Unknown and Essential. Forgers and the Libertarian Underground

Unknown and Essential. Forgers and the Libertarian Underground

Part One

Greetings readers. Here we go again bringing you a range of information concerning the libertarian guerrilla war. First up today, an article about the Málaga-based “Los Pataletes” group. I have built up a fair amount of new information about them and intended to update my earlier entry. But the fact is that when I made to consult the “Andalusian Miscellany” of which it was part, I discovered that the articles published in Diagonal, can no longer be accessed on the net through that server. So I am going to reassess my plans and will try to redeem as much as I can and include them in my entries in El Salto. Given the significant amount of the new material, I shall try to post older entries and punctuate them with newer ones at the rate of at least two per month.

Reviewing everything that has “evaporated” I shall stick to what strikes me as most important and even try to recover all the materials.

So, unintentionally, I return today with a classic and have recovered part one of “Anarchist Forgers”. I wish you good reading, good health and good memory.

Today we are going to delve into the strange world of the forger, covering documents, references, ration cards, lottery tickets or paper currency from several countries. And as if that was not enough, we shall be adding in something about the escape lines and a dash of guerrilla warfare that is our trademark and finally and for the educated palates only, highlighting the unmistakably libertarian bouquet that goes with it. We hope that you will enjoy the results.

Let us open by saying that over the years of Francoism, the Spanish state was improving and overhauling its identification procedures, albeit that these were still a touch underdeveloped. The formats, stamps and numbering of safe conduct passes were overhauled rather often so as to keep tabs on ordinary Spaniards through the monitoring of their personal records, ration cards, political cards, ex-service certificates, work permits and so on. 

For their part, the underground political organizations took up the challenge. They had to get hold of a small press, the requisite photographic gear, acid and other chemical products needed for the drafting, finalization and other treatments the papers in question required. Originals of the documents they intended to counterfeit had to be bought, stolen or even borrowed. Certain data was removed or tampered with, the requisite photographs taken and traded for the originals. Bribery was used in order to obtain stamps and seals and where they could not be got they were replicated using potatoes, bits of rubber or some other material that could be easily carved and then inked. 

Our journey takes us back to the end of the civil war, in the streets of Madrid and to Puente de Vallecas to be specific. There, a FIJL member by the name of Escobar had wormed his way into the Falange’s II Bandera and come by a range of good conduct certificates and proofs of service in the “Fifth Column”. Once filled out using the requisite details, photos and names, these secured the release of a number of anarchists who had been languishing in the Albatera concentration camp. That FIJL team was partly dismantled in 1940, as 33 of its members were arrested and their arms dumps uncovered. Escobar was handed over to the Falangists who lynched him in a deserted area, although he managed to survive thanks to a peasant’s cutting the rope once the fascists had moved on.

One of the people released through the use of those references was Estaban Pallarols aka Riera, who, besides setting up the very first underground CNT National Committee, set about rescuing as many comrades as he could from the prison camp. With help from José Riera García, Riereta and Amadeo Casares Colomer aka Peque (the first of these being a printer employed in a printshop where rubber stamps were produced for the civil government and Falange clubs and district headquarters, whilst the second was a skilled draftsman and capable of copying any letterhead precisely and thereby make perfect copies of Falange membership cards). Also in this group we find Génesis López, Leoncio Sánchez and Raimundo Jiménez (a Valencian militant from the printing trades sector). They got hold of a “Boston” press and the requisite type, suitable paper and a valuable four-coloured ex-serviceman’s stamp which ensured release or reduced sentences for 200 comrades. They freed as many comrades as they were able and looked to the CNT leadership in France for financial assistance, only to meet (given the urgency involved) with a rather penny-pinching response. Pallarols’s committee was broken up in February 1940 and he, José Riera and another three comrades were executed and a number of their confederates given lengthy prison sentences. Several women were actively involved in this escape line/forgery operation and they included Julia Miravé, Carmen Herrera and Trinidad Llorens. 

We know that in the Albatera camp a Libertarian Youth member by the name of Segismundo Martínez produced miraculous fakes of the stamps needed to ensure prisoner release, using just the sole of a sandal and a straight razor.

