The UNE's Dirty Deeds. Extortion, Threats and Murders

Some examples of how the most Stalinist faction of the UNE bumped off Spanish exiles and resisters for failing to abide by its dictates

So today we are going to delve into some guerrilla dirty work in France. Into the elimination of maquis members of the wrong persuasions, and even of one’s fellow believers. We shall be concentrating on the killings carried out by the Stalinists from the UNE, those being the most numerous killings and the ones that hit the anarchists hardest, but we shall also be dealing with Stalinist ‘house-keeping’. So let’s get down to it.

Summer 1944 in the south of France. The Allied armies are thrusting out from Normandy and sweeping up from the Italian border. For its part, the Resistance is going all-out against the Nazi units ensconced in their areas. As we know, there was very widespread Spanish involvement in the Resistance, especially within the ranks of the Spanish National Union (UNE), a supposedly pluralist organization actually run by the communists. On the other side there was the Spanish Liberation Council (JEL) which served as an umbrella for the other exiled denominations serving in French resistance units; they did not accept the preponderant role of the UNE.

As more and more territory was being liberated, the UNE issued a call to the Spanish guerrillas to make for the Pyrenean border. At the same time, it was urging JEL personnel to join the UNE. The former dug in their heels. And that is when the problems started.

On the one hand the UNE threatened those groups that declined to join the UNE’s structures. If they refused unity they were to be disarmed and demobilized. On the other, a forceful advertising campaign was unleased, complete with rallies and various public display, in support of the UNE per se or its “Reconquest of Spain” plans. Support for that plan occasionally meant sabotaging rival plans. The meetings held by the Spanish Democratic Agrupación (ADE) in Pamiers and Bordeaux were called off by the French authorities after UNE personnel threatened to force their cancellation at gunpoint.

The most important JEL Groups such as Ordoki’s Basque Battalion, the Libertad Battalion, the Del Río Battalion of the 1st Lot Company, thanks to their connections with non-communist French resistance groups, managed to weather the storm, although some of them were forced to join the French army proper for a time.

But the UNE’s tactics at the individual level were a trickier issue. A lot of exiles received visits: some were in the Resistance, some not, but the aim was to get them to join the UNE bandwagon and to encourage them to cross into Spain. In some instances, this lobbying was met by a refusal and then the bullying and the threats began. And sometimes those threats were not idle.

Let’s take it a step at a time, as our old pal Jack would say.

The first incident of note of which I have any record occurred in La Casace, a townland in Castelnau-Durban in the Ariège department. On the night of 15-16 July 1944, a party was held in the home of the anarchist resister Ricardo Roy Escribano to mark the birth of his second daughter by Palmira Tomás Pérez. But we must first go a few days further back in time, to when a patrol of UNE guerrillas urged Ricardo to join their ranks. When he declined, the threats started. On the night of 15-16 July, when the UNE guerrilla unit showed up at Ricardo’s home, Ricardo was still at work. The home at that point contained his wife, Palmira Tomás Pérez, their daughters Isabel and Prosperitat Roy Tomás, a family friend by the name of García, another one called Evaristo Soler Crivellé, the Frenchman Lourtadon, Palmira’s own mother Rosario Pérez Rodríguez and finally somebody by the name of Gracia. Now whether he was the same person as the García mentioned already, or a completely different person, we cannot say. Due to Ricardo’s having been absent from the scene, we do not know how events developed, but we know how they turned out.

At first there were some bursts of sub-machinegun fire and then the house was set alight. The upshot was that everyone was killed, except for the Frenchman Lourtadon who managed to get out through a window. The guerrillas, who accused Ricardo of being a traitor, were from the La Crouzette Spanish maquis group, affiliated to the UNE.

It was not long before the repercussions followed. For one thing, the CNT warned the PCE that its attacks would draw an armed response unless the campaign of harassment ceased. On the other hand, the Del Río Battalion, a maquis group made up mostly of Spanish anarchists attached to the Bidon 5 organization operating in the Ariège killed two Spanish members of the La Crouzette maquis by the names of Sánchez and Mateo whom they had met up with on 7 August; this was retaliation for the incident in La Casace.

The La Crouzette maquis made a name for itself with its readiness to crack down in its area of operations, because, in addition to the slaughter cited above, it eliminated the French resisters Etienne Caujolle, Joseph Dupuy, Camile Lacroix, Joseph Pedoya, Maurice Picard and Joseph Subra. In addition, it was credited with the deaths of at least four civilians who had had no connection whatsoever with the Milice or with the Germans.

But the La Crouzette maquis was not the only unit to distinguish itself in such matters.

Let us now follow the trail of Juan Fernández aka El Chato, a Carcassonne-based bricklayer member of the UNE, like his fellow unit members José Tena, Fortunato Amor, Ramón Soleil, Jacinto Castella, Casimiro Figueras and Antonio Reina. The group’s activities were extensive and the French press would return to them several years later following inquiries begun into an armed hold-up in the early 1950s. The group operated on orders from the UNE in the Aude region and it had a range of crimes to its ‘credit’.

