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.
In a work of painstaking research, Evelyn Mesquida has been looking into the hundreds of Spanish republican veterans, male and female, who came to the defence of freedom through the French Resistance. A book that complements her last book, La Nueve. (Translated by Paul Sharkey)
Following publication of La Nueve, Evelyn Mesquida now offers us the heroic and tragic tale of those Spanish republicans who, following defeat in the Civil War, put up a stunning fight against the Nazi foe from within the French Resistance.
“Like the many Spaniards who served in the French army and fought in the Second World War, those refugees who took part in the French Resistance were also overlooked by the history books. But they were there.” Since their arrival in France in 1939, most of them had had to live in barracks in concentration camps, huts in the labour camps, shacks and caves in the mountains and in the forests throughout the country. Which is where they were still living when, in September 1944, in an anxious and crass moment, General de Gaulle asked them to return to their homes, following the crucial battles they had fought.
The author, Evelyn Mesquida is a journalist and for many years the Paris correspondent of the magazine Tiempo. She spent a decade working on La Nueve, having interviewed many of the survivors and published several articles on the topic.
THE SPANISH GUERRILLAS in the north were not as numerous as their comrades in the south, but their presence was clearly felt in the battles of liberation that began in June 1944. In this theater, however, they were joined by their brothers who fought in French uniforms, those who had joined the Foreign Legion or escaped to England after the defeat of France in 1940. These men had battled General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps and had then prepared for the invasion of France. They were to return to France in mid-1944, help to liberate it from the Nazi army, and then to push into the heartland of Germany itself.
In the summer of 1943, sixteen thousand soldiers, twenty percent of them Spaniards, were activated in Africa as the Second French Armored Division, under the command of General Philippe Leclerc. They were drawn from diverse sources but all had seen considerable action in the African campaigns. Equipped by the Americans, the division possessed the most modern armor. At about the same time General Brosset assumed command of the First French Armored Division and General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny was named commander of the French Army B.1 These units were to become the visible symbols of the resurgence of French military vitality and the instruments through which France would rejoin the contest against Hitler.
GENERAL CHARLES DE GAULLE was fond of asking Maquis how long they had been in the Resistance. Since the question was ritual in nature, he wanted and expected a ritual response: “Since June 18, 1940, General,” the date of his famous appeal to the French nation to continue the struggle against Hitler. In Limoges, in September 1944, the General asked the question of a colonel of the Francs Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). “With all respect, General,” came the reply, “before you.” Seeing de Gaulle’s surprised reaction the colonel continued, Yes, I fought against the Germans during the war in Spain.”1
Perhaps the fact that the FTP was the communist arm of the Resistance motivated the Colonel’s reply, but the Spanish saw the war against the fascists as a continuing struggle dating from July 1936. It was true, as General de Gaulle said on another occasion, that the participation and sufferings of Spanish refugees in the Resistance had made them heroes of France and Spain.2 The sense of solidarity felt by Spaniards with Frenchmen in the common combat was expressed by Cristino Garcia Grandas, an outstanding Spanish guerrilla, when he noted that men and women of both nations had fought together for four years. “If I am proud of being a son of Spain I am not less proud of having helped in the liberation of France.” Cristino Garcia’s own career gave powerful affirmation to the basic Spanish idea that the war against fascism would not end until the victorious Allies helped the Spanish Republicans oust Francisco Franco. After the defeat of Ger-many, Cristino Garcia returned to Spain to organize a guerrilla campaign to achieve this end. He was captured and executed by the nationalist government.3