Evaristo Viñuales Larroy and Lorenza Sarsa Hernandez. Two Huesca schoolteachers' tale of love and revolution

Evaristo Viñuales was born near Monegros in Lagunarrota in Huesca province on 22 June 1912: he was born into a family of staunch religious beliefs, his parents being Huesca-based Evaristo Viñuales Escartín (a native of Huerto) and Alcolea de Cinco-born Asunción Larroy Regales. We know that in the final decade of the 19th century, his paternal grandparents Orencio Viñuales and Pilar Escartín were living in the village of Lalueza. Both Evaristo’s father and his aunt Gregoria trained as teachers at the Escuela Normal in Huesca. His father actually earned his living as a country schoolteacher, which profession took him all over the province of Upper Aragon to such distant and different locations as the plains of Monegros and the lofty Pyrenees. Evaristo senior died quite young, aged just 45, on 15 August 1928 while in Santa Cruz de la Seros working as a teacher. Only a few months before his father passed away, Evaristo junior, who had received his secondary schooling in his father’s country schoolhouse and taken his baccalaureate at the seminary in Jaca under the sway of the family’s religious beliefs, put in an application at the age of 15 to the director of the Teaching Training School (Escuela Normal) in Huesca. His plan was quite simply to sit his exams that June and pass an entrance test and train as a teacher, thereby following in his late father’s footsteps and keeping up the family tradition.

Having moved to the city, by 1929 he was living at No 5, 3 derecha in the Calle Santiago right beside Huesca town hall. The financial pressures implicit in such a move from high in the mountains to the city centre forced him by December 1928 to apply to the Primary Education General Board for a 1,000 peseta grant (recently earmarked for the orphaned children of teachers, like himself) so as to continue his studies and pay for his second year at the Escuela Normal.

Besides completion of his professional training his time as a third level student was marked by two things that were to leave their stamp on his brief but intense life over the ensuing decade. The first was that he made the acquaintance of teacher, comrade and friend, Ramón Acín from Huesca: this introduced him to a generation of manual and brain-workers influenced by Acin who was an artist, an educator and an anarchist militant who had founded the CNT in Upper Aragon. That generation also included the libertarian schoolteacher Francisco Ponzán Vidal, Emilo Loriente Vidosa and Alfredo Atarés García … all of who met tragic ends. In fact, from 1 November 1930 onwards Evarisato was a member of the CNT’s Liberal Professional Union, fully half a year before the proclamation of the Second Republic after the success of republican candidates in urban constituencies in the 12 April 1931 municipal elections. The second thing that was to leave its mark on his life was that he also met his future partner and mother of his only daughter Lorenza Sarsa Hernández. They took some courses in common at the Training school. By 5 October 1931 he had completed his training as a primary school teacher and applied for the relevant diploma.

His first posting took him to Berbegal, a village of which he and his pupils had good memories and from which a school portrait fronted by Evaristo has survived.

The security and reassurance of a 3,000 pesetas-a-year salary at a time under the republic when the goal was to universalise and improve the quality of education and living standards of teaching staff (aims never realised) did not stop Evaristo from learning from his old teacher Ramón Acín and engaging in committed revolutionary activism. Evaristo was in Berbegal at the same time as a slightly older female teacher whom he had know from their student days together at the Teacher Training School.

Lorenza Sarsa Hernández was born in Huesca on 2 November 1907; she was the daughter of (Bolea-born) José Sarsa and (Huerrios-born) María Cruz Hernández and had been educated at the Santa Ana high school. Her family were well-to-do in financial terms, her father being a leading horse-dealer whom Lorenza helped with the accounts.

Her intellectual appetites had led her first to embark upon medical studies in Madrid but serious fever attacks had made it impossible for her to continue her education far from the family home. The local option for her was to enter the Teacher Training School in Huesca where she too came under the direct sway of Ramón Acín and became acquainted with the rest of his disciples, including Ponzán and Evaristo. They shared a friendship and an activism. Her rather modern outlook on life prompted her to identity with those most in need. From her days in Madrid she had a lingering attachment to a young count from the Spanish nobility but that connection was to be severed for good after the dynamic Evaristo Viñuales popped up in her life again. After a period she spent teaching in Castanea up in the Pyrenees, the pair met up again in Berbegal. The affinity and mutual attraction they felt determined their fates and they decided to become a couple.

