August 1944. Spaniards in the Liberation of Paris. One Spanish Anarchist’s Testimony. Manuel Pinto Queiroz-Ruiz (1916-2000), aka ‘Manuel Lozano’ Translated by Paul Sharkey

'Manuel Lozano', Hôtel de Ville, 24 August 1944
‘Manuel Lozano’, Hôtel de Ville, 24 August 1944

Manuel Pinto Queiroz-Ruiz, better known by his alias ‘Manuel Lozano’, was born in Jerez de la Frontera (Cadiz) on 14-4-1916. The son of an anarchist barber (shot by the Francoists), he lost his mother at an early age and from a tender age worked in a distillery and in various vineyards around Jerez. In 1932, the year he learned to read and write, he joined the CNT (wine-cellar workers’ section) and the anarchist Libertarian Youth.

When the civil war erupted in 1936 and after Jerez fell into rebel hands he fled to the republican zone, serving on a number of fronts: Malaga, Granada, Marbella, Almeria, Murcia and Alicante — right up until the fighting ended.

In March 1939 he escaped to Oran but scarcely had he arrived when he was arrested by the French police and locked up in a concentration camp. He passed through five such camps in Algeria and Morocco, until November 1942 when the Allied armies overran North Africa. He then joined the Corps Franc d’Afrique (second armoured division) and, in April 1943, took part in the capture of Bizerta. In May 1944 he was brought to England and from August 1944 saw action in France with the Leclerc Division — 3rd Regiment, Company No 9 — in the battles of Normandy and Alençon.

On 24 August 1944 he was the first to enter Paris, something French patriots preferred to keep quiet, and subsequently in the liberation of Strasbourg (September 1944) and in the capture of the Dachau and Berchtesgaden concentration camps.

With France liberated, like many of his comrades, he believed that Spain would be next for liberation, but as we know, this was not to be. Abandoning the idea of ousting Franco on the field of battle, Lozano remained active as a member of the CNT-in-exile in Paris, contributing to Anarkia, CNT, Siembra and the Mexico-based Tierra y Libertad. He published the poetry review Rafagas and a number of pamphlets, essentially of poetry, such as a Ensayo poético (1986), Aires libertarios (1986), Aires andaluces (1987), Andalucía sin fronteras, Eco anárquico, Eco jerezano (1987), Ráfagas (1987), Pensamiento poético (1988), Estampa andaluza (1991), Jerez sin frontera, Prosa poética, Recopilación poética (1991).

The following text is translated from a 1985 pamphlet by Laurent Gimenez, entitled Agosto 1944. Los Españoles en la Liberación de Paris. Testimonio de un anarquista español, which deals with some of the events lived through by the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist Manuel Lozano, who passed away on 23 February 2000, in Paris.

Grupo Cultural de Estudios Sociales, Melbourne

 

manuellozano2‘Manuel Lozano’ lives on the fourth floor of an elderly building in Paris’s XIX arrondissement. One of those crumbling, century old buildings one can still find in certain districts of Paris, the sort that brings to mind the world of Dostoyevsky or of Eugène Sue. One half expects the terror-stricken, bleeding figure of Raskolnikov, fresh from committing his crime, to appear on every landing.

The images conjured up in Manuel’s apartment are radically different. Stepping across the threshold the world of the great Russian writer gives way to the wider vistas of Cervantes. The resemblance between the tenant and the immortal “knight of sorrowful countenance” is startling: the same slight figure, slightly stooped, above average height and the same dogged, utopian idealism.

Mementos and souvenirs from an unusual past – photographs, of course, but also military decorations and citations – hang on the walls bedecked with abstract sketches. One in particular catches the eye — a croix de guerre awarded to “trooper Manuel Lozano”. The citation, dated 31 August 1944, is headed by the stamp of the Second Armoured Division and carries the signature of General Leclerc.

