Tag Archives: Bilbao

Le petit mort

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A Juan Larrea

¡Oh deseable! Tan deseable muerte por un momento que trasciende el sueño. Desvelaré la confesión oculta bajo el carmín de tus labios, bajo el carmín verde de tus labios, con alguna que otra nube traspasada por dagas en mis besos. Cómo me atraviesa el rayo desde la A a la U. Pero cómo veo todo, con ojos en blanco, cuando me poseen los versos que escribe locamente mi mano fenicia a expensas mías, en plenitud de desmayo. Yo te invoco Damisela con voz fugaz sin escapatoria, por tu color a rebelde barco, en la ciudad que desde que la abandonaste arde todos los diciembres de cada mes, por la primavera que da a luz de cabaret tu claustrofobia impenetrable donde reinaba el humo de los motines, y tu poderosa voz sembrada de tantas puertas, ¡ay Damisela! cuando hasta tus rodillas se alzaban las columnas de los estilitas, cuando no dejas de ser un continente de las primicias para los tronos de la historia, cuando con tu lengua estrenaste un torreón en medio que relame de vez en cuando el mar golpeado por un martillo, ¡ay Damisela! mientras con tu respiración encendida de celdas, mientras con tus jadeos de carnaval perpetuo, mientras con tu silencio de enorme campana de cristal dieron las doce del espíritu y despiertan a su ser las cosas todas de su letargo.

Sergio Oiarzabal (1973-2010), “Delicatessen Underground (Bilbao Ametsak)” (2008).


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a:  to make a final choice or judgment about

b:  to select as a course of action

c:  to infer on the basis of evidence:  conclude

d:  to bring to a definitive end

e:  to induce to come to a choice

f:  to make a choice or judgment

Within the context of the swell and unparalleled power that we individuals are able to exercise in the so-called Western society regarding the ability to choose from an unborn baby’s sex to religion, citizenship and even physical aspect, it is incomprehensible how difficult it becomes when addressing the issue of exercising the rights of political national groups and their capability to decide on a collective basis.

From the 28th to the 30th of May, international experts debated the meaning of Basque nationhood in a globalizing world in Bilbao. Organized by the International Catalan Institute for Peace, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and the University of the Basque Country, the meeting explored the meaning of sovereignty from many different angles as it is everyday practiced. On the last day of the conference, local social groups shared their experiences on practicing “sovereignty” by acting upon it on their daily decisions, for instance, about promoting the use of the Basque language, Euskera, the respect for our environment, and defending the workers’ rights. Among those groups, Gure Esku Dago (It’s in our hands) embodies this theoretical concept of “sovereignty” as an initiative in favor of the right to decide. On the 8th of June, this popular initiative will organize a human chain of 123 kilometers uniting the cities of Durango (Bizkaia) and Iruña (Navarre). As of today, more than 100,000 people are supporting the event, in the homeland as well as in the diaspora.

Gure-Esku-Dago-Argentina“Gure Esku Dago” in Argentina. Supported by the Federation of Basque-Argentinean Entities (FEVA).

Coincidentally, on the 29th the Basque Autonomous Community Parliament (Basque Parliament, hereafter) adopted, by a majority vote, a resolution on the right of self-determination of the Basque People as a basic democratic right as it previously did in 1990, 2002 and 2006. Two days and 20 years earlier, the Public Law 8/1994, passed by the Basque Parliament, became the current legal framework of institutional relationship between the Basque Autonomous Community and the diaspora, which was established in order to “preserve and reinforce links between Basque Communities and Centers on the one hand, and the Basque Country on the other hand,” and to “facilitate the establishment of channels of communication between Basque residents outside the Basque Autonomous Community, and the public authorities of the latter.” Indeed, the passing of the law itself became a clear act of sovereignty, which legally recognized the existence of a large population of Basque people outside its administrative borders—a true transnational  community of citizens—and provided a formal framework for collaboration. Looking back there is a need to acknowledge the visionary work done by Karmelo Sáinz de la Maza—the main person behind the law—or the late Jokin Intxausti—the first government delegate in charge of re-establishing contacts with the various Basque diaspora associations and communities—among many others.

Carmelo_Urza_Jokin_Intxausti_and_William_A_DouglassCarmelo Urza, Jokin Intxausti, and William Douglass, at the then Basque Studies Program, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), 1986. Photo Source: Basque Library, UNR.

Also, the anniversary of the Law 8/1994, which surprisingly has passed unnoticed, offers us an opportunity to rethink our identity in terms of a borderless citizenship within the context of the current Basque presence in the world. The fact is that the reality of today’s mobility and return to the Basque Country is quite different from past emigration waves. It is necessary, in my opinion, to adequate the law to the new flows of migration and return, while enhancing and strengthening the programs towards the needs and demands of individuals and associations with the goal of intertwining a solid global network based on common interests.


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Recap: Volume III, 2013

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Similar to the imminent art of improvising verses in the Basque language, or bertsolaritza, our life, especially in the digital world, is ephemeral. This oral tradition reaffirms and expresses an identity rooted in a specific area but with a global projection thanks to the emergent technologies of information and communication. Since its inception Basque Identity 2.0 has assumed the challenge of its own fugacity by exploring different expressions of Basque identity, understood in transnational terms, through a global medium. Perhaps, this comes down to accepting that our ephemeral condition is what really helps to shape our collective memory and identity, and which are constantly revisited and reconstructed.

