20 August 2018

A history silenced: What we were not told about the Civil War in Alcalá

This is a translation of the results of detailed research into Alcalá's municipal archives by historian Ismael Almagro Montes de Oca and his colleagues, on events which took place here during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.  The original articles, in Spanish, can be found on the blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules:

La Historia Silenciada I
La Historia Silenciada II

Summary:  Although there were no battle-fronts near Alcalá during the Civil War, the overnight regime change in the government of the town immiediately after Franco's military coup affected everyone's lives.  The elected representatives and civil servants who supported the Republic were quickly replaced with Falangist sympathisers, and many were imprisoned or executed, along with other prominent Republicans. Streets were renamed after Francoist generals. Rights and freedoms were curtailed and private property was confiscated, often to the financial benefit of the new regime.  All forms of protest, such as the kidnapping of landowners by Republican fugitives, were brutally suppressed.  Female relatives of Republicans had their heads shaved as a form of humiliation. Land was left uncultivated because of the number of men who had gone to fight, causing food shortages, but the cork industry continued in business with the aid of the military.

Alcalá in the 1930s

There has been little research into the history of Alcalá during the Civil War - a period relatively recent, but at the same time so dark, the events of which we have very few written references for. There were hardly any direct confrontations between the opposing sides here, but a there was drastic change of regime under which rights and liberties were axed overnight in order to establish the tyranny and supremacy of a local oligarchy which saw in the coup d’état the perfect opportunity to maintain their privileges, seriously threatened during the Republican period.

We are interested in examining certain aspects of the overthrow of the Second Republic to see how they influenced events at a local level. Alcalá was always a town very respectful of the Church, and did not produce incidents [such as the burning of churches] during the Republic, as we can gather from an official Town Hall document from 1937 in which we read: “There was no damage to the artistic, religious, historical or documentary treasures during the years 1931 to 1936.”

Neither did they manage to introduce the system of secular schools proposed by the Republic in place of religious education, because barely three months before the military uprising, they still hadn’t hired the buildings necessary to set up three girls’ schools and an infant school. The agrarian land reform took its first steps in our town just three months before the uprising, expropriating the estates of Capitana, Nieto, Vega Grande, Poyales and Pagana, although only in the latter was a workers’ collective set up, officially occupying it on 27 May 1936.

During the years of the Republic, successive municipal corporations [in Alcalá] had to give aid to around 2,500 registered labourers and their families, some of whom were unable to work on several occasions due to the rain, others because of the lack of jobs, and were therefore unable to feed themselves. Suffice it to say that in barely three months [in 1936], the local council of the Popular Front spent the not insignificant sum of 74,277 pesetas [€148,450 in today’s terms] on bread for these workers. 

Victory for the Popular Front, a coalition of Leftist
parties, in the February 1936 general election

From the beginning of July 1936, the local Falangist leaders were preparing for the military uprising, as recorded in writing by the secretary of that organisation Vicente Marchante Romero in his private home before publishing the proclamation of a state of war.

One of the first acts of the new town council [after the uprising] was to cleanse the administration of Popular Front employees, dismissing eleven civil servants on 29 August. Another was renaming many of the streets after Francoist generals.

Our town was considered a war zone until 2 November 1936, the date of the sacking of La Sauceda, in which 42 Falangists from Alcalá participated, among others. Previously there had been incursions by Marxist fugitives from Jimena, who seized 30 workers on 22 August, and on 17 September two workers were murdered in La Bovedilla. On 5 October the men from Jimena attacked the Pagana estate, stealing four horses and some equipment, which were later recovered by forces of the Civil Guard and the Falange. Thanks to a tip-off, they attacked the Jimena group at Arnaos, where they were holding four families, who were freed. The Jimena group managed to escape, but four women and various children who were with them were arrested and brought to the town, along with 200 head of cattle belonging to the kidnapped families.

[Note: the accounts of crimes committed by Republicans are taken from Falangist archives, and are not necessarily accurate. "Marxist" was used indiscriminately to describe any Republican be they socialist, anarcho-syndicalist or communist.  Statements taken from the widows of the murdered men suggest that the identity of their killers was unknown and they were more likely the victims of a robbery.]

Excavating the mass grave near La Sauceda in 2012
On 10 October there was an attack on the farmhouse of Cabeza Ronda. There is evidence of attacks on other farmhouses, such as the Quiebra Hacha. On 27 October a Civil Guard and a forest ranger died in an ambush in the Picacho area. 

One piece of information unknown till now, and which faithfully reflects the harshness of the repression against the Republicans, is the significant number of arrests which occurred in Alcalá during the War,. Between 19 July 1936 to 31 March 1939, no less than 465 people were put in the municipal jail.

