diumenge, 18 de novembre de 2007

Battle of the Pyrenees. Intelligence and evasion networks during the Second World War

From November 22th 2007 to January 31th 2008
Museu del Tabac - Antiga Fàbrica Reig
c/ Doctor Palau, 17
Sant Julià de Lòria (Principat d'Andorra)
Tel. +376 741 545
Opening: Tuesday to Saturday: 10 am - 8 pm
Last visit at 6'30 pm.
Sunday: 10 am - 2'30 pm.
Last visit at 1 pm
Monday: closed

The exhibition in Sant Julià de Lòria

Link to the exhibition texts
Itinerant exhibition

Josep Ibern, a republican in the allied evasion networks

By Fredi Ribó

Josep Ibern Eroles was born on 20th May 1921 in Àger (La Noguera, Catalunya). His parents were farmers. When he was 13 years old he went to Lleida to become a baker. Before the Spanish Civil War he was in touch with several people belonging to the circles of Joventut Republicana(Republican Youth party) and Estat Català (Catalan State party) in Lleida city.
In August 1936, when he only was 15 years old, he enlisted himself in the “Macià-Companys” column. He took part in the Battle of Belchite and Teruel (Aragón). When the Civil War finished in 1939, Josep was a young lieutenant of 17 years old
On February 1939, Josep and a group of war mates exiled to France. First, they were hidden in the mountains during a few days and after they surrendered to the French authorities in the Voló village (Pyrénées-Roussillon, France), then they were imprisoned in Saint Cyprien concentration camp. After they escape from Saint Cyprien, they were arrested by the French police because they were without identification, so they were imprisoned in Bacarés concentration camp. There, they were compelled to enlist to the French Legion on 1st March 1939 and they were sent to Algeria. In June 1939 they were moved to the border between French and Switzerland to do vigilance works. On September 1939, they were to Saint Avold (Mosella, France), close to the German border. In May 1940 they were demobilized after they had been fighting during the German invasion in France
A few months after, Josep decided to return to Catalunya, he was 19 years old and he already had taken part in two wars. But when he arrived to Spain, he was arrested and imprisoned because he had been an official in the republican army. On 23rd December 1940, he was judged in Barcelona by a military court; he had to serve a 12 years sentence. To serve his sentence he was moved to Son Servera (Mallorca, Illes Balears) where he belonged to the Disciplinary Workers Company number 93 dedicated to fortify the coast. In January 1941, Josep succeeded in send a letter to a lawyer from Madrid, named Antonio Delvado. Delvado was a man from the Right who was helped by Josep during the Civil War. On 10th May 1941, Josep was liberated thanks to the lawyer negotiation. Delvado didn’t charge anything for his help and he found a job for Josep in the enterprise Sociedad de Carbones Industriales Oller, in a mine recently opened near Àger.

Mines, smuggling and evasion networks
Alter working during a few months in the Ager’s mine, in 1942 he started to work in the enterprise Carbones Pedraforca in Saldes village (Berguedà, Catalunya). Some of the miners who worked there complemented their scarce wage smuggling tobacco from Andorra. At the end of October 1942, Josep did his first journey to Andorra. He crossed the border through the Port Negre way (Alt Urgell, Catalunya) with 10 experienced mates.
In one of his smuggling journeys to Toulouse, at the end of 1943, he found Gonzàlez, a Spanish Civil War and French Legion mate. Gonzàlez belonged to a French Resistance group. His job in the network consisted in help the Jews escapers to arrive to Great Britain but he needed someone to organize a path through the Pyrenees. For Josep, this was the beginning of his participation in the British escape lines. The day after, a member of the British secret services, a Jew named Rizan Ritter, gave to Josep an envelope with several photos that he had to carry to the British Consulate in Barcelona and gave to Miss Collins. In Barcelona, Miss Collins gave to Josep to envelopes. The smallest was for Francesc Viadiu, a Catalan agent in Andorra. The biggest one contained ten British passports made with the photos and it had to be carried to Toulouse.
Josep came from Barcelona to Guardiola (Berguedà, Catalunya) by train. Then he went to Saldes with a coal truck. From Saldes to Andorra he travelled with Isidre Campmajó, Josa de Cadí (Alt Urgell, Catalunya), his partner in the smuggling business and also in the evasion network. They usually left Saldes and went to Gósol (el Berguedà, Catalunya), then they climbed the Cadí Mountains and descended by the Canal del Cristall or the Canal Baridana to go to Arsèguel (Alt Urgell, Catalunya). They came into Andorra crossing through the Port Negre pass since they arrive to the Roca Hotel in Escaldes (Andorra) where the two friends had rented a room from where they organized their smuggling activities.
Josep and Isidre went to France crossing through the place named El Serrat (Ordino, Andorra). They went to Muret (Haute-Garonne, France) to take in charge the Jews group who were hidden in the church and in the police chief’s home. They guide the group to the Mas d’Azil (Ariège, France) and they spent five days to arrive to the Serrat’s Hotel. Then, the refugees were moved to the Mirador Hotel in Andorra village (Andorra la Vella, Andorra) with a taxi drove by Joan de la Sort. That time, Josep and Isidre hadn’t to guide the group to Spain, but there were other groups that the two friends guided to Barcelona.

