Many people know of “Garbo”, the Catalan spy who passed false information to the Nazis but few know of his partner, the Galician woman from Lugo who changed history.
By IVÁN FERNÁNDEZ AMIL06: 00 · 12/06/2020
(Translated from Castillian https://www.elespanol.com/quincemil/articulos/cultura/araceli-gonzalez-la-espia-gallega-que-engano-a-hitler? by D.Breatnach)
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
On June 6th 1944, a flotilla of more than 4,500 ships would transport 130,000 soldiers, and 20,000 vehicles across the English Channel, becoming the largest movement of people and material in the history of mankind. Known as D-Day, the Normandy Landing was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, but it would not have been possible without the key participation of a Spanish double agent, Juan Pujol, alias “Garbo,” who led Hitler to believe that the invasion would take place in Calais, 300 kilometers away. Garbo became a legend but recent investigations seem to indicate that perhaps the spy was not he but rather his beautiful wife. Today we know of a film-like story, the story of Araceli González Carballo, the Galician who deceived Hitler and who changed the course of a war1.
Araceli was born in Lugo in 1914, into a wealthy family. In the middle of the Civil War she volunteered to work in a blood bank hospital, until in 1938 she decided that she wanted to leave her hometown. Her father got her a position in Burgos, where she would work as secretary to the Governor of the Bank of Spain.
In February 1939, she met Juan Pujol, a young Catalan officer who had started the war on the Republican side and later switched to the National2 side, although he no longer believed in it. They get married and move to Madrid.
The two were of the opinion that Hitler would eventually lead Europe into disaster so they decided to offer themselves to the British to act as spies on the Germans in Madrid.
The British turned a deaf ear to her offer, so, in a risky decision, Araceli suggests to her husband that if they win the trust of the Third Reich, then they will be accepted by the British. Pujol, an officer in Franco’s army, appears at the German embassy in Madrid and offers himself to the Nazis. The ploy works and he begins working for the Third Reich’s Secret Services, the Abwehr. He is christened “Arabel” (from Araceli bella) and Friedrich Knappe is assigned as his contact.
Without knowing a single piece of information of interest, they pass reports to the Nazis, making them believe that they reside in London and that they have a network of informants when, really, they live in Lisbon and all they share with the Germans are inventions and rumors.
Knowing that their cover was really weak, Araceli travels to Madrid to fake a fit of jealousy in front of Knappe. She shows up at the Embassy to tell him that she knew the German had held meetings with her husband and to ask him if he knew anything about Pujol, since she had left for London unannounced and had no news from him, fearing that he has abandoned her. Knappe succumbs to Araceli’s tears and beauty and reveals to her that Juan Pujol is doing essential work for the Third Reich. The deception had worked.
After that meeting, Pujol sent Germany highly valuable information about a British fleet that had left for Malta. He had learned the details by chance and considered it to be as false as the rest of the information he sent to the Nazis. But this time he was right, and the Abwehr took the information as a sign of Pujol’s skill.
That report was intercepted by the British and made their Secret Services very nervous so Araceli, without informing Pujol, decided that it was time to try again. And for this she turned to the North American Naval Attaché in Lisbon, Edward Rousseau, who got her an interview with the English. Araceli drops the bomb: “The spy you are looking for is my husband.” British Intelligence recruits Pujol and that is how “Garbo” was born, one of the most important and decisive double agents of the Second World War who, from London, and with a network of 27 false spies, misinformed the Nazis from the year 1942 until the end of the war.
At the orders of MI5, the British Secret Service, they transmitted information to the Germans about which areas should be bombed by their air force, the Luftwaffe, without the Nazis knowing that they were unpopulated targets and without strategic interest. To confuse them, they sent them doctored photos of ruins and corpses, making them believe that the bombings had been a success.
But it is in 1944 when his performance becomes so decisive that there are those who consider that thanks to this couple the Allies won the Second World War3. With their fake spy network, they informed German Intelligence that the D-Day invasion would take place at Calais and not on the beaches of Normandy. That information delayed the German response long enough for the invasion to be a success. The same morning of June 6th, Pujol sent a message to the Germans in which he told them that the real landing was not the one that was taking place, but that it would be in Calais, days later. Hitler bought it.