The group’s first victims were former guerrillas from the UNE itself who were refusing to continue their service. Maquis members Alfonso San Miguel (a POUM member) and Juan Pujadas (a PSUC member) were the first to be arrested on 27 September 1944. Later it was the turn of the guerrilla Avelino Martínez. Shortly after that, in October, El Chato’s gang turned their attentions to Dr Enrique Georgakopoulos (one-time secretary to Negrín) and his partner Maruja, and their bodyguard, the anarchist Luis García Fernández; these were executed in Picaussel wood and their bodies were stripped of anything of value. In October, if we follow what has been recorded by the historian Ferrán Sánchez, El Chato killed the Andorran smuggler known as el Petit, in order to make off with his batch of tobacco and a wrist-watch.

On now to early November 1944. And over to the eye-witness Enric Melich as our list continues:

“Ramón Mialet and brother-in-law Ramón Fontarnau (both of them libertarians) sought refuge in the home of Raymonde Rousset. There they were arrested and taken to the town hall in Quillan, where José Díaz, the commander of the Vth Brigade, ordered that they were to be executed as deserters. Due to supposed engine trouble, they were made to get out to help push the van, on the outskirts of Escaloubre-les-Bains. El Chato himself killed Mialet with a bullet in the head. [Fontarnau] tried to make a run for it, but he was caught and executed.”

Their corpses were discovered in the vicinity of Escaloubre in April 1946.

But that was not the end of El Chato’s feats. Again, over to the then UNE guerrilla Enric Melich:

“At two o’clock on the night of 5 November in Montfort, a Monsieur Ruffat was roused by a pounding on the door. He went to answer it. A lorry had pulled up in front of the house where Pedro Pérez (PSOE), Miguel González Espada (CNT), José Ibáñez (PSOE) and Antonio Rodríguez aka Bonilla (CNT) were staying. He watched as men brandishing sub-machineguns and dispatched by El Chato forced the men to climb into the back of the lorry. For what was to be their final trip. The following day they were found buried by the side of the La Riverette road, under 50 cms of earth.”

If Melich’s memoirs are to be believed, El Chato himself remarked:

“Once in the lorry we tied them up and forced them to get off once we came to the woods. We finished them off with a bullet to the head.”

These, sorry to say, were not isolated incidents. Here is a short list of additional victims executed on the orders of the UNE, a list that been fairly widely circulated:

Joan Farré Gassó, a leader of the POUM in Lérida, murdered in Montauban in September 1944.

Mercedes Miralles CNT member, murdered by communists loyal to Moscow in Lavelanet in August-November 1944.

Francisco Alberich, CNT member, murdered along with his partner Mercedes Miralles above.

Domingo Ungría Navarro, a communist and former commander of the XIV Guerrilla Corps, after he had passed through Toulouse; he was murdered before reaching the Spanish border in 1945 in uncertain circumstances.

Belmonte, a socialist who was in charge of a forestry operation where a large number of refugees were in hiding: he was murdered between Lavalanet and Varilhes in 1944 for refusing to take orders from the UNE.

Molina, a socialist murdered with his friend Belmonte.

Francisco Rodríguez Barroso, a translator with the rank of captain, who was abducted and ‘disappeared’ in Decazeville on 13 September 1944.

José Nana aka Martín, a courier with the maquis in the Lot department, murdered on 4 August 1944.

Llibert Estartús Vilas, a PSUC member who in early October attended a party meeting, before his body was later found in the Garonne river.

Domingo Trujillo from the L’Aigle dam construction site Socialist Agrupación was murdered in Decazeville around 4 August 1944.

Córdoba, a socialist activist murdered along with his comrade Trujillo.

Luis Evaristo González aka Luisillo, the general secretary for Vizcaya and a maquisard who was summoned down to Toulouse by the leadership and murdered in the spring of 1945.

Pere Canals Cambrisas, a PSUC leader, was murdered by fellow party members in 1946.

Alejandro Castellanos Quintanilla, a socialist member of the UGT, was murdered in Montrejeau in 1944.

Cecilio López, a socialist activist, murdered in 1944.

To finish of and demonstrate that there was dirty work afoot everywhere, let us mention the cases of some anarchist exiles and guerrillas bumped off on the orders of the CNT or influential factions within the CNT:

Dionisio Eroles Battló, a prominent leader of the CNT-FAI and Head of Services at the General Public Order Commission in Barcelona from September 1936 to May 1937 and one of the men in charge of the Control Patrols, was murdered and buried in France sometime in March or April 1940. Some sources (most of them) point to the perpetrators of his murder as having been members of the Ponzán Group or former comrades of his and argue that he was murdered after refusing to disclose the whereabouts of some booty that he allegedly brought over from Spain. Other sources insist on pointing the finger at the Spanish Security Services as being the responsibility for his disappearance.

On one of his trips, Miguel Silvestre Talón aka Nano, an anarchist and maquis member who made frequent border crossings ran into a comrade whom he accused of being a police informer. On 17 March 1946, Nano’s corpse was discovered in a canal in Toulouse inside a sack tied up with barbed wire and with a bullet in his head.

By way of a curiosity, it is worth pointing out that several of the names mentioned above are listed by the Spanish Ministry of Culture as “Victims of the Civil War and Francoist Reprisals”.

Well, so much for this collection of unpleasant stories and, albeit that talking about them might be unappetizing, that is no reason to hide them under a blanket of elapsed time and forgetting …

El Salto, 28 April 2021

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.