Bertsolaritza-2013Maialen Lujanbio, bertsolari or Basque verse improviser, sings about the Basque diaspora. Basque Country Championship, Barakaldo (Bizkaia), December 15, 2013. Source: Bertsoa.

In June, we celebrated the 4th anniversary of Basque Identity 2.0. I would like to acknowledge our colleagues and friends from A Basque in Boise, About the Basque Country, EITB.com and Hella Basque for their continuous support and encouragement (“Sucede que a veces”—“It happens sometimes,” May post).

We began the year reflecting on our historical memory, which has increasingly become a recurrent topic in the blog for the past two years. Through the stories of Pedro Junkera Zarate—a Basque child refugee in Belgium from the Spanish Civil war—Jules Caillaux—his foster dad while in Belgium, and one of the “Righteous among the Nations”—and Facundo Sáez Izaguirre—a Basque militiaman who fought against Franco and flew into exile—I attempted to bring some light into a dark period of our history. Their life stories are similar to some extent to many others whose testimonies are critical to understand our most recent history of self-destruction and trauma (“Algunas personas buenas”—“Some good people,” February post). Some of these stories are part of an ongoing oral history project on Basque migration and return. As part of the research I was able go back to the United States to conduct further interviews and to initiate a new community-based project called “Memoria Bizia” (“#EuskalWest2013,” November post).

In addition, May 22 marked the 75th anniversary of the massive escape from Fort Alfonso XII, also known as Fort San Cristóbal, in Navarre, which became one of the largest and most tragic prison breaks, during wartime, in contemporary Europe. This was the most visited post in 2013 (“The fourth man of California,” March post).

On the politics of memory, I also explored the meaning of “not-forgetting” in relation to the different commemorations regarding the siege of Barcelona 299 years ago, the coup d’état against the government of Salvador Allende 40 years ago, and the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States. Coincidentally, September 11th was the date of these three historical tragic events (“El no-olvido”—“Not-to-forget,” September post).

The Spanish right-wing newspaper ABC led the destruction of the persona of the late Basque-American Pete Cenarrusa, former Secretary of the State of Idaho (United States), by publishing an unspeakable obituary. Nine blogs from both sides of the Atlantic (A Basque in Boise, About Basque CountryBasque Identity 2.0Bieter Blog, 8 Probintziak, Nafar Herria, EuskoSare, Blog do Tsavkko – The Angry Brazilian, and Buber’s Basque Page) signed a common post, written in four different languages, to defend Cenarrusa (“Pete Cenarrusaren defentsan. In Memorian (1917-2013)”—“In defense of Pete Cenarrusa. In Memorian (1917-2013),” October post). It was a good example of digital networking and collaboration for a common cause. However, this was not an isolated event regarding the Basque diaspora. Sadly, nearly at the same time, ABC’s sister tabloid El Correo published a series of defamatory reports against the former president of the Basque Club of New York. Once again, ignorance and hatred laid beneath the personal attacks against public figures, for the only reason of being of Basque origin.

Basque literature, in the Spanish and English languages, was quite present in the blog throughout the year. Mikel Varas, Santi Pérez Isasi, and Iván Repila are among the most prolific and original Basque artists of Bilbao, conforming a true generation in the Basque literature landscape of the 21st century (“Nosotros, Bilbao”—“We, Bilbao,” April post). The year 2013 also marked the 10th anniversary of “Flammis Acribus Addictis,” one of most acclaimed poetry books of the late Sergio Oiarzabal, who left us three years ago (“Flammis Acribus Addictis,” June post). The blog also featured the late Basque-American author Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton’s book, “Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees”, which is a welcoming breath of fresh air for the younger readers (“Yes!July post).

This has been a year filled with opportunities and challenges. Personally, I have been inspired by the greatness of those who keep moving forward in spite of tragedy and unforeseen setbacks, and by those who are at the frontline of volunteering (“Aurrera”—“Forward,” December post).

Thank you all for being there. Now, you can also find us on Facebook. I would love to hear from you. Happy New Year!

Eskerrik asko eta Urte berri on!

(NOTE: Remember to use Google Translate. No more excuses about not fully understanding the language of the post).


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Flammis Acribus Addictis

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“Confutatis maledictis,

Flammis Acribus Addictis,

voca me cum benedictis”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Requiem Mass (K626) in D Minor, Vienna in 1791)

Ten years ago Basque poet Sergio Oiarzabal, from Bilbao, won the National Poetry Prize Miguel Hernández Foundation in 2003 with his acclaimed work “Flammis Acribus Addictis,” which was published two years later. He defined his literary work with the concept of “violent poetry,” understood as a passionate, impetuous, and fiery poetry. He was influenced by the French Surrealism and the Generation of ‘27 movements. Sergio became one of the most significant figures of his generation in the world of Basque poetry written in Spanish.


con tus labios que al separarlos de mí,

de mí hicieron una marejada que se aleja,

con tu voz que al susurrarse en mis oídos,

peine las altas hierbas de mi gran silencio,

con tu piel que junto a mi piel son y serán

barcas y arena de crepúsculos rojizos,

no, nadie me ha querido como tú.