After the Second World War
Josep married a Spanish woman and they had three child. During the fifties, Josep and his family established Sant Julià (Sant Julià de Lòria, Andorra) where he worked in the Reig tobacco factory during twenty years. In 1976 he participated in the foundation of the El Castell Hotel of Castellciutat (Alt Urgell, Catalunya). During the last years of his life, he spent his time writing and remembering his experiences lived in the Spanish Civil War and the post-war. He died in 2003 and he was buried in Andorra to respect his last wish.

dimarts, 6 de novembre de 2007

Itinerant exhibition

Battle of the Pyrenees. Intelligence and evasion networks during the Second World War

From July 8th 2007 to February 29th 2008
Ecomuseu de les Valls d'Àneu
c/ del Camp, 22-2425580 Esterri d'Àneu (Pallars Sobirà, Catalunya)Tel. 973 62 64 36
The exhibition in Esterri d'Àneu

From November 20th 2007 to January 30th 2008
Museu del Tabac - Antiga Fàbrica Reig
c/ Doctor Palau, 17
Sant Julià de Lòria (Principat d'Andorra)
Tel. +376 741 545
The exhibition in Sant Julià

From 2nd to 12th February 2008
Casa España
85, avenue des Minimes
31200 Toulouse (France)
Tel. 05 61 47 08 87
The exhibition in Toulouse

From 29th February to 18th April 2008
Maison du Chemin de la Liberté
09200 Saint Girons (France)
The exhibition in Saint Girons

From 19th April to 17th Mai 2008
Médiathèque du canton d'Oust
09140 Seix (France)
Tel.: 05-34-09-88-31
The exhibition in Seix

Link to the exhibition texts

diumenge, 19 d’agost de 2007

Joan Garcia Rabascall: representative of the British Consulate of Barcelona in Lleida during the Second World War

By Noemí Riudor

Joan Garcia Rabascall was born in Lleida on 11th December 1900. He was the youngest of four brothers. His father was Francesc Garcia Boronat and his mother was Carme Rabascall Martí, both were been born in Cornudella (Tarragona). When Joan was so young, he began to work in the Public Works department of the Generalitat of Catalonia because he had a brother working there.
Regarding his political thinking, he was a republican person. He was related with Esquerra Republicana circles in Lleida. He and his friends were linked to a group called “La Petera” it was a political group and perhaps ludic too. Joan didn’t go to the Spanish Civil War and when it finished he was disqualify from being a public official and he had to work for several insurance agents as an autonomous worker.
On 21st November 1941 he married Dolors Solà Alberich. On 16th August 1946 they had their only daughter, M. Carme Garcia Solà.
Concerning with his job for the British Consulate in Barcelona, we have a little information. We have a document forward for the Consulate on 4th July 1943 where we can read he was the person designated for the Consulate to do the administrative tasks related with the British subjects who were in Lérida or Huesca provinces. Joan Garcia had an identity card (22nd July 1943) as a representative of the British Consulate of Barcelona.
In the book Paso clandestino. Las otras listas (2004), by Alberto Poveda, Joan Garcia apperared as a representative of the British Consulate in Lleida town:

“El Consulado general británico en Barcelona designó como representante para las relaciones con el Gobierno Civil a Juan Garcia (…) Era también joven, resuelto, eficaz. Fue precisamente el coautor de una solución de alivio para los refugiados, para sus «canadienses», con efecto sobre los demás: un balneario.” (POVEDA 2004, 167)