After the downfall of the Pallarols committee, Pallarols’s place was taken by Manuel López who had also slipped out of Albatera using phoney papers. The committee that he set up was, like that of his predecessor, primarily devoted to the counterfeiting of references and safe conduct passes so as to carry on freeing comrades from the prisons and camps. 

Whilst behind bars in the Modelo prison in Madrid over Christmas 1932, Cipriano Mera’s civil war sidekick Antonio Verardini cashed in on the fact that the millionaire banker Juan March was a fellow inmate to copy the latter’s signature on food and drink order for a New Year’s dinner at the (March-owned) Hotel Palace. Later, when March queried this, he was informed by the hotel that they had just been carrying out the orders that he had sent it in a letter written in his own hand. Verardini was found forging cheques in 1933 and worked hand-in-glove with Cerrada in France after the Second World War.

Then again we have Francisco Ponzán and his men; as early as May 1939 they were involved in a range of activities focused on Spain. It was Ponzán who sent the Gómez Talón and José Tarín action group down to Barcelona for the purpose of securing the release of prisoners from the Horta camp and the Poble Nou hemp factory prior to or during their removal to the Modelo prison. Given their financial straits, they had to carry out hold-ups alongside such prisoner releases. They made contact with Mario Marcelo Goyeneche, a printer from the Calle del Carmen. Another collaborator of theirs was Manuel Benet Beltrán, a professional engraver, who set about forging seals and stamps from the District IX Falange headquarters, deputy mayor’s office, Horta concentration camp and Civil Guards. Using such resources and dressing up as Guards or servicemen and presenting phoney orders for removal to the Modelo they carried on freeing prisoners until they were found out, whereupon a shoot-out erupted that claimed the life of trooper José López and left Sergeant Antonio Garrijo seriously wounded. Meanwhile, Ponzán was pressing on with his activities in France and in Spain, activities that required the counterfeiting of a huge number of documents. His network was primarily engaged in the forgery of Spanish identity papers, not to mention ration cards and various safe conduct passes and they even ventured to counterfeit the currency. Whether they were working with Cerrada on this we cannot tell. 

And now let us cross over the Pyrenees again to a France devastated and divided by the Second World War and there we find an Argentinean descended from Russian exiles, Adolfo Kaminsky, included here for two reasons, first of all because he flirted with libertarian ideology and secondly because, after the world war, he carried on making forgeries on behalf of Spanish anti-Francoists, be they anarchists, Trotskyists or communists. During the war he worked for the resistance, specifically for the 6th Section. He had two small workshops in the Paris area, one on the Rue Jacob and the other on the Rue Saint Peres and he was primarily involved in forging papers designed to save the lives of Jewish children. Using lactic acid, he would bleach out the name, forenames and the red stamp marking the bearer of the ration card as a Jew. One of the problems he faced was that the acid in sweat would restore the bleached-out ink and this was sorted out when a chemist joined the team. Luckily the Germans were in hot pursuit of the larger workshops and Kaminsky’s went undetected. 

Since we are talking about France, back now to the Ponzán network. Just to say that not only were they forging papers south of the Pyrenees but they were doing the same thing in France where it was their speciality. So that people needing to get out of the country which had been overrun by the Germans could do just that, if they needed papers. Among the latter were identity papers, passes allowing them to cross the demarcation line or the border – a stack of papers, in short. To which end they were able to call upon their own counterfeiting workshop in the city of Lyon, under the supervision of the printer Biñals. There was also Agustí Centelles’s photography workshop in Carcassonne and they even had their own workshop in the Toulouse home of the courier Margarita Sol and her father and fellow collaborator with the network, Miguel Sol. As Margarita stated: “And Casares, from Printing Trades, set up a workshop there forging all manner of French and German documents … everything needed to move around occupied France with a measure of ease.” The Casares in question was Andrés Casares Colomer aka el Peque whose activities as a guide were wedded to his work as a forger for the network. Another member of the network was the abbé Pierre Carpentier in Abbeville, in the occupied zone where he had his own press which enabled him to print a range of documents or passes. Such was the scale of the counterfeiting that Ponzán and several of his collaborators finished up in French concentration camps in October 1942. Joan Català ascribed the big swoop on the Rue Limayrac and capture of part of the network to the quantity of forged papers being churned out and the widespread knowledge among many that those forgeries existed.