(Fragment of the poem “Sociedad Secreta” ©).



la doy en la escarcha que aguarda con mis siglos la ceniza,

y avanza hasta la sequía pero cantando en las piedras que con mis labios se hicieron redondas,

y la reparto con las semillas que olvidaran el origen tan tuyo de estas raíces;

una palabra que fuera salvación en el naufragio de las tempestades,

una palabra que celebra misas negras en los festines del exceso,

una palabra que será amotinamiento y última afrenta en los calabozos y el patíbulo,

para los niños con pulgas que un día se reirán de que lloraron,

para las reinas de la lencería roja que únicamente lamen lascivas mentiras viejas,

para los muertos míos que un día besé en el esplendor de todas sus cicatrices,

únicamente mi palabra,

aquellos erizos que hicieron galerías en las sombrías tierras de un alma y en su fango,

estas cuerdas que hoy la mañana hace de sus horas un arpa inmensa de resplandores,

tantas gusanas que carcomen con ocasos huesos tan rotos como los de mi voz negra;

únicamente mi palabra,

que soportó mis latidos días, meses, años, y centurias con rigor de semilla, con paciencia que roe demoras,

únicamente mi palabra,

hasta que de una vez y para siempre sople el viento sople, estas y todas mis palabras de arena inoportuna

(Poem “Auto de Fe” ©).

Mozart Requiem Mass, Confutatis maledictis.

acaso no tiembla la tierra como una hoja cuando se aproxima ardiendo el otoño?
pero en mi voz la primavera me otorga el pleno gozo de lo jamás vivido,
y ¡ay de mi corazón de agua cercado por cinco lunas nuevas!
No, no temo más muerte que el fulgor de un último rayo,
que el final de las escalinatas podridas,
que el cáliz no ofrecido en ceremonias secretas,
o que la visión del precipicio hacia los vientos enzarzados en llamas,
no, no temeré más muerte.
Yo no seré la rosa que se abre y marchita en un mismo tallo,
habré de ser fugaz la estrella que atraviesa el universo de una vez para siempre,
y ¡ay de mi corazón negro cercado por cinco lunas de agua!
Cada mañana rastreo las huellas de un sol que se aleja con asco,
dejo una daga ensangrentada en las humaredas que por los cielos huyen,
deshojo con ensueño margaritas de una infancia que no se olvida,
y enloquecido le susurro a los labios carnosos de la noche y el beso;
no tengo miedo a la muerte no, tengo miedo a morir,
a siempre quizás echar el cerrojo de un último verso por su actitud parricida,
¡y ay de mi corazón de piedras cercado por cinco lunas de musgo!

(Poem “Aseranada” ©).

“Only when I write I speak out…my best poem is the one I have not written yet.” Sergio left us today three years ago, at the age of 36.


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Sucede que a veces

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 “Pero sucede también que, sin saber cómo ni cuándo, algo te eriza la piel y te rescata del naufragio

Ismael Serrano (Sucede que a veces, 2005)

— ¿Sabes a qué día estamos?

— Estamos a 30. Me lo preguntas por el blog ¿verdad?

— Pues, sí. ¿Y? ¿Tienes preparado algo? No me digas que este mes no vas a escribir nada.

— No sé qué decirte. Me siento mal porque va a ser la primera vez que no escribo en los cuatro años de vida de Basque Identity 2.0. ¡Cómo pasa el tiempo! Cuando empezó todo esto me decía, “Qué menos que escribir al menos una vez al mes”. Pues ya ves, estamos a 24 horas de terminar mayo, y…nada de nada. No sé me ocurre nada. Quizás es hora de pensar que todo lo que tiene un inicio también tiene un final…

— ¡¡Cuatro años!! Y además estáis de enhorabuena, acabáis de renovar el diseño de todos los blogs…Si es que ya no nos da la vida. Cuánta razón tienes. Nos pasa a todos. No te preocupes. En fin…¿Y en que andas metido?

— Estoy preparando un trabajo que voy a presentar en una conferencia sobre “Testimonios Digitales de Guerra y Trauma” en Róterdam, entre el 12 y el 14 de junio. Ah, y lo mejor es que ya tenemos preparado la nueva edición de Euskal Herria Mugaz Gaindi, y ya va por la novena. Y esta vez lo hacemos en Bilbao.

— ¿Y de qué va?

— Vamos a hablar sobre las diversas migraciones y exilios vascos que han ocurrido a lo largo de la historia, pero haciéndolo desde la perspectiva de aquellos que regresaron a Euskal Herria. La verdad es que estoy muy ilusionado con el seminario por la buena aceptación que ha tenido: una veintena de ponentes, de once instituciones, de seis países…Y pensar que tan solo hace nueve años Mugaz Gaindi era una pequeña reunión de amigos interesados en el devenir de los estudios vascos y de aquellos que en su día abandonaron el país. Es increíble cómo cambia todo. Y sucede que a veces cambia a mejor.

— ¿Y cómo se llama? ¿Cuándo es?

— El título del seminario es “Reflexiones sobre los Retornos en las Migraciones y los Exilios Vascos”, y tendrá lugar en la Universidad de Deusto los días 18 y 19 de junio.

IX EHMG Deusto 2013

— Vaya mes que te espera.

— Pues, a finales de junio me voy a Estados Unidos con un nuevo proyecto de investigación.

— ¡Qué suerte! Ya me contarás. Dime, ¿y cómo vais a celebrar el décimo aniversario del Mugaz Gaindi?

— Y si te digo…Nueva York, Nueva York…pero bueno esa es otra historia.

— No me extraña que no tengas tiempo para el blog.

