(Para el informe en castellano haz clic en el enlace)
(Translated from Castillian by D.Breatnach)
(Reading time: 3 minutes)
MADRID 02/15/2020 1:57 PM ALEJANDRO TORRÚS
At last. The remains of 247 victims of Franco that have lain in a warehouse in Valladolid for over two years will be buried this Sunday in a memorial constructed within the Carmen cemetery. This will be the end of a long process that began in 2016 with the exhumations of communal graves in the cemetery itself, paralyzed since for a long time by the insistence of UGT to install a bust of Pablo Iglesias Posse. Finally, there will be a memorial, there will be the names of the more than 2,650 fatalities of the province, the 247 bodies recovered and there will be no bust of the founder of UGT and the PSOE.
(Trans: UGT is one of two main Spanish trade unions and is connected to the social democratic PSOE; both were banned — along with many other organisations — during the Franco Dictatorship but since then the PSOE has been in government more than any other party. Valladolid is about halfway between Madrid and the Bay of Biscay).
3) Letter sent by Julián Carlón to his wife and children from the Valladolid prison.- ALEJANDRO TORRÚS
“We want this tribute to be an act of democratic recognition and historical justice to all those who defended the Second Republic regardless of the party in which one was active,” explained Julio del Olmo, president of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) of Valladolid, responsible for the exhumation and custody of the bodies, to Público.
The event will begin at 12.00 noon this Sunday and will include participation of relatives of the victims, the Valladolid writer Gustavo Martín Garzo, musical performances and the presence of the Mayor of Valladolid, Óscar Puente and the Secretary of State for Democratic Memory, Fernando Martínez.
However, the tribute comes too late for many victims. For example, for Saturnina, who passed away a few weeks ago. Her perseverance and struggle and that of her husband facilitated the ARMH in identifying the place where the graves were in the cemetery and proceed to their exhumation. Saturnina was only a child when Franco’s forces shot her father, Julián Carlón, on October 1, 1936.
Saturnina, in fact, barely knew anything about her father. He was four years old when he was taken. “I only remember the day he was taken and the place where he was buried, which my uncle told me about,” she confessed tearfully to this newspaper in September 2019. “I don’t even know how he was killed. I just know he was taken away, that he never came back and that, from that day, there were only tears in my home. My mother never told me about my father because of fear,” she said. However, thanks to the indications of a relative, Saturnina kept a memory of the exact place where the bodies were buried after their execution.
REMAINS OF THREE WOMEN AND TWO MEN IDENTIFIED
To date, the Valladolid ARMH has managed to identify “with total security” five of the 247 bodies recovered. These are of three women and two men: Lina Franco Meira; Republican Army sergeant Francisco González Mayoral; the Mayor of Casasola de Arión, Mateo Gómez Díez; and mother and daughter María Doyagüez and María Ruiz Doyagüez.
“Of the four graves with the 247 bodies that we have found, we have only been able to certify those five people to almost 100%. Of many others, we can be almost certain that they correspond to one group or another of those shot, but we cannot name each skeleton. We lack the means and it is a tremendously complicated process,” laments Del Olmo, who, however, points out that the remains of the victims will be well preserved so that, if possible, they continue working on identifications.
Cases such as that of Lina Franco Meira, which has been identified, are exceptional when 81 years have elapsed since the end of the Civil War. Her bones could be identified thanks to a DNA test sample of one of her daughters, 93 years old. An exceptional case of longevity that has allowed name and surname to be given to some bones and, in addition, allows us to believe that among the rest of those sharing her grave are her other 14 neighbors of the town of Castromocho (Palencia) that were taken along with Lina Franco to Valladolid to be executed and buried.
“SO THAT FRANCO AND AMNESIA DO NOT WIN”
Franco’s forces not only killed Lina Franco and more than 2,000 people in this province (Castille-Léon). They also tried to erase their names, their life stories and their struggles. Now, 84 years after the coup, a memorial will recover their names and try to spread their fight in defence of Republican values. The challenge, however, continues and consists in being able to identify as many of them as possible so that Franco and amnesia do not win the battle.
SPEAKERS WARN OF RISING FASCISM, CALL FOR UNITY OF ANTI-FASCISTS
Flags of various kinds flew above a gathering in Monagear, Co. Wexford on Saturday 7th September, while a number of banners were visible among the crowd: Peter Daly Society, Connolly Association Manchester, Wexford Community Action, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Friends of International Brigades Ireland, Éirigí, Connolly Column. Also in attendance was a group of young men and women dressed to represent the International Brigaders and the POUM1 milita, organised by the Cavan Volunteers group. The event had been organised by the Peter Daly Society with support from the Peadar O’Donnell Forum.
Monagear is a small village in the centre of Co. Wexford, a few kilometres north-east of Wexford town. Also known a Monageer, both words are, like most place-names in Ireland, from the original Irish language: Móin na gCaor, “the bogland of the berries” (probably of the Rowan or Mountain Ash, which in Irish is Crann Caorthainn). Not far from it are the historic place-names associated with the United Irishmen uprising of 17982 in that county, such as Boolavogue and Enniscorthy and indeed, a small commemoration garden in the village has memorial stones dedicated to that struggle and to others since.
At a signal, the gathering of people with flags and banners, led by a colour party flying the Irish Tricolour, the flag of the 2nd Spanish Republic, a red starry flag and the Irish workers’ Starry Plough, moved in procession down into the village area and assembled outside the raised platform containing the tasteful simple memorial to Peter Daly, International Brigader killed in the War Against Fascism in the territory of Spain (1936-1939).
Steve McCann, Chairman of the Peter Daly Society, with another man beside him, opened the ceremony from the memorial platform by briefly outlining the history of the Peter Daly commemorations and of the Society (founded in 2011) which he said had from the beginning welcomed the involvement and participation of Irish Republicans, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and plain anti-fascists. After outlining the program of speeches and songs for the day, he called Gearóid Ó Machaill to give the first speech, on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades, Ireland.
“THE IRISH ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FASCISM”
Ó Machaill opened his speech in Ulster Irish, thanking the organisers for giving him the opportunity to speak there at the cradle of Peter Daly, Irish Republican, socialist, anti-fascist. Continuing, he said that the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s are very similar to those of today. Speaking of the Republican Congress of 1936-1938, he said it had worked to overcome divisions in the working class and in the anti-imperialist movement. But it had fallen apart in disunity, unfortunately and in Ireland today, the anti-fascist forces are as divided too.
The Irish were not immune to fascism and had a strong fascist movement in the 1930s, supported for awhile by the State, X said. In the years since the defeat of fascism around most of the world, attempts to set up a fascist movement in Ireland had been smashed, said Ó Machaill but cautioned against complacency.
In some other parts of the world, workers betrayed by social democracy and hurt by capitalism, turned to hard right parties and outright fascists and it was entirely possible that such fascists would become popular while leading a campaign against bankers and even imperialism, pushing a line of “Irish for the Irish”.
“We cannot afford the divisions and need to unite ….. as Republicans and Socialists did in preventing the attempted launch of Pegida in 2016,|” said the speaker.
Steve McCann introduced the man beside him as Diarmuid Breatnach and called him to sing the first song of the selection for the ceremony and to say a few words about its content. Breatnach pointed out that migrants are often a prime target of fascists and the song he was to sing was about migrants and their treatment. On 28th January 1948,a DC-9 transporting Latino illegal migrants and “guest workers” crashed in the Los Diablos region of California and all 32 on board were killed. The radio news reported the crash but only gave the names of the crew members and the Immigration Department guard, saying the others killed were “deportees”. The names of the dead were known in their localities and were printed in local newspapers but were not deemed worthy of mention on the radio.
Wood Guthrie wrote a poem called “Deportee” about the tragedy which was put to music by Martin Hoffman, the song since called Deportees or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Breatnach then sang the song, the chorus of which says:
Goodbye to my friends,Farewell RosalitaAdios mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;You won't have a name When you ride the big airplane --All they will call you Will be “deportees”.
LESSON OF HISTORY – NOT LIBERALISM BUT ROBUST ACTION IS NEEDED
Mags Glennon was called to read a statement on behalf of Anti-Fascist Action. Moving on from the background to the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and the background of those who fought to defeat it, Glennon read: “Far-right parties have risen from minor subculture to government across Europe in recent years, showing the glaring need for principled and active opposition to fascist and far right forces. The most concerning aspect of this political resurgence is the support it has received from young people and large sections of the traditional working class, due to the abandonment of these people by social democrats, and other parties who claimed to ‘represent’ them. Well meaning liberalism has never defeated fascism. It never will.”
