Fugitive from Spanish Fascism: A Memoir

March 4, 2011

Miguel Domínguez Soler was a talented man of humble origin who lived during tumultuous times, survived many brushes with death, and left a memoir based on the diaries he kept his entire life. He was born on March 1, 1910, in Ayamonte, Spain, across the River Guadiana from Portugal. In 1930, one year before the proclamation of the Spanish Republic, he joined the Spanish Socialist Party. When General Queipo de Llano’s fascist column entered Miguel’s home town on July 30, 1936, he escaped and hid for several days in the countryside. He then returned to Ayamonte and found refuge in a room above the bakery of a friend named Chanoca, who brought him news of what was happening in the town. The following excerpt from his memoir is one example:

The searches and arrests continue. The beasts have yet to satiate their hunger for flesh and blood. Today they have found a municipal policeman named Antonio Barroso, ‘The Flea,’ hidden in a cistern; and in a closet, Wenceslao Ríos, an urban guard. They have taken them to the Civil Guard barracks, and from there, to the Falange headquarters. The latter is located in what had been the Workers’ Center, headquarters of the socialist General Workers’ Union. There is a priest there to confess those to be killed.

The insurgents have established a kitchen in the Falange headquarters for the members of this paramilitary organization. The meals are prepared by the mother of ‘The Planter,’ a member of the local committee of the Communist Party, sought high and low by ‘The Thunderclap.’ This poor mother summons all her courage to flatter the enemy and perhaps save her son if he is caught. Meanwhile, ‘The Planter,’ armed with a good rifle, is in hiding in the neighborhood where he lives and where they pass him the food and news he needs. Days later, they broke into the house. He was shaving, with his rifle on the table. Falangists aimed their rifles at him through the window. He came out with his hands up and they handcuffed him and took him to the jail. He asked for paper and a pen to write down his declaration and whatever might help him in his defense. Chanoca says he spent three days and nights implicating half the town.

“In what?” I said, “Of what wrongdoing can he accuse anyone? No one here has committed murder or attempted murder or even robbery?”

“The fact is,” Chanoca continued, “that when he finished writing his accusation, and on the advice of his mother, who visited him in jail, he got ready and they took him to the church to marry the woman with whom he was living. And it is said that they gave him hope that they would set him free if he enlisted in the Legion, which he accepted to save his skin. From the church, they took him back to his cell where a young man, a boy actually, Eliseo Garlito, secretary of the Socialist Youth organization, and also under arrest, treated him like a traitor and a scoundrel.”

That same night, at exactly twelve o’clock, the truck of death arrived at the door of the jail. A moment of panic and emotion. There was a terrifying silence. The Falangist whose turn it was began to read in a loud voice the names that were written on the list. The first was ‘The Planter.’ Overjoyed, he gathered his blanket and things, thinking they were about to set him free. “Every man for himself,” he said. When he emerged from the cell, he found himself confronted by rifle barrels. His face became contorted with desperation and he threw himself to the ground, crying like a baby, and said, “Where are you taking me?”

The second to be called was Eliseo Garlito, who emerged from the cell with great courage and a loud “Present!” It is said that he told ‘The Planter,’ “Let’s die, you coward, like men who love an idea.” Also taken away that night was Antonio Barroso, ‘The Flea,’ who had already been beaten in the Falange headquarters; also Wenceslao Ríos, ‘The Mountain,’ and others, until a total of twenty‑four would go to swell the extensive list of martyrs. At dawn, on the other side of the forest, the cadavers appeared, those of the cowardly as well as those of the brave. Wailing and lamentations everywhere. At times, the cries of pain would break one’s heart. There is not a single dress or suit in the town that is not black. Everyone wears mourning attire. Fathers, mothers, brothers, children, and family members of those sacrificed make up the totality of the little white town. (Fugitive from Spanish Fascism, 32‑4)

Later, Miguel Domínguez hid in the house of his fiancée’s family before making a daring escape to Portugal in September, 1936. If caught by the authorities of the Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, he would have been returned in handcuffs to Spain, where he would face certain death by firing squad. He had the good fortune to connect up with a network of anti‑fascist Portuguese who sheltered him for the next two and a half years. On April 11, 1939, ten days after the unconditional surrender of the Spanish Republic to the forces of Franco, Miguel’s Portuguese friends sneaked him aboard a French ship sailing from Lisbon to Casablanca. There he joined a community of Spanish refugees, including many of his comrades from Ayamonte.

He bluffed his way into a job managing a sardine cannery and was so successful that he became close friends with the factory’s owner, Monsieur Mallein. Eventually, Miguel was overtaken by another disaster. After the fall of France to Hitler’s army, French Morocco was governed by a German Commission. French gendarmes in the service of Vichy France arrested Miguel Domínguez along with other Spanish refugees, Jews, and political refugees from throughout Europe and turned them over to the German Industrial Production and Labor Service, which “rented” them to a French consortium building the Trans‑Saharan railroad. Miguel was one of thousands of slave laborers breaking rocks for the railroad bed. The horrendous conditions are described in his memoir.

