13 October 2019

Francisca Pizarro Torres 1910-1989

In the brutal suppression of civilians that followed the Nationalist uprising in July 1936, women were not spared.  It was enough simply to be related to a Republican sympathiser.  This is the story of an incredibly courageous Alcalá woman who saw her family members gunned down by firing squad and who only survived by the skin of her teeth.  It was written by her granddaughter, Juana María Malia Vera, and published in Apuntes Históricos de Alcalá de los Gazules 2006.  The original is also available on the blog Historia de Alcalá de los Gazules.

My grandmother Francisca was born in Alcalá in August 1910 to Francisca Torres Amador and Antonio Pizarro Álvarez.  She had three brothers, José, Antonio and Francisco, and one sister, Maria.  Her mother died when Francisca was only nine years old, leaving her in charge of the household and her four siblings.  The youngest, Maria, was only two.  At that point she started to wear black, remaining in mourning for the rest of her life, and started work in her godmother’s bakery, peeling and crushing almonds.

Manuel Vera Jiménez, a young man a few years older than Francisca, fell in love with her.  Like almost everyone in Alcalá, he worked in cork production.  He was the son of Manuel Vera and Juana Jiménez (la Espejita).  He had two brothers, Juan and Rafael, and a sister, Maria.

Manuel and Francisca were married in 1926, when she was 16.  They were overjoyed when their first son was born, but he died a few days later, which was a hard blow for them.  Later came Francisca, Manuel, Juana Antonia and José.

My grandfather was a man of the Left, a Republican, and wrote books on those topics, as did my grandmother’s brother Francisco, a shoemaker and a member of the CNT [the Anarchist union].  Everything was going well, with the real hope of better times in Spain, until one night in the summer of 1936.

The Civil War was already a reality across Spain, but even so, the majority of people in Alcalá were trying to return to their day-to-day lives.  Then the relative peace they had enjoyed for just a few short days began to collapse.  Suddenly people from the town itself, fanatical supporters of the new regime, took up arms and with much hatred began what would be a most tragic period for Alcalá, the most atrocious and cruel repression anyone had ever known.  My grandmother said that it was rare for morning to break without some dead body thrown onto the street.

Within this group was a particular “gentleman” (whose name I will not reveal, out of respect for his family) who caused so much harm to my grandmother and her kin that many years later, on his deathbed, he called out her name saying that when he closed his eyes he saw corpses and blood on all sides, and in the agony of death he begged for her to come and forgive him.  Of course he died without seeing her; I don’t know if she would have ever found it in her heart to forgive him.

My grandfather Manuel Vera Jiménez, his brother Juan, and my uncle Francisco Pizarro were “sentenced”, as was  Manuel's mother Juana Jiménez, “la Espejita”.  On one occasion they warned her “Juana, shut up or we’ll come and kill you”.

My grandfather was advised to gather his family together and go far away from Alcalá, but he said that he had never done harm to anybody and that he would leave, but only to work on the cork as he had always done.

One day a bomb fell from a plane and landed right in the Calle Real.  My aunt Francisca Vera remembers this event clearly, in spite of only being six years old at the time.  She tells how people went running all over the place, not knowing where to go.  She herself was with her mother in the bakery where she worked, and they ran out to find the rest of the family.

My grandmother was warned that they were asking the whereabouts of her husband in order to arrest him.  That same afternoon she, along with her sister Maria and their children, went off to look for him without knowing exactly which farm he was working on.  Nightfall found them in La Palmosa, and they slept in the open air, huddled together under a tree.  The next morning they carried on walking, asking the workers on their way home if anyone knew where Manuel Jiménez was.  Someone told them he was in Las Cobatillas, so they set off in that direction.

On the way they met a lorry loaded with Moroccans who were coming to assist Franco.  Many were the barbaric deeds they committed.  When they saw Maria, so pretty and just 16 years old, they called at her, wolf-whistling, and almost forced her into boarding the lorry.   It could have been disastrous.  She screamed and sobbed, resisting. My grandmother fell to her knees, begging them tearfully to leave them in peace.  Fortunately another lorry arrived, and one of their superiors ordered them in their own language to let Maria go.

My grandfather froze with shock when he saw them arrive.  That was when he realised how bad things were in Alcalá, and that he had no alternative but to flee far away, before they found him and shot him along with the others.  They decided that it would be the best thing for all of them.

My grandmother, with her sister and the children, set off for La Bovedilla to rejoin her in-laws.  They had a shack there where they all stayed for a while, until some Falangist thugs turned up and arrested Juana Jiménez and her son Juan.

Detention record for Juana Jiménez, from the municipal archive.
 Prisoners would never give their address: "No lo dice".

Francisca stayed there with the others, but soon another armed gang arrived, interrogating her about her husband.  They took her to the prison in Alcalá to be held until Manuel Jiménez showed up.  The whole family implored the men to leave her with them, but their tears were to no avail as they separated them with the butts of their shotguns.   When I asked my aunt about this time, she still remembered how much her stomach hurt from the blows.  She was just a little girl.  They took Francisca and her little daughter to the jail in Alcalá, but as the days passed and my grandfather Manuel didn’t appear, they decided to transfer them to La Linea de la Concepción.

