Antonio ORTIZ (1907-1996)

Antonio ORTIZ (1907-1996)

Born and raised in the working-class Pueblo Nuevo neighbourhood of Barcelona. Active in the Woodworkers’ Union. By 1931 he was a member of the Pueblo Nuevo Confederal Defence Groups and of the Nosotros anarchist group, alongside Durruti, Ascaso, Garcia Oliver and so on. 

In 1932 and 1933 he contributed to Solidaridad Obrera. In November 1932 he was appointed president of the Barcelona Woodworkers’ Union and had to grapple with the challenge of the sector’s biggest strike which lasted from November 1932 through to April 1933. 

During the January 1933 uprising he was arrested, jailed and beaten. From 1934 onwards he settled in Santa Coloma. Only to be arrested again in 1935. During the first half of 1936 he held rallies across Catalonia.

He played a prominent part in the 19-20 July 1936 uprising. On the afternoon of 24 July 1936 he set off by train for the Aragon front with his own column. He was the delegate for the then Ortiz or South-Ebro Column. He captured Caspe and was in charge of the Aragon front sector between the Macia-Companys Column in Teruel and the Durruti Column facing Zaragoza, with headquarters in Hijar. He took part in the Bujaraloz meeting that launched the Council of Aragon and appointed Joaquin Ascaso as its president. Come the militarization, the Ortiz Column became the 25th Division. 

On 14 September 1937 Ortiz was stood down as commander of the 25th Division due to his opposition to the Stalinist general Enrique Lister’s dissolution of the collectives in Aragon and the disbanding of the Council of Aragon. He spent several months awaiting a military posting. In December 1937 he enrolled at the School of War, graduating in fifth place out of a class of seventy. In February 1938 he had a hand in Plan Camborio which planned initiating a guerrilla war in the Francoists’ rear. He was posted to Seu d’Urgell as commander of the 24th Division. Finally, on 5 July 1938 he left for exile in France along with Joaquin Ascaso (former president of the Council of Aragon) and several close associates. He accused the upper echelons of the CNT-FAI of having issued the order to murder himself and Joaquin Ascaso. He was interned in the Le Vernet concentration camp before being relocated to Algeria later on.

Enlisting in the French army, in an assault battalion, he saw action in several countries in Africa and Europe and was decorated eight times. His most outstanding operation was the liberation of Belfort (France). Ortiz’s battalion pressed on into German territory, capturing the cities of Karlsruhe and Pforzheim, where he was wounded. On 23 July 1945 De Gaulle personally awarded him the Croix de Guerre with palm. He was demobbed with the rank of sergeant.

In 1948 he was to the fore in an attempt to assassinate Franco, an attempt made to drop bombs from  a plane onto the yacht Azor in San Sebastian Bay. Wanted in France for that abortive attempt, he fled to a number of Latin American countries. In Venezuela he occupied a number of posts within the Organization.

In 1987 he returned to Barcelona, securing a pension as a sergeant in the Republican army. He died on 2 April 1996 in an old people’s home in the La Verneda district of Barcelona. He donated his body to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Barcelona for scientific research. 

Arie Camacho, Phil Casoar and Laurent Guyoy screened a documentary about his life in 1996. In 1999 Jose Manuel Marquez and Juan Jose Gallardo, through the Hacer publishing house, issued a splendid biography of Ortiz, based on a range of interviews, and access to his archives: this was Ortiz, general sin dios ni amo, to which we would refer to all wishing to delve more deeply into the topic.

Agustin Guillamon

From Biografias del ‘36 edited by Paolo Casciola and Agustín Guillamón

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.