It was a day in February 1937 and they called me to go to school. I got up, ate my broth with corn bread; it was needed to “shake away the cold” according to my parents. I grabbed my chalkboard and ran toward my school in Sentín [a village close to Vilagarcía] and saluted the teacher with this litany: “Hail Mary Most Pure, good day. How are you? Arriba España!, Long Live Franco!, Long Live Christ the King and his saintly mother!” Meanwhile, my whole arm was extended, the palm of my hand wide open, standing firm, and I held the chalkboard with my left hand. After the fingernail and ear inspection, I sat in my customary place, my desk, if that’s what you can call two boards of pine two meters long and held together by a frame. There we sat and set our books.
The space had eighty square meters for eighty children, three blackboards, a shelf and a podium from which the teacher, behind his desk with a bundle of wicker twigs in his hand, watched us and was always ready to come strike us. That day religion class lasted till ten [in the morning]. We hadn’t yet sung the Lord’s Prayer, but we would at the end along with “Cara al Sol” [“Face to the Sun”: the Spanish fascist anthem].
We were happy because we hadn’t been thrashed by the wicker twigs. Religion didn’t worry me at all; I could recite “Hail Mary” by heart.
We had just sat down when the first shot went off, followed by many others that led to a general fight, which would only be the prelude of the “Littleness” of the event. The most surprising thing for us (we knew nothing of fire arms) was that kind of ratchet, which with its powerful teeth rattled without a pause. I came to know another kind of war during the first months of the insurrection. We would nervously wait at night for the representatives of the New Spain to knock at the door and come looking for my brothers to “give them a walk” [a sinister euphemism used by the fascists that meant to shoot prisoners]. That war wasn’t spectacular but it was full of terror. The song of machine guns and rifles made us turn our heads at school, even defying the teacher’s wicker twigs. He also looked toward Loenzo’s place—a ways away but close enough to be able to distinguish the abandoned house, an infinity of dark masses that, protected by a raised granary and other obstacles, fired against people inside who seemed to defend themselves well, judging by the two hours that the fight lasted. Their bravery in defending themselves was such that the besiegers—fifty of them made up of townspeople, Falangists, and the Civil Guard—considered calling in the army. But since they had to face the shame of being unable to take on so few, they resorted to gasoline. The straw took care of the rest. Some shots and everything went silent. What was happening now? Have the besieged surrendered? There, the “Two Spains” were represented: one that had always fought for freedom and human rights and the other that defended by fire and sword their centuries-old privileges. No understanding between the two was possible.
The end of the drama came when tongues of fire exited the windows and converted the house into a torch. It was a grey February day. At this moment, the teacher told us to go back to our homework. He closed the doors and windows I don’t know if out of fear or to spare us from the unpleasant sight of those who died inside the house. Once the class was calmed down, the teacher went to his house and returned dressed in his civic uniform. I only remember the bright strap and a revolver on his belt. His wife was with him, an excellent woman given her kindness while in charge of the class. The teacher left to save his civic honor and at the end of the morning we didn’t sing the “Cara al Sol,” but the Lord’s Prayer.
And this is how a group of four Republicans was killed. According to the townspeople, the victims were “El Gitano” [The Gypsy], two others from Vilagarcía, and Pilar, the woman who fired like a man. For two hours, these four held at bay over fifty “brave men” well armed with rifles, machine guns, and submachine guns in contrast to the four who—as was found later in the rubble—had two rifles, three revolvers, and the dynamite cartridges we heard explode. And the old people also tell that when the scorched bodies were carried to the cemetery, they could see that all of them had a hole in their head.
Whether it hurts us or not, this is part of the history of our Vilagarcía. I want to pay homage with it to those martyrs of anonymous tombs. What can we ask for the snitches and executioners who did this “little thing”? Only that God forgives them as we democrats did some time ago despite that we cannot forget.
Fragments from an article published in the newspaper La Voz de Galicia by Nicolás Barcala on 28 September 1988
A FREE WOMAN IS AN OPEN HOUSE
A free woman is an open house.
A female metal factory worker from the CNT is a refuge for fugitives.
An anarchist woman has a caring cabin in Cea.
Pilar Fernández Seixas from Trabanca was all that.
She was free, she was of the proletariat, she was an anarchist, she was a refuge
And she was a caring cabin.
She was murdered in February 1937.
She was a burnt down house with CNT members inside in February 1937
Just as her name remains for the memory of love
So do the names of the men for whom she cared
Rodrigo Berruete, Antonio Saianes, and Manuel Limeres murdered.
Free women we are and will always be an open home.
When they found them there they reported it, and Arzcum came with the car to get gasoline to burn down the house; they doused the house and then they burnt it (…) He got gas there at Consuelo Araujo’s gas station. They were in a barn and they went to the house; it was from there that they shot; I don’t know if they hurt a carabinero [part of the military], a civil guard or whoever the hell… I don’t know. And it was then that—I don’t know who told my dad—that they had killed themselves because from afar they heard “crack, crack, crack, crack” the shots inside, and it was taken for granted that they killed themselves because after being incinerated, he [my dad] said they shrunk to this size [the witness indicates with his hands a small size] and afterwards they picked them up and put them on the cart. The besiegers were from here and there were 250 from Pontevedra (…) They marched afterwards along the Obelisk [in the town plaza] (…) When they incinerated them it was quite an event (…) And they got a red thing and put it on the point of a bayonet and went to the city hall (…) I went there myself (…) The red thing was the Gitano’s belt, because they were dying to catch him; my brother was never famous, but the Gitano was.
