1941: Francisco Escribano, for supplying the Spanish Maquis

Add comment July 1st, 2017 Headsman

My name is Francisco Escribano. They accused me of stealing for the men in the mountains two sacks of chickpeas, a blanket, a pair of scissors, six socks, six handkerchiefs and 10 pesetas. For this crime they executed me on 1 July 1941. For that same crime, my father, two uncles and my cousin died with me.

-Actor Javier Bardem voicing a victim of Franco’s Spain, for Pedro Almodovar‘s documentary short. We’ve previously encountered this film in our entry on the very first execution of the Spanish Civil War.

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1940: Lluis Companys, Catalan president

3 comments October 15th, 2013 Headsman

“Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.

-George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

On this date in 1940, Catalan president Lluis Companys was shot by the Spanish fascists.

Companys had held that notional office for mere hours six years before — but he’s still the last to hold it in any form at all.

Political exile was no unfamiliar terrain for Companys. As a young lawyer, his activism in the first two decades of the century had seen him incarcerated over a dozen times; in fact, his path to political respectability had entailed getting out of a Menorca prison in 1920 courtesy of the parliamentary immunity conferred by winning an election.

And he’d drawn a long sentence for an attempted 1934 rising against a center-right government — the occasion when he had become the President of the Catalan Republic on October 6, and been dispossessed of both office and state by the very next day.

That prison sentence’s reversal by the new republican government in 1936 was a bit of Pyrrhic victory for Companys’s left-wing politics — inasmuch as said republicans’ ascent was also the trigger for the nationalist revolt that resulted in the Spanish Civil War and a military dictatorship lasting until the 1970s.

As the virtual personification of Catalan national aspirations, Companys remained head of the Generalitat de Catalunya from 1933 until his death — in prison, in exile, wherever Companys went he bore along the Catalan cause.

As such, he was in the thick of the civil war’s scrap for control of Barcelona: not only against the fascists but among the left parties whose fractious alliance tore apart in 1937.

It was truly a case of riding the tiger. Companys struggled to maintain the cooperation of his alliance even while the republicans’ Soviet sponsors excommunicated anarchist and anti-Stalinist elements internally. The dreadful spectacle of internecine street fighting among the anti-fascists in May 1937 fills the final tragic pages of Orwell’s Homage, decided by the inescapable materialist circumstances: “the Government could not afford to offend the Communist Party while the Russians were supplying arms.”

Few sources direct much personal blame at Companys for what followed. Under Soviet pressure, he accepted the Communist police raids that had set off the street fighting, accepted the purges and the press censorsip, sacked anti-Stalinist minister Andres Nin from the government. (Nin was later “disappeared” and murdered.)

Who knows but that even these evil days were not still the best that could be made of a bad circumstance: whatever they were, they were not enough for republican Spain or for Catalonia.

When those dreams fell under the fascist advance little more than a year later, Companys couldn’t flee Franco far enough for safety. Soon after his 1939 escape to France, that country was overrun by militaristic rightists from the other direction — and the German occupiers happily handed Companys back to Spain as soon as they got their hands on him.

Condemned after the formality of a perfunctory trial for “military rebellion” conducted on October 14, 1940, Companys was shot the very next morning Montjuic Castle. (See Franco: A Biography)

Spain, where questions of Catalan sovereignty and the Franco years are both sensitive subjects, has never reversed the judgment (Spanish link) against Companys. However, a Barcelona promenade is named in Companys’s honor, as is a major stadium — actually the arena where the anti-fascist 1936 People’s Olympiad in opposition to the notorious master race spectacle of Berlin was to have taken place, before that whole Civil War unpleasantness.

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1946: Cristino Garcia, Spanish Republican and French Resistance hero

Add comment February 21st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1946, ten* Spanish Republicans were shot — most famously including Cristino Garcia.

Garcia, a Communist veteran of the Spanish Civil War, had put his guerrilla skills to good use by joining the French Resistance during World War II.

Garcia ultimately held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Resistance, and was perhaps the most individually famous of the numerous Spaniards** who fought as maquisards. His unit broke out hundreds of people before potential deportation to German death camps, and Garcia helped orchestrate the guerrilla-led liberation of Foix in August 1944. (There’s a lengthier roundup of Garcia’s career in the field in Spanish, here.)