He was rescued from this living hell by his benefactor, Monsieur Mallein, who pulled strings and “rented” him to open and manage another sardine cannery, outside the town of Safi, down the Moroccan coast from Casablanca. Although still a slave, he was “owned” by a friend who allowed Miguel ample freedom. He even built himself a house on the factory grounds. It was there that he would be an eyewitness to an important historical event:

It was November 8, 1942. It must have been about three o’clock in the morning of that day when I was awakened by the barking of a German shepherd I had been given. I opened a large folding knife from Albacete that I kept for self‑defense and, with firm resolve, went out the door and took up a position in the dark on the coastal highway next to the factory entrance. Three soldiers with a machine gun, a tripod, and a box, which I imagined contained ammunition, took up a position in the middle of the highway ten meters from the entrance to the factory. I approached the fence and, at that precise moment, an extraordinary light illuminated the whole town of Safi, revealing my presence. One of the soldiers aimed his rifle at me and asked in English, “Who are you?”

I answered, also in English, “I am a Spanish political refugee.”

Imagine my surprise when the soldier replied, “De verdad es usted español?,” but speaking in a Spanish that had a Central or South American lilt to it. It all became clear to me when he said, still speaking in my language, “I am Chico. I was born in Texas, but at home and in the street, we spoke Spanish.”

Qué pasa?” I asked.

“We have come to liberate the peoples of Europe from Fascism.”

Hombre,” I said, “You don’t know how happy I am to see you. With you here, I am closer to Spain.”

Within a quarter hour there was a group of more than twenty brown‑skinned young man. They were all natives of Puerto Rico and other lands that once belonged to us. An officer who also spoke Spanish arrived and asked me what those buildings were for. I explained that they were a sardine cannery owned by the French. The leader continued the interrogation, asking me if there were arms or artillery in the area. I pointed out an emplacement with two long‑range cannons located two hundred meters behind my house. They were there to defend the Safi harbor. I also showed him where the legionnaires’ barracks was. I told him they were all Spaniards and that he should not attack them. I explained to him that they would surrender without firing a shot, because they would be in favor of this landing by people who were Spain’s friends. A simple conversation was all it took. At the time, the legionnaires were all in the barracks asleep.

“Are there lions around here?” one of the Americans asked me.

Hombre, in the Casablanca Zoo there is a pair of them, but they are very old by now,” I answered.

The day was beginning to break. In the pre‑dawn light, I could make out two hundred ships on the sea. From some of them, airplanes took off and headed for Marrakech, the region’s capital. The men gave me packets of coffee and tobacco and canned peaches in syrup. They had brought everything that was scarce here during the war. Chico, Luis Dones, Roldán, they all treated me with affection.

Here was what I had been hoping for. Long live beautiful liberty! These men will defeat the Fascists and hand me my Spain on a silver platter, the Spain that had been stolen from me. France would be free and England’s freedom would be assured and, since these two countries were friends of the Spanish Republic, they would help us in the re­-conquest. I am full of happiness. I feel like singing in honor of the imminent victory. (Fugitive from Spanish Fascism, 184‑6)

Of course, that “imminent” victory was two and a half years away. Furthermore, Miguel and his friends would remain in exile for decades. As the war in Europe drew to a close, Churchill and Roosevelt decided to leave Spain alone. They were concerned that the removal of Franco could cause another civil war, with the possibility that Spain would fall into the Soviet sphere. By the 1950s, the United States was providing economic aid to Franco in exchange for naval and air bases. Miguel’s memoir reflects the bitterness of Spanish exiles over this betrayal: “So you Americans, the messengers of liberty, are condemning us to exile because we loved that liberty the same as you?” he asks an American commander (Fugitive from Spanish Fascism, 200).

Miguel Domínguez continued a successful career in the fish processing industry. He also remained politically active. His house became the headquarters of an organization that helped Spanish sailors and fishermen who wanted to settle in Morocco and escape the tyranny of Franco’s Spain. Later he was active in the Moroccan League for Human Rights. With great sadness, he saw many of his fellow refugees die in exile. When he received the news of his fiancée’s death in Spain, he felt free to marry the real love of his life, a Moroccan woman he had met in Safi. In 1983, eight years after Franco’s death, Miguel and his wife made a trip to Spain, which he had not seen in forty‑seven years. While in Seville, they experienced an unpleasant incident which ends the book with an unexpectedly ironic twist.

Richard Barker is a Professor of Spanish at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. His translation of Domínguez Soler’s memoir has been published by Cornerstone Press.