Margaret Kearney Taylor – or "Margarita," as everyone called her – was an elegant woman of Irish extraction , who helped orchestrate the escape of Allied servicemen and Jewish refugees from Madrid during World War II.
Margarita owned a tearoom called Embassy on Madrid’s Castellana, the magnificent avenue that cuts the city in half. A few steps from the door of her tearoom – which is still open today and is frequented by Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford and Pierce Brosnan – stood the entrance to the German Embassy, which operated as headquarters for a thousand German spies in the city.
Margarita operated under the noses of the Nazis. Her clientele included General Franco’s brother-in-law Ramón Serrano Suñer, the Spanish dictatorship’s most ardent Nazi sympathiser and Spain’s wartime Minister of Foreign Affairs. Margarita harboured escapees in her apartment above the tearoom until their forged papers were ready and they were able to travel on. In a plan masterminded by MI6, which had the imprimatur of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Margarita helped to spirit them to Portugal and freedom.
This documentary includes interviews with the people who knew Margarita, including wartime friends, as well as testimony from a Jewish survivor who was spirited through Madrid during the Second World War.
Margarita displayed enormous courage. When she died in Madrid in 1982, no one knew – beyond a few other people still alive who were involved in the rescue operation – about the heroic role she played during the war.
She took her secret with her to the grave, and may indeed have signed the British government’s Official Secrets Act, as one of her companions involved in the escape line did in 1943. It wasn’t the only secret she kept during her life, as this documentary reveals for the first time.
Produced by Richard Fitzpatrick and Tim Desmond.
Sound supervision by Mark McGrath
First Broadcast Saturday July 9th 2016 at 2pm.
Update December 2018 .
At the invitation of Ireland's ambassador to Spain, Richard Fitzpatrick gave a talk in Madrid about the documentary to mark International Human Rights Day 2018. Morgan Fagg's blog about Madrid covered the event. You can read about it here:
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.