Unknown heroes [El Negret and El Valenciá]

I introduced this series of articles on unknown heroes of the Spanish Resistance with Noguero. He like Facerias and Sabaté, was an exceptional man. But the Resistance was not formed by exceptional men and women, nor is it in any way an elite. El Negret, as we called him, of Sans (a working class district of Barcelona) worked on the docks before the civil war; El Valenciá was a coachdriver from Castellon. Those who spent their holidays in Spain in the thirties may have been driven by him on one of the coaches from Castellon to Valencia (hence his nickname).

They both fought in CNT battalions, and like many others, they refused to accept Franco’s victory (or rather, Hitler’s). When the posters appeared telling former combatants to report, they ignored them and went into hiding. They lived as best they could. The victor’s instructions not only informed us that collectivisation had ended: we were also told we were back to wages as they existed on 18th July 1936 – which was, by this time, worth about a loaf of bread on the black market.

Both Negret and Valenciá were picked up by the police during the period of world war and began their separate prison odysseys. They regarded themselves as “ordinary” rather than political prisoners because they did not have the puritanism of many of the anarchists which they thought was indistinguishable from calling oneself such. But their solidarity was high, and among other things they established something of a record for their escapes. Negret escaped at least 17 times (once when I was in jail with him) and Valenciá seven. Innumerable escapes were made possible by them. Here I shall refer to one, concerning Tomás (I call him that as he is probably still alive).

In his village he had been the CNT representative (one death sentence) on the Revolutionary Committee (another). Certain notorious caciques in the village had been killed during the war. Each of these earned him a death sentence and he had to face seven charges each incurring the death penalty, when – in the notorious Fourth Gallery – second floor – the maximum security wing of Barcelona’s prison – he met Valenciá, the small, tough, bantam sized coachdriver.

They’re accusing me of everything… I stand no chance”.

There’s one chance… You could come with El Negret and me… but look at you.”

Negret was tall and slim; Valenciá short and wiry – but Tomás’s size ruled him out. He was a large stout man. “We have to go through a window… but your size… there’s one thing only. You must reduce your weight.”

From then on Tomás was running up and down the yard, sweating it out on P. T. and starving till he might have preferred the death sentence. To add to his misery his wife sent him huge hampers of food. People in the country could still manage to find provisions. His comrades sat around eating all they wanted. “Nothing for you – not even an apple” they would tease. Everyone laughed as Tomás looked at his hamper plaintively. They did not know what depended on this slimming course. It seemed a grim joke to worry about one’s figure in the shadow of death.

Finally Negret’s wife sent in a saw concealed in a paella. While Negret stood on Tomás’s shoulders, Valenciá lay on the floor of the cell listening for footsteps. Negret sawed away at the bar, leaving the centre in so that the warder on bar inspection would not notice. The marks were covered with dirt. They worked by day, as it would have sounded too much at night, until finally the right night came. With one pull they wrenched out the bar, and crept out on to the pipe. Tomás – weak from fasting but fashionably thin – got through the aperture. They climbed up the pipe to another department of the prison that connected with the outside block.

When they were outside Tomás made for the North Star directly to France – no more looking back than Lot’s wife. Negret unfortunately was recaptured. He would not leave Spain and was discovered with his woman companion. Valenciá too was re-arrested some months later. I met him in Cuidad Real prison in 1956 and he told me that one day when he was desperately poor in Barcelona Jail he was called to the bursary. He was wondering who was sending him money for he had no ‘rich uncles’. It was 500 pesetas from Andorra – the first money Tomás had been able to raise after he had heard that his benefactor was back in prison.

As escapes involve the loss of all previous time served, Valenciá may still be in prison. I have lost track of him. According to my calculations it may be 1976 before he comes out when he will have done the present maximum of twenty years since his last escape. Otherwise I could tell a great deal more about him.

But Negret is dead. He was a victim of the criminal La Farga, the most notorious prison officer in Barcelona. Rojas had been one of the most hated prison governors – comparable with any of the Nazi concentration camp chiefs (and it must be remembered that the number of Spanish workers who died in executions or as a result of prison exceeded the number of German Jews killed by Hitler). La Farga was for years his secretary. One day before the war, (Rojas even then was notorious) they were driving out in a limousine cruising for women, when members of the CNT Resistance ambushed them. La Farga lost an eye, getting the bullet intended for Rojas. This increased his hatred for the libertarian prisoners, and his favourite trick was to beat up those who had escaped and were recaptured, and confine them to a damp cell in which they could neither stand nor lie down. Negret after one of his escapes, was beaten up unmercifully and confined in such a cell for three months. Like other victims, he contracted T. B. of which he died. Even so, he tried to escape one more time before his death somewhere in prison in about 1957.

Neither of these men called themselves anarchists, nor did they regard themselves as political prisoners. But were they not so? When I knew Valenciá if he had an ounce of tobacco in his pocket it was shared with everyone. I would not be able to count how many comrades they kept alive to carry on the fight outside. This is the stuff of the working class Resistance in Spain.

From: Black Flag Vol. 4, no. 1, May 1975..