Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Spanish Civil War in Lérida Province, Continued:

In the last segment, we saw that some 1100 people were killed for political reasons by Republican elements in Lérida province between July 1936 and Lérida's fall to the Nationals, the great majority in the months of Red Terror following the attempted National coup and the leftist revolutionary response.

The number of dead was very different--numerically and as a proportion of the population--in the different comarcas; the differences between some towns and others were even greater.

Until the end of the month of September, a common occurence was that, in the towns near the roads which the soldiers used to go to or return from the front (in Aragon), the militiamen would point out to their comrades who the "fascists" in their towns were so that, when they passed through, they could "throw a scare into them". It was also common for bands from one town to go "throw a scare into" the next town, to kill or to burn the church, while allowing others to do the same thing in their own towns. The decisiveness and, even, bravery, of the local committees were necessary to face "the unrestrained" (els incontrolats). These actions ended in September and October. There were towns where there were not only no fatal victims, but where nobody was even imprisoned. (Not anywhere near where my wife comes from there weren't. --JC)

One aspect that stands out, perhaps above others, is that the most numerous group of victims were members of the clergy--secular and regular (i.e. priests, monks, and nuns)--: in the Segrià they were 30% of the total, in the Noguera 52.8%, in the Garrigues 15%, in the Solsonés 25.7%, in the Alt Urgell 16.9%, in Pallars Jussà 52.6%, in Pallars Sobirà 72.7%, in the Segarra 71.1, in the Vall d'Aran 70%, and in Urgell 59.2% If we take into account the small proportion of the clergy within the total population, these percentages show the chilling depth of anticlericalism in those comarcas.
(In my mother-in-law's village, Montoliu de Segarra, they shot the priest. He was apparently fingered by two locals who were in the POUM, and a POUM hit squad came down from Cervera. My mother-in-law really detests the POUM even though it was Franco who put her dad in prison. She kind of gets the point of the brutality of the Franco regime--she hates Franco, too, but in a different way--but she doesn't understand the seemingly random killing of the POUM. --JC)

We will center our analysis of the violence that occured in the comarcas of Lérida province, most of which was a rear-guard area of the Aragon front, upon the city of Lérida, where persons from the villages of the Segrià and from other comarcas were taken to be killed, as it was the provincial capital and the seat of the popular tribunals.

Between July 20 and August 18, 1936, the first month of the war, in Lérida there were no courts; that was a cruel month. On July 25 the daily "Combat"--belonging to the POUM--made a public condemnation of violence, demanding the punishment of the guilty: "Always, in every crows around a cadaver...appear those who take advantage, elements of the lumpen from the lowest levels. In Lérida they have begun to swarm...Revolution is not robbery...sacking dishonors the does using weapons in strictly personal disputes...we order our militants to arrest the criminals and to be inexorable in their punishment."
(As for personal disputes, my mother-in-law claims that a family that disliked theirs ratted her dad out, falsely, after the Franco takeover in 1939. --JC)

Later, the daily "UHP"--belonging to the PSUC, the unified Socialists and Communists--made similar condemnations, recommending the reading of the book "Danger in the rear guard" by Joan Peiró. In the future the daily "Acracia" would also condemn the actions of the "incontrolats". The violence, however, continued, despite the fact that its authors were members of those parties that condemned it and ordered the punishment of the guilty.

In that first month of war, between July 20 and August 18, 144 people were murdered at the cemetery, the parade ground, or in the streets. Most were rebels, clergy, and also civilians who were not implicated in the (National) uprising.

On August 18 the Committee of Public Safety in Lérida created a Popular Tribunal, to whose formation neither the Catalan regional government (Generalitat) nor the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias contributed. This tribunal was formed to put an end to the wave of crime. The day after it was formed, and before it began its actions, there was a "saca"--an attack on a prison--of 74 people who were shot at the cemetery. On August 25 a military column led by García Oliver, which was marching to the Aragon front, after spending the day in Lérida--where the majority got drunk, according to some witnesses-- set the cathedral on fire, pulled down the Gothic Virgin Mary on Santa María Hospital, and shot 21 political prisoners on the parade ground. That week, between August 18 and August 25, was the most dramatic. In Lérida 112 people were killed without any judicial authority, and the atmosphere was one of tragic and agonizing public violence.

The Popular Tribunal, created by the Committee of Public Safety, was active between August 22 and October 13, and, perhaps to demonstrate to the "incontrolats" that it would not fall into the passivity of the first days of the revolt regarding trying the crimes of the accused, publicly boasted that in some cases its sentence was predetermined. This made the trials (of political prisoners, not of incontrolats) a simple show, in which the chief judge, Josep "One-Arm" Larroca, due to his sarcasm--which in those circumstances became cruelty--, became the center of attention of a numerous audience avid for a spectacle; among that audience there were also relatives and friends of those on trial, who watched impotently the useless efforts the accused made to defend himself.

The daily "Combat", in its "Popular Tribunal" section, published the names and places of residence of the people on trial, normally between 5 to 7 per day, and the sentence imposed; if the group was more numerous, the trial lasted, proportionally, more days. Not all those who were tried were sentenced to death; before the trial they had been interrogated, as far as is documented, one or more times.

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