Without further ado, Lorenza set off for Huesca to tell her father of her plans to make Evaristo her life partner. By then Evaristo was well known in Huesca as an anarchist activist. Lorenza’s father’s reaction was quite simply against her having anything to do with him.

Faced with a choice between toeing the family line and following her heart, Lorenza decided to make her way back to Berbegal and suggested to Evaristo that they live together. And so they became a couple, never to be separated except by the fortunes of imprisonment and war until 1939. Despite her father’s opposition, Lorenza continued to receive visits from her sister and mother in Berbegal. In contrast to her hitherto gilded existence in the city she was abruptly brought fact to face with what life was like for the common people. Following her schoolteacher’s vocation was not enough: there were more than minds to be fed. There was the body too. And so she set up a people’s kitchen to help those most in need. Every pupil would bring along a handful of beans and she would add the bacon and see to it that the dish of the day was prepared on the school stove while she got on with her teaching. But she felt helpless at the daily sight of long queues of labourers in the village, drawn in from all over the surrounding areas in search of a wage on which to subsist.

Like several dozen other Huesca anarchists at the time, Evaristo was well known and the police had a file on him. He would soon be complementing his academic career with the inevitable acquaintance with imprisonment that every good revolutionary of his day had to acquire. He broke his duck in prison terms on 5 and 6 February 1932 which was when he and 19 others first entered the provincial prison in Huesca to serve a couple of days on remand: his offence was failure to pay a fine of 10 pesetas imposed by the civil governor. In January 1933 he wrote an article for the FAI newspaper published on Barcelona, Tierra y Libertad. A year after he first entered prison he was one of 14 held in connection with the three day general strike launched in Huesca on 8-10 April 1933: the strike had erupted after the governor had slapped a ban on a CNT meeting due to meet at the (since demolished) Principal Theatre in Huesca.

Evaristo was jailed on day two of the strike for failing to pay a 250 peseta fine, as was his friend, another schoolteacher, Francisco Ponzán Vidal and the potter Santiago Fraile: he also faced charges in connection with the strike, charges relating to sedition, possession of explosives and acts of sabotage, according to Indictment 35/1933. His case was lumped together with that of strikers who had also been arrested: I. Castán, M. Mavilla, A. Blasco and J. Boirra who were each fined 500 pesetas. By 8 June Evaristo was still behind bars and in an isolation cell for having played an active and very prominent part in a collective act of defiance by the inmate population, but was freed on 15 June. It was not long before he was back in prison, serving a further three days between 27 and 30 November 1933. Which brings us up to the December 1933 uprising designed to unseat the rightwing government that had won the November elections and to proclaim libertarian communism.

In accordance with the determinations of the confederal organisation, he joined in with the subversive revolt and was charged with involvement together with neighbours from Albero Alto – Vicente Betored Ade, Pedro Ciria Mendoza, Santos Lanaja Expósito and teacher Alfredo Atarés […] in the attempt to storm the Novales Civil Guard barracks. On 21 April 1934 those charged under Indictment 69/1934 with conspiracy to subvert stood trial in Huesca. Evaristo was tried in his absence but the flimsiness of the charges forced the prosecution to drop them and everyone was acquitted and freed. However, Evaristo had avoided arrest after the revolt’s failure by fleeing to Barcelona with Lorenza. Despite his escape he was eventually caught on 27 July 1934, at the age of 22 and charged with military offences under Indictment 59/1933: he was accused of armed assault, sedition and possession of explosives and was freed on licence on 31 October 1934. For those topsy turvy months in 1934, his home, after a boyhood spent in the tranquil foothills of the Sierra de San Juan de la Pena, was at No 2, Calle Vidania between the teeming Coso Alto and the bustling Plaza del Mercado beside the church of San Pedro el Viejo, right in the historic heart of Huesca city. Some months later, on 6 March 1935 he and Gregorio Villacampa stood trial together before a council of war and were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment after which Evaristo was held in No 2 Department from 13 to 17 March, at which point he was given a punishment sentence for violently protesting against the prison regime: on 16 April 1935 he was taken away to serve his sentence in the so-called Alcalà de Henares Reform School in Madrid.

Following the Popular Front victory in the February 1936 elections, he moved back to Barcelona where he worked as a teacher at the ‘El Porvenir’ rationalist school.

