Josep Almudéver Mateu (1919-2021)

August 14, 2021

Almudéver in Catalonia in 2016. Photo Francesc Fort. CC BY-SA 4.0

Last May 23, our dear veteran Josep Almudéver Mateu died in France. At 101 he was, as far as we know, the very last surviving veteran of the International Brigades, and certainly the last one to be an activist until the very end. Josep had wanted to return to his beloved Valencia this summer and died as a consequence of his fervent wish, since he had a bad reaction to the vaccine he needed to travel from France to Spain.

Anyone who had the fortune of meeting Josep in person was impressed by his clarity of mind and strong will to defend the truth about the so-called Spanish Civil War. He would always reinforce the idea that it was an international attack on the progressive government of the Spanish Republic rather than a war between brothers, which is the revisionist take on the subject. He was adamant about this aspect, the coldly planned genocide of the defenseless Spaniards at the hands of international Fascism.

Josep volunteered in the Republican Army as a French-Spanish national; he was born in Marseille in 1919 to a family of Spanish migrant workers. His maternal grandparents were managers and trapeze artists of an itinerant circus. His anticlerical father worked as a bricklayer. Josep spent his early childhood between France, Morocco and Spain. The family settled in Alcàsser, Valencia in March 1931, just before the proclamation of the Second Republic in April.

Josep, politically committed and cosmopolitan from an early age, enrolled as a volunteer in the Republican Army in August 1936 claiming that he was 19 years old (he was actually 17, legally underage). He saw combat with the Batallón Pablo Iglesias at Teruel and was injured. In July 1937, after convalescing, he requested to join the International Brigades in Silla, and was accepted in the Italian Carlo Roselli Battery. In addition to his combat experience, he was fluent in French. He recalled that his Italian unit included some 30 Italians, three Cubans, one American mechanic, a Swiss doctor, a Canadian, a Yugoslav, an Armenian, and a shell-shocked German soldier.

As the Republican Government demobilized the International Brigades following the disaster of the Ebro, Josep crossed the border into France in 1939. By February, however, he had returned to Valencia to continue fighting. He ended up captured in Alicante by the Fascists and was imprisoned in the infamous concentration camps “de los Almendros” and at Albatera. He also served time in prisons (Porta-Coeli, Modelo de Valencia, and Aranjuez).

In November 1942, he was released on parole and returned to Alcàsser, but found it difficult to be employed. He eventually returned to bricklaying. In 1945, the Communist Party contacted him to coordinate the local underground section in Catarroja. By 1947, he was one of the links for the Agrupación Guerrillera de Levante, which involved covering and assisting guerrilla freedom fighters. In June 1947, he had to flee to Barcelona. He managed to arrive in France in August, where his wife joined him the following year.

He did not return to Spain until 1965, to visit, and remained a resident in France until his death. His memoir, El pacto de no intervención. Pobre República (The Non-Intervention Pact: The Poor Republic), details his life and recounts the political struggles of the anarchists, socialists and communists, denouncing the trigger-happy nature of a lot of anarchists from the early days of the Republic. Some of the readers here will remember Josep from the 80th anniversary trip, in 2016, to Benicàssim, Albacete, Guadalajara, and Madrid, where he attended the unveiling of the Jardín de las Brigadas Internacionales in Vicálvaro.  Those who did not have the opportunity to meet him can learn from his determination and strong will through his book, interviews or footage of him at various events. Like ALBA, Josep recognized the importance of education and often gave presentations and lectures at high schools in Valencia, so that the youth of today would understand the tragedy unfolded in Spain. Thank you, Josep, for your resolute defense of the Spanish Republic until the very end. We carry your torch!

Almudena Cros is President of the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI) in Madrid.


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