1952: Barcelona executions, global protests (Case number 658-IV-49)

In 1949 the Francoist political police unleashed a wave of repression against the anarchist resistance in Catalonia.[1] Miguel Garcia was one of those arrested. ‘That had been 21 October 1949, the greatest day in the history of the political police (Brigada politica y social) of Barcelona. All over the town the brigade had been taking people into custody. Every one of the resistance organizations – with only a few exceptions – had been smashed. Some had shot it out, some had been taken by surprise, some had been shot down. Ten had been shot in ambush, four of them in accordance with the traditional ley de fuga (shot while trying to escape). Over 200 people were arrested that day, of whom 53 were kept in custody. Seven were summarily tried and executed – they were those who belonged to the group organized by José Culebra. Eleven who slipped the net that day were subsequently caught and added to our number. That made fifty-seven to come up for trial, in three groups of eleven, sixteen and thirty.’[2]

Miguel was one of the thirty tried (Case number 658-IV-49) before the military tribunal on the 6-7 February 1952. The president of the court, Pedro Regalado Sanz, had an iron cross from his time with the Division Azul.[3] Miguel was one of the nine condemned to death.[4] Here’s his account of hearing he was not to be shot the next day:

‘Your death penalty has been commuted to life.’ That meant thirty years. The protests must have been of some avail!

I had been called to the prison director’s office early on the morning of 13 March 1952. Thirty-eight days had passed since I had been sentenced to death.

I did not want to show any emotion in front of him. And I remembered my fellow-prisoners.

‘All of us?’ I asked eagerly.

‘You are not here to ask questions,’ he replied coldly. I was marched back to my cell.

‘Who else?’ I asked the guard. He did not reply. When he had slammed the door, I began frantically tapping on the walls to my next-door neighbour, Jose Corral Martin. ‘I am commuted, who else?’

‘I too. There are four of us. The other five are to be shot at dawn.’

‘Who? Who?’

We began tapping along the condemned row.

‘I am commuted to thirty years,’ said Domingo Ibars Juanies. ‘Antonio Moreno Alcarcon is still with the director. He must be the fourth.’ We fell silent. There was no no more tapping for a while as we thought of the five friends whose fate was sealed. Then one of them broke the silence.

 ‘Are there only four to be commuted?’ asked Adrover, hopefully.

‘Only four.’

Later the guards came and took the four who had been spared death up to the first floor. We did not sleep that night. We lay on the floor, our ears straining to hear every sound from below. One of the officers, a former Republican functionary, was friendly, and would give us information when the other guards were not present. We waited anxiously for his shift to come round, and meanwhile heard the last of our friends at midnight, when the guards came to take them to the chapel. They called their names. ‘Adrover!’ ‘Pedrero!’ And so on until they came to Urrea. He anticipated them. As they came to his cell, he let out a magnificent shout, ‘Viva la FAI! Viva la Resistencia!’ The guards shouted for silence. We called back, as his shout echoed through the gloom of the prison. ‘Viva la FAI!’ Then the noise faded away. The prisoners had been taken to the chapel where they remained for seven hours while priests urged them to confess their sins. None of them obliged, the ex-Republican prison officer told us later. He was on duty when they were taken from the chapel to the campo de la bota. It was a field on the beach just outside the city, where ropes stretched out to buoys and youngsters learned to swim. Now, because of its remoteness, it was the place of execution. They all died bravely. José Perez Pedrero was the youngest, twenty-three years old. He asked the officer of the execution squad to give his silk handkerchief to his mother.

One of the Political Squad officers present shouted roughly, ‘None of that, don’t play the martyr!’ The army officer turned to him and told him to be quiet. ‘You have no say here. I give the orders. This is a matter for me.’ He took the handkerchief from the boy, saying he would see his mother got it.

It was a harrowing experience for us back in the cells.[5]

What protests were there? Miguel had been able to get word to family in France, who were able to contact anarchist exiles. A key figure was José Ester Borras (who had survived the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen). While the CNT in exile was divided, Ester Borras could mobilise public opinion through FEDIP (Federación Española de Deportados e Internados Políticos). Also involved were Fernando Gomez Pelaez (director of Solidaridad Obrera [see folder 288 of his papers in Amsterdam]) and Martin Villarrupla (inter-Continental Secretary of the orthodox CNT in exile).[6]

The executions of 1952 took place at a time when the Francoist regime was trying to overcome international pariah status and the exiles had to come to terms with the fact that governments, especially that of the USA, no longer felt bound by anti-fascist propaganda from the Second World War. Plus exiles in France were under pressure following a failed armed robbery in 1951.[7] The need to mobilise public opinion outside Spain against Francoist repression would recur (right up to the last days of the regime). A revolutionary rather than democratic approach led to further campaigns like those of the First of May Group.[8]


1, For an account of the repression, and an early response to it, see ‘The attack on Spain’s embassy in Genoa in 1949’ by Antonio Téllez https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/44j22p

2, Miguel Garcia, Franco’s prisoner p14. (Saturnino Culebras Saiz was shot on the 24 February 1950 alongside Manuel Sabaté. Gregorio Culebras had his death sentence commuted to thirty years.) For more on Miguel Garcia’s life see Stuart Christie’s tribute: https://kslnotes.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/remembering-miguel-garcia-by-stuart-christie/

3, The Division Azul fought for Hitler on the eastern front. See p189 of Prisionero de Franco (translated and annotated by José Ignacio Álvarez Fernández; Anthropos, 2010).