In the registry of entries and releases of that prison, very few record the reason for their internment. There are examples of theft, brawling or drunkenness, but the vast majority are not specified. However our investigations lead us to calculate that over 70% were incarcerated for political reasons, because the names of people executed and their families are recorded.

Shortly after the uprising the [new] mayor ordered the arrest of some of the members of the previous administration, who were subsequently shot [The Day They Shot the Mayor].  The date of their entry into the prison is recorded as 25-26 July, contradicting the notes of the Journal of the Falange, which shows these arrests as taking place on 21 July. This is not the only inaccuracy found in that journal. 

In Alcalá, the oral tradition maintains that female relatives of “Reds” were submitted to public humiliation, with their heads shaved, and this is indirectly corroborated in a Falangist document. A conduct report was found which was sent to the municipal judge in August 1937 which stated “...she lived in the house of her aunt, who is the mother of the housemaid of Yvison who had her hair cut off”. 

Photo from Todos los Rostros of women with their heads shaved

The new authorities tried from the beginning to extinguish any spark of resistance, with the arrest and shooting of the main leaders of the parties of the Left in Alcalá, and without doubt managed to put the fear of God into people. The growing number of Falange members is significant, from 58 a day before the uprising to 134 just one month later, reaching 592 in less than a year. Many families of the victims of Francoism appeared to be affiliated to the Falange.

The other organisation which supported the uprising, Comunión Traditionalista, known as the Requetés [ultra-religious Cartlist militia], counted 108 sympathisers here on 18 May 1937. On this date the two organisations combined, although it seems that there was a lack of harmony between them given that the female branch of the latter, the Margaritas, refused to turn over their premises, which had to be forced open by a locksmith on 16 March 1938. Frictions had already occurred between members of the two organisations. 

The Falangists showed a total disdain for democracy, celebrating on 16 February 1937 an event mocking the anniversary of the victory of the Popular Front; they erected a small platform on which was placed an urn, similar to those used in past elections, filled it with white ballot papers, and set fire to it by spraying the contents with petrol. 

Instructions to Falangists on how to ridicule the democratic process

There is also evidence that some members of the insurgent militias took advantage of the occasion by indulging in pillage, to the point at which the military commander of Alcalá himself had to call on the local head of the Falange to hand over a mare and foal, confiscated by the authorities, which had been taken by two Falangists. On another occasion, the head of the Falange in San José del Valle asked his counterpart in Alcalá to return to their owner, a comrade from that town, four carts that had disappeared from the Venta Puerto de las Palomas, being held by someone in Alcalá.

At least 550 alcalainos participated in the Civil War on the Nationalist side, according to a census of combatants. There is no information for the Republican side. This provoked a shortage in the workforce, leaving many lands uncultivated, and affected the cutting of cork in 1937 in El Carrizoso, where all individuals were ordered to rejoin their teams urgently.

In Alcalá, both in the uprising and the subsequent repression, economic and personal interests seem to carry more weight than purely political ones. For example, the Pagana estate was returned to its owners only eight days after the declaration of war, without any order from the authorities. After the attack by the Reds on the Bovedilla estate, the local council sent militias from El Puerto in order to guarantee the work of the cork company, and part of watching over the interests of this company involved paying for the maintenance of troops there until their withdrawal at the end of the season on 22 October.  

Paseo de la Playa during the war years

The Town Hall itself benefited economically from the situation, for overnight it saw itself administering eight confiscated estates which had been abandoned by their owners at the start of the uprising. From December 1936 there were many offers for these lands, which would be auctioned, and contracts for the new tenants were agreed with the Town Hall. But the most serious outcome was that, in the event of their return, the legitimate owners could not benefit from their properties even if they fulfilled the essential conditions imposed by the new regime, because the tenancy contract would be interpreted as having been granted by its rightful owners. This resulted in grotesque cases such as that of Manuel Moreno, who in 1940 was obliged to rent his own land from the Town Hall in order to live on it.

The administration also appropriated a consignment of charcoal produced on the El Jautor estate, which had been made by workers who were written off as “Marxist riff-raff”. The civil governor verbally authorised the mayor to confiscate it, giving the order that none of the “extremist” workers should be paid.

It even took ownership of the wages of the cork-cutters who had been stripping the cork at El Jautor during the summer of 1936 for the company Industrial Corchera SA. On 27 August, the majority of workers did not show up to collect their wages, presumably because they had fled with the Marxists to Jimena. A representative of the company delivered the sum of 4,236 pesetas to the military commander in Alcalá, who passed it on to the mayor on 2 September. Most of this money never reached the hands of the workers, not even their families, because it was used to help the families of men fighting on the Nationalist side, to pay the subscription of the council for that army and other military expenses, and to pay several drivers of vehicles requisitioned by the military authority. So paradoxically, the money earned by these men through their own labours was almost certainly used to pay the executioners of many of them, and for the vehicles used to transport them to where they would be shot.