The French had nothing but good feelings for this guy, but Garcia wasn’t looking to take a pension from De Gaulle and settle down in a vineyard. As France fell to Allies, Garcia — going on ten years a professional leftist revolutionary — headed back to Spain (Spanish link) to carry on the fight against fascism closer to home.

His tasks over a few months in 1945 ran to the less legendary: bank attacks and the like, blurring the line between “ordinary” and “political” crimes. Garcia was also detailed as a result of intra-party politicking to murder fellow-Communist Gabriel Leon Trilla (Spanish link).†

Garcia and his group were arrested shortly thereafter and faced a military tribunal on January 22, 1946. (Spanish source)

As an agent of the Spanish Communist Party, which was backed by a French Communist Party riding high on its World War II heroics, Garcia’s situation became a national cause celebre. French left parties uniformly protested the planned execution, and the government made repeated diplomatic overtures to Madrid to stay the sentence. Editorialists protested floridly.

Have we forgotten that fascism exists at our border; Was it not against all fascisms that Cristino Garcia and thousands of our Spanish brothers fought with us on our soil? Did they not fall beside us, as at the Eysses prisons, under the same Nazi bullets, for France? And today will we disown their sacrifice, their blood and their martyrdom because the fight against fascism has moved to the other side of the Pyrenees? (from the Franc-Tireur, quoted here

Incensed when Franco ignore their appeals and shot the men anyway, France retaliated by closing its border with Spain on March 1, 1946. Spain did not neglect to point out the irony that, during the war years, innumerable resistance fighters and others fleeing Naziism or the Vichy regime had taken refuge by crossing that very border. (Less stress was understandably laid on the Francoists’ onetime demand — not honored by Paris — that France close its border against escaping Republicans in 1939.)

* I believe from press reports that there were 12 total executions of Republicans Feb. 21-22, 10 of which took place on Feb. 21. However, I might be mistaken about the overall numbers or their distribution by dates. Garcia’s, certainly, took place on Thursday the 21st.

** The Resistance was blessed by with no small amount of foreign blood. (French)

† Garcia delegated this task to two subalterns, one of whom (Francisco Esteban Carranque) was shot with him on this date. The other man, Jose Olmedo, was arrested in 1947 and executed in 1948.

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1975: The last executions under Franquismo

Add comment September 27th, 2012 Headsman

Though Spain’s last execution is often misremembered as that of handsome anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974, that milestone actually occurred with the shooting of five anti-Franco terrorists in three different cities on September 27, 1975.

It was an ugly coda to an ugly regime and a 40-year history of political killings.

Gen. Francisco Franco had the previous year been forced by his failing health to hand over power, raising hopes for a democratic transition. But after surprisingly recovering, Franco surprisingly took back his strongman role — and anti-Franco revolutionary movements that had been biding their time greeted the return of Franquismo with a wave of bombings and assassinations.

Spain’s cabinet met in September 1975 to consider eleven death-sentenced prisoners — three Basques of the separatist ETA, and eight members of the communist revolutionary organization FRAP. It upheld five of those sentences, all involving the killing of policemen. (Two women, who both claimed to be pregnant, were among those reprieved.)

The five who ultimately died were (and these are all Spanish Wikipedia links):


Headline from the London Times, September 27, 1975. The garrote was not, in fact, used for any of the executions.

The shootings met angry — often violent — reaction throughout Europe. Spanish embassies in the Netherlands and Turkey were attacked; several countries recalled their ambassadors; and French protesters rioted on the Champs Elysees. The EU predecessor entity EEC (Spain was not then a member) voted to freeze its trade relations with Spain.

And it was about more than just the five humans shot to death.

They had all been condemned within a month before their deaths, by military tribunals requiring harsh mandatory death sentences for crimes against public order. As the unsettled situation on the ground implied quite a lot of disorder and anti-government violence, observers worried that the regime’s willingness to actually carry out those sentences would unleash a “death machine” of unstoppable condemnations, met with inevitable reprisals, and still more unstoppable death sentences. Satans mördare, in the words of outspoken Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Devilish murders.

The devil had plans for a different soul.

The ailing Franco succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease on November 20, 1975, once again introducing the period of relative calm and stability that Spain could have been enjoying for the previous year had the late caudillo just stayed in retirement. Spain abolished the death penalty under its post-Franco constitution.

