultation with regard to College Park being named the preferred site last November, three of Trinity’s largest and oldest sporting clubs – athletics, football and cricket – already raising considerable objections over the proposal.

A Trinity communications press statement on Wednesday afternoon said that, subject to statutory constraints, “the Board of Trinity has today (Wednesday) approved a proposal to renovate the Printing House building, which would house the Book of Kells during the period of renovation, and also create a temporary exhibition in New Square, at the centre of campus”.

The alternative proposal of the Printing House, coupled with New Square, “follows consultation within the Trinity community”; Trinity students have four representatives on the 27-strong board, three from the Students’ Union (SU), and one from the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), their president Gisèle Scanlon, and all four had already expressed their dissent at the College Park proposal.

“A process of careful consultation across College has led to today’s agreement on how to proceed with this plan,” said Trinity provost Linda Doyle. “I want to thank those involved for their engagement. We believe this choice of location offers the best possible solution for our staff, students and future visitors to College.”

Trinity’s bursar Eleanor Denny added: “We are extremely grateful to everyone in Trinity who helped us arrive at this crucial decision. This innovative plan allows us to preserve public access to the Book of Kells, one of Ireland’s foremost cultural attractions as well as restoring one of the oldest landmark buildings on campus, the Printing House.”

A Trinity email first sent to affected clubs in October said: “Based on early discussions Trinity has had with Dublin City Council, the location with the best opportunity to secure planning permission is College Park.”

A feasibility study outlining the scale of the project allowed for the continuation of some sport at College Park; however, according to the three clubs, this would have effectively rendered College Park useless as a competition and match facility, while also depriving the wider college community the sort of green space it increasingly craves.

The Old Library renovation is expected to take between three to five years, costing around €120 million, which meant it could have been 2028 before the space was restored. The temporary exhibition project is still subject to planning permission.

“We were very worried about this, for a very long time, and spent a lot of time lobbying against this,” said Scanlon, the GSU president also starting a petition to Save College Park. “All other options weren’t properly considered, and I think there should be lessons learnt on this. And whatever happens with the planning from this point, College Park should not be on the agenda, and should never have been on the agenda.”

Ray O’Malley, president of Dublin University Association Football Club (DUAFC), founded in 1883, also welcomed the outcome of Wednesday’s board meeting: “I think they [the board] misjudged the feelings towards College Park, from the general student base, and the clubs that use it,” he said. “Thankfully they appear to have belatedly realised that, and somewhere down the line the correct decision has been made, perhaps not following in the correct procedure.

“It’s our unique selling point, and the reason why we were fighting so hard for this. Even if it was only on a temporary basis, it’s too important for us. We all recognise the importance and value of the Book of Kells, but sport is a very importance part of college life too, and we’re extremely grateful for the role that people like Gisèle played in this, some of the club members, and that the powers that be accepted somewhere down the line that College Park simply wasn’t the right place for this proposal.”

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Pandemic need for flexibility not reflected in draft laws

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Draft laws on remote working mark an attempt by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to formalise radical work practice changes that were suddenly introduced when Covid-19 struck two years ago.

Back then, the force of the pandemic was such that procedural and legal niceties were swept aside in the rush to protect public health and keep the economy turning. Many tricky questions were avoided at that time but they can be avoided no longer now that most restrictions have been lifted.

“We’ve worked through for two years basically turning a blind eye to the whole thing but that will stop,” said Richard Grogan, an employment law solicitor in Dublin.

“We’ve been working through an emergency which is slightly different. The emergency is now finishing.”

The new regime is supposed to open more choice for workers if they wish to work from home, giving them a right to seek such arrangements after six months. But in-built flexibilities for employers open scope for them to refuse permission to work remotely on 13 grounds.

Conflict appears inevitable. With key details still to be worked out, legal experts, employers and unions foresee many potential pitfalls and practical challenges when it comes to implementing the new arrangements in real time.

Many say the pandemic changed the world of work forever. A recent Central Statistics Office survey suggests that 80 per cent of workers worked remotely at some point since coronavirus struck, compared with 23 per cent before it. Two years later, with all signs suggesting the most acute phase of the health crisis has passed, these practices have bedded down to an extent that few might have expected at the outset.

Traffic and transport

Of those in employment who can work remotely, CSO data suggests 88 per cent want to continue after restrictions were removed: 28 per cent of them all the time; and 60 per cent some of the time. The proportion expressing that preference was highest at 93 per cent among respondents in counties Kildare, Louth, Meath and Wicklow in the Dublin commuter belt, where workers often encounter long traffic delays and overcrowded public transport.

If all of that points to high demand to avail of new laws, considerable hurdles remain to be overcome. To name but a few, these centre on domestic health and safety legislation, insurance issues, European data-protection law and on the Workplace Relations Commission’s new role in determining appeals to decisions against remote working.

“A lot of the issues that are going to go to the WRC where there isn’t agreement will relate to things like health and safety of a premises or [General Data Protection Regulation] compliance or whether somebody can actually do their work remotely. The [WRC] adjudication officers aren’t trained in any of those areas,” said Grogan.

“They are not there to look at a work station and say: ‘Does it comply with health and safety? Is it possible to put a work station into this bedroom safely?’ So that’s a huge issue.”

Asked whether the WRC had enough resources, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said it would “work closely” with the institution to ensure it did. “Adjudication officers will receive appropriate information on the content of the legislation and the WRC was consulted on the heads of the Bill,” the department said.

Grogan suggested the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act might have to be “dumbed down” for remote work. “The only change you could bring in is if you’re working from home and you have an accident it’s your problem.”

Employer ‘nervousness’

He added that changes might also be required to the Civil Liability Act, which governs personal injuries. “There’s going to be a bit of nervousness overall about this,” he said, referring to employers.

But while the Government always has the option of amending Irish law, it can’t do anything on its own with European GDPR rules that impose stringent restrictions on how business uses sensitive personal data.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises business representative group, pointed to potential difficulties with remote-working where staff deal with such data. These include companies in the area of external payroll support – dealing with gross and net pay and issues like payments under maintenance agreements – and human resources support.

“There’s a few business that have been able to function remotely but reluctantly and with a lot of concern around what they’re doing,” McDonnell said.

“They basically have the innards of the company sitting on laptops. You could have someone doing HR support on their laptop in the kitchen – a bullying complaint, a harassment complaint or something of a sexual nature – and you have people who are third parties with no involvement in the companies walking past looking at that stuff.”

Employers were also concerned about the potential for claims for personal injury while working at home, McDonnell added. “We’re waiting to see something coming to court, or the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or the Health and Safety Authority.”

The plan has also come in for criticism from Fórsa, the largest public sector union, which said the “business grounds” for refusing remote working were too broad.

The union said the inclusion of grounds such as “potential negative impact on quality”, “potential negative impact on performance” and “planned structural change” would create loopholes that could allow employers turn down requests for no objective or proven reason.

“Employers must not have the option of simply turning down requests on spurious or vague grounds. Instead, they must be required to demonstrate, in a concrete way, that remote or blended arrangements are unworkable before they can turn down a request,” said Kevin Callinan, Fórsa general secretary.

Further questions are certain to arise as the law works its way through the Dáil and Seanad. The pandemic was all about ad hoc moves. Permanent arrangements are another matter entirely.

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