Farewell Marina Ginestà

With thanks to Rob Palk.

From the RHP blog:

Marina Ginestà of the Juventudes Comunistas, aged 17, overlooking Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.

Marina Ginestà, aged 17, overlooking Barcelona from Hotel Colón. She worked as a translator for a Soviet journalist of Pravda during the Spanish Civil War. She was a member of Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (Socialist Youth), the youth organization mainly directed by Partido Comunista de España (PCE, Communist Party of Spain). Despite her initial involvement she quickly grew disillusioned with the path that the Stalinists were taking. Marina remained a militant throughout the rest of the war and was drawn to other groups at that time such as the anti-Stalinist P.O.U.M (which George Orwell was a member of) and the Anarchist C.N.T. This photographs was taken by Juan Guzman (who was born Hans Gutmann in Germany before going to Spain where he photographed the International Brigades). Date of the photo: July 21, 1936.

Marina did not know about the photo until 2006, although the iconic image was printed and circulated everywhere, serving as cover for the book “Thirteen Red Roses’ by Carlos Fonseca, and was also along with dozens of other photographs in the book “Unpublished images of the Civil War” (2002) with introduction by G. Stanley Payne.

She was identified by Garcia Bilbao who read the memoirs of Soviet correspondent of Pravda Mikhail Koltsov, with whom the young girl appears in another photo. Garcia Bilbao found that Jinesta Marina, with J, which was identified by Guzman in the caption was actually Marina Ginesta, an exile who lived in Paris translating French texts.

Marina Ginesta, the iconic girl of the Spanish Civil War, died January 6, 2014 in Paris, aged 94.

The rifle she is carrying is M1916 Spanish Mauser. It was manufactured at famous Oviedo factory in Spain for the Spanish Army.

Marina Ginesta, 2008Marina Ginesta, 2008

Colored Version

Here is a little more, from Publico, badly translated by me: (more…)

Trabajadores: Spanish Civil War Archives Online

This, by Liz Wood, is in a recent History Workshop Journal:

MRC 2011 087On 12 November 2011, Wembley Stadium hosted a friendly between the football teams of England and Spain. Amongst the usual pre-match shots of flags and anthem singing, the television cameras picked out one English fan in the crowd with a home-made placard commemorating the British volunteers of the International Brigade, who had fought for the Spanish Republic 75 years earlier. The incident was an example of how the Spanish Civil War has maintained its place in the British popular consciousness in a way that is perhaps only exceeded by the two world wars.

In recent years it has been the subject of popular history books and formed the backdrop to best-selling novels and an HBO made/Sky broadcast television series starring Nicole Kidman; meanwhile the often bitter debates between supporters of different Republican factions in 1936-39 continue to be played out on internet message boards.  Despite this public and academic interest, only a small quantity of primary sources in English were freely available to researchers online – last year the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, added over 13,000 pages more. (more…)

Jams O’Donnell: Red Cushing and the several deaths of Yakov Stalin Part I

Last week, I published the first installment of Shaun Downey’s series on the great Red Cushing, as a tribute to Shaun who died last month. Parts 2 and 3 were taken from Ciaran Crossey’s Ireland and the Spanish Civil War website, so I will not reproduce it in full.

Part 2 deals with Cushing joining the International Brigade (after hearing in a New York bar about “General O’Duffy’s Blue Shirts”, Catholic Irish Republicans fighting in Spain on the fascist side), becoming platoon leader in Number One Company, the Lincoln Washington Battalion, and his scrapes with the Communist Party commissars who sought to discipline the Brigadiers.

We had no idea what the overall situation was. Any information about the general course of the war was carefully withheld from us by the Party leaders. Gradually it dawned on these political panjandrums that what they needed in Spain was less tub-thumping and more military know-how, so at last they decided to ship me back to the States with a view to recruiting some young men with initiative and leadership qualities.

