Discover more from The Anarchist Book Club Newsletter
Mar y Sol's story
Mar y Sol Gracia Graells, who sadly died of Covid-19 last year, was a lifelong anarchist and exile from Franco’s Spain. She was the daughter of Teresa Torrelles Espina and Joan Graells Llopart, both active in the CNT. In exile in Venezuela, she was a member of the Libertarian Youth and helped put together the first editions of Ruta, its journal, a task she was happy to hand over to her partner Germinal Gracia (Víctor García).
The following is a translation of her memories of the fall of Catalonia and escape from the advancing Francoist armies, originally written up in French for the Spanish Colony at Béziers, and kindly translated into Spanish by our mutual friend Nereida, with Mar y Sol’s help.
Mar y Sol was a wonderful person, full of energy, warmth and justice. It is a privilege to have known her and to make this small contribution to honouring her memory.
I was born in Terrassa, some forty kilometres from Barcelona. My grandparents, on both sides, were poor rural wage labourers.
My father and mother were brought up in the same village. They were both weavers and contributed to the family income from a very young age. My father helped his father in the countryside and my mother, from the age of eight, cared and cleaned for an elderly lady of fragile health, then worked as a helper to the weavers in the Can Sedo factory in Olesa de Montserrat, near Esparreguera, where they both lived. My father also did little jobs in the factory from the age of ten.
At night both attended the Escuela Nocturna (Night School) to get an education and from very young they joined the excursions of the anarchist grouping Sol y Vida from Barcelona.
When I was born, in February 1933, they were living and working as weavers in Terrassa, where they were active in the CNT, and had participated in all of the struggles before and after the coming of the Republic – over a long period.
After 19 July 1936, my father was sent to the front where, at the beginning of 1938, he was wounded in the leg. Later, in September, supporting himself with a walking stick, he was sent once more to the front, where he was killed on 8 October 1938.
While my father was at the front, my mother worked as Counsellor of Culture in the town hall of Terrassa, and for the organisation SIA (International Antifascist Solidarity), which provided help to refugees and cared for war orphans. On her return from one mission, in January 1939, she fell from a truck onto the road. She was bruised all over her body and was taken to a clinic in Barcelona where she found out that Franco’s soldiers were at the gates of Barcelona. Weak and convalescent as she was, she left the clinic and came to find me in Esparreguera, where I was being looked after by my grandparents.
She explained to me that she was leaving for France and I said I wanted to go with her.
We went back to Terrassa and there we got on the last truck on 22 January 1939, headed north with a group of women, children and elderly people. Not far from Sabadell, Republican soldiers requisitioned the truck and from there we had to continue on foot to Perthus [a French border town nearly 100 miles from Sabadell].
All we had with us was a blanket that I carried, with a litre bottle of Dr. Sloan’s elixir [an anti-inflammatory] rolled up inside. We had to rub my mother’s back with it whenever she lost consciousness or couldn’t bear her pain anymore.
All along the road, German and Italian planes dropped bombs and strafed us. We slept in barns when we were allowed, otherwise under the stars in the middle of winter.
On 28 January 1939 we arrived at Perthus where a great multitude of people was already gathered. The frontier was closed, and we spent the night next to a frozen stream by the side of the road.
The following morning, they opened the border, and in the first place allowed the ambulances and war wounded to cross, then in late afternoon, the women, children and elderly.
First they vaccinated us against smallpox, then they gave us children an orange, a piece of bread and a little chocolate and took us to a farm. In the morning, they came to get us and put us on a train to Clermont Ferrand.
There, they locked us in an old out of use barracks, where we slept in a dorm, and on the large central patio they set up some wooden furniture where we ate, offices where we were registered and a medical centre with nurses and doctors from the Red Cross who were assigned to us.
The week after our arrival I caught measles and I was taken to an old hospital, the Hotel Dieu in Clermont Ferrand.
Some days later we went to Chabreloche where my mother found work in the home of a socialist couple who ran a café.
I was signed up to the local school where I attended the first class.
My mother was allergic to alcohol and could not spend much time working behind a bar. After three or four months we returned to the barracks at Clermont Ferrand where, three or four months later they made us take a train to the concentration camp at Argelés-sur-Mer.
I spent several months at the camp where we slept on the sand, we washed in sea water and went to the toilet in a wooden bucket set atop stilts two meters from the ground.
The women, children and elderly were housed in barracks facing the sea and the men were kept further back, away from the sea so that they wouldn’t try to escape by swimming.
We were given very small amounts of terrible food.
There I caught all kinds of illnesses and infections, such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis and rickets, which I was still suffering from in the aftermath of World War Two.
On Sundays, buses would come to take the children for a walk, but before leaving the camp we would pass by the men’s barracks and they allowed those of us with friends or relatives among them to get off and spend time with them before being picked up on our return.
The internees who had previously taught in schools gave classes at the camp to keep us busy.
We left the camp in August of 1940, my mother and I in the company of four men who had been enrolled to work on the grape harvest and my mother, as well as working on the harvest, had to prepare their food.
At first we settled in Limoux, where we bought packets of hay to use as pillows and blankets; for cooking my mother collected plates and pans from the riverside, because at that time all kinds of things were thrown away into the river.
We only stayed a short time at Limoux before we moved on to Saint André de Saint Gonis, in Hérault, where we stayed a few months. The grape harvest was over and we were worried about being sent back to the camp. We fled to Marseille where the Mexican government was organising residency permits for Spanish refugees, one type for women and children and another for men.
We stayed there under the protection of the Mexican Consulate until the Vichy regime broke off relations with Mexico and we left with a group of workers to produce wood gas in the Petites Corbières, near Chalabre.