— Podría decirse que es así, el trabajo, ya sabes, pero…solo en parte…al principio del mes me volvió a escribir…

— ¿Ha vuelto de América?

— No. Sigue allí, tan lejos y tan cerca como siempre.

— ¿Qué te decía?

— Recordaba su última carta: “Anoche soñaba que despertaba jugando con tu pelo, que paseábamos por la arena y que tus dedos de brisa acariciaban mis sentidos, y que recorría toda tu espalda muy despacio, sin prisa pero sin detener el tiempo. Anoche creíamos que la lluvia no pararía, y hoy el sol nos indica que el tiempo continúa. Echaré en falta todo lo que pudo ser…

— Creo que es la mejor excusa que jamás he oído en mi vida para no actualizar un blog. Pero volverá, ¿verdad?

— Sucede que a veces la vida no es solo trabajo…“Y siempre es viernes, siestas de verano…abrazos que incendian la aurora en las playas del sur…”


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Nosotros, Bilbao

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Luna de aquel Bilbao… allí vivió el amor… cuantos recuerdos… llevo aquí adentro… sé que les vuelvo a contar siempre el mismo cuento, pero no habrá un lugar donde una pueda estar tocando el más allá, como el Bilbao

Bertolt Brecht y Kurt Weill (Canción de Bilbao, 1929)

En estos tiempos donde siempre hay alguien que irremediablemente se empeña en sembrar sombras que se cuelan en nuestros sueños de ciudad improvisada; igualmente, digo, hay quienes imaginaron e imaginan otras geografías posibles iluminadas por destellos deletreados que dejan a las sombras vencidas, mientras perfilan coordenadas de compromiso y esperanza. Ayer fueron Juan, Blas, Gabriel o Ángela y muchos otros… hoy… bien podrían ser Mikel, Santi o Iván y otros muchos.

Mikel Varas (Bilbao, 1980)

“Cada instante, algo se quiebra y, situado entre la luz y el vacío, crea la sombra y hace que la luz tenga sentido… Me sirvo de la luz y de las sombras para escribir palabras en el aire, para que los pájaros puedan leerlas” (Artista).

Un Sol cabizbajo

borra mi silencio.

Un tumulto.

Un problema.

Una risa.

Un sollozo

pero solo en el ojo derecho.

El otro está cansado.

Se acostumbró a vivir…

A vivir llorando.

(Poema “Abando 5 a.m.”, Mikel Varas ©).


(Escultura “Agur”, de la Serie “Madera de Ciudad”, Mikel Varas ©).

Santi Pérez Isasi (Bilbao, 1978)

“Ahora me voy… Pero me quedo… Un bilbaíno nunca se aleja mucho de Bilbao, por muy lejos que vaya; un bilbaíno nunca es más bilbaíno que cuando está lejos de Bilbao. Bilbao seguirá siendo la ciudad de mi infancia, de mi familia y de mis amigos” (Dos años ya).

Una vez que estaba especialmente aburrido, o especialmente inspirado, no lo sé, decidí matarme. No suicidarme, que es una cosa tremendamente vulgar y que ya se ha hecho miles de veces, sino matarme como si matase a otra persona; matar a Santi Pérez Isasi, no a mí; no yo a mí mismo sino… bueno, eso.

Así que empecé a hacer las cosas que creo que haría si quisiera matar a otra persona. Primero, para disimular empecé a tratarme especialmente bien a mí mismo. Me llevaba a cenar a sitios caros; me acompañaba de librerías (aunque todo el mundo sabe que a mí en realidad también me gusta ir de librerías); me daba masajes en la espalda, en los pies, en las piernas… Sobre las cosas que me hacía a mí mismo en otras áreas prefiero no hablar.

Una vez conseguida mi confianza, empecé a llevar la cuenta de mis hábitos. Lamentablemente, pronto descubrí que Santi Pérez Isasi es una persona de pocos hábitos: es imposible saber a qué hora va a salir de casa, ir a trabajar o bajar a tomarse un café. Maldita vida sin horarios…

De manera que mi mejor opción de cogerme desprevenido era esperarme a la puerta de casa un día que hubiera salido… [cont.]

(Fragmento de “Matar a Santi Pérez Isasi”, Santi Pérez Isasi ©).

Iván Repila (Bilbao, 1978)

“Si quedara un solo hombre o una sola mujer sobre la Tierra, seguiría soñando. No tengo ninguna duda. Si quedaran dos, el primero le contaría el sueño al segundo” (Entrevista).

—¿Y qué crees que encontrarás al final?

—No me importa. Quizá haya un castigo, o una recompensa. Quizá haya dolor, nada más que dolor, un dolor tan blanco que me deje ciego. Me da igual. La vida es maravillosa, pero vivir es insoportable. Yo quiero acotar la existencia. Pronunciar durante un siglo una larga y única palabra, y que ella fuera mi verdadero testamento.

—¿Un testamento para quién?

—Para quienes puedan entenderlo.

—¿Crees que seré recordado?, pregunta el Pequeño.

—Quizá por tus contemporáneos, por tu generación, responde el Pequeño.

—Eso no es suficiente. No sé si pertenezco a alguna generación: ninguno de mis seres queridos tiene mi edad. Seré recordado por todos, hasta que no quede un solo hombre sobre la tierra.

—¿Y por qué habrías de serlo? [cont.]

(Fragmento de “El niño que robó el Caballo de Atila”, Iván Repila ©).

