José Pérez Pedrero was in his early twenties when he faced the firing squad, as the result of the round-up of our section of the Resistance, one of the five whose death sentence was carried out – others had it commuted to various terms, 30 years in my case. At the last moment the lieutenant in charge of the executions asked if there were any last messages. Nobody answered, but José took the silk handkerchief off his neck and asked the officer to give it to his mother.
The Falangist secret policeman who was present wanted to snatch it away. “None of that, don’t play the martyr!” But the lieutenant, to his credit, told him to shut up. “You have no say here.”
Like many others, his mother received it as one of the last relics of her son snatched by the dictatorship. Had it happened a few years earlier, she might have received a pension from France; for José had been one of the first to enter the Resistance during the war. He survived the war to take the Resistance to Spain – and who would give a pension for a son executed as a “criminal”?
When he took up arms in the Resistance, he was about 14 years old. His parents had escaped the triumph of the Spanish Army to take refuge in France, which isolated them in concentration camps as if they were wild animals. He gravitated naturally into the anarchist Resistance which refused to accept Franco’s victory, and was in the wave of anarchist resistance that came after the World War and in many ways was equal in intensity, suffering, drama and historic importance to the events of the civil war.
All the guerrillas had the habit of calling each other by affectionate sarcasms. José had a terrible appetite and when on the trek over the mountains, at the regulation ten minutes halt in every hour, he could – as the Spanish say – “even eat stones”. The first thing they did on the stops was to take off their loads, and usually eat. He was called El Tragapanes because in a few moments he would “swallow” one of those huge Spanish loaves which were cheap and still the basic food of the friendly farms. With his happy-go-lucky temperament, he would greet the name of “the Bread Swallower” with great bursts of laughter.
Like many others, even “el Quico” himself, he started his “career” with Massana who trained them all in the art of crossing the border and passing over the mountains. But Massana, like many others, was only in his element in the mountains; he would not go in the towns. This is where he had to part from people like Sabaté who were attracted to the towns where they organised groups of workers as well as fighting in their element. José too was irresistibly drawn to Barcelona where his ties were and the sight of the enemy was a constant provocation to action.
On one occasion coming over the Pyrennes a group with which “el Tragapanes” was working spotted a patrol of three Guardia Civil. They hid in the bushes to let them go past. Suddenly José stood up, with utter daring, and told them they were covered, and to throw down their arms. They did so. The rest of the group then told them to take off their clothes. The Guardia Civil were convinced their last hour had come, were weeping and saying how many children they had dependent on them… But whatever the regime propagandists say, the Resistance weren’t bloodthirsty. They just hid the clothes in one spot and the arms on another – which gave them a good two hours start before they were recovered – and went off saying, “You don’t report us, and we won’t report you.” For the Guardia Civil would not report such an incident (which would have meant court martial after suspension without pay).
Such is the Guardia Civil, so arrogant and bullying when dealing with disarmed opponents, who swagger around like conquerors. But they are as cowardly as rabbits when faced with such a situation, possibly knowing they are hated by the conquered people.
Once coming across the Pyrennes the group went into one of the numerous friendly farms where they could be assured of protection. All these people were supporters of the CNT and the Guardia Civil knew it, so they were regularly checked by patrols. On this occasion their look-out spotted three Guardia Civil approaching the farm, and the farmer hid them in the hayloft. When the patrol came in, the acting corporal asked the question, “Anyone here?” “Nobody.” It was only a routine visit, but he decided, “Well, let’s have a look.” The group had no interest in provoking a fight and involving the farmer and his family. But the acting corporal was anxious for promotion and insisted on looking in the hayloft. As they went up the winging stair, the group were waiting breathlessly. One of them (still living) was crouched at the ready like an athlete. The Guardia drew his automatic. But too late. The other shot first. The other two Guardia Civil streaked off like lightning, one disappearing through a tiny window overlooking a precipice, from which he picked himself up agile as a cat and rushed off. Those who were there still wonder as to how so large a man got through so small a window.
The farmer and his 18 year old son escaped with the guerrillas into France to avoid persecution for their giving hospitality to the enemies of Franco. “El Tragapanes” was not responsible for the shooting; he just happened to be there. But this was what he was ultimately executed for – at least the pretext, for his real crime was his undying enthusiasm for the libertarian cause.
From: Black Flag Vol. 4, no. 7, Mar 1976.