A group that celebrates Republican pilots who fought fascism in the skies above Spain has condemned the vandalism of a memorial stone to a German airman who was picked up by an unlikely visitor – the Spanish ace who killed him.
Friedrich Windemuth, a member of the notorious Condor Legion sent by Hitler to aid Franco during the Spanish Civil War, died after being shot down in northern Catalonia by Spanish pilot José Falcó in February 1939.
The body of the German fighter pilot has been repatriated but a memorial stone has been erected near where he died. Falcó, who fled into exile after Franco’s victory and died in 2014, often visited the stone and laid flowers for his fallen opponent.
“We ended up facing each other and he died, but it could have been me,” Falcó told La Vanguardia in 2009.
It emerged this week that the stone in Windemuth – which sits near vineyards and a cypress tree by the side of the road between Vilajuïga and Garriguella in the province of Girona – had been split in two. It was written: “Here, on 6.2.1939, in the struggle for a nationalist Spain, fell Friedrich Windemuth, born on 27.5.1915 in Leipzig.”
The Association of Republican Airmen (Adar) said it was deeply saddened by the act of vandalism.
“The stone was often visited by Falcó, who used to put it away and lay flowers in memory of the enemy who had fallen in a fight which, as he himself noted, could have ended in his own death,” Adar said in a statement. “The stone was also attacked in 2009 by someone who must have been unaware of the posthumous honor that Falcó displayed towards his adversary.”
Falcó, who had lived in Algeria and then France, eventually returned to Spain to visit. “I found the stone thanks to a local farmer, because I didn’t even know it existed,” he told La Vanguardia. “I saw how old the pilot was and realized we were almost the same age. Maybe even his family didn’t know the stone was still standing.
Antoni Valldeperes, president of the Adar regional delegation, said Falcó was shocked by the 2009 attack on the memorial stone. Valldeperes also told El País that while officials thought they were destroying something that praised fascism, they had in fact attacked “the historical memory and the dignity of the combatants”.
He added: “In a way it was also a monument to Falcó and the way he honored the memory of his enemy.”
The deployment of the Condor Legion, infamous for bombing the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, allowed the Nazis to practice their blitzkrieg tactics, which were later used in World War II.
The Stone of Windemuth is not the only lingering trace of the Legion’s presence. Five years ago, at the request of the German Embassy, Madrid City Hall dismantled a mausoleum in La Almudena cemetery where seven pilots of the Legion Condor are buried.
The monument bore the inscription in German: “Here rest the German pilots who fell in the struggle for a free Spain”. Underneath, in Spanish, one could read: “German airmen who died for God and for Spain. Present!”
The German Embassy in Madrid had requested that the facade be removed before the 80th anniversary of the Guernica massacre in 2017. In a letter, the German Ambassador requested that “the dismantling includes the removal of the entire facade ‘ and that she be replaced. with “seven small and simple plaques to identify those buried there”.