My mom was a woman who after so much grief and so many things (…) She would tell me about her sons: My Manolo! My Isolino! (…) She was always doing that (…) What else could she do?
Amalia Limeres, Manuel Limeres’ sister
Pilar Fernández Seijo, “the mountain woman,” Manuel Limeres Ordóñez, Antonio Sayanes, and Rodrigo Berruete Alejandre “The Gypsy,” were murdered at this site—an old barn—on 16 February 1937.
They were anarchists except Manuel Limeres who was from the PSOE [the socialist party]. After the military coup in July 1936, they tried to defend Vilagarcía from the fascist onslaughts. They ended up escaping to the mountains of Xiabre and Lobeira where they had to hide from many fascist raids and assaults.
The last day of their life, hiding in this same place, they were surprised by gangs of Falangists, civic volunteers, the Civil Guard, and the army from Pontevedra and Vilagarcía.
They never saw the sun again. Hope ran out and their lives vanished.
Pilar was left-wing. She had those men hiding at home, she washed their clothes (…) out by Trabanca in those little houses, I was coming back from work at night and (…) they were running.
Then the Civil Guard showed up; there was also a snitch. There was a trap at Bagulleiro’s house, the entrance through here and through Carregal, those stables on the left (…) the Civil Guard surrounded the house. But, of course, when they realized there were four or five [Civil Guards] waiting down at the door, they escaped in that direction (…) You know who saw them? My poor deceased mom. Through a window she saw Pilar coming out in her undergarment, and they too running to escape to Loenzo and they hid inside a barn, but they found them there.
And after they were dead, they [the murderers] went all over Vilagarcía with flags.
Pura Freire, a neighbor of Pilar Fernández in Trabanca Badiña.
I wasn’t in the labor union. When the military coup was brewing; the war hadn’t gotten here yet, I found Monolo, “the Blond,” next to the city hall and he told me: “Belarmina!” Manolo was from the CNT [the anarchist labor union]. “Belarmina, why don’t you sign up?” I didn’t know what a labor union was, or communism, or anything. And I didn’t want to. There were several who did: Miguel, Porriño, one from the Ríos family, Otilia’s son, Luís “the Harry” who left to Venezuela, Amadeo Abalo, Luís o Gervasio, Otilia, “One-handed” Carmen, Blanco from Vilaxoán (…) Pilar hid them in her house and then they escaped to the mountain, and Pilar went with them (…) if she stayed, they would’ve killed her, and also if she escaped.
In the mountain they had a cave where they hid when the army went looking for them. Miguel told me this because, before when they took the herds of sheep and goats to graze (…) and it rained and they would get into the cave, rather deep and not very noticeable; and they hid there for a little while. Two brothers who were stonemasons would go there at night to fill them in; and they would carry notes to know how things were going. They were liaisons of the escapees in the mountain. Those brothers were caught one day and that same night were beaten to death in the police station.
I remember the Gypsy when they were killed. The Civil Guard was carrying pieces of his waistband. The Gypsy was burdened by stomach problems and he had a red waistband. When they killed them, behind [the barn] there were whole pieces of the waistband that hadn’t been burned. And they [the Civil Guard] carried those pieces on the tip of a bayonet, and they said: “Here we have the Gypsy’s waistband (…) we killed him for the coward he was.” I saw everything from what used to be the door of court, at the city hall. There was a crowd and people who cried; they were in tears.
To the left, a summons communicated in the newspaper El Pueblo Gallego for Antonio Sayanes (in the photo on the upper left) to report to the Navy Headquarters of Vigo. At the top right, a military march in the Ravella Plaza in front of city hall, just as had happened the day of the killing in Loenzo.
Below, Antonio Sayanes’ letter to his wife in which he foretold his ending. The cold and hunger, just as dangerous as those who persecuted, were demoralizing.
My Dear Wife:
I hesitate before writing you this farewell letter because I’m convinced that each time you read it you’ll suffer; I wish I could avoid this. But in case Fate hinders me from saying goodbye to you in person, my heart feels the ardent desire to do it in writing. I also suffer doing this and I suffer more for you and our daughters, knowing you’ll be left helpless, than for myself fearing for my miserable life. I’m writing while I’m still free; that relative freedom enjoyed by those who like me are persecuted like wild animals, knowing that as soon as I fall in the hands of my persecutors I’ll lose my life. But this ending is inevitable due to my lack of resources and refuge to stop these long and cold winter nights. In addition to those who persecute me, my big enemies are hunger and cold, which one cannot outwit without the means to do it.
Destiny is taking me there and I hope that when I fall I will be buried in the cemetery where our son rests.
Upon leaving this life, I’ll do it with great sorrow and also with some remorse knowing that during the time your life was linked to mine, I didn’t always provide you and our daughters the amount of bread that you deserved and needed. And this was due more to my bad luck than to a lack of will and love on my part.
Upon knowing this misfortune, I fear that your already fragile heath will break down. That would be tragic because it is now that you need strength the most to fight for your life and raise our beloved daughters.
When you find out about my demise, tell my father and also my sisters. Soledad’s address should be in my wallet on a card from Amancio Antelo. Ask them [my sisters] to try to get you a ticket to leave if you can leave the young ones with someone; then you can arrange for them [our daughters] to join you. And who knows, someday you all may even be happy.
I think the ship-owner I worked for won’t refuse giving you the money he owes me.
I won’t take more of your time. I beg you to look after, as always, our poor daughters and that they remember their miserable father from time to time.
Accept my last kisses and know that for all of you these are the last thoughts of