Mikel, Santi e Iván nos invitan a explorar una nueva cartografía de vocales y consonantes. Florecen nuevas letras en la ciudad de titanio con una clara voluntad de futuro y de acción, con libertad de estilo, imaginativa y comprometida.

Llego la primavera y pronto el verano, y los casi tres años transcurridos desde que Sergio nos dejó bien podrían haber sido tan solo tres interminables segundos que se funden en abrazos en el despertar de la noche. “Hacia la luna he de volar sobre ella, serpiente azul con mil ojos que adora el fondo que en su noche sueña en calma. Hasta entonces la observo en una estrella, vigilo por si vuela a cada hora y así no pierda Bilbao lo que es su alma”. Nuestro Bilbao.


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The fourth man of California

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Comrades, the doors opened, and slavery ended, breaking the heavy chains that oppressed youth. Be rebellious and never daunt before the enemy oppressor”

(The 1938 Fort San Cristóbal escape anthem written by Rogelio Diz Fuentes, Prisoner #1104, and Daniel Robado, Prisoner #1133)

Next May 22 marks the 75th anniversary of the massive escape from Fort Alfonso XII, also known as Fort San Cristóbal, which became one of the largest and most tragic prison breaks, during wartime, in contemporary Europe. However, History has not been too keen on recording this episode compared with similar events. Paul Brickhill’s autobiographical book “The Great Escape” (1950) narrates the heroic prison break of 76 allied prisoners of war from the German Stalag Luft III camp (Żagán, Poland) in March 1944. Fifty escapees were caught and murdered by the Gestapo, and only 3 succeeded by reaching Sweden and Spain, which were neutral territories during World War II. The story was immortalized by the memorable film “The Great Escape” (1963). On the other hand, in the case of the escape from Fort San Cristóbal, 795 people broke free, 206 were murdered, and, coincidentally, only 3 succeeded by crossing the French border. Contrarily, only silence, fear, and brutal repression resulted from this prison break.

Fuerte San Cristóbal / EzkabaAerial view of Fort San Cristóbal-Ezkaba. Image source: Iñaki Sagredo ©.

Located at the top of San Cristóbal or Ezkaba Mountain, a few miles away from Iruña (Nafarroa), the fort was built as a military compound between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Obsolete for its original purpose, the fort was turned into an improvised political prison from the very beginning of the Spanish Civil War until 1945.

Although it is difficult to know the exact number of inmates at the time of the escape, it is estimated that there were approximately 2,487 prisoners from different areas of Spain. Many of them were affiliated to or sympathizers of leftist and nationalist political parties and trade unions as well as soldiers and militiamen, loyal to the Republic and the Basque government. The harsh living conditions within the fort walls, hunger, sickness and the sadistic behavior of some wardens fuelled the prison break with the clear political goal of continuing the fight against the rebel troops. A planned mutiny led by Leopoldo Picó Pérez (Prisoner #319) and Baltasar Rabanillo Rodríguez (Prisoner #1012)—communist militants from Bilbao and Valladolid, respectively—resulted in freeing one-third of the total prison population. Many were ill-prepared for the escape, without provisions and proper clothing.

During the following days, nearly 28% of the escapees were brutally murdered by Francisco Franco’s army in the nearby fields and mountains, while the rest of the men were soon captured enduring forty days of isolation and inhuman treatment. Thirteen so-called leaders, including Baltasar, were sentenced to death. Leopoldo was also intercepted and brought to prison. He was shot without trial. Another 46 captured fugitives died in the fort between 1938 and 1943 due to sickness and sordid cruelty.

Only 3 men—Valentín Lorenzo Bajo, José Marinero Sanz, and Jovino Fernández González—as it was documented later on, succeeded in getting to the French border, 30 miles away from the fort.

However, the story did not end here. In 1998, a man visiting from California had a series of casual encounters with six different people in an area from where he recalled escaping to France after fleeing away from Fort San Cristóbal sixty years earlier. The man told them that he was born in Azagra (Nafarroa) in 1918, being imprisoned in the Ezkaba fort from where he broke free in 1938. He finally managed to cross the border, finding refuge in Martin Urrels’ farmhouse in Banka. There, he learnt about Martin’s two brothers, Michel and Jean, who lived in the Cedarville area, California, working as sheepherders. Michel and Jean had immigrated into the United States in 1910 and in 1914, respectively. From France he left to Mexico, crossing the border to California, where he worked for the Urrels brothers for a few years. The man went to explained how he enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, being deployed to Europe as part of a tank battalion. After the war, he got involved in the trucking business that his sons inherited.

This was the story as remembered by some of the people who met the strange visitor. In his 80s the man from California decided to reencounter the past through revisiting his memories. Though his identity is still a mystery, the story should corroborate the existence of a fourth escapee. This could mean that the Ezkaba escape was the most successful prison break in contemporary Europe.

Back in 1938, Diario de Navarra, a local newspaper, published a distorting note on the tragic event, while describing the escapees as “murderers, robbers, and thieves who had abused the human regime of Franco’s Spain.” The escape was another clear example of the official amnesia imposed by Franco during his four-decade dictatorial regime. However, it became part of the collective memory of many who never forgot May 22, 1938. In 2000, the Association Txinparta was set up to recover the historical memory of the Fort of San Cristóbal prisoners between 1934 and 1945. Similarly, in November 2002, the Association of the Family Members of the Executed, Murdered and Missing People in Navarre in 1936 was also established to honor the memory of more than 3,300 people who were murdered in Nafarroa during the Spanish Civil War. In 2006, Iñaki Alforja directed the documentary “Ezkaba, the great escape from Franco’s jails”.