Part 3 sees Red’s disillusionment tempting him to join the French Foreign Legion, but deciding that war with fascist Germany was the enemy he should be fighting, leading him to return to Britain to sign up there:

I travelled to England by way of Paris and Dieppe, disembarking at Newhaven and proceeding to Victoria… As I was leaving Victoria, with a view to catching a ‘bus to Paddington. a slimy-looking character tried to sell me The Daily Worker. His smug references to the Spanish Civil War so incensed me that I hauled off and belted him one. I derived a great deal of personal satisfaction out of that blow, throwing into it all the anger and disgust I felt about Communist mismanagement in Spain. It symbolised for me my complete repudiation of the Party line…

Jams concludes, tempting us on to the next intallment:

Make of this what you will. Cushing was a larger than life character but think he should be read with a pinch of salt. His later adventures as a POW-cum-potential German spy are a mixture of comedy and tragedy.

However, it is at this point we jump forward to Jams’ real story, which unfolds after Red has been taken prisoner by the Germans. As before, I have edited punctuation and format, but no text, and added some hyperlinks for reference.

Red Cushing and the several deaths of Yakov Stalin Part I

 It was my good fortune to wander into the bookshop in the departure lounge at Cork Airport. Otherwise I would not have picked up a copy of Terence O’Reilly’s Hitler’s Irishmen.Hitler’s Irishmen is mainly concerned with the fortunes of “James Brady” (a pseudonym – we do not know his true identity) and Frank Stringer, two soldiers who were imprisoned in Jersey at the time of the German occupation and who became the only Irishmen to join the Waffen SS. It also provides a detailed account of the farcical attempt to raise an “Irish Brigade” from the POW population. Roger Casement had tried the same thing during WWI with little success – his Irish Brigade numbered just over 50 men. This attempt attracted a mere handful; and some of them had no intention of serving the Reich. Brady and Stinger and the Friesack Camp are for another day though.

By 1942 the Germans realised that four of the recruits (William Murphy, Patrick O’Brien, Andrew Walsh and our old friend Thomas “Red” Cushing) were not quite as loyal to the Reich as originally thought. The four were sent to a segregation unit in Saschenhausen concentration camp.

Born in 1907 Yakov Iosifovich Dzhugashvili (I will use Stalin rather than Dzhugashvili) was Joseph Stalin’s oldest child. An artillery lieutenant, he was taken prisoner by the Wehrmacht at Smolensk in July 1941. By 1942 he too was in Saschenhausen sharing accommodation [wiuth] Vasili Korkorin, the nephew of Vyacheslav Molotov , Murphy, O’Brian, Walsh and Red Cushing.

English: Yakov Dzhugashvili (1907-1943), the e...

English: Yakov Dzhugashvili (1907-1943), the eldest son of Joseph Stalin Polski: Jakow Dżugaszwili (1907-1943), najmłodszy syn Józefa Stalina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yakov Stalin died in Saschenhausen in April 1943. The general consensus seems to be that he effectively committed suicide either with or without the help of a German bullet. However, more than one reason has been put forward for his suicide.

Cause 1: Abandonment

According to a Time article from 1 March 1968 Yakov, devastated by his father’s refusal of a German offer to exchange him for Field Marshall Von Paulus (who had surrendered at Stalingrad in January), picked his way through a maze of trip wires to the camp fence. He then called to a nearby SS guard: “Don’t be a coward. Shoot, shoot.” When the prisoner made a grab for the fence, the guard obliged, firing a single bullet which killed him in instantly.

Cause 2: Shame over the Katyn massacres

In June 2001, however, the Daily Telegraph carried an article which purported to provide the definitive answer to Yakov’s end. Already dispirited by his father’s rejection of an exchange for Von Paulus, Stalin was so overcome by shame at the news of his father’s massacre of 15,000 Poles at Katyn in 1940 that he committed suicide by flinging himself on to the camp’s electric fence.

According to professor John Erickson (an authority on the Great Patriotic War who died in 2002), “It is clear that Yakov, who had become close friends with the Poles and had made two abortive escape attempts with them, was so distraught when goaded with the news of his father’s massacre of the Polish officers, which was revealed in German newspapers in 1943, that he took his life. Driven to despair by the horrific conditions in the camp – he was emaciated and on the point of starvation – and the strain of the propaganda campaign the Germans had involved him in, the news that his father had sanctioned the Poles’ murder was the final straw.”

To be continued

Jams O’Donnell: Red Cushing and the Spanish Civil War

Red Cushing - Solider for Hire

On Monday, I posted that my friend Shaun Downey – described by Francis Sedgemore as ” Gentleman and Blogger of the Parish of Romford” - has died. Shaun was what I have called before a “citizen scholar”, a polymath, who rigorously researched and shared his passions. Among his interests were military history, anti-fascist partisans and Irish Republicanism.

