Josep Ester i Borrás (1913 -1980)


Josep (José) Ester Borrás was born in Berga on the second floor of No 3, Carrer Baixada del Vals (otherwise Carrer Mossén Comellas) on 26 September 1913. Josep was the second child of Francesc Ester Escobet, from Berga and Dolors Borrás Solanas, from Freixenet (Lérida). At the time of Josep’s birth, his parents were 23 and 22 respectively. Josep’s older sister was Antonia, a year and a half older than him. Their father Francesc Ester, who had previously been a bricklayer was doing his mandatory three years military service at the time.

If Francesc came from a humble family background, Dolors Escobet’s family was very poor: she ran the home and looked after Antonia and Josep (with help from grandmother Dominga), cleaned houses, renting furniture from rich folks in Berga and collecting mushrooms and acorns and selling them on. Francesc’s parents – Josep Ester Bover, a woodcutter turned saw-mill employee, and Domingo Escobet Serra, both 52 at the time of Josep’s birth –  lived on the same street, Dominga aka Minga, besides passing on her nickname to her son and grandson, looked after Antonia and Josep frequently while their mother was working.[2] 1915 saw the birth of a third child, Teresna, who was to pass away from meningitis three years later, to the great grief of the family. Her father, on his return from his military service, no longer worked as a bricklayer but started working at the Modern café and later moved on to Cal Pelegrí where Josep’s mother did the cleaning of a morning. He was to work as a waiter until after a falling-out with his boss, he decided to open a café of his own at the beginning of 1919. This would be the Colon café, operating out of the second floor at 24 Carrer Major, in the same building as the family lived in. The café, though, was better known as the Minga café. On 1 April 1931, it relocated to No 2, Carrer Major, on to premises that had previously been occupied by the Unió Berguedana choral society (and which would later be taken over by the latter’s replacement Les Cors de Clavé).  Josep Ester’s father ran the café virtually until he died: in 1953 Francesc Ester was to hand the café over and open a bowling alley the same year. Francesc Ester died in Berga at the age of 62. Josep Ester’s father came to be a very well-known and well-liked café-owner in the city, as was demonstrated by the turn-out at his funeral.[3] On account of his hard work and the bar, the family was to become, so to speak, petit bourgeois.

Josep Ester attended the Sant Joan (state school) at about the age of four. At the age of 7, he quit the national school system and moved on to a private school run by Just Lacau Peralta at the same location to which the Ester Borràs family had moved.[4] Just Lacau was a Barbastro-born anarchist and was about 40 years old at the time. He was well-built with a bushy moustache and an imposing presence. He ran his school while also working as a musician with the Berga town band and was in another band that toured the villages so that he was often called out of class on some business or other which, according to Josep Ester, was just fine with his pupils. Before opening his school. Lacau, who had been educated at a Dominican friary in Barbastro, had been a station-master in Olvan-Berga and later worked as a labourer on the building of the highway leading to Queralt. His financial circumstances were always touch-and-go. It is worth pointing out that Just Lacau, who was to serve as Berga’s mayor for a long time during the 1936019239 social revolution and civil war (as a CNT representative) was to become a person friend of Josep Ester. For all that, Ester reminded us that Lacau’s educational practice was much like that of the rest of the teaching profession of his day: harsh, inflexible and involved the use of corporal punishment. Lacau had 20-25 students at his school, between the ages of 4 and 10. When he turned 10, Josep wanted to make his first communion (his parents were quite well-off by then)  and was later to join the Joventuts Antonianes (a Catholic recreational body) and was taught drama and dancing by Monsignor Marià Miró (who was, according to Josep, more of a musician than a chaplain).[5] Aged 11, in early 1925 Josep was to insist upon leaving Lacau’s school  and attended the “Brothers” – the Christian Brothers – in which he had the support of his grandmother and, despite his parents’ opposition, he got his wish.