He also had a hand in the launch on 9 April 1936 of an anarchist theoretical weekly paper, a champion of revolution, Mas Lejos. It attracted contributions from the leading theorists of contemporary anarchism around the world. Its director was Eusebio Carbó and over the nine issues published up until July 1936 contributors included Evaristo Viñuales, José Peirats, Federica Montseny, Amparo Poch, A. Schapiro, Emma Goldman and Jaime Balius, to name but a few. During this quiet time he saw to it that his mother and his sister Maria moved from Alcolea de Cinca to Barcelona to live with them, Lorenza and Evaristo having formalised their status by means of a civil marriage in June 1936.

Come the revolt by a significant part of the Spanish army, Evaristo, who, after 19 July 1936 added the title “militian” to his military CV, played a telling part with his unrelenting activity during the time of the war and revolution in Aragon.

From 1 December 1936 on he was in charge of the Information & Propaganda Department as part of the second line-up of the council of Aragon. Also in December 1936, he ensured the return of the libertarian teacher from Albalate de Cinca, Félix Carrasquer Launed who was to oversee the intriguing educational project known as Aragon’s School for Libertarian Militants and with the support of the Monzón Comarcal Federation this was set up in the heart of the Cinca district. As a delegate, he attended the March 1937 Plenum of CNT Comarcals at which he, along with fellow Council of Aragon members Miguel Chueca and Adolfo Arnal stood out by calling upon the entire confederal organisation to deliver greater support to the work being done by the Aragon Regional Defence Council on which they were serving alongside every other Aragonese antifascist organisation. He married his political responsibilities as a Council member with his duties as secretary of the Aragon-Rioja-Navarra Regional Committee of Anarchist Groups. With Huesca’s Miguel Gella Pardo, he attended the Peninsular Plenum held in Valencia on 10 July 1937 – this is recorded in credentials signed by himself on 4 July 1937 and in No 94 of the newspaper Nosotros. On 24 July 1937 he penned an article for publication in the Aragonese CNT’s Cultura y Acción, entitled “The Council of Aragon and the irrationalism of its attackers”: the article complained of the badgering of the Council and offered an impassioned defence of the Aragonese spirit and of the peasantry hard at word in the rearguard and manning the front lines and it identified those responsible for the badgering and sounded the alert about events that would shortly devastate collectivist and libertarian Aragon. The closing paragraph stated: “However, it is my belief that this is the source of all evil: the Popular Front – or parts thereof – attacks the Council of Aragon simply because it can never forgive the fact that the CNT was midwife to it. That, when all is said and done, is our sin: and some people are anti-CNT rather than antifascist, or more than antifascist.” He also wrote a number of articles for Titan, the publication of the Libertarian Youth of Aragon. On 9 August 1937 he addressed the FAI-organised rally held in the bullring in Alcañiz (Teruel), as reported in No 119 of Nosotros. Two days later, on 11 August 1937, as secretary of the FAI, he signed credentials issued to the Aragonese FAI delegation comprising Manuel Espallargas, Santiago Puyal and X. Blanco, enabling them to attend a further FAI Peninsular Plenum. But just the previous day Juan Negrín had signed another telling document, a government order authorising the disbandment of the Council of Aragon and the subsequent destruction of the collectives by republican divisions under the command of the Stalinist Enrique Líster and Aragon’s new governor-general José Ignacio Mantecón. The rounding up of around five hundred anarchist militants as well as of some Aragonese UGT revolutionaries in August 1937 and the execution of a number of these forced Evaristo to flee to Híjar (Teruel) where the 25th Division was based and thence to Callén (Huesca) where he finally enlisated in the 127th Mixed Brigade (formerly the Roja y Negra Column) and there he ran into his great friend from Alcalà de Gurrea, Máximo Franco Cavero. Evaristo served with this Brigade right up until the end of the fighting, initially as a captain with the munitions company of the Rojo y Negro Regiment of the 28th (F. Ascaso) Division of the XXI Army Corps of the Army of the East (an appointment confirmed by the republican government in 1938 and backdated to 31 August 1937) and then as a captain with the quartermaster division from 1 April 1938 onwards.