When blogs are not attended, there is a terrible tendency for them to be hacked and become fonts for spam, which is a shameful fate for someone who has passed. Mindful of that, and in tribute to him, I have decided to re-post over time a long series he wrote on an extraordinary figure, Red Cushing. Here is the first installment, from August 2008. Shaun italicised his quotes rather than indenting them, so I have indented the whole post to make its authorship as clear as possible. I have added a couple of hyperlinks and two pieces of punctuation.

This post was inspired by recent posts by two of my favourite bloggers: Roland Dodds on the vandalising of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion memorial and Bob from Brockley’s Spanish Civil War in San Fransisco.

Irishman Thomas “Red” Cushing is almost certainly resting in his grave now (if he were still alive he would be in his late 90s) but he definitely had a life less ordinary. In the first 35 years of his life he was an IRA member, had a yoyo career in the US army with a sideline of training Sandino’s forces; served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (his sobriquet refers to his hair not his political allegiance, he has bolshie, not a Bolshevik!), joined the British army, taken prisoner during the fall of France…. and then his adventures really began!

I first came across his name in “Renegades: Hitler’s Englishmen”, Adrian Weale’s excellent account of the Britisches Freikorps (the BFC) and other British traitors of WWII Cushing was mentioned in respect of the Reich’s farcical attempt to raise an Irish legion. He also appears in Mark Hull’s “Irish Secrets: Espionage in Wartime Ireland” and Terrence O’ Reilly’s “Hitler’s Irishmen”. However, he was no traitor himself and he continued his career in the British Army into the 1960s

Cushing wrote an account of his rollercoaster life in the book “Soldier For Hire”. It is long out of print but fortunately it is not hard to track down a reasonably inexpensive copy. The chapter “No Castles in Spain” which covers his time in Spain is very handily reproduced on Ciaran Crossey’s superb Ireland and the Spanish Civil War website. Plagiarism is not intended but I have a damaged wrist and anything that will cut down my typing is a godsend at the moment!

… While on demob leave, I stayed at the Army and Navy Club in Lexington Avenue, New York. I took the opportunity of visiting all the army posts where I had friends. To keep myself solvent I boxed a few times. Then, one morning in 1936, I wandered as far as the Army Base in Brooklyn, hoping to bump into somebody I knew…

My luck was out… I finished up in a saloon bar, sitting at the same table as five or six young fellows, listening to their conversation and occasionally chipping in when the talk became general. Somehow we had got on to the subject of soldiering abroad. During a lull in the discussion, an unmistakably military figure detached itself from the bar and slid easily into the seat next to mine.

‘I’m recruiting for the Lincoln Washington Battalion, now serving in Spain,’ he announced without preamble. ‘Any of you guys interested?’ ‘What are the prospects?’ I asked him. He shrugged. ‘Well, I guess that depends on what you can do. Have you soldiered before?’

I fished from my wallet the army documents I carried around with me and dropped them on the table in front of him. He scrutinised them in silence, lingering especially over an impressive list of courses I had passed. At last he looked up and eyed me appraisingly. ‘Seems to me you’re the type we want, brother. Can’t guarantee it, but with these qualifications you should swing a commission.’

‘Never mind the commission. My interests are tipple and bananas.’

… First we went to a building on the Grand Concourse, where I was medically examined and pronounced physically fit. Then, we proceeded to a dingy office not far from Union Square. There I completed a sort of application form, signed on the dotted line and was duly inducted. I received a cash advance of fifty dollars and was warned to hold myself in readiness… A day or two later, my instructions arrived. I was ordered to report to an address on Eighth Avenue and Sixteenth Street… I was introduced to a number of curious characters, all belonging to the school of thought that condemns soap and water as capitalist luxuries. Even before they opened their mouths, I knew what I had let myself in for. I had stepped into a gathering of Communist Party members.

Although I had no time for such crapology, I decided to ride along with them and find out how they ticked. I therefore listened patiently to my long-haired friend’s appreciation of the situation. .. I had been appointed conducting officer and was responsible for shepherding forty volunteers from New York to the Spanish front.