Manuel remembers, 41 years ago, on 24 August 1944, a detachment from the Second Armoured Division under the commands of Captain Dronne was proceeding quietly in the direction of Paris. Manuel was leading the convoy, just ahead of the captain’s jeep. They passed the Porte d’Italie around 8.45 p.m. Manuel Lozano’s vehicle also carried another four Spanish troopers and a French sub-lieutenant; they were the first of the Allied forces to enter the occupied French city.

His homeland, now unrecognisable

It all began in July 1936 when the Spanish armies of Africa, swiftly placed at the disposal of General Franco, mutinied against the lawful government of the Republic. That torrid July, Manuel was working in the vast vineyards around his birthplace, Jerez de la Frontera. Now 19 years old, he belonged to the anarcho-syndicalist CNT’s wine-cellar workers’ union and was a member of the Libertarian Youth, which had joined in 1932. Small wonder, then, that when Jerez fell to the rebels Manuel escaped to join the republican army.

The subsequent vicissitudes of war brought him to many front lines, from Malaga to Murcia, not forgetting Granada, Marbella, Almería and Alicante, until the Republican defeat of March 1939. Like thousands of his brothers in misfortune, Manuel quit Spain, a homeland that was no longer recognisable to him. On 28 March he boarded the ‘Joven María’ and on 1 April the silhouette of Oran port (French territory back then) loomed on the skyline. His hopes were boundless: after the hellishness of battle and the bitterness of defeat, freedom now seemed to be only a few miles off. The reality, unfortunately, was very different.

“There was a mass of ships laden with refugees that authorities would not allow to come ashore. Not would they keep them supplied. There was much sickness …”

Manuel and his comrades did manage to get ashore, however, mingling with the huddled crowds passing through 1940s Oran. Their eyes were opened to the precariousness of their situation. Illegal refugees, without a word of French and without a penny in their pockets — what could they do and where were they to go?

“In the port” – Manuel relates – “an elderly fisherman gave us the address of a hotel where (if we had the money) we would get bed and board. All we had was an old briefcase packed with useless documents. However, we told the hotel owner, a Spanish speaker, that the briefcase held the cash with which we could pay him. He believed me and offered us a bite to eat before escorting us to our room.”

This isn’t a hotel! It’s a concentration camp!

This adventure which began so encouragingly was to end shortly, and come back to bite them. The day after they arrived, while strolling through the streets of Oran, Manuel was arrested locked up in a camp set aside for Spanish refugees. Manuel says:

“In the Oran docks there were warehouses which had been turned into a refugee camp. Surrounded by barbed wire it was guarded day and night by the Garde Mobile and Senegalese troops. Living conditions were ghastly. On day two of my detention I asked to speak to the camp commandant, a short fellow of Arab descent, dapper in his white suit, but very cynical. I told him I wanted some soap and a towel to dry myself. And with his hands thrust in his pockets, the guy started spinning around and burst out laughing: “Do you think place is a hotel? It’s a concentration camp!”

Needless to say, Manuel’s time there was a singular experience. Since 1939 hundreds of thousands of Spaniards fleeing Franco’s terror had been systematically locked up by the French authorities in concentration camps.

There were many similar camps across North Africa, and many more in the French Midi, especially in the Pyrénées Orientales. The names Barcarés, Saint-Cyprien and Argelès still resonate in the memories of Spanish refugees, much as the names Drancy or Struthof do in the minds of concentration camp victims. Bearing in mind the testimony from these refugees and historian researchers [1], living conditions and the regime within those camps were inhuman and unworthy of France’s liberal democratic tradition.

Manuel, got to know five different camps across Algeria and Morocco. The regimen was akin to slave labour; day after day, swinging pick and spade in the mines and quarries.

“We scared the officers …”

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September 1944: La Nueve, en route for Strasbourg — Perez, Marto and Lozano (smiling on the right)

Liberation came in ’42 with the Allied landings in North Africa. They signed an agreement with Darlan (a Petain collaborator who happened to be in the area), shut down the camps and freed all the prisoners. This gave rise to the birth of the Corps Francs d’Afrique (African Free Corps), made up of international antifascist volunteers: Italians, German, Spanish, etc. Among them Manuel.

