A Question of Identity

“I can’t really say that I’m myself,” he thinks. “I don’t know who I am. . . . I am the late Mattia Pascal.” So speaks the anti-hero of one of Italian writer Luigi Pirandello’s better known novels “Il fu Mattia Pascal” (The Late Mattia Pascal).

Mattia Pascal endures a life of drudgery in a provincial town. Then, providentially, he discovers that he has been declared dead. Realizing he has a chance to start over, to do it right this time, he moves to a new city, adopts a new name, and a new course of life?only to find that this new existence is as insufferable as the old one. But when he returns to the world he left behind, it’s too late: his job is gone, his wife has remarried. Mattia Pascal’s fate is to live on as the ghost of the man he was.

Having long been an admirer of this story, you can imagine my surprise when yesterday I found myself watching a real life version of it on local TV. The man behind the case: Enric Marco, 84 year old head of Amical de Mauthausen. Amical de Mauthausen is a Spanish association dedicated to commemorating the victims of the notorious death campwith that name. What is really incredible about Marco’s case is that he passed himself off for over thirty years as a concentration camp victim, whilst the real life ‘Enric Marco’ never set foot inside any such camp till he entered as a victims representative sometime during the later years of the twentieth century.

Now before I go any further I think I need to make clear that the similarities between Pirandello’s anti-hero, and the Marco case, begin and end here, in the fact that they both engaged in ‘personation’. Passing yourself off as a holocaust victim when you actually aren’t goes beyond any acceptable moral limit. This is almost ‘beyond forgiveness’.

I say this because the Marco I watched on my TV screen yesterday was a Marco who was there to apologise and to beg foregiveness. What is clear from seeing him is that Marco is a sick man, a pathological liar, who lives in a world somewhere between and beyond truth and fiction, where he himself evidently doesn’t know where the boundary lies. Just one indication: even his wife and children were not aware of the fiction: his marriage post dated his life change.

Now, in reality, the implications of this case are incredibly complicated. Spain is currently passing through something of a ‘second transition’. The first transition took place during the late 70’s following the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. But this first transition left many questions pending. There was an amnesty for crimes commited during the dictatoriship, there was a tacit agreement not to open many of the mirky issues about Spain’s recent history, there was no clearcut resolution of the position of Spain’s other ‘historic nationalities’: the Catalans, the Basques, the Galicians.

During the last few years all these issues have begun to surface again, and amongst them the question of those Spanish republicans deported to Germany’s concentration camps. Many of these holocaust victims went to Mauthausen, hence the importance of this association here.

So now we need to go back to the time of Marco’s ‘conversion’: the late 70’s. Prior to his ‘discovery’ that he had been in Flossenburg – it is speculated he chose Flossenburg since few Spanish detainees actually went there – Marco was a minor trade union figure. The story of the ‘deportees’ was virtually unknown, and a completely taboo issue.

Marco’s ‘defence’ is that he assumed his new identity to campaign against the silence. This claim has given rise to a fair amount of controversy here, and Marco still has his defenders. Surprisingly amongst them some of the few remaining genuine victims, who say they value what he has done in bringing the matter to public attention, since they would not have felt ‘bold’ enough to do so.

This rings true to a certain extent since the historian who finally ‘uncovered’ Marco says that he starting probing deeper when he noticed the apparent freedom he displayed when speaking about his experiences, something which is very uncommon amongst camp victims due to the long lasting psychological scars the experiences have produced.

Let’s be absolutely clear: Marco has in fact done untold harm. Despite his claim that he wanted to make young people aware of the holocaust – he has visited over 120 schools in the last couple of years – you can imagine the confusion these young people feel when they discover that what they have been told is a pack of lies.

He made a ridicule of the Spanish parliament: where he was granted the priviledge of being able to address a packed and attentive session in January.

Furthermore, in a Spain which is also witnessing a rise of extreme right neo-naz organisations, he has unwittingly aided and abetted those who wish to deny the holocuast ever took place.

But above all, he has dishonoured the memory of all those who really did suffer and die in the camps.

One last question: what are the responsibilities here. Enric Marco is in part a media creation. Hardly a documentary has been made in recent years in which he did not appear. He was a regular visitor on several major chat shows. So all those fingers which are now so manifestly pointing in his direction, might stop and ask: and what part did I play in this?

Why was it that nobody noticed anything strange? Or was everyone so immersed in sympathy and providing information about an undoubtedly ‘good cause’ that they were unable to exercise any of their normal critical faculties.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".