The English obituarists of Franco dwelt on the fact of how he has “tricked” Hitler into not supporting him, how Hitler said he would rather go to the dentist than have another such interview. But why didn’t Hitler simply use force as with other European countries reluctant to help him to the utmost!
Franco had to deal with people of whom these “unknown heroes” are an integral part. He only dared send volunteers. He could not rely on his subjects staying conquered; neither did Hitler dare to stir up the Peninsula. That was the problem. Time and again trains laden with ammunition were blown up on the Catalan run. The “specialist” in explosions of this nature was Ramón Capdevila.
Ramón Capdevila – better known as “Caraquemada” (Burnt Face) one of his many nicknames – was a member of the Berga CNT. In that region of the Pyrenees, which he knew so well, he was to become almost legendary. During the civil war he was in a CNT batallion, later to become a commissar after the militarisation of the army. Like el Catalá, he felt the contradiction very keenly. Afterwards, he went to France to avoid capture, and he began a group of the Resistance together with Massana. Massana (one of the few of those surviving the immediate post-war Resistance) has said he will write his own biography. It will be a pity if he does not; he must be linked with Sabaté and Facerias as one of the toughest fighters of the epoch.
Caraquemada, Massana and Tallaventras (Cutbelly) organized regular raids in the Pyrenees. Ramon, however was invaluable as a guide over the Pyrenees, and was in great demand to smuggle people over the border. Truth to tell, it was something of a sport for him – he enjoyed matching his great strength against the mountains, and did not seem to understand that other people got fatigued on the way. Himself, he would not have stopped to rest between Perpignan and Barcelona! But he was tolerant of those who wanted to rest every hour – though always impatient to get on. He was affectionately, though ironically called “Pasos Largos” (Long Steps) by many veterans of the Resistance on account of his great strides.
During the war many Jews escaping from the Nazis, as well as allied servicemen, came out by that backdoor from Europe, and Ramón was one of the guides most sought after. This was an embarrassment to the Franco regime in that they could not send these people back (later they took all the credit on behalf of “the Spanish people”) but they did their best to keep them out – to no avail. The well-to-do paid for the guide’s services; the servicemen were paid for by British Intelligence; workers, the poor, and resistance fighters went free. (Others, fled Franco the opposite way in the post-war years).
“Pasos Largos” took his charges all the way across the Pyrenees as far as Barcelona. But he never went into Barcelona. “Here’s your destination”, he said when they approached the city lights. “Goodbye”.
Unlike others, Franquesas for instance, who went into the city to help organise the groups, he stayed out. He was a lone wolf. He would not consent to be a leader, not to be led, but was always at the service of the anarchist resistance.
In an old monastery our movement used as a base to go into Spain (after the war) he holed up, waiting to take in a raiding party, living for weeks on frozen potatoes and wild mushrooms, rather than risk capture by buying in the village. With half a bar of gelignite he would blow up two electric pylons and bring the railroad to a standstill.
Even when caught in an ambush by the Guardia Civil, his companion killed, and wounded in the mouth, he went on for over a hundred miles to the border across the snows of the High Pyrenees… not for nothing did the guerillas who arrived in Barcelona speak of the daring of the “snowman” who took them as far as, but never into, the city.
Like many others, Ramón Capdevila eventually fell in an ambush by the Guardia Civil. He could not live under fascism. He was a man typical of anarchism in Catalonia, to whom Hitler preferred “toothache” and Franco would have preferred the pox.
From: Black Flag Vol. 4, No. 6, Jan/Feb 1976..