If you have any information on the Fort San Cristóbal escape and, particularly, on the identity of the fourth man please contact us by sending a message. We would love to hear from you!

Many thanks to Fermín Ezkieta for sharing his excellent and extensive work on the history of the escapees from Ezkaba.


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Algunas personas buenas

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“El olvido lleva al exilio, mientras que la memoria es el secreto de la redención”

(Baal Shem Tov, 1698-1760)

En memoria de Julio Aróstegui

Estas breves palabras, profundamente reflexivas, custodian la salida del museo de historia en Yad Vashem—la Autoridad para el Recuerdo de los Mártires y Héroes del Holocausto—en Jerusalén. Tan solo hace unos días, el 27 de enero, se celebró el “Día Internacional de Conmemoración Anual en Memoria de las Víctimas del Holocausto”, cuya fecha, rememora aquel 27 de enero de 1945, cuando el Ejército Soviético entró en Auschwitz-Birkenau (Polonia), liberando lo que posteriormente fue definido como el mayor campo de exterminio del nazismo, y una de las mayores atrocidades en la historia contemporánea de la humanidad.

Pedro Junkera Zarate nació el 22 de noviembre de 1930 en Bilbao donde transcurrió su infancia hasta que con seis años fue evacuado junto a su hermana Ángeles, de ocho años, y cientos de otros niños vascos a Bélgica. Tras unos días en una colonia, los llevaron a Bruselas donde dos matrimonios decidieron hacerse cargo de ellos. Un matrimonio joven, formado por Jules Caillaux y Éva Samain, acogió a Pedro al que trataron como a un hijo, y a los que él cariñosamente siempre se ha referido como “papá” y “mamá”. Sus padres de acogida se desvivieron por él durante los tres años que vivió con ellos. Ángeles fue repatriada en 1939, y un año más tarde, también lo sería el propio Pedro. Bélgica ya no era un lugar seguro. A los pocos meses de la repatriación, el país fue invadido por Alemania. A lo largo de los años mantuvo el contacto con sus padres de acogida, y pudo visitarles, por primera vez, con veinte y tantos años, en un reencuentro que define como muy emocionante.  Poco conocía de los hechos de su padre Jules durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial y que fueron desvelándose a lo largo de los años.

Jules Caillaux nació el 31 de octubre de 1900 en Péronnes-lez-Binche, en la provincia valona de Hainaut. Fue voluntario en el Ejército Belga en 1918 durante la ocupación alemana del país en la Primera Guerra Mundial, y combatiente entre 1940 y 1945 durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y por cuya participación recibió un gran número de medallas honorificas. El 20 de noviembre de 1980, Yad Vashem reconoció a Jules Caillaux, de oficio electricista, como uno de los “Justos de las Naciones” por la protección otorgada a dos familias de origen judío—la familia de Roman Wachtel, refugiados de Austria, y el belga Oscar Fischer—quienes residían en su pueblo, Ohain, al sur de Bruselas. Jules impidió que las familias fueran arrestadas por los alemanes que les buscaban, cobijó a Fischer, y les consiguió tarjetas de racionamiento. Este reconocimiento es una de las mayores distinciones que se otorga a aquellas personas altruistas que salvaron a judíos durante el Holocausto. Jules falleció en Tournai el 29 de diciembre de 1985. Pedro asistió a su funeral el 3 de enero de 1986.

Junkera_1Pedro Junkera y Jules Caillaux, el 6 de junio de 1938, en Ohain, Bélgica. Imagen: Cortesía de Pedro Junkera.

Facundo Sáez Izaguirre nació el 27 de octubre 1917 en Donostia-San Sebastián. Afiliado al sindicato anarquista, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, luchó a favor de la Republica y del recién constituido Gobierno de Euzkadi, con tan solo 18 años. Fue hecho prisionero en 1939, y le dieron a elegir entre trabajos forzados o unirse a la Legión. Decidió alistarse, escapándose al de poco tiempo. Atravesó la frontera siendo recluido en los campamentos de internamiento construidos para albergar a los refugiados que huyeron tras la Guerra Civil. Facundo estuvo en los campamentos de Saint-Cyprien y Gurs. En Gurs se le sitúa junto a su hermano Francisco, al que se le supone afiliado a la Unión General de Trabajadores. Tras la invasión alemana de Polonia en septiembre de 1939, se inicia la Segunda Guerra Mundial. En un corto periodo de tiempo, durante mayo de 1940, Alemania invade Francia, Bélgica, Los Países Bajos y Luxemburgo. En julio de 1940, el gobierno francés inicia su colaboración con Alemania, lo que provocó un amplio movimiento de resistencia interna en el que destacan los grupos de guerrilla, —popularmente conocidos como Maquis—, y en el que Facundo participó activamente. Hecho preso, fue enviado a Lorient (Bretaña) como mano de obra extranjera para construir la base de submarinos de Keroman entre 1941 y 1942 y 1944, formando parte de lo que se denominaría el “Muro del Atlántico”: una serie de fortificaciones militares alemanas en la costa atlántica cuyo objetivo era evitar una invasión marítima del Reino Unido. Una vez más consiguió escaparse. Tras viajar más de 730 kilómetros hacia territorio vasco, fue nuevamente detenido en febrero de 1944 en Hendaia. Trasladado en un tren de mercancías con miles de presos, fue deportado al Campo de Concentración de Neuengamme (Alemania). En mayo de 1945 tropas británicas liberaron Neuengamme.