His first taste of the world of work came as sweet-seller and later as a projectionist at the Coliseum cinema that his father had set up in partnership with Santacreu and Cunill. He was still at school. He attended the school for just under four terms and in 1927   was to quit school in spite of his parents’ wishes. He then started work as an apprentice at the locksmith’s workshop of Ramón Canudes aka el Pixavi, a friend of the family. The workshop was right behind the Sant Francesc church. He liked the work despite the dire working conditions – 10 hours’ work each day for 2 pesetas’ pay. Fed up with not learning anything and putting up with a nasty foreman, he decided to look for work elsewhere. By August 1928 he was working at Hilados Asensio S.A. , which is to say at the Ca l’Asensio factory, known as the canal factory. The pay was better and the hours shorter, but above all, there was the opportunity to learn. It was there that he met Alfonsina Bueno Vela and fell in love with her.[6]

When the Second Republic was proclaimed a sindicato único of the CNT was formed in Berga, the driving forces there being Ramón Casals aka Ramonet Xic, Miquel Bueno, Ribereta, Creus, etc. Josep Ester became a member. After one of the very first mass meetings[7] held in the Quevedo theatre, where two clear-cut tendencies (anarchists versus the Marxists from the BOC) locked horns, Josep was undecided and did think about letting things go. Having mentioned the meetings and the anarchists and in light of his standing with Just Lacau, the latter handed him Errico Malatesta’s pamphlet Anarchy in the café and the text ignited his enthusiasm and he started to attend at the CNT local regularly, linking up with other comrades and reading other books and pamphlets such as José López Montenegro’s El Botón de Fuego.[8] From then on it was full-speed ahead as far as his activism went, He started reading everything he could get his hands on as well as taking part in as many protest rallies as he could. During one of the elections in 1931 he happened to be passing an election centre where there was a priest urging folk to vote for the Right and he got caught up in a scuffle after the priest was punched. The fall-out was not in coming after that: the very next day he was sacked from the canal factory.

In October 1931 Alfonsina and he discovered that they were expecting. Josep was 18 and had been sacked from his factory job: Alfonsina, 17, was an apprentice weaver and the daughter of the second marriage of Miguel Bueno, an anarchist who was forever being blacklisted by Berga’s employers. Josep and Alfonsina both wanted a boy. In the end they married on 9 January 1932.

Monday 18 January 1932 saw the start of a textile workers’ strike. The Upper Llobregat employers’ association was refusing to honour the agreement to which it had signed up and which the employers elsewhere in Catalonia were complying. Tension was on the rise. Ramón Casals, Pere Creus and Vicenç Satina were handling the negotiations. On Tuesday 19 January in Sant Corneli (Figols), in solidarity with the textile comrades, the miners came out on strike, but in this instance a revolutionary general strike erupted, spreading to several towns. Berga was on stand-by.

Josep Ester was 19 by then, recently married, with a baby on the way and for the preceding year his commitment to anarchism and social revolution had done nothing but grow. On this particular day he happened to be with what we might call his affinity group – Àngel Soler, Ramón Vilanova, Josep Gros and Patets, on his way to the union local. They were on their way to speak to Ribereta who would be allocating them their tasks in helping spread the revolutionary general strike.

He emerged from the union hall at 3.00 p.m. with Bueno and Soler. Whilst unaware of the details, Ester knew that they would shortly be in action. They were on their way to an old apartment that Bueno had in La Berruga (No 4, Les Voltes d’en Claris) . There Miguel Bueno, full of high hopes, had been making explosives using gunpowder and old pots and pans. On that Thursday 21 January they dined on bread and sardines. Having eaten, Miquel told Josep to go to the union hall where Patets had something to tell them. But Patets was not there. No one had seen him. Josep waited for him, whilst the members of the union boards, edgily, to’ed and fro’ed through the union hall. Shortly after that, Josep escorted through the streets of Berga and as far as the Cal Parraquer a comrade who had arrived, heavily armed, from FíDouble question but it is actually very important how have you found the refund and and cancellation process today the time is very funny and we had some very different experiences so that proves that we had booked the cruise company have been fabulous but responded is on its way and thought the flight some books by range is a slightly different Storey one of them said council says that refunded the post then another theme to the issue at the other one student flights home hasn’t been cancelled so back you up with insurance so that was and so then the flights that we had so much waiting with an gols at the Berga union premises, Later, along with Angel Soler, they decided to make their way back to the apartment in La Berriga. They were en route when they were startled by some loud explosions.

The streets were empty. They split up beside the statue to Monsignor Comellas in the Placa Cremada, also known as the Placa de la Constitucio. Two Civil Guards blocked their way to La Berruga, Josep then attempted to get through via the old hospital, only to be turned back by another Civil Guard. There was no way to get through to his comrades. He turned back towards the union but on the way bumped into his own father who told him that his mother and his wife were back home crying their eyes out and in the end he headed for home, albeit not without a feeling of some guilt.

