Nazi who saved Hitler is in Spain: Phil Davison in Marbella exposes the Odessa-style network protecting Otto Remer and other old Nazi officers

EVEN after Hitler survived an assassination attempt in his 'Wolf's Lair' in East Prussia 50 years ago today, the conspiring officers had a brief chance to grab power in Berlin and change the course of history. That they were not able to do so had a lot to do with a 31-year-old Nazi officer called Otto Ernst Remer, commander of the so-called Wachtbataillon Grossdeutschland, who was ordered by the conspirators to surround the Berlin ministries, but was persuaded by the Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, to support the Fuhrer.

Thanks to a Spanish neo-Nazi network reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth's partly-fictitious Odessa organisation, Remer, now 81, is living in a rented villa, thought to be paid for by Spanish neo-Nazis, overlooking the Mediterranean. He is new here but there are thought to be around 40 senior Nazi officers living prosperously in Spain, mostly along the Costa del Sol, around Barcelona, or on the Balearic Islands.

While hundreds went on to Latin America after the war, partly the theme of Forsyth's Odessa File, those who stayed here have been protected by an Odessa-like group called the Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe, known by its Spanish acronym, Cedade. The group is registered as a cultural association and is the hub of the European neo-Nazi movement's propaganda network, printing neo-Nazi books, magazines and leaflets openly in Barcelona.

Its leader, 37-year-old Pedro Varela, was convicted in Austria a few years ago, but was later acquitted by an appeals court, for saying publicly that 'the holocaust was an invention of the Hollywood Jews'. Cedade's publishing group, Europa, prints German-language magazines such as Halt and Sieg, which are shipped to Germany and sell many thousands of copies. Mr Varela works closely with Gerd Honsik, 53, an Austrian, who is wanted in his own country for neo- Nazi activities. He is said to be a nephew of Amon Goeth, the Nazi officer whose character was brought back to life in Schindler's List.

(After the 20 July, 1944, attack on Hitler, when a general trying to get a better look at a map of the Russian front shoved aside a briefcase bomb planted beneath the table, probably saving Hitler's life, Goebbels persuaded Remer not to follow the plotters' orders. The propaganda chief put Remer through to Hitler by phone and heard the Fuhrer say: 'As you can hear, I'm very much alive.')

Although Remer is not considered a serious war criminal and has lived partly in Germany since the war, he is a fugitive from German justice. He fled Germany in March after his appeals failed against a 22-month jail term for 'incitation to hate, violence and racism'. Remer, a major when the assassination attempt occurred but promoted to colonel later, publicly endorsed the so-called 'Auschwitz Lie' - that there were no gas chambers, only disinfecting rooms, and that the Holocaust was a fabrication of Jewish propaganda.

He fled to Spain in the knowledge that Cedade, which has strong ties with elderly, Franco- era officers of the army, Guardia Civil and police, would protect him and that extradition would be difficult, since the crime for which he was convicted in Germany did not exist under Spain's legal code. That has since changed, however, and a new, similar law has been passed here since Remer's arrival. As a result, the government has agreed to Germany's extradition request but Remer could stall the process for years through a labyrinth of appeals procedures.

The former Nazi colonel, wishing to publicise his status as one of the leaders most revered by the neo-Nazi movement, repeated the no-Holocaust argument in a Spanish television interview that brought horrified reaction from the country's Jewish community.

'This man should be extradited. I feel like I'm living under Franco again, in a country that remains a paradise for Nazi refugees,' said Violeta Friedman, a 64-year-old Jew living in Madrid who survived Auschwitz but saw her parents, grandmother, brothers and sisters and other relatives gassed there. 'The trouble is that the Spanish judicial system remains riddled with old Franquistas (Franco supporters).' It was largely as a result of Mrs Friedman's efforts that the Spanish parliament made the Auschwitz Lie illegal.

Mrs Friedman won a long court battle against another former Nazi, Belgian SS General Leon Degrelle, several years ago after he, too, denied the Holocaust in a Spanish magazine interview. Degrelle spent the post-war years in Spain, protected first by Franco, then by the neo-Nazi network and died in Malaga this year, aged 87.

Although he is theoretically under house arrest, there are no policemen outside Remer's villa in Marbella and he has been seen, in a wheelchair pushed by friends, in the city centre. He does, not, however, receive a welcome from Johanna van Dalen, the Dutch owner of the villa next to his. Her Jewish husband died in Auschwitz in 1943.

(Photograph omitted)