So began the long African campaign in which the African Free Corps, attached to the Second Armoured Division, distinguish themselves in the capture of Bizerta in April 1943.

Within the Leclerc Division, Manuel served with the 9th Company of the Third Chad Infantry Regiment. It was a company that stood out from the others inasmuch as it consisted exclusively of Spaniards, including representatives from every political faction in the broad Republican Front which had fought desperately for three years against the Francoist revolt. There were moderate republicans, socialists, communists and, of course, anarchists, the latter being the most numerous. In his memoirs, published last year [2], Captain Dronne, appointed by Leclerc to command of No 9 “La Nueve” in August 1942 states of those Spanish volunteers that “they were magnificent soldiers, courageous and experienced warriors” (p.262)

“The Germans paid well for their butter ..”

In May 1944, ahead of the Allied landings, they shipped out to the UK and, on 4 August, Manuel set foot on French soil for the first time, along with all the Second Armoured Division troops.

In his memoirs Captain Dronne recounts some startling anecdotes, placing events in a context out of tune with our idyllic images of those times filled with popular upheaval and excitement.

Take, say, this encounter with an elderly Norman peasant woman on 5 August (pp. 274-275):

“The Spanish accent must have come as a surprise to our interlocutor. They had to drag the answers out of her (…) You must be delighted at being liberated? Silence. They insisted: You’ll be delighted to be rid of the Germans at any rate!

She lifted her head and slowly replied: “The German gentlemen were very kind; they paid a good price for their butter”, and , later (p. 272): “I sent Baños and a few men out with jerry cans to buy gasoline.

They went into a farmhouse. An elderly farmer went off to fill the jerry cans and brought them back. How much? – Baños asked. -The Germans paid 250 francs per litre, the fellow replied. – 250 francs? Too dear, replied Baños. – But it is not up to you to haggle over the price, he grumbled.”

And finally (p. 296) this:

“The soldiers pointed out to me that some civilians had acquired the habit of systematically raiding abandoned German vehicles for the purpose of “salvage”, chiefly of the batteries.”

When Manuel was reminded of these anecdotes he vigorously agree. “That’s right! In Écouché I spotted a guy stepping into all of the houses with a sack for his swag.”

And what of the applause, the warm, enthusiastic reception from the populace and the brouhaha? “In the major cities, yes, but not in the country areas.”

Encounter with Leclerc

Strasbourg, 1944
Strasbourg, 1944

The Second Armoured Division’s fought the battle for Normandy from 4 to 19 August; Alençon was liberated and then, after seven days of ferocious fighting, Écouché. The Paris uprising occurred on 19 August, and on the 22nd, General Leclerc received authority from his superior officer, General Bradley, to head for Paris. The Division moved out on the 23rd and made for the city. But the Germans held their ground. In Longjumeau, there was frequent skirmishing. Antony and Fresnes delayed the convoy’s progress. On the 24th the fighting persisted. It was particularly tough in Croix-de-Berny, a dozen kilometres outside Paris. Captain Dronne nevertheless managed to break through with his No 9 company and, on finding that the road ahead was clear, decided to push on to the city as soon as he could.

But, out of the blue, Dronne received the radioed order to halt his advance and to double back to some six hundred metres south of Croix-de-Berny. Considering this order nonsensical, Dronne refused to comply and forged ahead. Twice the order was repeated, with some emphasis, and Captain Dronne finally obeyed.

At this point there occurred the famous encounter with Leclerc who described the order as “stupid”, and ordered Dronne to continue towards Paris with whatever troops he could muster and to ignore anything other that reaching the city centre as soon as possible.

A surprising vagueness

Two issues arise here which the various sources consulted have failed to clarify.

The first is: who ordered Captain Dronne to return to Croix-de-Berny and why? Historians and the protagonists in the incident are surprisingly vague on this score. Manuel’s firm belief is that it was General Leclerc’s staff that issued the order. But then, who among that staff had an interest in issuing an order that General Leclerc himself was going to reverse within minutes and which, but for his intervention, might well have prevented Captain Dronne and La Nueve from being the first to reach Paris? And, above all, why would they have done that?