Libertarian communism had been proclaimed in Figols, but the Berga comrades had not gone to help out, which was what Josep Ester felt in his heart and in his head they should be doing. The following morning, with the square flooded with soldiers (a hundred of them), Civil Guards (plus reinforcements from Zaragoza), Mossos d’Esquadra and Sometents from the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya party and rubber-neckers, and using with some arrested union comrades – Josep Sole and Poll –the revolutionaries from the Les Voltes d’en Claris apartment gave themselves up. Josep Cortina was the first to emerge and in the end Miguel Bueno, Enric Garriga, Simon Molina and Josep Calderer followed. Imprisonment and deportation were the fates the Republic had in store for them. Josep Ester was not arrested and suffered no repression of any sort, probably on account of his father’s connections to a number of Berga’s leading citizens. The ensuing days were dismal and filled with outrage, especially when they Paters came out with public vilification of his former comrades, which entailed an open verbal confrontation. On 3 June 1932, Alfonsina gave birth to Angela, Josep’s daughter; she was named after hr maternal grandmother Angela Vela Garcia. Her paternal grandfather was behind bars.

Following the events of January 1932, Josep Ester’s commitment to social struggle and anarchism, far from diminishing, continued to grow. The union in Berga carried on organizing meetings like it had at the start of 1931, bringing in Angel Pestana, Perez Combina and Joaquin Cortes to give talks in Berga. In May 1936, Federica Montseny and Jose Peirats addressed a rally in Gironella. These speakers had arrived in the comarca with the illustrious Prussian intellectual Max Nettlau in tow – he was stunned by a visit to the Berga city archives – as well as the outstanding Bernard Pou, an anarchist from Majorca, and his wife. Ester and Ramon Casals travelled down out Berga to talk them into repeating the rally in Berga the following day and, albeit before a smaller crowd in Berga, in contrast to the crowds in Gironella, this was done.[9] The years of the Republic were years of intense learning.

News of the army revolt in Africa broke on 18 July 1936. Together with Ramon Casals ansd Ventura Molero, Josep Ester went to Manresa to establish what was going on. On their return to Berga, they were stopped by the Civil Guard but nothing came of it.[10]

Josep Ester was one of the founders of the Libertarian Youth in 1936 along with Ramon Casalsa, Josep Bach, Josep Casafont and Ramon Sant[11]; the organization expanded after that. On 20 July 1936, Ester travelled down to Barcelona with Ramon Casals, Florenci Guix and Felip Ferran where they met with Buenaventura Durruti jut as he was leaving for talks with Lluis Companys and they were provided with information and guidance.[12] Ester was keen to take part in the revolutionary process launched in the summer of 1936. In November that year he marched off as a volunteer with the Tierra y Libertad Column along with a number of comrades from the same comarca, to help defend Madrid. Later he was transferred to the Aragon front.

The militarization by the Republican government of the volunteer columns was to fuel debates, confrontations and desertions, specially at the outset. In March 1937, many anarchists quit the front lines and refused to agree to be militarized.[13] One of them was Josep Ester who made his way home to Berga and, on 22 March 1937, he joined Berga town council as a CNT representative alongside Ramon Casals, standing in for Manuel Carceller and Agusti Vinyes (also from the CNT) respectively. On the council, Josep became chairman of the Supplies Department. That said, he was not in the post long, because on 29 March he started working in the collectivized war industries. By that point, a lot of ex-volunteers were to try to rejoin the same units with which they had previously served (and which had since been militarized) in order to serve with the same comrades as before. Ester did likewise. Serving with the Tierra y Libertad Column, now relaunched as the 153rd Mixed Brigade.

In 1938, Josep Ester was to go through an officer training course; it finished that June and he rejoined the brigade. Some columns were militarized without much friction: others actually never were and carried on functioning as they had done previously – albeit not without difficulties in terms of supplies – and others, like the Tierra y Libertad experienced significant internal strife as CNT personnel and communists were keen to see their own pre-militarization organizational model succeed whilst the government was appointing political commissars – communists, many of them – in order to embed the new military model. The new model was implemented by transferring people from one brigade to another, replacing those in charge, etc. plus surreptitious executions of POUM and anarchist personnel.

In fact, Josep Ester, promoted lieutenant, was arrested together with a number of others – including the libertarian and fellow native of Berga, Josep Bach – and accused of having had a hand in the death of a communist political commissar (Enrique Rigabert Martin) from the 153rd Mixed Brigade on 27 October 1938, somewhere between Llinyola and Mollerussa.[14] In spite of all this, Ester came through it and on 2 February 1939, using the new identity of Domingo Lopez Sepulveda, he went into exile. The change of identity was assuredly prompted by a desire to evade a crackdown by the SIM (Military Investigation Agency) which operated like the communists’ secret police force in the front lines and in the rearguard.