Reading from the statement, Glennon called for a “re-energising” of the struggle to defeat those “aiming to distract our communities and young people from fighting their real enemy. Where there are fascists we must oppose them.”
Glennon concluded by reading: “Appeals to the police, to parliament or to Google to censor fascists have no place in anti-fascist struggle. History has shown that robust action against fascists in Ireland has always sent them running back to the gutters to think again. Long may it continue. La lucha continua!”
“MUST ORGANISE IN WORKING-CLASS COMMUNITIES”
The MC, Steve McCann, introduced the anti-fascist and community activist as well as Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Perry. Speaking without notes, Perry outlined the historical necessity of defeating fascism politically and physically.
Echoing a previous speaker’s comments, Perry too called for unity of the antifascist forces against fascism but also against capitalism and imperialism. He said that working-class communities, betrayed by social democracy and distracted by identity politics, had become prey to the propaganda of fascists.
Fascism is a facet of capitalism”, Perry said “and therefore the enemy of the working class. The working class should be our natural constituency.”
Going on to suggest that if fascists build bases in working class communities it is because of the failure of the Left, he called on socialists and antifascists go into those communities and to build their bases there.
ESCAPE FROM DACHAU AND DEATH IN SPAIN
Breatnach stepped forward to sing a combination of two songs from the German side of the anti-fascist struggle. The German political prisoners in the concentration camps were forbidden to sing socialist songs and had written their own, one of which became famous around the world was The Peat Bog Soldiers, lyrics written by Johann Esser, a miner and Wolfgang Langhoff, an actor and melody composed by Rudi Guguel.
“Hans Beimler (1895-1936) was a WWI veteran, a Communist, a Deputy elected to the Reichstag in 1932,” said Breatnach. “In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. The Communist Party was banned and in April 1933 Beimler was arrested and sent to Dachau extermination camp where, in May, he strangled his SA guard and, putting on the man’s uniform, escaped. He went to Spain where he was a Commissar with the International Brigades and was killed in the Battle of Madrid on 1st December 1936.”
He would sing two verses of the Peat Bog Soldiers, Breatnach explained, combined with the Hans Beimler song.
“THE NORM WAS FOR ALL CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL BRIGADERS TO BE EXECUTED”
The sun sinking towards the west shone over the heads of the attendance on to the raised bed of the memorial stone and its flagpoles and, except when covered by clouds, into the eyes of those on the platform. Outside the nearby pub some locals gathered and behind those gathered around the monument, others in attendance lined a low wall while nearby other local people, mostly youth, congregated for a time. Occasionally a passing car drove carefully along the street past the crowd. House martins darted above, a wasp occasionally bothered the speakers and the smokey-blue soft curves of the Silvermine Hills and Knockmealdown Mountains rose to the west.
The Chair of the event called Harry Owens to speak.
Harry ‘s speech traced the history of world events that had led up to the fascist coup and war in Spain. He also spoke about the kind of people the Brigadistas had been, quoting from their comrades, journalists and opponents. That Captain Frank Ryan had his life spared was unusual, he explained, as the tendency was for all anti-fascist officers to be executed and all International Brigaders of all ranks. Whilst the Spanish fascists wanted to execute them, the Italian soldiers tended to keep them alive in order to exchange them for Italian prisoners of the Republican side.
The death toll among officers and men in the International Brigades had been higher than the norm in warfare and the average in the Irish contingent higher still, Owens said. The food and armament supply conditions of the Republican side had been poor in many areas but almost to a man they had fought on until death, capture or demobilisation. It was their conviction, that they knew what they were fighting for and believed in it that accounted for that.
After Owens’ speech, Breatnach stepped forward to sing, without introduction, Viva la Quinze Brigada3(the song written by Christy Moore about the Irish who fought in the 15th International Brigade). The song mentions Peter Daly in the verse:
This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan,
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too,
Peter Daly, Charlie Reagan and Hugh Bonner,
Though many died, I can but name a few.
Danny Doyle, Blazer Brown and Charlie Donnelly,
Liam Tumlinson, Jim Straney from the Falls,
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill.
The words of Moore’s chorus rang out along the street:
“Viva la Quinze Brigada!
No Pasarán!” the pledge that made them fight;
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside,
Let us all remember them tonight.
…. and concluded with the cry “Viven!” (“They live!”)
WREATHS, THE INTERNATIONALE AND AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN
McCann called for those who wished to lay wreaths on behalf of organisations and the following came to lay floral tributes: John Kenny, activist of the Peter Daly Society; Mags Glennon for Anti-Fascist Action; Seán Doyle for Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland (who had provided the colour party); Connolly Association Manchester; and Gary O’Brien for Éirigí. Messages of support had been received from the CPI, IRSP and the Connolly Association Manchester.
McCann then called Breatnach forward to sing the Internationale, the international anthem of the working class, the lyrics of which Breatnach explained had been composed by Anarchist Eugene Pottier of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the first time the working class had seized a city. It had been written to the air of the Marsellaise but later put to its own melody by worker-composer Pierre de Gayter.
“It was written in French”, said Breatnach, “which is why I propose to sing the chorus once in French at the start but it has been translated into many languages. Youtube has a post with 95 translations ….. and there are at least three versions of it in English and people are welcome to sing along in any version they know,” Breatnach concluded before singing the French chorus, followed by two English verses and chorus.
The MC Steve directed attention to a bodhrán decorated with a dedication to Peter Daly by Barry O’Shea which was displayed by Erin McCann and which would be raffled as a fund-raising exercise at the reception inside the pub.
Steve McCAnn then called Marie Kenny Murphy and Marilyn Harris up on to the stage, where they played the Irish national anthem on flutes, with many people singing along in its Irish translation4:
Anocht a théim sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghael chun báis no saol;
Le gunnaí scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.
REFRESHMENTS, EXHIBITION, RAFFLE, SONG AND CONVERSATION
All the speakers had referenced the historical memory of the Anti-Fascist War on Spanish territory to the struggles of today and even of tomorrow and the selection of songs had been deliberately chosen to emphasise internationalism and workers’ solidarity from the past and needed today.
McCann thanked all the performers, speakers and participants and in particular welcomed the participation of the Connolly Association contingent from Manchester, encouraging them to attend again the following year. Inviting all to enter the local Monageer Tavern to view the Antifascist War memorabilia and to have some food, the MC brought the ceremony to an end.
Inside the local pub, the Monageer Tavern, food had been made available by the owners and the function hall was provided for the commemoration participants.
An interesting display of memorabilia of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War had been erected inside by the Cavan Volunteers history group. The walls of the function room on one side were also covered with permanent framed photographs and other images of Irish history, among which Joe Mooney, anti-fascist, community worker and activist of the East Wall History Group, spotted a photo of the Dublin docks with a docker well-known to his community in the foreground!
Music was provided by Tony Hughes with voice and guitar, singing a selection of songs including anti-racist and Irish Republican ballads, also Viva La Quinze Brigada.
When the raffle was held a search went on for the winning number ticket which eventually unearthed it in the possession of Helena Keane, seller of the tickets and who adamantly refused to take the prize. Another dip into the stubs brought Gearóid Ó Machaill’s ticket out, ensuring the decorated bodhrán would find a new home somewhere in the occupied Six Counties.
1The International Brigades were organised through the Comintern and Communist parties in various parts of the world but a number of International Volunteers came also through the mainly Trotskyist POUM, including Anarchists. One Irish volunteer went to join the Basque Gudaris and was killed fighting the fascists there.
2First Republican rising in Ireland, organised and led for the most part by Protestants, descendants of British colonists.
3Christy Moore called this “Viva la Quinta Brigada” (i.e the Fifth) but in later versions sang in English a line in the first verse calling it “the 15th International Brigade”. It appears that from different chronological perspectives one can call it either the Fifth or the Fifteenth but the mostly English-speaking brigade of the International Brigades is usually named the Fifteenth. Quinze is the Spanish word for “fifteen” and Viva la Quinze Brigada scans in the song while “decimoquinta Brigada” has too many syllables to fit.
4The Soldier’s Song was written originally in English by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican worker with socialist sympathies and put to music by worker-composer Patrick Heeny. It was translated to Irish by Liam Ó Rinn under the title Amhrán na bhFiann and published in 1923. Only the chorus became the anthem of the Irish State and that was not until later. The Irish-language version is the one most commonly sung at non-State occasions now.
(Reading time: 10 minutes)
(Translation by Diarmuid Breatnach of review in Castillian in 2016 of the book of that title and interview with one of the authors in El Confidencial). Para versión original en Castellano mirase al enlace al fin.