Among the likeliest probabilities there are two hypotheses.

The first is that the order to fall back to Croix-de-Berny reflected strictly military considerations, the staff being persuaded that the toughness of the fighting around Croix-de-Berny merited a fall-back by Dronne’s unit, riding to its aid. Manuel who was, remember, in the van of La Nueve, finds that explanation highly unlikely. “There was no threat in Croix-de-Berny and no resistance offered. There was nothing, not a thing. The road ahead was clear.” Indeed, Captain Dronne makes absolutely no reference in his memoirs to their having had to fight once they reached the appointed position near Croix-de-Berny.

Hypothesis No 2 is equally as indefinite but more subversive. The order could have emanated from one or more members of General Leclerc’s command, uneasy at the prospect of a company consisting almost exclusively of Spaniards (mostly anarchists at that) being the first into the city. This possibility is not the unlikeliest. The controversy in France following the release of Des terroristes à la retraite (1983) [by Stephane Courtois and Mosco Boucault – 3] on the ‘Manouchian Gang’ is a reminder that nationalist feelings were by no means absent from the fighting around the resistance and the Liberation.

A second if lesser issue is why General Leclerc chose Dronne and then La Nueve to be the first to enter Paris. Manuel has no doubts on the subject:

“Leclerc being an experienced fellow knew that he could rest easy with a company made up of Spaniards if by chance there was a rumpus. Whatever the case with some of the officers who had taken part in the African campaign, among the men only the Spaniards were conversant with war.”

The historical record forces us to acknowledge that choosing La Nueve was probably an indirect result of Captain Dronne’s initiative rather than the result of any particular confidence on the part of Leclerc in the military competency of the Spaniards. Remember it was on Dronne’s initiative they had swept past Croix-de-Berny to ensure his company was the best placed to be the first to enter Paris. There is no doubt but that Leclerc would have issued the same order to whatever unit might have been so placed at that precise point in time.

So Captain Dronne and his Spanish company were selected by Fortune – in the form of General Leclerc – to be the first to enter the city.

Of the troops who entered Paris first, 70% were Spanish.

Oddly enough, it is hard to define precisely which troops accompanied La Nueve and Captain Dronne on their mission. When they do not contradict each other, the sources consulted are incomplete or unduly vague. The fact that many of the protagonists of the time are still living, Captain Dronne in particular, and the information therefore ought to be accessible makes this all the more odd.

Be that as it may, I reckon I can, without too many mistakes, offer the following details on the make-up of the unit which, at around 8.45 am. On 24 August 1944, entered Paris, several hours ahead of the bulk of the forces of the Second Armoured Division.

  • In short, at least 70% of the men making up Dronne’s unit were Spanish. Two of the three sections making up No 9 Company of the Third RMT (Chad March Regiment), aka La Nueve, accompanied by the command vehicle in which Manuel was travelling; that is to say, a total of eleven armoured vehicles
  • One section consisting of three Sherman tanks, from the 1st and 2nd Companies of the 501st
  • A sappers section made up of two armoured vehicles and two GMC lorries.
  • One jeep carrying Captain Dronne and his driver.

Finally, certain sources also refer to the presence of a armoured repairs vehicle and even one or two ambulances.

Now for a breakdown of the unit according to the nationalities represented. The tank section and sappers’ unit consisted of Frenchmen, about forty of them in all. (According to Manuel most of the men from the sappers unit — he reckons there were 2 or more of them — were Algerians). The two sections that made up La Nueve amounted to ninety men, all of them Spaniards. The command car was manned by five Spanish soldiers, including Manuel, plus one French sub-lieutenant.

In short, at least 70% of the men in Dronne’s unit were Spaniards. Which is something worth remarking. Also deserving of attention is the choices that Dronne made in respect of the deployment of the various personnel from his unit prior to entry into Paris: in the lead was the command vehicle followed by the captain’s own jeep and then the two sections from La Nueve. The rear of the convoy was made up of the three tanks and the sapper unit.