The libertarian Manuel Solsona Albiac, the step-brother of the prominent anarchist Ramón Rufat, served in the Blue Division and went on to become a leading Falangist That cover afforded him the opportunity among other things to work with both the maquis and León-Aragón Guerrilla Agrupación (AGLA) which was operating in his area, as well as helping out members of the underground CNT. He made it his business to issue a number of cards showing membership of the Maella Falange as well as other papers used by the guerrillas and the CNT, up until he was arrested in the spring of 1948. Sentenced to a term of 30 years’ close imprisonment, he was released after serving 11 years.

Sometimes there was no need to forge papers and all that was needed was a sum of money. For instance, the guerrilla and, later, author Pons i Prades secured a special border pass thanks to a bribe paid to two policemen from the civil government in Girona.

28 April 2023

Part Two

Here we go with part two of our entry on forgery and its connection with things anarchist. Allow us to widen our focus in terms of dates and hark back to before the civil war and trace things up until the 1970s. A long, heady trip. Besides I can predict that before the month is out I hope to write another entry centred on the Ni cautivos ni desarmados book which is scheduled for publication by Piedra Papel Libros. Right now it is with the printers and if all goes well it will appear in early June. I hope to have further news of that soon. 

This second part on forgers will carry us somewhat further in time. We are going to hark back some years and the earliest forger of whom we have any knowledge is Mariano Conde. García Oliver said of him that he was the most celebrated forger on record. Among his achievements was the fact that in 1905, in Ceuta prison, his skills were queried by the local governor, General Bernal. Two months later the general was left dumbfounded by the report that the troops guarding a gunpowder-store had abandoned their post on his instructions. Probing the matter further, he came upon the orders displaying his own forged signature, complete with the seals and other relevant papers. We include Conde on account of his having worked with the CNT against Bravo Portillo. Thanks to Ángel Pestaña’s having gotten hold of a hand-written note from the notorious repressor, the forger was able to reproduce papers written and signed by the superintendent of police, in which it was alleged that he was spying on behalf of Germany. Those documents were published in Solidaridad Obrera and created a huge stink leaving Portillo stupefied when he recognized his own handwriting even though he had not written them. Conde also engaged in counterfeiting money and cheques. He did behind bars in 1928, at the age of 80. 

Now we shift to the French Midi and specifically to Carcassonne. That was the base for the No 422nd Foreign Labourers Group (GTE) and where the celebrated news photographer Agustí Centelles set up his underground photo workshop. He was assisted by fellow photographer Pujol, artillery major Enrique Oubiña from the same GTE, who had cobbled together a mini-press, or by José Luis Fernández or others. That team worked in collaboration with all Spanish republicans at risk, regardless of their political affiliations. They set about counterfeiting papers for the ‘clandestines’ from the GTE, for the nearby guerrilla school in Roullens (one of two in operation in France during the German occupation; González himself was an instructor there), or for the escape lines. Especially the Ponzán network, through Manuel Huet. French and German identity papers were forged, plus German passes, orders making transfers between GTEs, from the GTEs to specific jobs, orders for relocation from concentration camps to various prisons, passes enabling them to move around France or various papers from the Francoist consulates in France. The workshop was set up during the winter of 1942-43 and operated until early 1944, because, between January and May that year the Gestapo and the French police mounted three dragnets in the area, dismantling several of the underground groups; one of those arrested by them was Oubiña who finished up in the Dachau concentration camp. Luckily all of the gear – such as blank documents, phony seals, blank French and German passes, a multi-copier and the photography workshop – was evacuated without mishap. 