Continuing the theme of confiscations, many townspeople saw themselves being dispossessed of their belongings, even their dwellings, and we know that three people were relieved of three horses, one mare, one mule, eleven pigs, two lambs and 73 goats, plus their harvest of wheat, barley, oats and other cereals, as well as clothes and furniture. On 7 December, there was an auction of livestock abandoned by the Republicans.

Special mention should be made of the case of the town’s auditor, the doctor José Franco Rodríguez, whose wife Amalia Ochoa Vázquez had to flee with her 15-year-old daughter to her home town of Arcos after the arrest and execution of her husband. In her house, 27 C/ Sainz de Andino, all their belongings remained under embargo until 17 June 1939, when their furniture was moved to the old town hall in the Plaza de San Jorge.

The population had to face successive requisitions to supply the Nationalist army, including the trucks of Manuel Torres Mateo and Juan Romero Rodríguez, automobiles such as that of Salvador Cerejido García, who was forced to provide services with his car for the Falange and the Civil Guard, and even horses, mares and domesticated mules.

Alcalá gold donated to the Cause
Gold and silver were also confiscated, a total of 3.6 kg of gold. There were fines for hiding them, as in the case of Adela Sánchez Flores fined 1,000 ptas [€2,000 today] on 12 April 1937. Even unusable materials, scrap metal and used paper, was confiscated, filling a lorry with 5 tonnes on 21 December 1937. There were confiscations of chickpeas, potatoes, eggs, skins and wool. At the end of 1938 cornflour was being used as a substitute for wheat flour, due to a shortage of the latter.

There were "whip-rounds" of all kinds. In November 1936 there was a collection for the sustenance of the Nationalist army, with the town hall contributing 500 ptas. From then on this became a monthly subscription, raising 4,736 ptas by August 1938. Also in December 1936 there was a collection to provide Christmas boxes for soldiers at the Front, raising 937 ptas. In 1938 the Town Hall contributed 1000 ptas to this end.

There were collections to assist the liberated cities, and in February 1937 Alcalá contributed 3,075 ptas to the citizens of Malaga. In February 1939, 2004 ptas were deposited in the Banco de España to aid the liberated citizens of Catalonia.

Moreover, the town council participated in many initiatives from military and other institutions. The most striking was the creation on 17 October 1938, at the request of General Quepo de Llano, for a local commission to collect donations for the restoration of the chapel of the Virgin Macarena in Seville, destroyed by the Marxists. The local corporation contributed 50 ptas, and in February of the following year sent a further 280 ptas raised from collections.

In February 1937 a fee was collected from the townspeople to join the tribute to General Franco, and in October the same year, local councillors joined the initiative of the City Council of Osuna requesting the title of Knight of the Grand Imperial Order of Red arrows for General Quepo de Llano.

In June 1938, the Alcalá council contributed 250 ptas to the tribute organised by its Jerez-based counterpart to General Varela,. It even participated in the first celebration of the Red Cross flag in December 1937, collecting 95 ptas.

The Romería of 1936 was not celebrated at the Sanctuary but in the town, where the Virgin had been brought at the start of the war to avoid possible damage, and although it wasn’t planned, there was a procession due to the arrival of civic militia from El Puerto, including members of the Falange and the Requetés. The Virgin was accompanied by lines of Falangist women and the female branch of the Requetés, the Margaritas, who even sang saetas to her. Another high point in this religious exaltation took place on Sunday 23 May 1937, when there was a procession petitioning the Virgin to end the war with the triumph of the Nationalist troops. This procession departed at 7.30 pm from the Church of the Victoria [Alameda] ending at the feet of Our Lady in the parish church of San Jorge [Plaza Alta].

Romería with Nuestra Señora de los Santos in modern times

Despite the war being over, between 1 April and 31 August 1939 there were 130 more arrests, 89 of which were due to the simple fact of coming from the Republican zone. Many of these detainees ended up being transferred to other prisons and subsequently tried.

The war left a desolate panorama in Alcalá, for in our investigations we have been able to identify 44 deaths in the Nationalist camp, all due to the activities of war, with the exception of one who fell victim of an illness contracted at the Front, and another who drowned while swimming in a river. To this total must be added at least 22 mutilated, on the same side.