…The ‘Commissar’, as I had mentally labelled him, next led me into a dance hall, where I passed on his information to my comrades… When I first saw them, my heart sank. There were intellectuals, students from Columbia University and a generous sprinkling of Bowery bums and dead-beats, who had evidently espoused the Communist cause in order to be issued with meal tickets…. When I had finished, the Commissar gave them a long political speech, loaded with the usual Communist clichés. The workers of the world had to unite, fight for freedom, win a lasting peace and had nothing to lose but their chains. The students and the self-styled intelligentsia lapped it all up, but the talk made little impression on the bums. The squad was then dismissed and the Party members gathered round me, eager to give me a propaganda injection.

‘Gentlemen,’ I said to the shower of nanny goats, ‘I’m a professional soldier, not a politician. I’ve volunteered to go to Spain simply for the experience. As far as I’m concerned, you can stick your Communist racket up your jaxies! So cheerio, comrades! I’ll be seeing you at nine o’clock to-morrow morning.’ With an ironic bow to the Commissar, I made a quick exit…

To be continued

There are a couple of interesting comments on the post:

Anonymous Joseph Conlon said…

My dad met Red Cushing. We have a photo of him on our bathroom wall at home. I’m just reading the book ‘Soldier For Hire’ and its great so far.

I asked my dad today – Red’s dad seems like a bit of a nutter to which her replied “yes but Red’s daughter was even worse”… guess I have got more to find out…

Peter said…

I was Red Cushing’s platoon commander 9n Germany (Berlin) and Korea in the 1950′s. I have many stories about him – most of which revolved around his problem with “the drink” (he really loved his beer!). He was truly a one of a kind character, and I’m pleased to see that people are still interested in his exploits.

(more…)

Barcelona diary: Celebrating radical history

The Gonzo Kid:

Recently I was lucky enough to take part in a meeting of radical historians in Barcelona. The event was billed as “a meeting of colleagues and comrades, all active in interpreting and bringing out the radical history of the place where they live”.

As well as sharing experiences and having a good time, the gathering was aimed at establishing “a more or less formal network/platform for the future. An international network of independent tour guides, street storytellers and historical activists”.

Radical historians and tour guides from Dublin, Barcelona, Olso, Berlin and London were present, as well as members of the RaspouTeam who make innovative use of street art, QR codes and radio to celebrate the revolutionary history of Paris. For my own part, I delivered a presentation on Liverpool’s history from an anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint, including some general history of the Solidarity Federation (which goes back to the founding of the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation in 1950), of which I am a member. Also participating and helping to facilitate the meeting was a CNT member who has set up a bar off La Rambla called La Llibertària, which is run as a workers co-operative. The walls of the bar are covered in posters, photographs and original newspapers from the Spanish revolution and it is well worth a visit for anyone spending time in the city.

READ THE REST

75 years ago today: Orwell flees Spain

The square in Barcelona re-named in honour of George Orwell

On the morning of June 23rd 1937, George Orwell boarded a train at Barcelona station with his wife, Eileen, and two companions, John McNair and Stafford Cottman. The train was bound for the French border and Orwell (or Eric Blair – he had yet to adopt his now famous nom de plume) was posing as a wealthy English businessman travelling with his wife and associates. In reality, they were fugitives, hunted not only by the fascist forces they’d come to Spain to fight, but also by the communists. McNair was leader of a contingent of fighters organised by the Independent Labour Party (ILP) who had left England to try and stem the rising fascist tide. This small group of revolutionaries and idealists – one among many such groups from all over the world –included Orwell. Prior to boarding the train that morning he had spent much of the previous six months in the trenches until a sniper’s bullet pierced his throat. By the time he’d sufficiently recovered to leave hospital, the internal divisions within the anti-fascist forces had shattered whatever slim chances they’d had of defeating Franco and his allies. [READ THE REST, from Jim Bliss]

Published in: on June 23, 2012 at 8:05 am  Comments (1)  
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75 years ago: bloody end of May days, Barcelona

The Barcelona offices of the CNT.