‘The boarding schools of fear’ (Ed. Now Books) came into our hands a few days ago. We devoured the 300-page book in just three afternoons. Each page that we turned was leaving us more exhausted, confused and horrified. How is it possible that even today there are no consequences following what happened then?
We talked about sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, experimental operations, baby theft and slavery, among other things, that thousands of children experienced during the Franco regime only because they were classified as ‘children of sin’. These children were children of single mothers, they came from poor families or, what was even worse at the time, their parents were Republicans.
The State ‘hunted’ these children and interned them in centres, of which the vast majority were managed by religious orders by government grant. Judging from the research in the book, in what more than boarding schools looked like prisons and torture rooms for minors. In the text we read a dozen testimonies of victims that leave us nauseous: boys raped by priests, nuns who mistreated hundreds of girls until they tired of it, Salesians who employed all kinds of torture, children who died of beatings, minors who were sold as slaves for 100,000 pesetas (600 euros today), young people locked up in psychiatric hospitals who were subjected to injections the nature of which remainsunknown … A series of horrors that have never been recognized by the State (it was the entity in overall charge of the centres and had the judicial guardianship of minors), nor by the Church (according to the book, hundreds of Salesians, priests and nuns committed atrocities with children), much less by companies that benefited from the slave labour of these imprisoned children.
We have many doubts and we want to know more. We need someone to explain to us how even still this can be silenced. That is why we get in touch with Ricard Belis, one of the authors of the book, together with Montse Armengou, who offers us his view of the past, present and future of this situation. Ricard is an expert in Franco’s history, a subject to which he has dedicated decades of journalistic research. After chatting with him, we come to a valuable conclusion: the damage is already done, but to make known the history of these children and that those responsible for it be known publicly can heal the pain of many victims of the ‘boarding schools of fear’.
QUESTION: As soon as we begin the book we find a statement. You say that, contrary to what happens in other countries – from Argentina to South Africa through the Congo, Bosnia and other places – here in Spain there is no state agency responsible for investigating complaints that arise from people who, from one way or another, themselves suffered from the Franco dictatorship. Why is there no such body in Spain?
ANSWER: Everything is the result of the transition to democracy in Spain. It was done with a system that, although in the first years had its reason for being, decided not to look back at any time. In this way, one enters into a dynamic of many years of silence, which leaves all the victims of the regime forgotten and separated. That has done terrible damage to the victims themselves – for the fact of not being able to express their pain and having it remain inside them – and to Spanish society in general – because the fact of not knowing well what happened would be quite unthinkable in another democratic country.
Q: Do you think that at some point such a state agency could be created or do you consider it something utopian?
A: Well, I would like to see it … but I see it as impossible in near future. This book is the offspring of a documentary that was screened in Catalonia, where it was successful in terms of viewing figures, but nothing happened. There were signatures to a petition demanding that the Church ask for forgiveness, but nothing more. I think it is of greater importance that the Spanish State make these apologies, because it is ultimately responsible for the majority of these boarding schools, centres that were run by religious orders but by state concession. That task remains pending.
I will recount you an anecdote. We took this documentary to a very famous festival in France, in which reports from other countries were screened. After viewing our investigation, the French public did not understand how the Spanish State never apologised or accepted what happened to those interned. Then, by coincidence in the same room a Swiss documentary of a similar theme was projected (child abuse in Swiss boarding schools). The big difference is that this documentary began with the current Swiss Government asking for forgiveness for what previous governments had done.
TV3 DOCUMENTARY ON WHICH THE BOOK IS BASED
Q: In the absence of policies on historical memory, in a country denounced by different international organizations (UN, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe) and with a Partido Popular Government that fulfilled its electoral promise to close the office of Victims of the Civil War and Dictatorship, associations and the media are the only platforms to which those affected can go. Could this situation change with a new government? If, for example, a new political party like Podemos won the elections, do you think they would be willing to investigate all these cases and apply pressure for the creation of such an organization?
A: I am not optimistic for two reasons: first because there is no survey that predicts victory for Podemos, which, although it is one of the few parties presenting at state-level which contains this in its electoral program, it is hardly going to obtain an absolute majority to implement the policies they propose; and second, in this country we have had more years of left-wing than right-wing governments and both have been very shy and inactive on this issue, including the PSOE. It is true that Zapatero brought in a Law of Historical Memory, but it fell short and has hardly been applied. Anyway, I’m not very optimistic. I hope that some year something will happen, although at this rate I fear it will be when the victims are no longer alive.
Q: Why does the Spanish Government not pronounce on this? Is it afraid of the reaction of society?
A: I don’t know very well how to answer that question, because its inactivity is incomprehensible. Because it does not matter if a government is right-wing or left-wing, what cannot be consented to is that the victims of a dictatorship are forgotten and the pain they have suffered is not recognised. I give the example of Angela Merkel, who strongly condemns the crimes committed in the Nazi era.
P: The children of these boarding schools were mistreated both psychologically and physically. They burned their bums with a candle, were forced to eat their own vomit full of insects, were subjected to sexual abuse … Is this perhaps the worst episode that has happened in the history of Spain?
A: The theme of childhood is one of the toughest episodes. When abuse, violence and ill-treatment is employed against a child, it is very traumatic. And not only the pain left inside them but also in their families. It is difficult to rank the hardest moments in the history of this country.
One of the things that has impressed me most doing this research, beyond the abuse, violence and ill-treatmentis the fear and lack of affection felt by most children who lived in these boarding schools. Such was this lack of affection that many of those children came to confuse the first symptoms of sexual abuse as affection. I think it’s a terrible perversion. Some children who have never received a caress, accustomed to receiving beatings, when a priest arrives, touches them and that ends in sexual abuse … it has to mark them for a lifetime.
We always emphasise that this is not a historical investigation, but that it is current, because the damage that was done is still present. That the State does not recognize what happened only increases and magnifies the damage to the victims. The damage that the Dictatorship did is multiplied by the neglect of democracy.
Q: The Church played a great role in that drama. Do you think that with your research, like the one in this book, you will end up engendering a total rejection of the Church in the new generations?
A: I believe that the Church, on a global level, is beginning the process of acknowledging its guilt. The previous Pope, Benedict XVI, has already begun a firm policy against child abuse and sexual abuse, and in that sense it can be said that they are beginning to clean up their house. Late, yes, but we already know that the Church goes a little slower in everything. Here in Spain, there has not been any movement yet. The Church needs a modernization and many duties remain to be carried out, therefore it is normal for new generations to find it harder to believe in the Church.
We have testimonies of victims who ask that the Church apologize, because they are believers and for them it would be of great significance and even very restorative. Others, on the other hand, do not want to know anything about the religious orders, since they are never going to forgive them. In this regard, I think it would be good for the Church to ask for forgiveness, but I think it is more important for the Government to do so, because it is the one ultimately responsible. Although the Popular Party, which currently governs, has no responsibility for what happened, it is the heir of that State. It would be Mariano Rajoy who should ask for forgiveness, but not for anything on his own behalf but rather because he is the current President of Spain (since this was written Sanchez of the PSOE has been the President of the Spanish State – Trans.).
Q: If Mariano Rajoy recognized and apologized for what happened in those boarding schools, would it benefit him in any way with regard to public opinion?
A: In any case it would not hurt him. That a leader recognizes that the State did something wrong, but has no responsibility for it himself, is worthy of admiration. So I think it would mostly be to his benefit. I do not think that it would seem bad to any well-intentioned person that he apologized for the abuses that were committed at that time. Rajoy has no responsibility for it but he is the heir of that dictatorship.
Q: A lot of money was generated around the boarding schools. The Church received huge amounts from the State for the support of the little ones (and only a small part of it reached the minors, since they lived in subhuman conditions and were very hungry) and also pocketed millions of pesetas with the sale and labour exploitation of these children…
A: Yes, the Church took advantage of the situation and profited by it. The minors were a source of funding. The Church found a workforce to which they taught trades with the excuse of training, but the situation resulted in pure and hard exploitation. This situation reminds me of what happens in other countries, where thousands of children, such as from India or Asia, are exploited.
Q: In addition to the Church, large companies in our country also took advantage of the situation and hired this cheap workforce. In the book you mention El Corte Inglés – which at that time were the Almacenes Preciados (Precious Stores – Trans.) – and even Banco Popular and Caja Madrid. Did these companies know that they were hiring exploited children who lived as ‘prisoners’ in boarding schools?
A: I give you the example of El Corte Inglés (chain of shopping malls in the Spanish State – Trans.). They went to religious orders and paid the nuns for labour. They paid little, but they paid. They never hired a child directly. What happens is that, of course, we could say that they could suspect or intuit something with regard to the service being provided so cheaply. I could not tell you that these department stores are directly responsible, because they did not hire the children, although they have some social responsibility. They could imagine what was happening there.