For its part, the PCE also had its own team of forgers, a so-called “technical team” led by Madrid-born Domingo Malagón, part of the communist party’s people-smuggling operations. As Malagón himself stated: “A completely unknown world opened up before me. I started off by making trial run after trial run in pencil, copying print letters. It was drudge work but by sticking at it I acquired a degree of ease and an improved look. The first orders I received were for Spanish passes, meaning papers that allowed the bearer to move around the interior of Spain. Soon, after they had gone down well, Celada brought up the need to step up productivity. The next step would be to devise stencils that would allow us to move on to an “assembly line”. And so the thing became rather more complicated: in addition to lack of expertise in the stuff in which I was being trained there was the dearth of materials one might expect in a continent torn by war. How was I supposed to come up with a rubber stamp when the very shoes we were wearing had wooden heels? Nor was leather easy to come by and I was obliged to use scraps of rubber, a ploy widely used in the car industry in the making of wheels, floormats, etc. Of course, paper was very scarce too and the only thing available on the market was coarse and irregular. I turned to the second-hand book trade and there, due to financial straits, I was forced to tear out the blank pages (actually yellowing with age). I think back to myself as like a hamster, clinging to any sort of materials that I came across; I remember making a thousand and one experiments in paper-handling, learning all about dyes and colours and I remember searching out specialist volumes that opened the doors to the printing trades wide open for me. So, by trial and error, I was able to work on until, once the war ended, the markets returned to normal. Likewise, when it came to finding suitable gear for each task we had to rely on our wits; for instance, it was not easy to locate something to work the rubber with. Initially I tried out some very fine carving blades, the sort used for vaccinating children, but they did not suit as they proved too thick. After much trial and error, I eventually came up with the idea of using razor blades which, cut on the bias, offered a very fine blade and to begin with they were all the gear I had to work with, along with a magnifying glass, some tweezers and some nibs …”

Malagón’s main collaborators were the Basques Jesús Beguiristain, who joined the team in the 1940s and was a virtuoso when it came to the use of tweezers, José Víctor Larreta, who came on board in 1947 and handled the processing of photographs and printing of documents, and Ramón Santamaría who joined the team in 1958 and handled the photogravure work as a replacement for Antonio Pérez Garrido who was forced to step down due to his body’s reaction to the chemicals being used. 

Also in France at around the same time we find what was possibly the greatest though not so well known active anarchist forger. We refer to none other than Laureano Cerrada, the railway worker from Miedes de Atienza. His first encounter with the world of counterfeiting may well have been in concert with the British secret services during the early stages of the Second World War in the south of France. They provided training in such skills not only to Laureano but also to the experts from the Ponzán group, including the libertarian guerrilla Miguel García García who was another of their students. Anyway his involvement dates back to the days of the German occupation. His headquarters were in the Paris area and his collaborators included the artist and engraver Madeleine Lamberet, or May Picqueray who was working as a proof-reader at the Alkan press. After that he embarked upon intense counterfeiting of papers, both for the Jewish population and for all who needed to dodge out of compulsory labour service. By 1944 Cerrada had his own presses and ration cards were his next step. The plates for Spanish currency arrived in 1945 after they were procured by a group of Italian anarchist partisans who handed them over to the CNT, the odd thing being that it was Laureano as the head of the Paris regional committee that took delivery of them. Counterfeiting the peseta was inviting and the group set to work, intending to inflict maximum damage on the Spanish economy and to fund whatever operations might be required. Using counterfeit currency, lorries were bought and a haulage firm set up through which the peninsula might be flooded with paper pesetas; this operation was under the supervision of Cerrada’s inseparable comrade Luis Robla. In addition, small teams of two or three individuals sprang into action to exchange the bills, whether in Barcelona or in Málaga. As the years passed, currency counterfeiting spread, as did the forging of lottery tickets, whilst the production of forged documents continued. But it did not stop there. The “business” turned its attention to job contracts, property deeds and even wills (to cite just one anecdote, we might recall the forged tickets to the bullring in Nîmes, tripling the capacity, and the riots that this operation triggered, as Cerrada watched on from a nearby hotel). 