4, The sentences were:
Pedro Adrover Font ‘El Yayo’ (shot)
Ignacio Aligué Soler (12 years) + Released from Malaga’s geriatric prison 6/7/1958 (b. 1895).
Santiago Amir Gruañas ‘El Sheriff’ (shot)
Abel Benedicto Serrano (1 year) + released early under terms of Holy Year grant of remission (1952).
Antonio Bravo Soler (12 years and a day) + received ¼ remission of sentence under Holy Year grant.
José Corral Martí/Martín (death sentence commuted to thirty years) + released on licence 21/7/1967.
Manuel Fornes Marin (30 years) (b. 1930) As a minor at the time of the offence, he ought not to have been eligible for this sentence.
Miguel Garcia Garcia (death sentence commuted to thirty years) released October 1969.
Justina González Valverde (charges dropped)
Manuel Guerrero Motas (26 years) Freed in 1962.
Domingo Ibars Juanias (death sentence commuted to thirty years) released on licence 10/1/1969.
José Iglesias Paz, ‘El Gallego’, ‘Pineiro’ (death sentence commuted to thirty years) released after serving 11 years/moved to Switzerland.
Manuel Lecha Aparisi ‘El Artillero’ (four years, six months and a day. Died in prison.) Ineligible under Holy Year remission scheme due to a prior 30-year sentence for civil war-time offences.
Pedro Lopez Tapia (six months)
Ramon Loscos Viñas (charges dropped)
Juan Martinez Requena (6 years) Sanchez Agusti states 6 months and 1 day/benefited from Holy Year remission scheme.
Pedro Meca Lopez (25 years) served 12 years.
Manuel Montañes Bernat (30 years) developed stomach ulcer in prison and freed on licence 2/3/1962.
Eusebio Montes Brescos (30 years) served 13 years.
Gregorio Montserrat Girona (2 years) released under Holy Year remission of sentence scheme.
Esperanza Moreno Agrela (12 years) sentence cut by 1/3 under Holy Year remission scheme.
Antonio Moreno Alarcon ‘Cejablanca’ (death sentence commuted to thirty years) granted release on licence in 1964.
Pedro Obiols Ribo (6 months) ineligible for remission under Holy Year scheme due to prior conviction for “military rebellion”.
José Pérez Pedrero ‘Tragapanes’ (shot)
José Piñol Doucet (12 years) freed on licence from Guadalajara Central Male Prison on 26/9/1953, sentence expired 26/3/1956. In 2003 last surviving accused of the 1952 trial.
Jorge Pons Argiles ‘Tarantula’ (shot)
Eduardo Roca Sales (2 years) benefited from Holy Year remission scheme.
Miguel Rodriguez Alarcon (12 years) released from El Dueso prison on licence 16/7/1964; sentence expired 1/5/1975.
Antonia Saborit Carralero (charges dropped)
Ginés Urrea Piña (shot)
 [Names and sentences from losdelasierra.info; additions from Ferran Sanchez Agusti El Maquis anarquista (2006) thanks to Paul Sharkey; MGG release date from Stuart Christie Edward Heath Made Me Angry p113. There is a thesis on the case: Marie Viader La justice franquiste face aux mouvements anarchistes : La Causa Sumarísima 658-IV-49 (1949-1952). Not seen.]

5, Franco’s prisoner p46-48

6, See, Alicia Quinteroa Maqua, Los presos libertarios y el exilio militante contra Franco (1945-1952) https://www.ucm.es/data/cont/media/www/pag-13888/Alicia%20QUINTERO%20-%20Los%20presos%20libertarios%20(1).pdf (and the letter from Miguel Garcia in the Ester Borras papers that she quotes).

7, ‘The robbers were anarchists and this was sufficient excuse to mount a vicious hate campaign against the CNT in France.’ Sabaté, guerrilla extraordinary by Antonio Téllez p109.

8, see The International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement: First of May Group edited by Albert Meltzer (and the works of Antonio Téllez).

A chronology of the protests, 1952

[Probably incomplete, since there seems to have been no consistent way of referring to the case. The shorthand that would have called them ‘The Barcelona Nine’ seems to have arisen in the USA in the 1940s, but not become worldwide until later.]