Q: You spoke with those responsible for El Corte Inglés about the subject. And, although at the beginning of the conversations they were pleasant, they ended abruptly with a total refusal on their part to collaborate with your investigation. Do you think that if it was shown that these department stores made use of these children for their business, it would affect their reputation or sales?
A: I think it has been a long time. They are tactics that are currently being used by numerous countries abroad. And, in addition, it could not prove more than than that the Cortes Inglés had a contract with religious orders. The company did not have to know what was done with these children or if they were paid. They could intuit what was happening, but they did nothing illegal. It would be more of a moral issue.
Q: As for you, after gathering so many testimonies and talking to more than 200 victims of these abuses, do you feel that this investigation has taken its toll in some way?
A: We are not made of stone. When you talk to a person who has suffered these abuses you are making her return to one of the worst episodes of her life. Sometimes you leave the interviews affected. But on the other hand it is very comforting, because the victims feel relief through having the opportunity to tell their story to their fellow citizens. In addition, these investigations are doing what the State should do, in the sense of making it known and recognizing it, which is the start of repairing the damage caused.
Report by RAÚL BOCANEGRA in Publico.es (translation and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach).
“The City Council of Seville has guaranteed on its own to provide the necessary funding — 1.2 million euros — to exhume the Pico Reja pit, in which historians believe that there are at least 1,103 bodies of of victims of the repression, led by the General Queipo de Llano, following the military coup of July 18, 1936.
This exhumation will be the largest ever to be undertaken in Spain, following that which that was carried out in Malaga, in the San Rafael Trench, between 2006 and 2009, and may indicate the path to take for the other capitals (of Spanish state regions – Trans).
The Mayor of Seville, Juan Espadas (PSOE), guaranteed that the grave will be exhumed throughout the mandate of the current Council. “It is a truly historic step in Seville and one of national importance, since it is perhaps the biggest mass grave that [at this moment] has a definite project for its exhumation,” the Councilor said at a press conference.
“And, therefore, it is also one of the most important projects in terms of Historical Memory to be undertaken in our land, due to the importance and volume of the Pico Reja mass grave. It was a commitment that this Government (i.e of the Andalusian region) gave during the past mandate to relatives and memorial groupsand today it is made a reality with this tender,” added Espadas.
“Next Friday the City Council of Seville, through the Governing Board will approve the specifications and, therefore, the public tender for a technical service for the exhumation and genetic identification of the bodies of the Pico Reja mass grave, in the Cemetery of San Fernando,” reads a statement issued by the City Council. “The ultimate goal [of the exhumation] is to dignify the memory of the people who were thrown there, give them a dignified burial and attend to the requests of their families,” adds the Council (statement – Trans).”
BEGINNING AND COMPLETION OF WORK
“Accordingly, Espadas will not wait for the Council of Andalucía or the Regional Government to sign the agreement, to which they had committed themselves. Confirming now, at the start of the mandate, the works, the Mayor ensures that the exhumation will not be delayed and will be carried out throughout this term. Municipal sources assured Público of their belief that both the Council and the Andalusian Government will collaborate with the exhumation, the Andalusian Council not before September.
Should they contribute money, the amount would be deducted from the 1.2 million that the Council calculates as necessary to carry out the works. Espadas recalled that the signing of an agreement in this regard with the Board and the County Council to finance these works is still outstanding. “And let’s hope that it is signed as soon as possible.”
“This contract guarantees the beginning of the work and its conclusion, without waiting for the remaining public administrations –- provincial, Andalusian and national — to finalise their contributions,” reads the Council’s note.
Espadas and the Delegate for the Department for Equality, Education, Citizen Participation and District Coordination, Adela Castaño, related the details of this contract to relatives of the victims and to the different organisations involved in the area of Historical Memory in Seville. “Do not fear, the exhumation and the identification of bodies will be done,” the Mayor assured them.
The company that gains the contract must include at least one historian, five professionals in Forensic and Physical Anthropology, five in Archeology and 10 auxiliary support workers. “With the maximum guarantees of scientific rigor, a survey will be performed, material collected on the surface, excavations made in the pit, exhumations and recovering of bodies and remains,” says the City Council in the note. “Likewise, it must preserve and safeguard, also with all scientific guarantees, the samples of bone remains and biological samples taken from the family members until delivery to the University of Granada for genetic identification,” the City Council insists.
The project will be be completed in three phases, explained the Council. The first concerns the exhumation itself and the identification of the bodies, along with works including: the archaeological excavation; dealing with the remains found (the excavation and the direct and individualized identification of these bodies will determine whether or not they are relatives); exhumation (identification, recording of traces of violence and individual extraction of each body or remains); forensic anthropology (that is, determining sex, age, pathologies or anomalies); anthropological analysis in a laboratory manner; and conservation and protection to preserve these skeletal remains and DNA analysis.
The second phase will consist of the presentation of a final report as a logical contribution to the history of Franco’s repression. And the last phase will be the final destination of the remains.
The City Council will respect at all times the wishes of relations about the identified remains. The unidentified remains and those which the relatives wish to remain in the same place, “will be buried in an authorised space with appropriate technical indications for future identification”.
After finishing the works, “the area will be restored as an expository and explanatory site of the historical significance of the Pico Reja pit”. The successful bidder must submit a proposal for reconstruction of the current site that includes a columned monument to honor the victims.
According to official figures, 120,000 victims have been identified (not exhumed) from 2,591 unmarked graves around the Spanish state. The areas with the largest number of graves are Andalusia in the south and the northern regions of Aragón and Asturias – in Andalusia alone, 55,000.
A mapping work undertaken by the Council of Andalusia region, which was presented publicly in the regional capital in 2011, illustrates 614 mass graves in 359 Andalusian municipalities. Only around half of the 47,000 bodies that were discovered have been identified due to there being no relatives available for DNA tracing or because calcium oxide (quicklime) had been thrown over the bodies.1
“In Malaga province alone there are 76 mass graves in 52 towns, containing the remains of 7,471 people who were killed by General Franco’s forces. The largest of these mass graves was discovered in Malaga city’s San Rafael cemetery. 2,840 bodies were exhumed in early 2010, although more than 4,500 are registered as having been buried there”.2
The usual figure given for the total of non-combat killing by Franco’s forces is 150,000 and which does not include those who died of malnutrition and lack of adequate medical care in prisons and “penal battalions” or through confiscations, or economic and financial sanctions in areas occupied by his forces. Nor does it include the civilian victims of bombing by military-fascist air force, whether of cities or of refugee columns.
Against that, the total figure for non-combat killings by the forces against Franco are estimated at around 50,000. Also, while the latter killings for the most part took place in the early months of the military uprisings, before Republican Government control could be established, most of the non-combat killings by Franco’s forces were carried out after they had beaten the resistance and occupied the area and much of it also after the war was over. Typically too, according to Paul Preston (The Spanish Holocaust (2012), Harper Press), women were routinely raped before they were shot.3
The issue of the executed after a cursory military trial or simply taken out and murdered by Franco’s forces is a live one in the Spanish state today. Before Franco’s death it was not even possible to discuss it publicly and bereaved relatives were not permitted to mourn publicly – to hold a funeral or to have a mass said for their souls according to Catholic custom or even to mark their graves.
The Transition process to convert Franco’s Spain into a “democracy” accorded legal impunity to the perpetrators of even the worst atrocities during the Civil War but unofficially extended beyond, to the years afterwards and even to murders carried out during the “Transición” itself. And why not, when all the upper echelons of police, army, judiciary, civil service, Church, media and business were and are for the most part the same people as before — or their sons and daughters? When the Head of State and of the Armed Forces, the King Juan Carlos, was specifically chosen by Franco to be his successor and even after the Dictator’s death glorified him and his political trajectory.
‘LET THE DEAD STAY BURIED’
The fascists and their descendants want the dead and their stories to stay buried and even when a very senior judge like Baltasar Garsón, who presided over the repression and torture of many Basque and Catalan political detainees (but is incredibly lauded as “a foremost human rights defender” by liberals!) decided to play a power and publicity game and and became a problem by authorising the opening of some mass graves in 2012, he was slapped with legal appeals, charges of wire-tapping and disbarred from office for 11 years.
The other graves they don’t want opened are the mausoleum of Franco himself and of Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist Falange, who lie in the memorial park built by political prisoner slave labour to honour Dictatorship and Fascism, a shrine for fascists today. The order of the PSOE Government to exhume and transfer them to a family graveyard has been paralysed by the Spanish Supreme Court after protests by Franco’s descendants.