Image via Wikipedia

May 7
The fighting in Barcelona concludes, with more than 500 dead and over 1500 wounded. Many are still under illegal arrest in several Communist-controlled police stations, militia barracks and secret prisons.
May 8
In Barcelona, police find the horribly mutilated bodies of 12 murdered young men. Eight of the bodies are so mutilated that they cannot be identified. The four identified bodies belong to young anarchists, illegally arrested together with eight friends on May 4 outside the Communist militia barracks in Barcelona, when they were passing by on a truck with “CNT” written on it. The names of the identified young men are: Cesar Fernández Neri, Jose Villena, Juan Antonio, and Luis Carneras. Police also found the dead bodies of the Italian anarchist professor Camillo Berneri and two of his friends, who were arrested during the May incidents by Communist militias. (As squads of Communist Party of Spain members (apparently under orders from Joseph Stalin) took to the streets in order to hunt down leading anarchists, Berneri had been dragged from his home and murdered. His body, riddled with bullets, was found during the night, near the headquarters of the Generalitat de Catalunya.)

Via Wikipedia

Also read:

75 years ago: May days, Barcelona

Bank note from the Generalitat de Catalunya, 1936.

Image via Wikipedia

May 5

Luis Companys obtains a fragile truce between the different fighting groups, on the basis of which Rodriguez Salas, now blamed for the police action against the telephone central, has to resign. Communist commandos are still arresting people. Wikipedia

May 6

“Neutral” police troops from Valencia arrive in Barcelona to stop the fighting. The 5,000 Assault Guards (chosen more or less carefully for their political opinions, to ensure a “neutral” force and the trust of both sides) occupy several strategic points throughout the city. The workers abandon the barricades and the telephone central is handed over to the government. When the Assault Guards enter the city and passed by the central building of the anarchist CNT, several hundreds of them salute the black and red Anarchist flag on the building. Nevertheless, reprisals against the anti-Stalinist left are starting throughout the Republic.

Published in: on May 5, 2012 at 9:14 am  Comments (3)  
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75 years ago: Homage to Catalonia (and Orwell’s hotel tips)

…They had taken my rifle away again, and there seemed to be nothing that one could usefully do. Another Englishman and myself decided to go back to the Hotel Continental. There was a lot of firing in the distance, but seemingly none in the Ramblas. On the way up we looked in at the food-market. A very few stalls had opened; they were besieged by a crowd of people from the working-class quarters south of the Ramblas. Just as we got there, there was a heavy crash of rifle-fire outside, some panes of glass in the roof were shivered, and the crowd went flying for the back exits. A few stalls remained open, however; we managed to get a cup of coffee each and buy a wedge of goat’s-milk cheese which I tucked in beside my bombs. A few days later I was very glad of that cheese.

At the street-corner where I had seen the Anarchists begin firing the day before a barricade was now standing. The man behind it (I was on the other side of the street) shouted to me to be careful. The Civil Guards in the church tower were firing indiscriminately at everyone who passed. I paused and then crossed the opening at a run; sure enough, a bullet cracked past me, uncomfortably close. When I neared the P.O.U.M. Executive Building, still on the other side of the road, there were fresh shouts of warning from some Shock Troopers standing in the doorway—shouts which, at the moment, I did not understand. There were trees and a newspaper kiosk between myself and the building (streets of this type in Spain have a broad walk running down the middle), and I could not see what they were pointing at. I went up to the Continental, made sure that all was well, washed my face, and then went back to the P.O.U.M. Executive Building (it was about a hundred yards down the street) to ask for orders. By this time the roar of rifle and machine-gun fire from various directions was almost comparable to the din of a battle. I had just found Kopp and was asking him what we were supposed to do when there was a series of appalling crashes down below. The din was so loud that I made sure someone must be firing at us with a field-gun. Actually it was only hand-grenades, which make double their usual noise when they burst among stone buildings. …

 

Spanish Revolution and Civil War gallery

A wonderful gallery at Libcom. Here’s just a taste – go enjoy the real thing.