A su regreso a Iparralde, Facundo pudo reunirse con su familia en Ciboure a finales de la década de 1940, conociendo por primera vez a su hijo José, quién había nacido en septiembre de 1936 durante la evacuación de Donostia-San Sebastián, de camino hacia Bilbao, en plena Guerra Civil. A través de la Organización Internacional para los Refugiados, Facundo junto a su mujer Cándida Sagarna, José y sus otros hijos pequeños (Mari Luz y Javier), tomaron rumbo hacia Santiago de Chile. Décadas después, Facundo y Cándida decidieron regresar a Euskal Herria. Facundo falleció en Donibane Lohizune, el 29 de agosto de 2008, a los 90 años de edad.

Facundo2Facundo Sáez Izaguirre en el centro, con ropa más oscura, con los Maquis. Imagen aportada por Pedro Oyanguren. Según comenta Oyanguren, el Gobierno Alemán envió a Facundo el reloj de pulsera que le fue requisado en el momento de su detención en 1944, treinta o cuarenta años después.

Me gustaría realizar un llamamiento para localizar a los milicianos y gudaris que participaron en la Guerra Civil y que a día de hoy puedan encontrarse residiendo fuera de Euskal Herria. Personas corrientes con historias extraordinarias que han vivido momentos históricos de indudable transcendencia. De la misma manera que es importante recordar, lo es el hecho de poder preservar esa memoria para evitar que todas estas historias caigan en el olvido.

[Mi más sincero agradecimiento a Pedro Oyanguren, José Sáez Sagarna, y a Yad Vashem y Pedro Junkera Zarate por la información aportada sobre Facundo Sáez Izaguirre, y Jules Caillaux y Éva Samain, respectivamente. Las entrevistas realizadas a José Sáez y a Pedro Junkera forman parte del proyecto de investigación sobre emigración, exilio y retorno vasco (e-Etorkinak, Bizkailab) de la Universidad de Deusto.]


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The Flag

  • Menéame0

Johnson County, Wyoming - encompassing the rolling plains of the Old West and the towering peaks of the Bighorn Mountains. It’s a land rich in both history and scenery. A place of sheep herders and cattle barons, renegades and rustlers. Where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after their outlaw exploits. Where miners consumed with gold rush fever passed through on the Bozeman Trail. Where some of the most famous Indian battles in American history occurred. And where the Johnson County Cattle War, a rangeland dispute which historians often deem one of the most notorious events in our history, left its mark here in the late 1880s…and that Owen Wister wrote about in his epic American novel, The Virginian.”

(Johnson County, 2012)

Within this grand introduction to the singular history of the Johnson County in the State of Wyoming, surrounded by wild beauty and its frontier origins, lie the story of the Espondas from Baigorri; the Harriets, the Etchemendys, the Urrizagas, and the Caminos from Arnegi; the Iberlins from Banca; the Ansolabeheres, the Iriberrys, and many others. All these Basque pioneers came from the tiny province of Nafarroa Beherea (approximately 511 square mile), in the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees in France, and with a current population of 28,000 people. On the other hand, Johnson County, established in 1879, and its main city Buffalo, has a population of over 8,500 people on an area of 4,175 square mile.

The history of the Basque presence in the Johnson County begins with the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 as reported by Dollie Iberlin and David Romtvedt in their book “Buffalotarrak”. Most Buffalo Basques originated in the village of Baigorri, because Jean Esponda, a successful immigrant from Baigorri, settled in that area of Wyoming. Esponda immigrated into California in 1886 and then moved to Wyoming in 1902, where he set up a thriving sheepherding operation, claiming many Basques from his own natal village and neighboring villages for nearly two decades. Esponda became known as the “King of the Basques”. He passed away in 1936. By the end of the 1960s, Basque sheepmen owned over 250,000 acres (approximately 390 square mile) of Johnson County land, which was about 76% of the land of the entire province of Nafarroa Beherea. According to the United States Census, in 2000 there were only 869 Basque people in Wyoming, being the smallest, but nonetheless vibrant, Basque community in the American West.

basq04111Basque group photograph at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Buffalo, Wyoming, in the late 1960s. (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Basque Studies Library, University of Nevada, Reno)

110 years have passed since Jean Esponda set foot in Wyoming, and much of the Basque heritage is still flourishing. It has become part of the social and cultural fabric of Wyoming. In this regard, Johnson County designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair’s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag (originally designed in 1894 in Bilbao, Bizkaia) with the county’s seal in the center, as a way to honor the county’s Basque origins. The Johnson County’s “Basque” flag is the first official Basque flag outside the Basque Country, and the first in the nation. Its symbolism will definitely help to preserve and assure the continuity of the Basque history in the State of Wyoming. It will be publicly displayed, for the first time, at the State Fair that is going to be held on August 11-18 in Douglass.

Do you know similar stories to this one?

jo_co_flag The Johnson County, Wyoming “Basque” flag


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No place for children

  • Menéame0

“A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.”

(Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, United Nations, 2007)

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1959. This international norm was followed, three decades later, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 20, 1989)—the first legally binding instrument “to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”—and by the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (May 25, 2000). This protocol “establishes 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and requires States to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking a direct part in hostilities.” It entered into force on February 12, 2002, marking the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Since then, more than 140 countries have ratified the protocol.