Spanish-speakers may enjoy this documentary focusing on one of this day’s victims: parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5. Indeed, this gruesome parting Franco made with his mortal coil has inspired many remembrances up the present day, especially given the martyrology-friendly anti-fascist credentials of the five. There’s also a 1991 film called The Longest Night and the Luis Eduardo Aute song “At Dawn”:

* This man’s widow Silvia Carretero, who was herself arrested and tortured (while pregnant!) under Franco, pushed an unsuccessful 2010 lawuit for her husband’s execution.

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1936: Virgilio Leret, the first shot in the Spanish Civil War

Add comment July 18th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1936, Spanish aviator Virgilio Leret Ruiz was shot for resisting the fascists’ opening gambit in what would become the Spanish Civil War.


The first vignette of this recent film supporting justice for victims of the civil war is voiced by film director Pedro Almodovar, who says “My name is Virgilio Leret Ruiz … I’m a pilot, head of the air force in the eastern part of Morocco. I refuse to support the uprising, and at dawn on 18 July 1936, my comrades turned me into the first military officer assassinated for fulfilling his duty.”

Leret (Spanish link, as are all the ensuing links in this post), who has the incidental distinction of having patented an early jet engine design, was, circa 1936, stationed at the Atalayon Seaplane Base on the outskirts of Spain’s Moroccan exclave of Melilla.

This would put him in the front row for the very first action of the terrible civil war — the July 17 military uprising (Spanish link) that secured Spanish Morocco for the putschists within hours.

North Africa, correctly rated as easy pickings, was to be the first target of Franco’s rising, with the main event on the Iberian peninsula following the very next day. From their standpoint, it pretty much went off without a hitch.


This pro-Franco plaque in Melilla celebrates the city’s distinction as the place where his “glorious national movement” was launched. Image (c) Joshua Benton and used with permission.

Leret’s wife Carlota, spent 4+ years locked up and wrote this book about her fellow prisoners. She later moved to Venezuela, where Leret progeny still remain.

Despite the absence of any effective resistance elsewhere in Melilla, Captain Leret scrambled from a relaxing day swimming with his family and commanded his base to hold out for the Republican government.

While it was no real threat to the rebelling officers, the gesture required a slight detour by Franco’s forces, and even a couple of casualties before the Seaplane base surrendered that night to obviously overwhelming opposition.

The next day at dawn, “half-naked and with a broken arm,” Virgilio Leret Ruiz became — along with two ensigns under his command, Armando Corral Gonzalez and Luis Calvo Calavia — the first people executed in the Spanish Civil War.

Needless to say, a great many others would follow them.

A 2011 documentary, Virgilio Leret, the Blue Knight, retrieves the reputation of this “exceptional man”, and the experience of 20th century Spain through the fate of his family.

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1930: Captains Fermin Galan and Angel Garcia Hernandez

1 comment December 14th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1930, two Spanish soldiers were shot for an abortive mutiny against the crown.

Fermin Galan (Spanish Wikipedia entry; most of the available online material about him is in Spanish) earned his military spurs in the Rif War in Morocco, and earned his revolutionary spurs participating in an attempted 1926 rising evocatively named La Sanjuanada. The resultant prison term shoulder to shoulder with Barcelona anarchists only radicalized Galan further. (It also gave him a chance to write.)

After an amnesty, Captain Galan was back in his fatigues commanding the garrison at Jaca.

And he was positively a firebrand; other left-leaning activists who knew he was cooking up a mutiny struggled to restrain him knowing the time was not ripe. When strikes swept Spain in November, followed by violent police suppression, Galan forced the issue, wanting waffling “revolutionaries” to commit themselves.

Galan, as he expressly stated during those feverish days, was fed up with the failures of 1926 and didn’t want to rely on pseudo-revolutionary generals in the style of Blazquez, or on the opportunistic politicians … The majority of the Jaca soldiers adored him and would follow him wherever he led. (Quoted here)

One will discern that that commitment was not forthcoming. Galan’s rising Dec. 12 was quashed; a more general rebellion slated for Dec. 15 fizzled, and Galan and one of his fellow-officers were court-martialed and quickly put to death.