Maria, now in charge of everyone, put her pain to one side and set about speaking to anyone who might be able to help her sister return home safely.  She also contacted her brothers to let them know the situation, with the hope that they might help resolve the tragic situation.

Her brother Antonio was doing military service in the Legion when war broke out, and was caught in the Nationalist zone, so he could do nothing to help.  Francisco, “Faico” as he was known, remained in Alcalá.  Faico was a real worry for María, in constant fear of being arrested and shot, which would indeed happen a few days later.  It would be José who eventually helped secure Francisca's release.

In prison at La Línea, my grandmother realised straight away that neither her mother-in-law Juana nor her brother-in-law Juan were there, and when she asked about them she was told they had been moved to the bullring.  They explained that was where they took people to be be shot by firing squad.

I can imagine the terror and desperation with which Francisca received this news, which would be aggravated even further a few days later when she herself and her sickly little daughter were taken to the bullring.  When they arrived she saw how all the prisoners were packed together sitting on the ground.  Straight away she saw Juana and Juan, and they embraced each other weeping, not understanding why she had been arrested too.

My grandmother remembered with real panic how names were constantly being called out, sometimes to be interrogated and sometimes to be executed.  They interrogated her about the whereabouts of her husband, and she kept repeating that she didn't know.  When she asked what whould happen to her daughter after she had been killed they told her not to worry, as there was a soldier prepared to adopt her.

I remember when I was very small, at the end of the programmes broadcast by the two television channels we had then, around midnight, they would show a photo of Franco and play the national anthem.  My grandmother would have a panic attack on hearing it, and always asked us to turn off the set.  Later when she told me her life story for the first time, everything that had happened to her, I understood why: when they executed someone in the bullring they would play the national anthem.  This happened the day they called Juan Vera Jiménez. They told his mother to say goodbye to her son, as he was about to be shot.  Juana Jiménez ran towards him; they shot her as well.  My grandmother always said that the two of them died embracing each other.  She heard the shots.

When they took away the bodies they realised that Juana, executed for the crime of being a Communist, was carrying in her pocket a bunch of holy saints' medals attached to a pin.

With almost all hope lost, there came the news that her brother José had managed to obtain a pardon for Francisca.  At that time he was working in the bakery of Agustin Pérez, a gentleman with some influence.  Without much explanation they let her go.  She  walked from La Línea de la Concepción to Algeciras, carrying her daughter in her arms.  From there she took the bus to Alcalá.

On her return she discovered that her brother Francisco, “Faico”, was being held in custody.  They wouldn’t let her see him.  The jailer took pity on my grandmother with everything she had gone through, and told her to come back in the morning when he would let her in.  One morning she was told he was no longer there.  The same answer must have been heard by many other families of execution victims.  They had taken him the previous night to Casas Viejas.

There were witnesses to his execution, most notably a woman who lived nearby and saw how they shot him in the legs, leaving him badly injured.  This woman said that when he asked for water, he was told to go to the river.  This he did, dragging himself along, finally managing to reach the river where he bled to death.

Of my grandfather Manuel Jiménez little is known, I imagine he was hiding out in the mountains. He stayed there for some time, once coming down to Alcalá in the early morning despite the risk he ran.  A friend of his who during the war was taken prisoner by the Republicans, told my grandmother that he had seen him wearing a captain’s uniform.  We don’t know how he died.  There are various different versions: that he died trying to pass into France, or that he died of an injury in Valencia and is buried somewhere there.

One morning there appeared painted on a neighbour's door the name of the owner of the house, followed by the word “murderer”.  They blamed my aunt María and took her to the cells.  Sometimes luck is on the side of the victims.  María Pizarro did not know how to write; it could not have been her.  She decided to go and work in Algeciras.  My uncles and my mother told me that they used to go crazy with joy when she returned at weekends and they would meet her off the bus, loaded with presents for everyone, especially for the littlest ones, who always adored her.

Little by little things started to get better.  My grandmother started to make confectionery, getting more and more orders over time.  She set up a sweet-shop on the Calle Real, and my mother used to serve behind the counter.

Before she herself passed away, Francisca had to endure the great pain of losing her siblings José and María, her niece Margarita and her own daughter Antonia, my mother, that sickly little girl who was with my grandmother during her stay in the prison at La Línea.

I am amazed by what an incredible woman my grandmother was, and how she found the strength to get up each morning trying to find a chink of light in her life to keep her from going under and taking her whole family with her. I admire her even more on remembering how she would mask over all the hardships she had endured with such special grace, sometimes bad-tempered, but always wonderful and affectionate.

My grandmother FRANCISCA PIZARRO TORRES died in Alcalá de los Gazules, the place where she always said she wanted to die.  She was 79 years old.

She never wanted us to raise our arms in a Francoist salute, even in play.  She was terrified and immediately raised her left fist in the Republican salute, sometimes singing a verse from some song of protest.