The Cerrada group supported the libertarian guerrillas with phoney papers and currency, as it also did the Defensa Interior and the GARI. Among its activities we might highlight the preparations for and funding of two attempts on Franco’s life. On several occasions in France Cerrada was arrested for counterfeiting. In May 1949 an underground press was uncovered with 40,000 forged lottery tickets, as well as an arms dump and in 1950 Cerrada was expelled from the CNT. In 1951 he was arrested, again, for forging German currency and then there was the tragic outcome of the hold-up in Lyon carried out by one of his groups; it triggered massive police raids and the loss of the press in Normandy, as well as several of his “legit” business concerns, and the plane that had been used in the attempt to bomb Franco. He was arrested with some of his team in early 1955 for forging 25 and 500-peseta notes. He was arrested yet again in 1957 and caught in possession of a revolver and 10 millions in counterfeit pesetas. His last arrest was dated 1970 and on that occasion it was forged papers that led to his being jailed. Among the collaborators on his counterfeiting team there was, say, the illustrator Guillembert, Pedro Moñino or, as mentioned earlier, Antonio Verardini. Cerrada was murdered in 1976 by the infiltrator Ramón Benichó, or at least, that seems to be the prevailing opinion. 

Málaga’s Cipriano Damiano aka Yayo stands out because for several years he managed to work under a phoney identity on the technical commission overseeing the fortification of the southern coast. From his bureaucratic position on that commission he was supplying phoney papers and references, as well as providing official vehicle to comrades from the underground CNT or members of the Andalusian guerrilla bands for certain trips where everything had to go just right. The beneficiaries included 15 Andalusian guerrillas who attempted to assassinate the Caudillo at his El Pardo residence. In the late 1940s, by which time he was attached to the army works command in Cadiz, his cover was blown and although he got away to Barcelona he was subsequently arrested in June 1950 and given a 15-year prison term. 

There is no denying that Juan José Caba Pedrazo was best known for his repeated escapes from a range of Francoist prisons. But he gets a mention in this article because in 1947, when he escaped for a third time, it was from the San Miguel de los Reyes prison and he did it in the company of two comrades using forged judicial release orders. The orders arrived in the prison in Levante through normal channels, to the amazement of the prison authorities. But his freedom was short-lived and by May 1948 he was involved in the break-out from Ocaña prison with 11 other libertarian militants. In June 1952, on the back of another phoney order, he was to make his last escape and seek the safety of a life in exile.

Lucio Urtubia is a case apart. If you ask around in libertarian circles for the name of some forger, the likelihood is that his name will be the first one mentioned. But if you press the older militants in exile, the version they offer is not quite the one set down in the books and documentaries made about him. Since it is not the purpose of this article to disentangle Lucio’s real role within the resistance or in the libertarian underground, suffice to say that he started out specializing in counterfeiting US dollars and attempted to secure the backing of the Cuban government in order to flood the United States with counterfeit currency, thereby destabilizing the US economy to the greatest possible extent.

Later, as the counterfeiting of currency was more demanding than that of traveller’s cheques, he set about forging First National City Bank traveller’s cheques which were them widely distributed throughout Europe and the USA alike by a large team of individuals operating in pairs. After he was arrested by the French police and served 6 months in jail, he wound up selling his rolls of paper and counterfeit cheque plates to City Bank itself, in return for an unknown sum of money. Lucio and his network also devoted themselves to churning out forged papers to help out the various revolutionary movements operating around the globe during the 1970s and 1980s.  

We know that the Asturian Ramón Álvarez Palomo worked closely with Defensa Interior’s forgery division, that he was arrested in October 1961 and was caught in possession of a large number of phoney passports used for border crossings and that he was released a month later and all charges were dropped the following year. 

17 May 2023

Image: forger in action (source: Imanol)
From: https://www.elsaltodiario.com/ni-cautivos-ni-desarmados/desconocidos-imprescindibles-falsificadores-clandestinidad-libertaria and https://www.elsaltodiario.com/ni-cautivos-ni-desarmados/desconocidos-imprescindibles-seguimos-pista-falsificadores

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.