19 February, London. A ‘Songs and Dances of Spain’ festival promoted by Spanish ambassador Miguel Primo de Rivera was disrupted by leafleting and shouting. This was reported in the Daily Graphic of 20 February ‘As the curtain was about to rise on the first performance of Songs and Dances of Spain at the Stoll Theatre last night, thousands of anti-Franco leaflets were scattered from the upper circle, the dress circle and boxes by members of the Spanish National Confederation of Labour’ (quoted in Francos Tänzerinnen auf Auslandstournee By Cécile Stephanie Stehrenberger). Le Libertaire (29 February [archive at http://archivesautonomies.org/spip.php?article77]) reported cries of ‘Down with Franco the murderer!’ and that the demonstrators escaped before the police arrived. See also Freedom on 23 February 1951 [ie1952] (v.13 no.8) via https://freedomnews.org.uk/archive/. This is probably the event where the ‘Nine trade unionist executed in Barcelona’ leaflet was used: see https://kslnotes.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/a-leaflet/

22 February, Paris, Salle Wagram. Meeting organised by Ligue des droits de l’homme; speakers Georges Altman, André Breton, Albert Béguin, Albert Camus, Louis Guilloux, Jean-Paul Sartre, René Char, Ignacio Silone (and other intellectuals). Poster: https://placard.ficedl.info/article3406.html Breton’s speech is reprinted in Le Libertaire on 7 March. His notes can be read at http://www.andrebreton.fr/work/56600100144480. A special issue of Volonta reproduced the speeches in Italian: Spagna martire http://www.rebal.info/vufind/Record/ASF2515.

29 February Le Libertaire (weekly) reports protests mentioned above, also one in Washington.

6 March, Nimes. Meeting at Fetes du Foyer Commun inc. comrade Lapeyre (Le Libertaire, 28 March)

8 March, Grenoble. Protest march, leafleting (Le Libertaire, 28 March)

9 March, Glasgow. Meeting at Central Hall, money raised forwarded to the committee in France (Report in Freedom 29 March).

23 March, St Etienne. 500 at protest meeting (Le Libertaire, 28 March)

24 March, New York. Labor Action [Independent Socialist League] reports founding of Committee to Defend Franco’s [Labor] Victims on 17 March (including Norman Thomas, Spanish-speaking anti-fascist organisations, the Independent Socialist League, the IWW, the Catholic Worker group and the General Defense Council). Also announces picketing of the Spanish consulate, 20, 21, 24 and 25 March, with meeting at Freedom House on the latter date. Photos and reports in their issue of 31 March, archive at https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/laboraction-ny/1952/index.htm Sam Dolgoff was involved in the Committee: He blamed Thomas for bowing out of the campaign under political pressure. See Fragments by Sam Dolgoff and Left of the Left by Anatole Dolgoff.

24 March, Toulouse. Ruta devotes its front page to the executions https://ddd.uab.cat/pub/ppc/ruta/ruta_a1952m3d24n339.pdf

25 March, Paris, Salle Wagram. Amis de la Republique Espagnole protest rally. Speakers include Georges Fontenis. (Labor Action, 26 May, Le Libertaire, 28 March; poster: https://placard.ficedl.info/article3440.html)

25 March, Mexico City. Teatro Iris de Mejico ‘large meeting of protest against the Franco terror, organized by the Spanish CNT’ (Labor Action 26 May. See also Ruta 7 April report of this and the London meeting of the 27 March https://ddd.uab.cat/pub/ppc/ruta/ruta_a1952m4d7n341.pdf)

27 March, London. ‘An Appeal to the Public Conscience’ Protest meeting. Speakers included Augustus John, Henry Moore, H.N. Brailsford, Kingsley Martin, Fenner Brockway, Herbert Read, Michael Foot and Prof. J. Bronowski. Labor Action 26 May reprinted an account from Tribune from 4 April. The speeches from the meeting were printed in Freedom on 5 April (with an editorial bemoaning the minimal newspaper coverage). Herbert Read’s article ‘Franco, the ape of Hitler’ had been published in Freedom 29 March. Read had invited Benjamin Britten (see https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/2014/03/benjamin-britten-herbert-read/)

28 March, Lyon. Fontenis speaks (Le Libertaire 28 March)

1 April, Paris, Palace of Chaillot. Disruption of performance by Falangist dance troupe: ‘hundreds of people spread anti-Franco leaflets among the audience’. Labor Action 26 May

29 April, Toulouse. A grenade was thrown at the car of the Spanish consul in Toulouse, blowing off its roof and destroying the seats, but leaving the consul unscathed. The thrower evaded pursuing passersby and the police. Through Le Libertaire, the National Committee of the (French) Anarchist Federation expressed support for the attacker. (Le Libertaire, 9 May).

3 May, Chicago. Spanish consulate picketed: Independent Socialist League, Socialist Youth League, IWW, Socialist Party, YPSL, student clubs and Libertarian Socialist League. Labor Action 26 May.

9 May Le Libertaire article “Is the Eucharistic Congress Going to Cover Up Franco’s Terror?” despairing of any real protest on the part of the Catholic church and faithful.

Undated events

Tel Aviv. Formation of Committee to Aid the Victims of Franco reported, Labor Action 26 May. They distributed protest leaflets before the Franco consulate in Jerusalem. Le Libertaire 28 March also reports leafleting and student demonstration in Tel Aviv.

Rome. Demonstration, leafleting (Le Libertaire, 28 March)

Sweden. Protest poster (Syndicalist Youth) https://placard.ficedl.info/article7547.html