Militia woman.Unidentified black soldier.Burned out cars after the defeat of Franco's forces in Barcelona, 1936.Madrid, July 1936.Spanish Civil War and Revolution photo gallery, 1936-39Demonstration, Puerta del Sol, Madrid.Anarchists in Madrid.Collectivised CNT tram, Barcelona.Collectivised tram.Spanish Civil War and Revolution photo gallery, 1936-39.Anarchist militia women.Workers' barricades.Workers' barricades.Militia men and women leave for the front in Barcelona.Spanish Civil War and Revolution photo gallery, 1936-39.Speech from bricklayer and CNT member Cipriano Mera.Spanish Civil War and Revolution photo gallery, 1936-39.The Durruti Column.Workers' barricades, Barcelona, July 1936.Workers on the barricades, Barcelona, 1936.Workers' barricades.Tereul, Aragon Front, 1938.Militias in training, Catalunya.Militia woman in training, Barcelona.Militia women in training, Barcelona.Boy wearing cap of “Union de Hermanos Proletarios”, Barcelona.Spanish anarcho-syndicalist, Buenaventura Durruti (centre).Durruti's funeral.Supporters at Durruti's funeral.Supporters carrying coffin at Durruti's funeral.Spanish Civil War and Revolution photo gallery, 1936-39

Today in 1939: Spanish refugees

At Getty Images:

01 Feb 1939
1st February 1939: Two members of a rescue party assist an elderly woman fleeing the Spanish Civil War. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

 

 

01 Jan 1939
circa 1939: Wounded Loyalist at the special commissary’s office at Le Perthus, Spain. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
By: Three Lions
Collection: Hulton Archive

 

01 Jan 1939
FRANCE – CIRCA 1939: War of Spain. Exodus. France, February 1939. RV-221838. (Photo by Gaston Paris/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
By: Gaston Paris
Collection: Roger Viollet

Via Jonathan Woods

Published in: on February 19, 2012 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Today in 1939: Returning from Spain

From Getty Images:

01 Jan 1939
Irish volunteers injured during the Spanish Civil War arrive back in Dublin. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
By: Keystone
Collection: Hulton Archive

Music Mondays: Montserrat Figueras

Montserrat Figueras, the great Catalan soprano, died in Cerdanyola del Vallès on 23 November, after a long struggle with cancer. Here are two wonderful songs, via Entdinglichung. The first is Hespèrion XX, her ensemble, singing a gorgeous Sephardic Jewish song.

The second, recorded in 1988, is “El Cant de la Sibil·la“, the song of the Sybil, “a liturgical drama and a Gregorian chant, the lyrics of which compose a prophecy describing the Apocalypse, which has been performed at some churches of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain) and L’Alguer or Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) in Catalan language on Christmas Eve nearly uninterrruptedly since medieval times… The Song of the Sibyl was almost totally abandoned throughout Europe after the Council of Trent (held in 25 sessions from 1545 to 1563) declared its performance was forbidden. Nevertheless, it was restored on Mallorca as soon as in 1575.” Interestingly, the great leftist musicologist Alan Lomax recorded a fragment of a version during his Balearic fieldtrip of 1952, in the Franco years. Franco of course suppressed Catalan language, and Figueras and her husband Jordi Savall lived in exile in Switzerland until after Spain democratisation in the 1980s. The decision of Hesperion XX, formed in 1974, to record Catalan songs (and to recover the repressed memory of Jewish Iberia) was thus an act of defiance against the Francoist regime.

These songs are part of an on-going series on Catalan music. Previously, I have featured Jordi Barre, Pau Casals, Isaac Albinez, Enrique Granados, and Enrique Morente.

Le Chemin de la Liberte

Via Martin Black, I came across this article.

Part of the "Chemin de la Liberte" in the Pyrenees

Every year, hikers trek the “Chemin de la Liberte” in the Pyrenees, to commemorate the 800 or so Allied airmen and Jewish refugees who risked their lives on a 60km (40 miles) route escaping Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

“The good escaper,” says a 1944 British military document called Tips for Escapers and Evaders, “is the man who keeps himself fit, cheerful and comfortable.”[...]

Reflect on what it was like, for example, to be shot down over Belgium when you are only 19 years old. Your parachute works – something of a surprise in itself, since you have had only the most rudimentary training – and when you land you find yourself behind enemy lines, with most of Nazi-occupied Europe between you and freedom.

You have to ask someone for help, even though you know they are risking their lives if they give it to you. And if you are lucky and they do not turn you in, there is still the long journey south to negotiate, past German checkpoints and patrols with, at the end of it all, the climb over these massive mountains.