If the Pico Reja exhumation in Seville goes ahead and is properly documented, it will be as the PSOE-controlled Seville City Council says, of huge historical — but also of huge political – importance. Can this happen in the same region where the corrupt PSOE administration has lost power after decades without se
rious challenge and is now ruled by a de facto coalition of all the main parties descended from Franco, the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox? The Seville City Council says it can and that if necessary they will fund it all themselves. We can hope.
Una historia de crímenes del fascismo espanol, si nos hacia falta recordarnos de nunca jamás dar les la oportunidad de alcanzar el poder de nuevo. Y nos demuestra además que el fascismo nunca fue vencido en el Estado espanol, sin hablar de haberlo despedido. Sin entender esa verdad no es posible arreglar las problemas del ahí.
He traducido este relato al inglés y subido separadamente.
El miedo asoló Cantalpino, donde las hordas falangistas mataron a una mujer y a 22 hombres; donde se robó y violó. La señora Alejandra cuenta la historia y sus ojos parecen mirar hacia dentro de si misma: “ Aquí asesinaron a muchos y a la Eladia Pérez, la Jaboneta, también. Fueron a buscar a su hijoGuillermo, a quien «pasearon» más tarde, y ella no quiso abrirles; así que el Cagalubias le disparó y la mató; luego la llevaron al cementerio y su cuerpo no cabía en la hoya y el Cagalubias le cortó la cabeza con la pala…los asesinos fueron gente del pueblo y forasteros, falangistas, curas, frailes y hostias. El cura, era de lo peor, daba la bendición a los «paseos»..También les cortaron el pelo al cero a unas cien mujeres y, lloviendo y todo, las sacaron en procesión, la música tocando y los falangistas gritando arribaespaña y vivafranco y… ¡me cago en la madre que los parió!..”
Alejandra sigue con su relato: “..A mi me hicieron muchas, a otras las violaron..A mi me violaron 5 falangistas, sacaron de la cama a mi marido, que en paz descanse, el pobre, y le plantaron una pistola en el pecho, y allí, delante de él, me violaron. Unos me tenían cogida por los brazos y otros, por las piernas, y aquí Santa Inés, a lo que quieran hacer, y las pistolas encima de la cama en presencia de mi Desiderio ¡El pobre Desiderio! Además nos robaron todo lo que pudieron..Si, si, eran de aquí, de Cantalpino. Por desgracia, esta violación no fue un hecho aislado. En Poveda de las Cintas, a pocos kilómetros de Cantalpino, la historia se repitió, esta vez con la mujer del secretario del ayuntamiento..”
El 24 de agosto de 1936 la sangre no paró en Cantalpino, la impunidad de los asesinatos animó a los franquistas. Esa misma tarde se presentaron en Villoruela, a menos de 10 kilómetros de Cantalpino, 3 falangistas acompañados por fascistas vecinos del pueblo: Detuvieron a las siguientes personas: Eustasio Ramos (51 años), Elías Rivas (43), los hermanos Leonardo (43), y Leoncio Cortés(41), Daniel Sánchez (35), Esteban Hernández (29) Francisco García (25) y Benigno Hidalgo (18).
Los fascistas dieron contestaciones de carácter criminal a los familiares de los detenidos cuando iban a buscarles a sus casas: A la mujer de Leonardo Cortés le preguntaron que dónde estaba su marido; ella respondió que no sabía y le contestaron: “No se preocupe, que aunque esté bajo tierra le encontraremos”. Daniel Sánchez había estado jugándose la vida para salvar la de otras personas con sus mulas y su carro para cruzar la riada de la era, sin tener en cuenta de qué color ni de qué partido eran. Cuando le fueron a buscar a casa les dijo la mujer: “Esperen ustedes, que se está quitando la ropa, está todo calado”; la contestación fue: “No se preocupe usted, que lo mismo le va a dar”. Cuando fueron a la casa de Esteban Hernández, les dijo su madre: “esperen, que no tiene calcetines”; la contestación fue: “no se preocupe, que no le van a hacer falta”. Cuando fueron a buscar a Benigno Hidalgo, les dijo su madre: “le tengo que poner una inyección”; “no se preocupe usted, se la vamos a poner nosotros”, le contestaron.
Una vez capturados, quedaron arrestados en el Ayuntamiento atados de pies y manos con cuerdas. Los componentes del Ayuntamiento convocaron una reunión y decidieron que los 8 detenidos debían ser fusilados. Así amarrados, los hicieron subir a un camión en Villoruela, ya pasada la medianoche, y los trasladaron al término de Salvadiós, un pueblo de la provincia de Ávila. Allí, en un cruce de caminos, los fusilaron y los dejaros tirados en una cuneta. Allí mismo los enterraron unos vecinos de Salvadiós. Los asesinos fueron 7 del pueblo, el que llevaba el camión y los 3 falangistas forasteros.
Dos de las mujeres de los detenidas, María Engracia Cortés y Angeles del Pozo, se fueron a pedir ayuda a las monjas del convento. Contaron a las monjas lo que estaba pasando y ellas contestaron que aquello era una cruzada, y que si no habían hecho nada por qué habían estado huyendo, a lo que muy acertadamente las vecinas citadas contestaron: “A Jesucristo también lo persiguieron y por nada lo crucificaron”.
Jaime Cortés, hijo de uno de los fusilados contaba que “..después del sufrimiento que causaron, los fascistas nombraron entre los vecinos del pueblo una guardia llamada cívica para controlar nuestras salidas de casa, las demostraciones de sufrimiento. Nos pasábamos las noches enteras llorando con mi madre y mis abuelos en la cocina..hace falta tener mucha paciencia y resignación para convivir toda una vida con los criminales que fusilaron a tu padre..tuvimos que pasar por calamidades y sufrimientos..he tenido siempre muy presente una frase que mi madre nos decía con mucha frecuencia: “Hijos, no quiero veros nunca con las manos manchadas de sangre”…los únicos motivos por los que los fusilaron tuvieron fueron la forma de pensar diferente al franquismo, es decir, por defender la libertad, los derechos de los trabajadores, la seguridad social y la educación..los fusilaron por defender el derecho más grande de toda persona: la libertad..”
Desde la fecha 15 de agosto de 1936 al 16 de junio de 1939 no existe ningún documento, ni libro de actas de los archivos de Villoruela ¿Quiénes fueron los que hicieron desaparecer dicha documentación? En el libro de actas de defunciones aparecen con fecha 13 de marzo de 1937 inscritos por el juez Iñigo de la Torre estos 8 fusilados como personas como desaparecidas.
A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.
The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.
Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.
Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.
After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.
John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.
Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.
Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.
It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.
Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.
Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.
I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.
1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES
The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.
The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).
Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.
2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND
The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!
Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column byMichael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.
Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9
FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND
“The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”
FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”
With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.
Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.
3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.
4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.
5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.
6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.
7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).
8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.
9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.
This weekend fascist activities took place across the Spanish state with some more to follow next week. In Madrid fascists demonstrated on two different occasions, i.e to commemorate the dictator Franco and the founder of the fascist Falange, Primo Rivera. They also demonstrated for the unity of the current Spanish state territory and against any interference in General Franco’s shrine. These demonstrators flew Spanish fascist flags, gave fascist salutes and shouted fascist slogans – all illegal under Spanish law — but the Spanish police stood quietly by. Wait! They did intervene — to remove antifascist Femen demonstrators (see El Nacional photo and NBC video link)!
The weekend included anti-fascist events also. On Saturday afternoon there was a march organised by Dignidad Antifascista (‘Antifascist Dignity’), with a rally on Sunday at the entrance to the fascist shrine, the Valley of the Fallen, called by the campaign #NiValleNiAlmudena (‘Neither Valley nor Almudena’, i.e that Franco be buried neither in the Valley nor in the Almudena, the largest cemetery in Madrid).
The specific occasion for the fascist (and hence, the anti-fascist) events are the anniversaries of the deaths on 20th November of the dictator Franco (1975) and of Primo Rivera (1936), the founder of the Spanish fascist organisation, the Falange.
The Falange began with their traditional march of homage to Rivera (yes, the fascist Falange have “traditional” public events in the Spanish state), leaving Madrid around 9pm on Friday night to arrive at the Valley on Saturday morning.
“The Falange returns to the streets to show that the flag of the Homeland and Social Justice is upheld and is more necessary than ever,” they declared in a statement.