Meanwhile on the defeated side, the figures are even more heart-rending.  We have already identified 51 people native to or living in Alcalá who were shot or murdered, to which must be added an alcalaino shot in Cádiz and another in Ceuta, four who died in prison, and two in German concentration camps. We can only be certain of one Republican alcalaino who died in battle. There were many more who were judged by a Tribunal of Political Responsibilities, with documentation regarding 38 incarcerations, 4 death sentences, 21 suspensions, 22 acquittals, and another 22 of which we have been unable to discover their outcomes. In addition there were five convicted of Freemasonry, and another four whose outcomes remain undiscovered, not to mention the records of property seizures, which affected at least 26 people.

Later would come the years of hunger, with the introduction of ration cards in October 1939.  The shortages became so acute that there were days when no bread could be produced in Alcalá due to a lack of wheat, forcing that to be rationed too from March 1940.

09 August 2018

Exhibition by Alfonso Barrera

Local artist Alfonso Jiménez Barrera will be exhibiting some of his paintings at the Santo Domingo cultural centre this coming week.  Visitors to the flamenco bar on the Plaza Alta will already by familiar with his signature work, a stunning townscape of Alcalá, painted in photographic detail, which hangs in the dining area.

The exhibition is organised by the alumni association of the Sagrada Familia school (SAFA), and is open from 8 pm starting Saturday 11 August.

Born in Alcalá de los Gazules in 1959, Alfonso has always been interested in the arts, especially painting and drawing.  Over the past few years he has dedicated himself full-time to his artistic works, and is well on the way to making a name for himself across Spain, winning various awards and participating in exhibitions in Barcelona and Madrid.

Alfonso is self-taught, and is now passing on his techniques to local adults and children in classes held his own workshop.  His skill and patience as a teacher bring out abilities they never knew they had.

04 August 2018

Alcalá wants its bronze back!

Alcalá has made news this week by submitting a formal request to the Louvre museum in Paris for the return of the Lascut Bronze, an ancient Roman relic discovered here in 1866.

The tiny bronze tablet was sold to the Louvre in 1868 by a Polish engineer, who had acquired it for next to nothing from some local labourers who found it on some land just outside the town, an ancient settlement known as la Mesa de Esparragal (or so the story goes).

Dating from 189 BC, it is one of the first Latin inscriptions to be discovered on the Iberian peninsula, freeing the inhabitants of Lascuta from servitude as a gesture of gratitude for their assistance in crushing a rebellion in Astia Regia, near what is now Jerez.

The first attempt by the Alcalá administration to retrieve its treasure took place in the 1980s, when local councillor Gabriel Almagro wrote to the Louvre.  They didn't refuse outright, but said there was no way they could comply at that time.  They offered instead another artifact owned by Spain.  Almagro contacted the Spanish Minister of Culture to explain the situation, but there is no evidence of any reply.  Eventually the Louvre sent an exact replica of the bronze, which is now displayed in the town hall.

Two years later Gabriel's brother, the historian Ismael Almagro, did his own investigations into the origins of the bronze.   His findings are available in Spanish on the Historia de Alcalá blog.   He claims that it was not dug up in the Mesa de Esparragal, as was commonly believed, but was found in the parish church of St George during some building work.  His evidence for this claim was an entry in the parish records of the sum of 500 reales, being half the proceeds of the sale of an object found in the church.  The parish priest had sold said object to Ladislas Lazeski, a Polish engineer who was in the area working on the construction of a new road. Lazeski later donated it to the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Arts, from which it it was acquired by the Louvre.

Almagro concluded that the other half of the proceeds was paid to the masons who found the bronze.  It appears likely that the priest decided to fudge the details of the sale, given that it was nothing to do with the church or the Catholic faith.

Ismael Almagro with the original bronze in the Louvre

More significantly, Almagro's research suggests that the Tower of Lascutana, mentioned on the bronze, was not located on the Mesa de Esparragal as proposed by earlier historians, but in Alcalá itself.  Although there was definitely a settlement on the Mesa, and the remains of a tower can be seen there today, he argued that since the word "lascut" means rocky, it would more logically refer to La Coracha, the large rocky outcrop on which Alcalá castle was later constructed.  The discovery of the bronze nearby in the church, rather than several miles away at the Mesa, strengthens this argument, as do subsequent discoveries of further Roman artefacts within the town.

So Alcalá wasn't merely a watchtower for the settlement on the Mesa, but an authentic Roman city at least 2,500 years old.  The bronze, giving the local people the right to own and work the land, is effectively a founding charter for an independent municipality, which later became known as Alcalá de los Gazules.

In light of this, this new attempt by our current mayor Javier Pizarro to restore the bronze to its place of origin seems completely justified.  And this time, he has the support of the PSOE, Diputación de Cádiz and the Junta de Andalucía.

La Mesa de Esparragal