Or think of the Jewish families who attempted the Pyrenees just one step ahead of arrest and deportation to the death camps.

I was told the story of a woman who carried her two-year-old daughter across in November snow. When the child cried in the cold their guide said she should be suffocated because the noise might alert the German patrols.

And what of the French helpers? One local supporter of the Chemin remembered his mother hiding escaping Allied airmen in her mountain bed and breakfast, where she was providing lodgings for German troops at the same time. (more…)

Today in 1940: Execution of Lluís Companys

Summary of the death penalty of Lluís Companys...

Image via Wikipedia

Lluís Companys i Jover (Catalan pronunciation: [ʎuˈis kumˈpaɲs]) (June 21, 1882 – October 15, 1940) was the 123rd President of Catalonia, Spain from 1934 and during the Spanish Civil War.

He was a lawyer and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) political party. Exiled after the war, he was captured and handed over by the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, to the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who had him executed by firing squad in 1940. Companys is the only incumbent president of a region in Europe to have been executed,[1] and seventy one years later the Spanish state has not yet annulled the council of war which sentenced him.

Published in: on October 15, 2011 at 11:08 am  Comments (1)  
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Monday music: 11 September

…not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious. (Walter Benjamin, died Catulunya, September 1940)

So we set out, with cameras at the ready, for New York, another city of my dreams assaulted on another September 11, again a Tuesday morning when fire fell from the sky. Though by 2001 very few people in the world recalled the existence of that remote Chilean date, I was besieged by the need to extract some hidden meaning behind the juxtaposition and coincidence of those twinned episodes bequeathed to me by the malignant gods of random history. There was something horribly familiar in that experience of disaster, confirmed during my visit to the ruins where the twin towers had once reached for the sky… every citizen of the United States forced to look into the chasm of what it means to be desaparecido, with no certainty or funeral possible for those who are missing. The photographs were still there in 2006, pinned on the wires separating the ogling spectators from the abyss… (Ariel Dorfman, 2 September, 2011)

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks on New York and Washington, carried out by far right Islamists. Below, Bruce Springsteen’s “My city of ruins fanfare for the common men and women killed that day, and his hope for a new, better tomorrow. 9/11 is of course also the anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile, which replaced Allende’s elected government with one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time, a dictatorship supported by the American and British governments.

In the first months after the coup d’état, the military killed thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected, or forced their “disappearance“. The military imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile… In October 1973, the Chilean song-writerVíctor Jara, and 70 other political killings were perpetrated by the death squad, Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte). The government arrested some 130,000 people in a three-year period; the dead and disappeared numbered thousands in the first months of the military government.

Below, for all the victims of Pinochet’s regime, Victor Jara‘s “Preguntitas sobre Dios” (Little Questions About God), written by Atahualpa Yupanqui.

One day I asked grandfather ¿where is God? My grandfather was sad and gave me no answer. My grandfather died in the field without prayers or confessions, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum. When I asked ¿father where is God?  my father got serious and gave me no answer. My father died in the mine without doctor or confession, sweating the miner’s blood for the boss’s gold, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum… I sing when I am free and when I’m in prison I feel the voices of the people who sing better than me… God watches over the poor, maybe yes or maybe not but he surely lunches at the table of the boss.

September 11 is also the Catalan national day. Being an anti-nationalist, I will not play the turgid Catalan national anthem, “Els Segadors“, but rather “El Cant dels Ocell” (The Song of the Birds), a Catalan folk song which Pau Casals always played at the end of his concerts, looking forward to the moment when Catalonia would be free of fascism, and when humanity as a whole would be free.

From Ariel Dorfman’s Open Letter to America:

How could I not wish you well? You gave me, an americano from the Latino South, this language of love that I return to you. You gave me the hot summer afternoons of my childhood in Queens when my starkest choice was whether to buy a Popsicle from the Good Humor Man or the fat driver of the Bungalow Bar truck. And then back to calculating Jackie Robinson’s batting average. How could I not wish you well? You gave me refuge when I was barely a toddler, my family fleeing the fascist thugs in Argentina in the mid-Forties. One of you then. Still one of you now. How could I not wish you well? Years later, again it was to America I came with my own family, an exile from the Chile of Pinochet you helped to spawn into existence on precisely an 11 September, another Tuesday of doom. And yet, still wishing you well, America: you offered me the freedom to speak out that I did not have in Santiago, you gave me the opportunity to write and teach, you gave me a gringa grand-daughter, how could I not love the house she lives in?