In July 1940, Ester, along with his wife and father-in-law, joined the anti-Nazi resistance. He was to join the group headed by the Aragonese Francisco Ponzan, a bunch of Catalan and Aragonese anarchists, many of who had been involved during the civil war in special missions behind the Nationalist lines as p[art of the SIEP (Special Scouting Intelligence Agency). The Ponzan group was to smuggle up to three thousand people – lots of Allied airman among the – from occupied France into Spain, crossing the Pyrenees and escorted them t the safety of Allies consulates or embassies and, many a time, all the way to Gibraltar. In return, the Aragonese and Catalan anarchists making up the group wanted arms and protection for the ongoing struggle against Franco. From November 1941 on, the group was to be part of the Pat O’Leary escape line – known later as the Pat-Francoise – which was in contact with varied allied countries’ secret services. The escape line operated throughout the Pyrenees. Josep Ester was to busy himself smuggling Allied servicemen out to Barcelona and Madrid.

On 30 April 1941 Ester was arrested in Toulouse  – after a letter was intercepted – and was interned in the Recebedou punishment camp. During November that year, at the request of Francisco Ponzan, Lieutenant Robert Terres aka el Padre, from the French resistance’s counter-espionage agency, secured Ester’s release on the basis of phoney documentation. Ponzan then urged Ester to drop out of sight for a couple of months. In particular, he recommended Banyuls-sur-Mer where the group had a safe-house. Ester moved in there with his wife and daughter, leading what appeared to be a quiet bourgeois existence. Over the months, he helped draft a manifest in support of the rebuilding of the CNT. On 1 May 1942, he wrote some memoirs of his childhood and youth, Recuerdos y Reflejos.

In June 1942, Josep paid a visit to Berga to see his family[15] and in his travels in Spain he was stopped by the Civil Guard the odd time, but came through that thanks to his phoney papers. On 30 October 1953, though, the Gestapo tracked down the house where he was staying in Banyls-sur-Mer and arrested his father-in-law – using the phoney name Miguel Solano Garcia – and his brother-in-law, Josep Bueno. The latter, knowing of the family’s resistance activities eventually, under torture, gave away Ester’s address in Toulouse. Josep Ester was arrested the very next day. They held him for some time. [16] Alfonsina was to be arrested on 2 November but their daughter[17] evaded arrest because she was in the home of some friends.[18] After arrest, Josep was tortured and shuttled through several concentration camps. His family members suffered the same fate. Initially, he was taken to the Saint-Michel prison in Toulouse then it was on to Fresnes, near Paris; from there to the Gestapo headquarters in the Rue des Saussaies where he was tortured and where he was reunited with Colonel Bonneval (whom he had met in Saint-Michel prison). From there, he was moved on to the Compiegne screening camp, where he ran into his father-in-law, brother-in-law and the rest of the Ponzan group. All three of them were classified as Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog), indicating that they were liable to be murdered at any moment. They spent three weeks there.

On 20 March 1944, they were deported and taken to Neuen Bremen where they spent a little under a month. On 23 April 1944, after a tough three-day journey, they reached Mauthausen. Josep Ester was to be deportee No 64,553. On 18 August 1944, his father-in-law Miguel Bueno Gil, was to be murdered in Hartheim castle. Alfonsina was to be interned in Ravensbruck where she was subjected to pseudo-scientific experiments that left her barren. In Mauthausen, Josep and his brother-in-law were still classified as Nacht und Nebel.  On arrival in the camp Josep quickly made contact with Spanish libertarian comrades. Like many other “repblicans”, his capacity for work spared him from an early death. His arrival in the camp led to a reorganization of the CNT and he became its representative on the camp’s Spanish Republicans’ National Committee[19], of which he was co-founder; his advice was that CNT and POUM personnel should agree to join the stalinist communists on that committee. [20] Towards the end of their incarceration there, they finally secured some arms through Ester and another inmate working in the armoury[21] so that they could make provision against the chances that, in the face of looming defeat, the Nazis might try to wipe them out before abandoning the camp.

 On 3 March 1945, women from Ravensbruck began arriving in Mauthausen. When the Red Army showed up, the Germans made to evacuate the camp and removed the inmates to Mauthausen. Alfonsina arrived there on 7 March and thanks to the spirit of solidarity among the Spaniards, Josep was able to track her down in the showers in an emotional reunion, as the accounts of various fellow-inmates record.