The end of the war was imminent and the cutting in two of republican Spain did not stop Evaristo and Máximo Franco from meeting up in the midst of the surrounding chaos, but this would be their last ever meeting. In the summer of 1938 Lorenza, now pregnant, sailed for Valencia after saying her goodbyes. With the war lost on the battlefield, it fell to Evaristo to serve on the National Committee of the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) set in Valencia on 7 March 1939. Defeat inevitable and trapped along with thousands of republican fighters, Evaristo committed suicide in a left-handed handshsake with his friend Máximo Franco, in the rat-trap that the port of Alicante had become. The promised fleet of ships due to ferry them all into exile failed to arrive at the port. His tragic end (not without its grandeur) has often been remembered by lots of surviving eye-witnesses and writers: the double suicide of Evarisato and Máximo came on 1 April 1939 by way of one last protest against fascism from Upper Aragon’s Máximo Franco and Evaristo Viñuales. Soon the living, incarcerated and tortured in Francoist concentration camps, would come to envy their dead comrades.

Down through long years of intense persecution and committed activism, Evaristo and his partner Lorenza Sarsa had had few chances to savour the peace and quiet necessary for happy coexistence as a couple. In December 1933 she had had to flee Berbegal and moved to Barcelona. There she became head of the Rationalist School in the Bonanova barrio up until 1939: and it was there that she gave birth to their daughter, Zeika Sonia Viñuales Sarsa, born on 11 November 1938 in her home at 259, 5°, Calle Montaner in Barcelona. Two months after surviving the heavy air raids inflicted on the city, they crossed the border into France along with several hundred thousand other refugees. Interned in the Vigan concentration camp, they spent nearly a year there with the rest of the female prisoners, many of whom were Barcelona workers and prostitutes from the Barrio Chino: alone and in confinement, Lorenza took the news of Evaristo’s death badly: after reading the news she became hysterical: his cousin Mariano Viñuales Farina confirmed the deadly news in a letter.

After Francisco Ponzán learned of her predicament she and Zeika were rescued from the camp and taken to Toulouse and from there on to Varilhes, half way to Andorra. She was reunited with the libertarian teacher Pilar Ponzán (sister of Francisco Ponzán) and like many other women, together Pilar and Lorenza joined the anti-Nazi resistance and both were issued with the papers and back-up they needed to survive thanks to the underground resistance network formed by Paco Ponzán. Such was the trust in the Viñuales family that, by way of a password, the Ponzán Group’s internal security practice was to produce a baby picture of Lorenza’s and the late Evaristo’s daughter. That snapshot of Zeika Viñuales thereby became the recognition code between all the members of the Ponzán underground network. As a result of her activities, Lorenza was arrested by the Gestapo but was freed en route whilst being taken to the St Michel prison in Toulouse under an escort of Vichy gendarmes. Paco Ponzán himself was to be murdered shortly after that. It was 17 August 1944, the Second World War was drawing to an end but in their retreat from Toulouse the Nazis executed him and a sizable group of captured resisters. Like the rest of the refugees who had risked their lives fighting the Nazis she had another tough blow coming, as hard as or harder than the loss of Evaristo: The Allied armies of the USA, Britain and France reneged on promises they had made to the Spanish people and dropped any thoughts of wiping out General Franco’s fascist regime. Lorenza was to build herself a new life at the side of the anarchist writer and journalist Felipe Alaiz de Pablo (Belver de Cinca, 23 May 1887 – Paris 8 April 1959) who became a father figure to Zeika. So she shared her time in exile with Alaiz and other leading Aragonese libertarians like Ramón Liarte and Amparo Poch from whom she was to learn so much. Lorenza died in exile in 1982.

As Francoism bedded itself down in Spanish society Zeika, just as her parents had done, carried on fighting for her dignity. First of all there was the dignity of recovering her proper name, the dictatorship having changed Zeika to Cecilia. Whereas the name Zeika was acknowledged readily enough in France, her adopted county, in Francoist Spain as well as in today’s democratic Spain that recognition has been systematically refused her. The country of her birth has usurped her true identity and infringed her human rights.

On the afternoon of 17 April 2010, in a symbolic, emotion-laden ceremony, a band of family and friends of the Viñuales-Sarsa from France and Huesca gathered in the graveyard in Santa Cruz de la Seros in Upper Aragon. There, beside the grave of her father, grandfather and teacher, sand gathered by Zeika from the beaches of Alicante in memory of her late father Evaristo Viñuales was laid to rest alongside the ashes of Zeika herself, who died in exile in Toulouse on 1 August 2009. A plaque put up by the family reads “Our thoughts run free” and it commemorates and pays tribute to these libertarian teachers from Huesca and to their daughter Zeika – exemplars of sacrifice, integrity and selflessness in their fight for a new world free of injustice and inequality between human beings.

From: cnt (Madrid) Nos, 375 & 376 (February & March 2011). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.