When all is said and done, none of this would be of much significance had most of the historians and French writers dealing with the Liberation not striven to ignore (deliberately or otherwise) not just the predominance but the very presence of Spaniards in the unit, which is well established was the first to enter the capital.

Among the best known accounts we may cite Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins’s book [Is Paris Burning?4], and the one by Henri Michel [La libération de Paris5]. Neither of these makes the slightest reference to any Spanish presence in Dronne’s unit. Better yet. Henri Michel writes (p. 131): “Yes indeed, Americans, Free French and the FFI (French Forces of the Interior, i.e. the resistance – editor’s note) cannot be separated in the Allied victory that was the liberation of Paris …” That statement encapsulates a concern to narrow the list of the victors that is highly suspicious.

Determination to leave out the Spanish presence

We will concede, though, that the authors of those two books may have been misled by commonplace false or incomplete reports.

The first important book written about the liberation of Paris was Adrien Dansette’s book, published in 1946. [Histoire de la libération de Paris6] There, Dansette makes no reference to the presence of Spaniards alongside Captain Dronne. Now, what might – in the case of Lapierre/Collins and Henri Michel – be ascribed to lack of precisely detailed information, can only be attributed in Dansette’s case to a determination to omit and gloss over an incontrovertible historical fact. For what reason? No doubt some nationalistic intent, common enough at that time.

Be that as it may, Dansette’s deliberate omission leaves no room for doubt. Faced with the many dispatches recording the presence of Spaniards in the van of the fighting, he claims that they were Moroccans! Likewise, Dansette claims that the three Sherman tanks – the tellingly French names (Montmirail, Romilly and Champaubert) that he is plainly chuffed to cite – were the first to arrive at the Hotel de Ville, ahead of Captain Dronne’s unit. And this despite the repeated declarations from Dronne himself that the ones leading the convoy were armoured vehicles packed with Spanish combatants, vehicles bearing names as unequivocal as Madrid, Teruel, Ebro or Guadalajara.

It is possible that the cold shoulder given in France to the Spaniards who fought in the Liberation, since the 1940s, may have been due to initially mistaken information. Possibly, but unlikely. First because many eye witnesses and protagonists in the events are still alive and Dansette’s is not the only documentary source in existence. And then because French writers and historians dealing with the Liberation have manifestly disregarded (if not been ignorant of) the crucial part played by the Spaniards, while often being unduly lavish in their praises of the French fighters.

The myth of the self-liberating French

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Berchtesgaden, 8 /5 /1945: Martinez, Herrero,and Lozano (on the right of the jeep with the axe)

Here the “legend of the tanks” launched by Dansette has proved a huge success. On page 316 of their famous book Dominique Lapierrre and Larry Collins write: “Within minutes, Dronne had assembled his little detachment. It was made up of three Shermans bearing the names of Napoleon’s victories, Romilly, Montmirail and Champaubert, plus a half dozen armoured vehicles …”

Similarly, it is shocking to discover the extent to which the photographs illustrating books about the liberation of Paris are painstakingly selected to highlight the role played by the FFI, the feats of arms of the Free French Forces, etc. Yet there is no dearth of photographs of Spanish fighters, identifiable by the names borne by their vehicles. And that is how, gradually, there has evolved this legend of the “self-liberating French”, a legend launched by De Gaulle in his famous address on 25 August 1944 at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris and taken up by generations of writers and historians and later embraced by a nationalist community, frustrated at a victory in which its involvement had been quite circumspect.

It is that national consensus regarding a soothing historical myth that was demolished a few weeks ago by Mosco Boucaut’s film, the essence of which resides less in arraigning the French Communist Party over the ‘Manouchian Gang’ than in commemorating the heroic fight put up against the Nazi invader by immigrant workers in France.