On 22 April 1945, the International Red Cross made preparations to evacuate the camp, but Josep and another three (non-French) prisoners were left behind. In the end, after various adventures, they managed to reach Switzerland and travelled on to France. There he was to recover in the hospital in Neuilly. In Toulouse in August 1945. Josep launched the FEDIP (Spanish Deportees and Political Prisoners’ Federation). Up until his death, Josep was the head of this organization as he carried out a variety of tasks and contributed to its bulletin Hispania. He was to be personally involved in securing pensions from the German government for many of the former deportees and the widows of erstwhile concentration camp deportees. He also did great work educating people on the horrors of Nazism.[22] He was always very pernickety and critical of mistakes and inaccuracies in personal, historical or literary writings about the German concentration camps. Also in 1945, when the CNT split – a split that was to last until 1961 – he backed the more orthodox official faction and was secretary of the Upper Llobregat and Cardener Inter-Comarcal Committee of the CNT in exile. And was a member of the Bergadans Group in Exile (1945-1947), helping that organization in various respects and contributing to its news bulletins.

In 1947 Josep Ester Borras separated from Alfonsina – in a process that was especially painful for them both –  and relocated to Paris where he became the FEDIP general secretary. That same year he was the driving force behind the FEDIP’s mounting of an exemplary international campaign[23] to have Spaniards held in the Karaganda gulag in Kazakhstan set free. [24]They were a group of pilots who had been training in the Soviet Union plus merchant sailors – about sixty of them – from the CNT, UGT and of no particular trade union affiliations who had been stopped from leaving the country in 1939 and who had been sent to that gulag in 1942. Some female Austrian inmates released from there in 1946 had publicized the existence of those inmates.[25] Ester was to make this public at a press conference. The campaign drew support from all sort of institutions, parties, trade unions and associations in the Spanish exile community – with the exception of the Stalinists, i.e. of the PSUC and PCE.[26] It also had the support of intellectuals like Camus, Sartre, Breton and many others. He was to make contact with the UN, International Red Cross and, among others, the French government. In the short term the campaign improved conditions for the prisoners who were to be transferred to a camp near Odessa and allowed to write to their families through the Red Cross. Even so, it was not until March 1956 that the Soviet Supreme Counci’s military tribunal ordered their release.

In 1951 Josep was very busily and successfully working to thwart the extradition of Marcelino Massana (who had been arrested in France) to Spain. He did the same on behalf of many others such as Ramon Vila Capdevila, Quico Sabate, etc.

Josep Ester served on the CICRC (International Concentration Camp Monitoring Commission) and the International Commission against Slave Labour Camps. He also worked with the Spanish branch of the OFPRA (Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons), a French public agency formed in 1952; it carried out intense work that was complementary to the efforts of FEDIP and other organizations. It was to regularize the status of lots of Spanish refugees in France, securing them pensions, etc.

In 1972 there was a huge international tribute paid to him in Toulouse. He was – having been decorated by the French, British and US governments [27] – someone who was recognized and highly regarded since he had dedicated his life to helping concentration camp inmates, victims of political persecution, prisoners and all manner of victims of authoritarianism.

Between 1973 and 1974 he moved with his then partner, Odette Kervorc’h, to Saint Christol-les-Ales, to be closer to the border with Spain and to Berga. His home was called Ker Berga (ker being the Breton word meaning ‘home’, Odette being of Breton extraction). After Franco died, Josep returned to Berga and, cashing in on the process of the rebuilding of the CNT was now under way, he addressed a huge rally in the Patronat theatre. He remained active until a short time before his death on 13 April 1980 and was cremated in Marseilles.

In 1987, the Jose Ester Borras Studies Centre was opened in Berga, but did not engage in any cultural events until 1998. Today it functions as a documentation centre, researching and publicizing the social history of the Upper Llobregat and striving to build up records on the local libertarian labour movement. It is a non-profit organization, funded by contributions from its members -0 around sixty in number – and its publications and it sponsors anti-authoritarian ventures in Berga. At present it had a stock of 4,000 books already catalogued plus 6,000 yet to be catalogue. In addition to a thousand newspaper titles sundry documentation for popular use. If they are to change the world.