What is surprising is that, according to declassified MI5 reports, Araceli almost ruined the entire operation. In 1943, Pujol was keeping his wife and his two children confined and controlled at home, which eventually enraged Araceli. “I don’t want to live another five minutes with my husband. Even if they kill me, I’m going to the Spanish Embassy to reveal the truth about him”. To avoid this, the British deceived the Galician woman into believing that her husband had been arrested because of her, so that she would come to her senses, which she finally did.
Despite the collapse of Germany, the Nazis never suspected Garbo, and Hitler would award him the Iron Cross, the highest decoration of the Third Reich.
He would also receive the Order of the British Empire, becoming the only person decorated by both sides of World War II, but was unable to collect it, since he returned to Madrid with his family before he could receive it. In Madrid he was summoned by the Abwehr but it was Araceli who attended for fear that it was a trap. However the Germans just wanted to give him a monetary bonus for services rendered to the late Reich.
Now separated from MI5, they moved to Venezuela but Araceli did not adapt to that life, so she returned to Lugo with her children and separated from Pujol. Three years later, in a precarious financial situation, she settled in Madrid, where the British remembered that Garbo’s wife also got them to win the War, so they helped her with a job as an interpreter for the British and American embassies.
In 1956 news reached her that her husband had died in Angola4 from malaria and she married Edward Kreisler, with whom she maintained a hectic social life in the capital, where they received the most illustrious guests from the United Kingdom and the United States, and they founded an art gallery that would eventually have branches in New York and Miami and which is still in operation today.
However, a twist in this real-life film script was still missing. In 1984 the writer Nigel West met Pujol on the shores of Lake Maracaibo and convinced him to return to London and receive formal recognition of his achievements during the war. It turns out that his former boss at MI5 had spread a rumour that he had passed away in order to get the spy out of circulation. All the British and Spanish newspapers and different European television stations presented him as the hero that he was. And Prince Philip of Edinburgh publicly paid tribute to him in a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
The former spy traveled to Spain and, after asking Araceli for permission, he was reunited with his children and met his grandchildren. The Spain-based family also traveled to Venezuela where Pujol had rebuilt his life and had three other children.
Juan Pujol died in Venezuela in 1988, in Choroní where, in one of his residences, can be read: “Here was the greatest spy in history.” Araceli would die too just two years later, in Madrid, following a stroke. Her remains rest in the Sacramental Cemetery of San Isidro.
No one knew her true story until MI5 declassified a large part of the files that revealed Araceli’s true participation in her husband’s adventures, and writers and journalists such as José de Cora, director of Progreso de Lugo, Ben Macintyre, editor from The Times, Javier Juárez or Edmond Roch (winner of a Goya for his documentary on Garbo), began to investigate.
But Garbo was not a person, it was a team. It would not have existed without Pujol, but neither would it have existed without the help and courage of Araceli. One has to wonder which of the two was really the spy. The answer is not as clear as it might seem.
This is the story how a Galician from Lugo allied herself with a Catalan from Barcelona to have an adventure that would change the course of history, in which they would deceive the Third Reich, the Nazis and Hitler himself. Without them the history of Europe and of the world would have been very different.
1Certainly the Nazi focus on Calais allowed the the US, British and Dominion troops to fight their way ashore and eventually establish a beachhead. But most analysts would say that it was the Battle of Stalingrad that was the real turning point in the War and sealed the fate of the Nazi’s military plans and of the regime.
2The military-fascist side called themselves the “Nationalists” and much of the world’s media used that description in their reporting and many historical references continued that description. They were engaging in a coup against a democratically elected government and in so far as they were “nationalists” they were Spanish nationalists but suppressing the nationalist aspirations of the Basques, Catalans and Galicians, also doing so with foreign military forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. They should be called what they were: military-fascist coupists.
3This is obviously an inflated claim, if it is indeed true that historians are of that opinion; there is rarely one point other than the final battle which can be said to “win” a war (see also earlier footnote with reference to Stalingrad).
4Angola was then a Portuguese colony
SOURCES AND REFERENCES
- MACINTYRE, B. La historia secreta del Día D: La verdad sobre los superespías que engañaron a Hitler. Editorial Crítica, 2013
- JUÁREZ, J. Juan Pujol, el espía que derrotó a Hitler. Ediciones Martínez Roca, 2004
- DE CORA, J. El estornudo de la mariposa. Editorial Edhasa, 2016