As of February 2012, 27 United Nation Member States have not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol, while another 22 have signed but not ratified it. According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research 2011 has been the most violent year since World War II, with twenty more wars than in 2010. Currently, it is estimated that tens of thousands of boys and girls under the age of 18 take active part in armed conflicts in at least 15 countries. The children, once again, are powerless to escape from such violence. They are forced to fight or participate somehow “voluntarily” in popular insurrections that have taken place within the context of the Arab Spring, for instance. However, the military use of children is not a new phenomenon and goes hand by hand, almost inevitably, with our tragic history of human self-destruction. This was the case of some of the children caught at the outbreak of the war between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Russia in June 1941. The children had previously been evacuated from Spain—immersed in a fratricide war—to Russia.

It is estimated that 30,000 Spanish children were evacuated during the Spanish Civil War, and 70,000 more left after the end of the war in 1939. Among them 25,000 Basque children went also into exile. Most of the children were temporarily sent to France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as well as Switzerland, Mexico, and Denmark. They became, and are still, known as “los niños de la guerra” (“the war children”) and the “Gernika Generation,” in the specific Basque case.

Between March 1937 and October 1938 nearly 3,000 children, between 5 and 12 years old, were evacuated from Spain to then the Soviet Union in four expeditions. Most of the children were from the Basque Country (between 1,500 and over 1,700), and Asturias and Cantabria (between 800 and 1,100). In the majority of the cases their parents were sympathetic to the anarchist, socialist, and communist ideals. On June 12, 1937 over 1,500 children and 75 tutors (teachers, doctors, and nurses) left the Port of Santurtzi in the Basque province of Bizkaia on board of the ship “Habana.”

From the moment of the children’s arrival to the German invasion of Russia they lived in good care in the so-called “Infant Homes for the Spanish Children.” There were 11 homes located in the current Russian Federation—including 1 in Moscow and 2 nearby Leningrad—and 5 in Ukraine—including 1 in Odessa and another in Kiev. Soon, their lives were, once more, dramatically turned upside-down. The homes had to be evacuated.

ChildrenRussia“The war children” from Spain and tutors, August 1940, Russia (Image source: Sasinka Astarloa Ruano)

During the Siege of Leningrad, the children Celestino Fernández-Miranda Tuñón and Ramón Moreira, both from Asturias, were 16 and 17 years old respectively at the time of enlisting as volunteers to defend the city, while Carmen Marón Fernández, from Bizkaia, worked as a nurse and dug trenches at the age of 16. Over 40 children were killed before they could be evacuated in 1943. It is considered the longest and most destructive city blockade in history. It resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million people and in the evacuation of 1.4 million civilians.

The survivors of Leningrad together with the rest of the children were taken to remote areas such as today’s republics of Georgia and Uzbekistan, and Saratov Oblast in southern Russia. It is during this time when it is reported that some children were victims of sexual assaults and exploitation, and a few of them ended up in delinquent gangs in order to survive.

ChildrenClassParamilitary training in one of the children’s colony. Shooting practices were a norm in many of the homes (Image source: Spanish Citizenship Abroad Portal)

According to the Spanish Center of Moscow, over 100 “niños de la guerra” voluntarily enlisted in the Red Army, while many others had to carry out some type of work to support the war efforts alongside their schooling time. For instance, Begoña Lavilla and Antonio Herranz, both from Santurtzi, worked at an arms factory in Saratov at the age of 13 and 14, respectively. Eight of the Basque niños—six of them from the “Kiev home”—entered in combat after receiving flight training courses in a military academy. It has been said that some of the children were able to pass themselves off as older men such as Luis Lavín Lavín who was just 15 years old at the time. The eight young Basques were Ignacio Aguirregoicoa Benito (born in Soraluce in 1923), Ramón Cianca Ibarra, José Luis Larrañaga Muniategui (born in Eibar in 1923), the aforementioned Luis Lavín Lavín (born in Bilbao in 1925), Antonio Lecumberri Goikoetxea (born in 1924), Eugenio Prieto Arana (born in Eibar in 1922), Tomás Suárez, and Antonio Uribe Galdeano (born in Barakaldo in 1920). Larrañaga, Uribe, and Aguirregoicoa died in 1942 (Ukraine), 1943 (Dnieper), and 1944 (Estonia), respectively. Aguirregoicoa took his own life in order to avoid being captured by the enemy.

Between 207 and 215 Spaniards were killed as active combatants at the Eastern Front of World War II (also known as the Great Patriotic War; June 22, 1941-May 9, 1945), while another 211 people died of extreme starvation, disease, and the intensive bombardments. According to Lavín, 50 of the enlisted “children” out of a total of 130 were killed during the war.

After two long decades of exile, the first convoy of “children” was allowed to return to Francisco Franco’s Spain in 1957. As of 2012, it is estimated that 170 “niños de la guerra,” all of them over 80 years old, live in the former Soviet Union. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Basque cities and villages and the evacuation of their children—fatidic preamble to World War II.

For more information see the interview (in Spanish) to Mateo Aguirre S.J., on the Democratic Republic of Congo child soldiers’ situation at Alboan’s EiTB Blog; and the Child Soldiers International organization; and Luis Lavín Lavín’s conference of 2007 (in Spanish).


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