From the Josep Ester Borras Study Centre’s bulletin El Pèsol Negre, no 63, 19 February 2014

[1] Extracted from Josep Cara Rincón’s article “Josep Ester Borràs. Esbós biográfic”, which appeared in issue No 117 (2013) of l’Erol on ‘Berguedans als camps nazis’.

[2] As Josep Ester himself stated in Recuerdos y Reflejos and as spelled out by his sister Antonia in “Josep Ester, una vida pels altres” (Jordi Puntas, Regió 7, 19-4-1980, p.10)

[3] As recorded in the obituary in Solidaridad Obrera (organ of the Spanish Libertarian Movement in France) Year IX, No 451, 5 November 1953.

[4] From 1918 up until the proclamation of the Republic in 1931, he lived with his family at No 24, Carrer Ciutat.

[5] Whenever this body died out and was replaced by the Centre Catolic (run by the Franciscans and wholly reactionary in its outlook), Josep was educated in the Sant Francesc d’Assis church by the Jesuit and pederast chaplain Monsignor Bellet who abuse a lot of children. Josep was no exception, as he explains at some length (op.cit.) At the age of 18, in 1931 Josep gave up all belief in religion and was guided only by his own conscience.

[6] Alfonsina was born in Moros (Zaragoza), as also her parents had been.

[7] Around a thousand people attended, Ester tells us (op.cit.)

[8] An Aragonese anarchist who was a rationalist schoolteacher in Sallent in the late 19th century.

[9] Jose Peirats Recorrido por mi vida, Vol. III, 1975, Biblioteca Publica Arus, Barcelona. Unpublished memoirs of Jose Peirats. We say ‘unpublished’ because the edition released by Flor del Viento is a partial and ill-advised collage. See “La segunda muerte de Jose Peirats” at (15 August 2013)

[10] Daniel Montana and Josep Rafart (1991: p.19)

[11] Pedro Flores(1981:p. 273) and Daniel Montana and Josep Rafart (1991: p. 19), plus interviews with Ramon Casals in 1996, 1997, 2000 ad 2001.

[12] Daniel Montana and Josep Rafart (1991: p. 19) plus interviews with Ramon Casals in 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2001.

[13] Especially those from some volunteer columns that had refused to agree to militarization.

[14] The document “Informe sobre el asesinato de don Enrique Rigabert Martin, comisario de la 153 Brigada Mixta’ held at the IISH, Amsterdam, 17D 3) offers us one version of the events drawn up by the communist-controlled SIM and therefore partisan. In ‘Mis contactos con Ester’ (IISH, Amsterdam 222) one can read the libertarian version of the same incidents. If we also take into consideration the ‘Acta del Pleno de Columnas Confederales y Anarquistas celebrado en Valencia el dia 5 de febrero de 1937’, we can gt a better idea of the issue of militarization of the volunteer columns and the antagonism between the revolutionary forces and the counter-revolutionary forces as they applied to the matter of the war.

[15] Josep had visited Berga in 1939, having connections there that would liaise with him in his resistance activities, whether against the Nazis or Franco. Furthermore, between 1939 and 1942, his mother twice made the trip to France to see him. In 1941 she was arrested and imprisoned in Figueras fortress.

[16] Antonio Tellez (1996: p. 336)

[17] Eduard Pons i Prades (2002: p.106). Thanks to the girl – just a child at the time – important compromising documents were retrieved from the house and a number of contacts could be tipped off.

[18] Tellez (1996: p. 304)

[19] Montserrat Roig (1995: p. 305)

[20] Pons i Prades (2002: p. 89) and Montserrat Roig (1995: p. 305)

[21] Montserrat Roig (1995; p. 330)

[22] There are letter and annotations made to published books and articles on the subject that testify to that. The range from annotations regarding minor details or nuances in the cases of some texts or articles, such as some by Mariano Constante, to comprehensive critiques like his critique of Joaquim Amat-Pinella’s text.

[23] We should also highlight the closing rally of the campaign for the release of the Karaganda prisoners, a rally organized by the FEDIP on Sunday, 11 August 1948 in the Mutualite hall in Paris.

[24] See Box 15-21 at the IISH in Amsterdam

[25] When the Spaniards arrived in the camp, it housed both sexes and some of them had children by those female inmates.

[26] By way of a sample of the PSUC’s dogmatic stance, see Ester’s criticisms of Lluita, the party mouthpiece, throughout 1948. The PSUC was critical of Josep Ester, his articles in Solidaridad Obrera and the campaign as a whole and even labelled Ester a “FAI-Falangist” for his expose of the predicament of the gulag prisoners.