Of course many French people were courageously and actively involved in the resistance to fascism and Nazism, at home and abroad. But, to be honest, the bulk of the French never budged from their blithe passivity during those crucial times.

“Going after the French collaborators ..”

Manuel is well aware of all these issues which cropped up in the immediate wake of the liberation. But he is emphatic when he says that what mattered above all at the time was the concerted fight against the Nazis: “Nationality and ideology were non-issues.”

Even so, minor incidents brought the Spanish fighters into confrontation with their FFI fellow combatants. Incidents that seem to reflect their differing conceptions of a war of liberation.

“In Écouché the FFI took prisoners and locked them up in a warehouse, giving them nothing to eat. It was we Spaniards who brought them bread and water.”

Another similar incident took place in the Bois de Boulogne (near Paris), where La Nueve had set up camp following the 26 August parade down the Champs Élysées:

“A lot of girls showed up, saying that they had been in relationships with German soldiers. And the FFI came looking for them, intent on shaving their heads. So we told the FFI: no one is going to lay a finger on these women here. So they went out with Germans? As long as they did not betray anybody, that does not matter. Off you go and hunt down your French collaborators and not these poor wretches.”

“We’d have gone all the way to Barcelona …”

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Homage to Manuel Lozano, 43 rue des Bois, Paris, 75019 (4 April 2016)

The violent clashes in Paris on 25 August after the famous parade down the Champs Élysées on 26 August, in which Manuel took part in the La Nueve command vehicle were followed on 23 September by the liberation of Strasbourg, transit through the Dachau camp recently liberated by the Americans and then the finishing post in Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s lair. Amusingly, a La Nueve soldier by the name of Fernández drove Hitler’s car, an armoured Mercedes, all the way to Berlin.

In the Spaniards’ minds, however, the Second Armoured Division’s mission was not over. “We had joined the Leclerc Division in the belief that after France we would be off to liberate Spain.”

That was their first disappointment, their first let-down. Later the French played down and, indeed, deny the part that Spaniards had played in the liberation of Paris and France. For the time being, they were bereft of the primary reason behind their fight: the hope of releasing Spain from a regime which (together with Salazar’s rule in Portugal) would be the only historical fascist regime not to go under in the whirlwind revolution unleashed by the overthrow of the Third Reich.

Manuel recalls: “Even before we reached Strasbourg we realised that we were not going to liberate Spain. In my company, La Nueve, everyone was ready to desert with all our gear. Campos, in charge of No 3 section, made contact with the guerrillas of the Unión Nacional fighting in the Pyrenees. But the Unión Nacional was run by the communists and we had to pull back.”

But had that not been the case, had the communists not ruled the roost in the Unión Nacional. “We would then have recruited the company and not just our company but all the other battalions with a Spanish presence in them. We had it all worked out. We’d have gone all the way to Barcelona, with lorries laden with gear and gasoline. In which case, who can say whether we might not have altered the course of history..”

Laurent Giménez (from Portaloaca)

Notes

[1] See above all Louis Stein’s Beyond Death And Exile: The Spanish Republicans In France, 1939-1955 (Harvard University Press, 1979)

[2] Raymond Dronne, Carnets de route d’un croisé de la France Libre (Éditions France-Empire, 1984)

[3] Des terroristes à la retraite (1983) by Stephane Courtois and Mosco Boucault. This film, recently broadcast on French television, charged the leadership of the French Communist Party with having denounced its own main band of armed fighters in Paris – the ‘Manouchian Gang’ made up solely of immigrant workers and foreigners, including a number of Spaniards – to the Germans in 1943. According to Charles Tillon Over 4,000 Spaniards took part in the Liberation of Paris Les F.T.P. Témoignage Pour Servir À L’histoire de la Résistance [Francs Tireurs et Partisans] (Juillard, Paris, 1962) p 541.

[4] Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, Is Paris Burning? (Macmillan, 1974)

[5] Henri Michel, La libération de Paris (Éditions Complexe, 1980)

[6] Adrien Dansette, Histoire de la libération de Paris (Fayard, 1946)