Where is that America of mine? Where is that other America? Where is the America of ‘as I would not be a slave so would I not be a master’, the America of this ‘land is our land this land was meant for you and me’, the America of all men, and all women, everyone of us on this ravaged, glorious earth of ours, all of us, created equal? Created equal: one baby in Afghanistan or Iraq as sacred as one baby in Minneapolis. Where is my America? The America that taught me tolerance of every race and every religion, that filled me with pioneer energy, that is generous to a fault when catastrophes strike?

Monday music: Jordi Barre

Rcan featuring Jordi Barre: Décloisonnement intergénérationnel

It’s a long while since I did a Monday music post. This one follows on from my earlier series on Catalan music, but also kicks off a new (non-musical) series I’m going to start soon about the Catalan lands that are now part of France. Barre died earlier this year. He is very little known in the English-speaking world and consequently has no English wikipedia page. Below is my loose translation of the French page.

Jordi Barre (born Georges Bar on 7 April 1920 in Argeles-sur-Mer and died on 16 February 2011 in Ponteilla) was a Catalan-speaking singer-songwriter. Taking to the stage very young, he sang in the village dances of the plain of Roussillon and then turned sailor, typographer, foreman. In the mid-1960s he met the poet Albert Esteve, who encouraged him to devote himself exclusively to the song.

In 1974 he moved to Barcelona where he met the great figures of Nova Cançó, moving close to the autonomous musical community of the end of the Franco era. Still standing away from political movements, Jordi Barre advocated through song for a recognition of culture and especially of the Catalan language and quickly became an institution for the people of Northern Catalonia.

His voice was gravelly and profound, its deep timbre through “which run cool water streams, the rocky hills, the blue of the sea and the madness of the north wind” (Jean-Michel Collet); his impressive concerts are great moments of emotion and intensity on a par with a Paco Ibanez or a Silvio Rodriguez.

Today in 1937: George Orwell shot

George Orwell Wounded by a Fascist Sniper
The Spanish Civil War, near Huesca
20 May 1937

I have been about ten days at the front when it happened. The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail. (more…)

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 9:51 am  Comments (3)  

Music Mondays: Pablo Casals

So it was that in the spring of 1939 I came to Prades. I could not have imagined at the time that I would spend the next seventeen years of my life in this little town in the Pyrenees. And in spite of the sorrow in me, I found respite in my surroundings. With its winding cobbled strees and whitewashed houses with red tiled roofs – and the acacia trees that were then in bloom – Prades might have been one of the Catalan villages I had known since childhood. The countryside seemed no less familiar to me. The lovely patterns of orchards an vineyards, the wild and craggy mountains with ancient Roman fortresses and monasteries clinging to their sides – these too were a replica of parts of my homeland. Indeed, centuries before, this very region had been part of the nation of Catalonia – from Joys and Sorrows by Pablo Casals, via On An Overgrown Path

Granados: Spanish Dance (played by Pablo Casals, c.1916-20)
For Granados, a Catalan composer of the late 19th century, see here.

Max Bruch: Kol Nidrei (played by Pablo Casals, 1923)

Pablo Casals: El Cant dels Ocell
This version of his classic Catalan melody was recorded in Puerto Rico in 1956.

Pablo Casals: El Cant dels Ocell
This version is from 1958′s Windjammer.

Victoria de los Ángeles: El Cant dels Ocell
A singer from Barcelona, who died in 2005.

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Music Mondays: Isaac Albéniz

Isaac Albeniz: Iberia No 6 “Triana”

Albeniz was a Catalan composer and this Triana is from his late years, written in exile in Paris. A Triana is actually an Andalucian flamenco songform, from the mainly Gitano (Gypsy/Roma) Triana neighbourhood of Seville.

This version is played in 1931 by Harvey Sachs Rubinstein, “the Latino from Lodz”.


Albeniz’s grave in Montjuic, Barcelona.

It’s the third in my series on Catalan music, the previous being Granados. See also this post on Enrique Morente.

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