On Saturday, the Madrid Antifascist Coordination held its own anti-fascist traditional march under the slogan of Dignidad Antifascista, changing their route to start from Plaza del Sol to arrive at Plaza de España, apparently because of the location of the neo-Nazi group Hogar Social Madrid (Social Home Madrid) in the former HQ of the Comisiones Obreras trade union (see History of the Spanish State Appendix), Plaza de España (see video in media link).
On Sunday a number of groups gathered at the entrance to the Valley of the Fallen to call for “the removal of the tombs of Francisco Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the withdrawal of fascist symbols from the Sierra de Madrid, the converting of the site into an anti-fascist memorial and the dismantling of the Cross of the Valley,” according to a statement by the Forum for the Memory (historical) of the Madrid Region in a statement. This action is part of the campaign #NiValleNiAlmudena and it was the thirteenth time that the Forum for (historical) Memory and the Social Forum of the Sierra have demonstrated against the graves of Franco and Primo de Rivera in the Valley of the Fallen.
On the other hand, the Abbey of the Valley of the Fallen organised a praying of the holy rosary also on Sunday, at 10.30a.m in the basilica, “for the hope of youth and family in Spain,” as they do every Sunday (this might seem harmless but these are specifically traditional concerns of fascists, the traditional patriarchal family and a fascist youth movement). Also, the (fascist) Association for the Repeal of the Historical Memory (Law) convened a demonstration at 11.30a.m on Sunday to take place between Callao and the Plaza de Oriente, to hold their traditional act of Franco homage. A Femen group who tried to disrupt this demonstration, stripped to the waist and with anti-fascist statements painted on their upper bodies were violently thrown to the ground by fascists in the crowd and repeatedly kicked and punched while the women shouted defiance. Spanish police removed the anti-fascist Femen demonstrators and took no action against the fascists.
Masses will be celebrated throughout Spain for the soul of the dictator and, in Madrid, a “Legionary Mass” (i.e for a fascist organisation descended from the Spanish Foreign Legion) is scheduled to take place in the church of Santiago on Tuesday the 20th and the same day at 8:00 pm in the parish of San Francisco de Borja on Serrano Street, as reported by the Francisco Franco Foundation on its website, in which they also announced an annual dinner on November 30th somewhere in El Pardo.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Is all this just the strutting of some crackpots we don’t need to worry about, as some liberals and social-democrats think? Or the last gasps of a dying creed as some others believe?
Some of the participants may be crackpots and the creed may be expiring but that does not make it less dangerous – the lashings ofa dying monster’s tail are capable of killing and maiming many people. And it may not be dying.
Fascism has been part of the Spanish State since the 1930s (see following section) and only underwent an essentially cosmetic transformation (or “Transition”) in the 1970s but now it feels itself threatened by important counter-trends within the state. Chief among these in practical content is undoubtedly the strong grassroots Catalan independentist movement but in symbolic content, the democratic demand that Franco’s tomb be removed and his current resting place ended as a rallying shrine for Spanish fascists (hence the events that took place around it this weekend) is huge.
Symbols are important for all peoples and movements and Franco’s mausoleum at the Valle de Los Caidos is one very important for Spanish fascists. For anti-fascists, it is an abomination, built through the sweat of half-starved and abused political prisoners to the glory of their oppressor, an unknown number of which died doing so.
The bunch of arrows and that double-headed eagle on their version of the Spanish flag are also symbols of Spanish fascism, as is the straight-arm salute. Accordingly, these were made illegal in the Spanish state, not without some resistance but everyone knowing that no action was going to be taken against the actual fascists. And so it has proven. The Spanish fascists march, display their fascists symbols, give their fascist salutes, shout fascist slogans and they are never arrested for doing so.
On the other hand anti-fascists, revolutionaries, independentists are constantly under surveillance, often detained and tortured and from time to time jailed for long sentences, often for comparatively minor offences or actions or words that would not be classed as a criminal act anywhere else in Europe.
But of course, Europe is growing more fascist too, in governments in the East and in the rise of fascist movements across most of Europe. And Spanish fascism will inevitably give encouragement to those movements as well as drawing encouragement from them.
Across the Spanish state there are streets named after fascists and monuments to them and some of the regular events glorifying fascism there were listed earlier. Add to that a section of the national media that is very right-wing and legal organisations that are fascist in all but name and most of the support structures for a fascist state are in place. All, if one adds the military and police.
The main Spanish police forces, the Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional, have a history of brutality on the street and torture in their police stations. The GC is actually a militarised police force. The military itself has a history of violent suppression of colonial resistance and, according to the Constitution, is the guarantor of the territorial integrity of the State. And that integrity is threatened by the pro-independence movements of Catalonia and of the southern Basque Country.
The Spanish fascists are not just defending their symbols and history but also the integrity ofthe State of the whole Spanish ruling class. And fear, dislike or even hate the fascists as they may, many on the Spanish Left find themselves hereon the same side as the fascists. Neither the PSOE, nor Podemos, nor the CPE, nor many sections of Izquierda Unida (the misnamed “United Left”) support the independentist movements, whether from “the good of the economy” or from the credo of “the unity of the working class”. And many of them go further, accusing the independentists of being “nazis”, an accusation which is also thrown, hilariously, by the Spanish Right.
This of course makes any genuine resistance to the fascist movement very complicated for large sections of the Spanish Left, i.e those that actually agree with them on one central plank of Spanish fascism – the territorial unity of the Spanish state.
APPENDIX: SHORT HISTORY OF THE MODERN SPANISH STATE
Like within a number of European states, fascism was the chosen way to go of the majority of the Spanish bourgeoisie, the ruling class, in the 1920s and 1930s. At first this involved military coups and dictatorships but in 1936, a full-blown military-fascist uprising against the elected Government of the state took place, with sections of the Basque and Catalan middle and ruling classes in support. Other sections of Catalan and southern Basque Country society stood by the Republican elected government and fought hard against the military-fascist coup. And the anti-fascists would have won but for the assistance of transport, bombers, weapons and men from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the other European states (apart from the USSR) enforced a “non-interventionist” blockade of the fighting Republic.
The Republic overthrown, there followed a period of intense repression of any form of leftist or democratic ideology as well as of the Basque and Catalan languages and national aspirations and, though the intensity faded in time, the repression was always very much there during the 40 years of the Franco dictatorship (and increased in the Basque Country).
The Franco-fascist repression was not only physical, with imprisonment, torture and executions; was not only against national cultures but also moral and political, intensely patriarchal and pro-fascist and with the very enthusiastic support and at times leadership of the Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy and most of its clergy, monks and nuns, imposed through school and church. And of course the judicial and legal system.
As Franco’s life-term was clearly drawing towards its end, concern began to be raised about his successor and how Spain would be ruled afterwards. These concerns were expressed not only internally but also from abroad, especially by the USA which was building military bases across the state and by the EU, which was concerned to have an ultimately unstable state on its southern flank. Franco had designated Admiral Carrero Blanco as his successor and Juan Carlos, of the Bourbon royal dynasty, to be King. In 1973 ETA, the Basque armed leftist national liberation organisation, assassinated Carrero Blanco in Madrid and a few years later, in 1975, Franco died.
The rush was on now by modernist elements of the Spanish ruling class, in particular advisedinternally by Opus Dei, to carry the State through this crisis. This was achieved by the legalisation of the banned political parties, the social-democratic PSOE and the Communist Party, which was absolutely necessary for the project since they controlled the two biggest trade unions, the Unión General de Trabajadores and the Comisiones Obreras (these were being legalised too). And Juan Carlos was made king of a country that had been without one for over four decades with the agreement of both those formerly republican parties.
The Basque and Catalan nationalist parties were also legalised but, although the new Constitution being pressed on the people was accepted overall, it was rejected by majority in the Basque Country. The Constitution made secession illegal without a majority in the Spanish Parliament in favour.
And this “Transition” was also accompanied by repression, including even the murder of its union lawyers which the CPE tolerated.
Subsequently the PSOE got elected into Government, replacing the Francoist party but showed itself fit to govern an essentially unreconstructed fascist state by running assassinations squads (“GAL, BVE”) against the Basque independence movement. And of course implementing whatever economic measures required by the Spanish ruling class.
The UGT and Comisiones Obreras are the main trade unions in the Spanish State, the largest in membership everywhere but in Galicia and the Basque Country, with their leaderships generally following the social-democratic lead, colluding with the ruling class, mounting mostly show strikes from time to time but no real resistance. One can expect somewhat more resistance from them when the other main political party, the formerly Francoist Partido Popular, is in government, but as soon as the PSOE is back in, even that dies down.