[27] The French, Brirish and US governments awarded him several decorations – the Legion of Honour, the status of ‘sub-lieutenant’ in the French Fighting Forces, the King’s Medal of Freedom and others for his role in the resistance. Some of these decorations he accepted on tactical grounds – basically the French ones – as Odette Ester explained to us on 20 April 2001.

MARCELINO MASSANA: Letter to José Ester, 1949

Marcelino Massana (1918-1981)

Toulouse, 30 September 1949

Dear friend Ester: Some comrades, collaborators of mine who managed to escape by some fluke have just arrived and briefed me on what little they were able to find out, given that they were many days up in the mountains.

On the 14th, 47-year old Fígols miner José Puertas, 26-year old Fígols miner José Bartovillo, 53year old Santa Eugenia peasant Juan Vilella from a farm in Padret, and one other peasant as yet unidentified were all taken out on to the Vilada highway, every one of them being murdered, the story being that guerrillas had attempted to rescue them, which is not the case. Operating out of Berga, they arrested Pusquies and Secilia and El Farmaceutic plus another hundred people. As well as a large number of peasants and workers from the Colonia Rosal in Serchs and all the villages around the comarca. In the snack bar in Llinas they murdered a worker (as yet unidentified) in his sixties. Another younger man aged 21was murdered at the gates of Berga cemetery. And in Sallent, Miguel Guitos, a peasant from the Casa Rocaus in Sallent was murdered on his doorstep and lots of arrests were made across the Llobregat, one being my own uncle, the husband of my mother’s sister. Some workers who happened to be passing through the area where the slaughter was carried out were able to witness the Civil Guards draping their capes on a tree and firing a number of shots into them, after which they displayed the capes in Berga, telling folk that the bullet holes were made by the maquis. Such is the latest news I have and I have already forwarded it to the National Committee.

As to what I mentioned to you regarding the extradition issue, when I spoke with Defence I was told they had already put the requisite precautionary measures in place, so I am telling you this to bring you up to speed and so that you can let me know right away if you know anything.

As to aid, I wrote to Ramonet and have not yet had a reply, but I reckon the only help we can offer them is to mount a huge press campaign in France and, if possible, issuing an appeal to everybody from our comarca and for everyone to do his bit; everybody is so strapped for cash, but can we at least try? Let me have your answer on this point and I will see to it that Ruta issues an appeal to everybody from the comarca to contribute whatever they can by way of aid to those who are in prison. Let me have your answer on this promptly.

Once the snow has passed I’ll be going back to do whatever I can, or at least to avenge these killings, targeting the likes that of Juan Calandas, aka the miller from the La Bassa mill, the man who caught  José Bartovillo, who had escaped from the barracks in handcuffs, heading for the aforementioned mill (molino) before the bastard caught him, and dragged him back to the barracks. Do you think that guy has any right to live?

The suffering they have endured is frightening; Puertas and Bartovillo had red hot irons poked between flesh and fingernail, not to mention the deadly beatings.

People are terrified.

Whenever you get the chance to see Moles show him this letter; that way I won’t need to write another one and give my views on any help we can afford them.

Give my best to Ferrer and other friends. Remember me to your compañera and you know you can rely on me.

M. Massana

Reply soon


The 10 December 1949 edition of the Paris-based CNT (XI Region) weekly Solidaridad Obrera carried a front-page piece headlined “The Repression in Upper Llobregat. THE CIVIL GUARD USING THE LEY DE FUGAS. Six workers murdered in Berga. A further victim in Sallent. Hundreds of arrests across the comarca”. It referred to a frustrated Civil Guard/Policia Armada operation swamping broad swathes of the region in search of elusive guerrilla bands. “Cornered several times, our comrades managed to shoot their way out, putting the tricorn-hatted cowards to flight.” In frustration, the police had rounded up over a hundred suspects, mostly pre-civil war CNT members but also including republicans and persons of no political affiliations.  


José Ester, Paris 6 March 1950


My good friend,

Stuck in  my “room,” which was your own during your time on holiday, on account of the “metro and bus strike”, I turn now to replying to yours of the 1st inst., the latest to reach me, after having absorbed its contents, of course.

Some illnesses leave a trail behind them, no matter what; a trail that in its turn generates  other more complicated annoyances and I find myself at one such point, again, right now. I reckon that my physique will once more see me through successfully, but this time I think I’m going to need a period of complete rest, since this has been a severe infection.