According to Robin Warner,*

If authorities’ intention had been to discourage Republican support by making an example of Galan, the burgeoning legend of his self-sacrifice achieved quite the opposite effect. In the context of a well organised campaign for the release of imprisoned Republican leaders, the dead officer was given the status of a martyr. Clandestine journals and street ballads were quick to provide details of the bravery of his last moments and blame his death on royal intervention … With the accession to power of the provisional Republican Government on 14 April the figure of Galan had a place of honour at the official — and unofficial — celebrations. One of the first acts of the new regime was solemnly to honour the memory of the December martyrs and order a revision of their trial …

Galan had few illusions about the nature of the broad Republican movement which was to exploit his death. He roundly denounced “la ficcion hueca y pomposa que constituye la democracia moderna”, whose rhetoric serves to conceal the aim of perpetuating traditional privileges and blocking genuine change.

Opportunistic is as opportunistic does: that Republican movement exploited Galan’s martyrdom right into conquest of state power by the following April — inaugurating the second Spanish republic, the one that summoned Orwell and all those other starry-eyed multinational leftists (and Fermin Galan’s brother Francisco) to war to defend it against Franco.

* “The Legend of Fermin Galan,” Forum for Modern Language Studies, October 1984 XX(4).

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1974: Salvador Puig Antich and Heinz Ches, the last garroted in Spain

23 comments March 2nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1974, in the face of an international controversy, Spain executed anarchist Salvador Puig Antich — the very last execution by garrote.

Handsome young Salvador radicalized as a youth in the 1960s under the oppressive semi-fascist Franco dictatorship.

As was the style at the time, the Catalan nationalist’s philosophy soon migrated to anarchism, and he brought his army experience to the Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación (MIL), whose direction-action credo entailed bank robberies branded as “expropriation.”

Puig Antich was caught in a police ambush that also claimed the life of a police officer — at least some of the bullets seemingly delivered by police friendly fire.

But his defense that his own gun discharged only as he was beaten senseless by the gendarmes never had a chance, since between arrest and trial, another set of proscribed leftists assassinated Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco.

Blanco’s successor went by the handle “Butcher of Malaga” for his depredations as a nationalist prosecutor during the Spanish Civil War.

So there was no quarter forthcoming from the Spanish regime, notwithstanding domestic general strikes and worldwide gnashing of teeth.

Salvador Puig Antich went on to a post-mortem existence as anarchist martyr. To help take the political edge off the scene, a non-political murderer, Heinz Ches (Spanish link), was garroted at almost the same time, in a different prison.

Spain soon did away with the discomfiting garrote; its very last executions were carried out by firing squad.

Salvador Puig Antich was the subject of a 2006 film, Salvador. (Here is a hostile anarchist review.)

The junior partner in the day’s twin killing, Heinz Ches, was himself the subject of a documentary, Nobody’s Death: The Enigma of Heinz Ches, exploring the weird near-total obscurity of the man who shared the headlines with Salvador Puig Antich. (A clip can be viewed here.)

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1942: Joan Peiro i Belis, Catalan anarchist

2 comments July 24th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1942, anarchist, trade unionist and anti-fascist Joan Peiro was shot with six others at Paterna, Spain.

Joan (or Juan) Peiro (English Wikipedia page | Spanish) was a Barcelona glassworker of anarcho-syndicalist politics.

As Secretary General of the Confederacion National del Trabajo (CNT) and editor of the anarchist rag Solidaridad Obrera, Peiro mixed it up in the rough-and-tumble interwar political scene, eventually becoming Minister of Industry for Republican Spain — an untoward position to more orthodox anarchists.

When the Spanish Republic lost the Civil War, Peiro fled to France, where he was nabbed and extradited.

The nationalist general Emilio Mola had said before the war’s conclusion,

Whoever is, openly or secretly, a supporter of the Popular Front, must be shot … we must sow terror … eliminating without scruple or hesitation those who do not think as we do. (Source)

In practice, reprisals weren’t that vicious (maybe because Mola himself had died in a plane crash and wasn’t managing them) — but the leadership and intelligentsia who could rally an anti-Franco political bloc were purged ruthlessly.

The imprisoned Peiro was offered — repeatedly — a sellout package to oversee Franco’s house unions, and he repeatedly refused.

He earned martyrdom for his troubles, and after Franco’s death re-entered the public sphere as the sort of bloke to name streets after. (As an anti-Stalinist, Peiro had had all the right enemies.)


Placa Joan Peiro, a major square in Barcelona.

The Spanish judiciary, however, has thus far declined (Spanish link) to overturn his sentence.

Peiro is saluted in Catalan here.

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