From Eoin O’Donnel’s filming and editing via Joe Mooney of East Wall History Group, a recording of Diarmuid Breatnach singing Christy Moore’s wonderful song Viva La Quinze Brigada (also known as Viva la Quinta Brigada which, however, is also the title of another song from the same conflict but in Castillian or Spanish language). The Fifteenth Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army was also the Fifth International Brigade, the mostly English-speaking one. It contained volunteers from English-speaking USA, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Wales, England and ireland but due to high Irish emigration, all those countries also contained Irish diaspora and they were to be found in the contingents from those countries.
The video also contains photos of the commemoration of Jack Nalty, resident of East Wall’s, the last Irishman to die in action during the Iberian Anti-Fascist War (usually known as the “Spanish Civil War”). The day-long event on 28th September (anniversary of his death) included songs and poems, a march led by a lone piper, unveiling of a plaque, booklet launch and showing of two films. It was a celebration in particular of Jack Nalty’s life but more generally of the Irish who, against the position of their Government, the Church of the majority, the dominant media and even, for those in the IRA, against their own organisation’s orders, went to fight against a fascist military uprising against the elected Republican Government of the Spanish state.
It was also a celebration of antifascist resistance around the world and of the principle and practice of internationalist solidarity.
On the 80th Anniversary of his death in the Anti-Fascist War in ‘Spain’, the East Wall History Group organised a remembrance of a local man from that dockland Irish area who was the last Irishman to die fighting in the war against Franco and Spanish Fascism. The event was attended by relatives of that Irish antifascist fighter and of another, by a cross-section of Left and Irish Republicans, including historians and by a number of elected representatives from the Dublin City Council and the Dáil (Irish Parliament).
Jack Naltywas the last Irish and one of the last International Brigaders to fight and die in that war. The rest of the Brigaders, those not held as prisoners by Franco’s forces, were withdrawn soon afterwards as the indigenous anti-fascist forces fought on, losing against the Spanish military coupists with their German Nazi and Italian fascist allies.
Those commemorating Jack Nalty met at the St. Joseph’s Co-Educational School on the East Wall Road at 1pm on Sunday (23rd September) and included a cross-section of members of organisations and independent activists, socialists, republicans, communists and anarchists and other members of the local community. At the front entrance of the School a number of relatives of Jack Nalty held a banner along with a son of an Irish International Brigader and the crowd was addressed by Joe Mooney, of the East Wall History Group.
Mooney told the crowd that John Nalty came to the area at the age of six from Galway and on 31st August 1908 entered the East Wall National School on the Wharf Road. Just over thirty years later, 23rd September 1938, he would die on a Spanish battlefield, shot down in a hail of fascist bullets as he engaged in one last heroic act.
“A member of the IRA during the War of Independence, Jack was a Republican, Socialist and trade unionist”, Mooney said, “representing 600 oil workers in Dublin Port. But in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War — or Anti-Fascist War as it should more accurately be called1 – began, he volunteered for the International Brigades to join the fight against European fascism. He was badly wounded and came back to Ireland, but would again go into action and was killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Having being among the first Irish volunteers to travel to Spain, he would die on their last day as they were preparing to withdraw from combat.
Nalty’s unit had been called to retreat when it was realisted that two machine-gunners had been left behind and he went back to collect them. On their retreat they were fired at and Jack Nalty was killed.
Mooney also asked those present to remember not only Jack Nalty but the ‘comradeship of heroes’ from Dublin’s Docklands and North Inner City – Dinny Coady, Tommy Wood and others.
The crowd then set off in a march led by a piper to East Road to unveil a memorial plaque. Across the road from Jack Nalty’s former house, the crowd paused to hear Diarmuid Breatnach sing a few verses of Christy Moore’s tribute to the Irish “Brigadistas”: “Viva La Quinze Brigada”.2
UNVEILING THE PLAQUE
The plaque could not be attached to Jack Nalty’s house and was affixed a little further down the road. Joe Mooney siad a few words there and introduced James Nugent who gave a speech he had prepared and the plaque was unveiled. Nugent concluded by saying that “the history of the past helps us to understand the present and to create the future.”
Kate Nugent read a message from the daughters of Steve Nugent (sadly died 2017) who researched the story of his uncle Jack and Mary Murphy read a short post from Vicky Booth (granddaughter of Syd Booth, who was with Jack when he died).
Harry Owens gave a short tribute speech on behalf of Friends of the International Brigades and Manus O’Riordan, son of Irish communist and International Brigade Volunteer, sang the chorus ofAmhrán na bhFiann (“The Soldiers’ Song”, Irish national anthem) and the Internationale.
Joe Mooney acknowledged the presence of elected representatives Mary Lou McDonald, Sean Crowe and Cieran Perry and asked people to march to the nearby Sean O’Casey Centre to see the art exhibition and see two short films.
Back at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre, two short films were shown. One was a school project film in which a descendant of Jack Nalty interviews the latter’s nephew about his famous uncle. The second was dramatic film in which a Spanish trumpet player joins the fight against the fascist military uprising by Franco and other generals and features also actors playing two Irish International Brigaders, O’Connor and Charlie Donnelly3. When the former trumpet player is shot he sees into the future ….
Eddie O’Neill talked about the pulling out of the International Brigades in October 1938 in a bid to have the “non-interventionist” Western democracies put pressure on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to have them withdraw too, which did not happen. They marched through Barcelona on 17th October and were addressed in an emotional rally by La Pasionara4 and Eddie asked Nerea Fernández Cordero to read an English translation.
Nerea told the audience that she is from Extremadura (a province of the Spanish state next to the Border with Portugal) and her grandfather, Antonio Fernández had fought against Franco, been captured, escaped to the mountains but was in time recaptured. Upon his release he had married Nerea’s grandmother and lived a peaceful life. Nerea said that she was proud of her grandfather and those who fought Franco and that “ we know La Pasionara’s speech in Spanish by memory.”
Reading of translation of La Pasionara’s speech to English from Youtube:
At the event the newly published pamphlet “In Pursuit of an Ideal – from East Wall to the Ebro” about Jack Nalty wasmade available for the first time and copies are available from the organisers.
Eddie O’Neill recalled being in the Spanish state with a group from Friends of the International Brigades to commemorate those who fought against Franco during that war and afterwards searching for an appropriate pub in which to socialise. They found a pub with a Guinness sign and went there which however turned out to be one of the most fascist pubs in the area but undeterred, they continued to celebrate the memory of the antifascist fighters there. A lone man in suit and tie asked people as they passed him to use the toilet why they were commemorating people who had died so long ago but when they explained he said he could not understand English.
“We can’t afford to forget,” O’Neill told his audience, “least of all when the forces of fascism are gathering again.”
To conclude the event O’Neill called on Diarmuid Breatnach who sang the whole of Christy Moore’s “Viva La Quinze Brigada”, calling on the audience to join him in the chorus, remembering those who fought and gave their lives in the struggle against fascism.
AN ANNUAL EVENT?
The organisers are reputedly considering making this an annual event – it is to be hoped that they do so.
POSTCRIPT: JACK NALTY – ATHLETE COMPETING FOR IRELAND
In publicity prior to the event, the East Wall History group posted the following:
“In addition to his political and trade union activity, Jack Nalty was also a busy athlete, a regular competitor and medal winner with the Dublin Harriers. In 1931 he represented his country at the International Cross Country Championship, held at Baldoyle. Fellow competitor Tim Smyth became the first Irishman to win this competition.
“(The full Irish Group for the event held on 22nd March 1931 is listed as: Frank Mills, J. Behan, John Nalty, J.C. McIntyre, John Timmins, T. King, T. O’Reilly, Thomas Kinsella, Tim Smythe).
“This British Pathe footage shows the runners in action. Somewhere in the group is John (Jack) Nalty, East Wall resident, Republican and hero of the International Brigades. (The Pathe footage is viewable on post on the East Wall History Group event — CS)
“Ironically, the same year as the competition the future leader of Irish Fascism, General Eoin O’Duffy had become the President of the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) , and apparently was an admirer of Jack Nalty as an athlete!”
1Basques in the provinces of Bizkaia, Guipuzkoa and Alava say it was not a civil war there, i.e between different sections of Basque society — the fascist forces came from outside. In the fourth southern Basque province of Nafarroa, where the Carlists took control, they wiped out around 2,000 antifascists but it was hardly a war. The Catalans also say that the fascist forces invaded them and that it was not a civil war but an antifascist one. In some other places in the Spanish state many also say that the presence of Nazi German and Fascist Italian military in such numbers invalidated the term “civil war”.