Still no response rom Sole. I reckon the best thing to do is going to be for us to get on with preparing texts, then, once you get back from … get things moving immediately. The interval may well e extremely useful for us in every respect. Don’t you agree? Your report will by then be extensive and detailed.

Ramonet has sent up a drawing by Forcadell, a magnificent one. He says that his plan is to issue it as a post card and sell them off for the benefit of the prisoners from the town of our birth. What experience I have in these matters,  [in relation to] the Karaganda campaign prompts me to counsel against this; not because it is not a splendid idea – just the opposite – but I would base my stance on financial grounds. If we are to do it cheaply we need a print-run of at least 20 thousand; a number that there is simply no way that we could recoup, because anything raised would go to paying off the printing costs. Our intention is to pass it on to CNT, to which Ferrer is agreeable and then use the cliché as our bulletin’s front page. What do you think? Casals says we should have it printed in the press, should it not be possible to go for the postcards, meaning that he is in agreement with our thinking.

I reckon that over the days when you will be off on your travels, we can finalize everything – translating the article we have into Catalan  and, let me say again, press ahead with things the day you get back. So try to gather as much detail as you can of  everything that has been going on in Berga and, insofar as you can, keep on sending news from the location, so that we may first of all have your news, of course, and so that we can put some sort of a text together.

Above all, friend Marcelino, tread carefully; once again my advice to you is that you should take every precaution as you make ready for your outing. Trust NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE. Let the day and hour, let alone the itinerary of your outing be keep a secret, even from God himself Should you reckon that the missions set for you, or which may be set for you, are known to a number of people, just refuse to carry them out. Whilst I am not point pointing the finger at anyone, the events in Barcelona prompt me to say this to you, especially given what you have pointed out I your own letter. Set considerations of self-esteem to one side, as none of those who might accuse you of lack of manhood on this occasion have done a thousandth of your magnificent achievements.

To finish off this matter and without trying to sway you in any way  in whatever you decide, I shall confine myself to telling you, or rather telling you yet again, what I have told you and written to you o previous occasions: KEEP UP THE WRITING OF YOUR LOG OF STRUGGLE AGAINST FRANCO’S DICTATORSHIP, UNDER THE MOTTO YOU HAVE CHAMPIONED SO FAR: “The bandit Massana does not kill; he robs the rich to feed the poor.” JUSTICE, at all times, TERRORISM, NEVER. What you do is popular because it is humane and everything humane takes root and bears fruit. Do you think that if our ideas were devoid of these humanistic principles and purposes, they would have put down such deep roots in our people?

I await your partner’s birth certificate and evidence of her window status and the rest will proceed as required.

I enclose the certificate you forwarded me from Casals and my own which you will definitely need to have legalized in Toulouse. Pintado will explain to you how to go about this.

What friend Casals wants is, apparently, for it to be checked, which is something that only he can do. You must report to the Prefecture where you live and request a number of special forms for the purpose and them fill these in correctly and forward them to the address indicated on them, along with the two letters of recommendation – mine and the other one – and then await the decision of the National Authorization Commission. It is a slow process, extremely slow, like all official paperwork. In the case of those of us who were under the supervision of a network, it was taken care of by the head of same, but that was back in the early days. Since this does not apply in your case, you must follow the procedure outlined. There is no time to waste. There is a chance that the forms may be available at the town hall where you are living. I say this to spare you the trip to Foix and Perpignan.

Well, Marcelino, I have nothing else in particular for today other than to wish you a trip without too many hitches and crowned with every success. Yours fraternally and with genuine respect and comradeship. TAKE CARE!

P.S. Best wishes to your partner and my good friends there: especially to Jean Claude.  

Notes (added)

Jose(p) Ester Borrás, 27.10.1913 – 13.4.1980. Berga-born CNT militant and  decorated member of the French resistance (served with the Ponzán network and the Liberté group) and was deported to Mauthausen death camp. Served on the International Resistance Committee within the camp. After WW2 he formed the FEDIP (Spanish Federation of Deportees and Political Internees).

Ramón Casals Oriols aka Ramonet xic, 6.11.1908 – 24.4.2001, Berga-born anarchist and close friend of Massana.

Juan Ferrer Farriol, 1896-11.9.1978. Involved with the infrastructure of the action groups sent into Spain after WW2. Helped run Radio CNT in 1945-46. Later ran the newspaper CNT.

Francisco Forcadell Prat, 1916-186. Republican artist exiled in Toulouse.