2Also known as “Viva La Quinta Brigada”, which is however also the title of a different song from the Anti-Fascist War. Both titles are correct for this song since the Irish were in the Fifth of the International Brigades but when added to the ten indigenous Brigades (Spanish, Basque, Catalan etc), that became the Fifteenth. Wikipedia quotes authors to report an estimate that “during the entire war, between 32,000 and 35,000 members served in the International Brigades, including 15,000 who died in combat; however, there were never more than 20,000 brigade members present on the front line at one time.”
3Charlie Donnelly was a poet and member of the Republican Congress. He went to Spain to fight against Franco, where he died in February of 1937 at the Battle of Jarama. He is also one of those 19 names mentioned in Christy Moore’s song (“Viva La Quinta Brigada” or “Viva La Quinze Brigada”).
4Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez(9 December 1895 – 12 November 1989), born and brought up in the Basque Country to a Basque mother and Spanish father, founder-member of the Spanish Communist Party and known for her political writing and speeches. She wrote an article when quite young under the pen-name “La Pasionara” (the Passion Flower) and was known by that nickname throughout her life.
RECENTLY DISCOVERED DURING DEMOLITION WORK, THE UNDERGROUND COMPLEX HAD NOT BEEN SEEN BY HUMAN EYES SINCE 1938
(Translation to English by D.Breatnach from article by Daniel Ramirez in El Espanol on line on 14 May this year — link given at end of translation. Photos reproduced and article translation published by kind permission of El Espanol)
A hole in the ground, in the entrails of the city. Dry earth covered with mud. It had rained. The American girlsand those dressed up run in search of a taxi when the Raimundo Fernández Villaverde street dies, just as they rise in the Nuevos Ministerios area. Noise from horns, ambulances, shouts. And in the middle of it all, the big hole.
It is surrounded by cranes and scrap metal. Also building workers and architects in yellow vests. In the centre, five or six metres deep, a door of cement and brick. It may not be interfered with. In the guts of the Artillery Workshop, recently demolished, the financial heart of Madrid has just discovered an air raid shelter, built in 1938. That’s the reason for the dug earth, the mud, the emptiness.
The demolition of this neomudéjar-style building to make room for a block of housing split the Madrid City Council of which Carmena is Mayor. Those who wanted to keep it lined up against the rest, but few knew what was hidden by the floor of the now defunct first concrete construction of the city, built in 1899 by the Ministry of War. It belonged to the state – in military use for decades – until 2014, when it was sold to a real estate cooperative for 111 million euros.
“It’s the first visit after its discovery”
Just beyond the open door, stairs. The cement benches that allayed the fear of death appear six metres down. Virgin earth for camera and notebook. “This is the first visit after its discovery,” says Isabel Baquedano, archaeologist of the General Directorate of Heritage of the Community of Madrid, which froze the work permit until the survival of the shelter had been ensured.
One last look at daylight. Baquedano brings to life the race to the basement. The hole in the earth was then an inner courtyard in the Artillery Workshop. On the floor, a door. Then another, like the one that we are now going through.
HEMINGWAY AND THE AERIAL BOMBING
Hemingway said that, at the beginning of the war, the citizen would quickly see the enemy plane and the sirens would soon be screaming. Then they flew much higher and the deaths multiplied. A bomb was “that growing whistle, like a subway train that crashes against the cornice and bathes the room in plaster and broken glass.” The American, with lively irony, used to joke: “While you hear the glass tinkle as you fall you realize that, at last, you are back in Madrid.”
The stairs and walls are brick. “Like those of almost all shelters,” explains Baquedano. The archaeologist who acts as a guide for this visit outlines a universal, institutionalised architecture, fruit of necessity, constructed in a race against time. “The International Red Cross came to draw up a map of the air raid shelters in Madrid,” says Javier Rubio, a historian whose brother was hiding in Madrid at the time.
Small steps for the flashlight to illuminate. In 1938, a filthy, rusty cabling gave light to the whole refuge. There were also subterranean armchairs and red velvet, but this is not the case now.
The chroniclers wrote that seeing a drunk and desperate man who pushed and jumped over elderly people and children was not unusual. Here is a quick but military descent. It is believed that this basement only sheltered the military of the Artillery Workshop, when a few meters away, in the Glorieta de Cuatro Caminos, a hospital had a similar space.
The lightbulbs, intact, but empty. The shelter is a labyrinth of intersecting galleries. The photographer and Javier, one of the construction workers, leads the route with lanterns. The cement benches show some marks, made by the archaeological study commissioned by the Community, which confirmed the finding. They are almost at ground level. “Capacity is estimated for between 80 and 100 people,” says Baquedano.
WHAT DID NOGAL KEYS SAY?
In 1938, Madrid was the epic of a lost war. General Miaja, a Republican hero, defended the trenches exposed to gunfire. Gun in hand, he shouted for men who knew how to die. Strips of paper were stuck to shop windows to prevent the bombing’s vibration from shattering them.
“Everybody went scared to his hole.Life had fled streets and squares; not a light, nor a noise in the ghostly environment of the big city,” said journalist Manuel Chaves Nogales. “This little bourgeois liberal” – so he described himself – who predicted the birth of a dictatorship regardless of the colour of victory, saw in the bombings a sort of lottery in which Madridians participated unconcerned: “Insensate and heroic, Madrid learned to live with joyful resignation. “
Little is left of that daily fear in these difficult tunnels, sometimes too narrow, fresh, guardians of absolute silence, still oblivious of the shopping centres that have grown up around them.
SÁNCHEZ MAZAS AND TALES TO FORGET
Some spoke, others were silent. Close or open your eyes? Different ways of coping. The fearful Rafael Sánchez Mazas, in the words of those who dealt with him then, wrote a novel to the rhythm of the bombs. For evasion and for other reasons. Chapter by chapter, he read it to his Falange colleagues at the Chilean embassy, where Carlos Morla Lynch, the diplomat in charge, provided refuge for them.
In the famous photo, Sánchez Mazas in the middle, several refugees listen to that unfinished novel of the title Rosa Kruger. Here the benches, in a row, do not invite conversation. Only recollection, although it may be the lack of habit.
In line with what Chaves said, Agustín de Foxa, in his “De Corte a Checa”, reflected: “At five o’clock in the morning, the local people commented on the bombardment by eating churros and drinking glasses of anise.”
“To leave a trail, not to disappear at all”
At the doors of the shelter, or perhaps inside, in these benches unequivocal proof of the finding, the tears of farewells ran. “Like those insects that perform the nuptial flight before they die, the men who were being sent to the Sierra or those who awaited in agitation their execution were longing for female presence and love so as to leave a trail, so as not to disappear altogether.”
“Little is known of this shelter,” Baquedano continues on this path of short steps. Archaeologists found no traces beyond the benches. The soldiers who arrived after the war used the subway as a shooting gallery. That is the reason for the gouges that bullets have left in the brickwork.
THE NOISE OF THE BOMBS
Suddenly a noise. Loud, deafening. The conversation ends abruptly. The cameraman and the journalist look at Javier, who laughs. “Calm down, the cranes are moving the scrap and it will have fallen up above.” It is a noise to make one cower and which makes the legs tremble.
A cosmopolitan and naive noise, which has nothing to do with the thunder of the shell that haunted Arturo Barea. In his “Forging of a Rebel” he confessed to having nightmares about the impact. He imagined the mutilation of bodies, their rotting, the limbs torn off the sidewalk … When the sirens began to sound and the danger became true, Barea reported feeling “a deep relief”, a result of the return to reality, the only way out then fromthat spiral of madness.
“My mouth was filled with vomit”
“We would go down to the basement, sit there with other guests, all in pajamas or gowns, while the antiaircraft barked and the explosions shook the building, sometimes my mouth filled with vomit, but it was a comfort because everything was real, I was deeply asleep,” he wrote.
On leaving, the light, and a city that beats, has nothing to do with that Madrid that, in Foxa’s words, turned off the lanterns for fear of bombing, while the last trams passed on their routes with their tragic, blue-green painted lights.
At the fence, several curious people approach the hole. Office workers, clerks, consultants, lawyers … In 1938, Barea said, there were neighbors of distant neighborhoods who came to see up close what a bombing was. “They left happy and proud with pieces of shrapnel, still hot, as a souvenir.”
Additional notes from translator, D. Breatnach:
There were a few words and phrases with which I had difficulty since the apparent translation from dictionaries did not seem to make sense in the article and I converted them into what seemed to be the sense in the text and context.
The future of the archaelogical site by law requires protection from the owners of the site in which it is located. It may or may not be open to limited or full public access.
In the original article there was a lovely version of the Viva la Quinta Brigada song, about the 5th Brigade of the Republican forces (not Christy Moore’s wonderful song which, despite the original title is about the 15th International Brigade). I tried to embed it here but failed but you may find it on the original article link below.