Alberto Poveda Longo was a young man from Madrid who was studied journalism. He sat an examination for the Ministry of the Interior and he was sent to the Civil Government in Lleida where he arrived in September 1942, he was 27 years old. In Lleida, his work consisted in took care of the refugiees who arrived in the Lérida province; Poveda spoke French and a bit of English.
One day Joan Garcia Rabascall went to the Civil Government in Lleida to get an appointment with Poveda. Garcia presented himself as the consular agent who was in charge of the British and Canadian citizen imprisoned in the Seminari Vell (Lleida). Since this moment, Garcia sent to the Civil Government several documents to require the freedom of British and Canadian people imprisoned in Lleida. The British Consulate in Barcelona took charge of their maintenance and transfer to Barcelona.
Joan Garcia had a good appearance, he was a tall and elegant man with polite manners. Poveda thought he was educated in a British environment. But Garcia never went to the Great Britain and in according with his niece Joana Garcia Sisteré, he learned a bit of English in 1943, thanks to an English teacher (probably payed for the Consulate) who went to his home to give him some lessons.
Sometimes, Poveda and Garcia met in the Palace Hotel in Lleida. This place was one of the hotels where the British Consulate lodged refugees. The way that Joan Garcia stayed at the hotel, confused Poveda who thought Garcia was lodged there. Perhaps Joan Garcia needed to be unnoticed.
Because of the interest of Joan Garcia and other consular agents to freedom the refugees imprisoned in the Seminari Vell, and because of the increasing number of people took prisoner there, the authorities of the Civil Government had to search a solution to reduce the boarders’ number in the prison. So that, on 7th May 1943, Joan Garcia could release a group of 70 people which were moved to the Rocallaura health resort (POVEDA 2004, 180-181). Since this moment, Rocallaura became a place where the refugees of several nationalities waited for their departure from Spain. The British Consulate paid the lodging and maintenance expenses, and the person in charge of the payment was Joan Garcia. Thanks to a document guarded in the Historical Archive of Lleida Province (provided by Josep Calvet) we know that the British Consulate assumed the lodging and maintenance expenses of the British foreigners. This document was written by Garcia on 15th December 1943; Garcia informed to the owner of an unknown hotel about a bill payment. The British Consulate paid the amount of 2,150 pesetas as lodging and maintenance of John Gordon Covington and his family, Bob Tibbatts and Freddy Duncan.
The appointments between Poveda and Garcia, since the middle of 1943, were less frequents than before. Perhaps liberate the prisoners was easier since the moment when the Spanish authorities allowed their lodging in Rocallaura. At any rate, Poveda thinks that between 1943 and 1944 the networks members in Catalonia were able to create a direct way between the Pyrenees and Barcelona, so that there were minus aircrews imprisoned in the Seminari Vell. During 1944, Poveda and Garcia didn’t meet more.
On 6th April 1944 a Halifax bomber of 644 Squadron RAF based on Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, took of. A few hours after, the plane was shot down by the Germans near Cognac. One of the six Halifax crews died, another one was captured and the other four succeeded in escape but not together. John Franklin fell near Ray Hindle and thanks to the Pat O’Leary evasion network, the two crews arrived to Spain crossing the border above the Pont de Rei, on 4th May 1944 (GOODALL 2005, 33-38). They were arrested in Vielha and moved to the Seminari Vell prison in Lleida.
On 20th July 2006, John Franklin recognized Joan Garcia in a photo. Garcia was the representative of the British Consulate who liberated him twice. The first time, Franklin and Hindle, were liberated following the regular procedure. First, the consular representatives must to identify, inside the prison, the British subjects. Then they must to notify to the Civil Government the name of the British people to liberate and guarantee their lodgement and maintenance in a hotel of the city before they move to Barcelona.
The two English mates, during their last journey stage between France and Catalonia, had met an American aircrew named John Betolatti. The stay in a hotel in Lleida was, for the three young men, a little holiday after the last months running away through the occupied France.
The refugees liberated from the Seminari Vell prison were lodged in several hotels in Lleida. They were on probation and they had to respect the curfew rules. Alberto Poveda says in his book that the foreigners shouldn’t have been in the street from 9 p.m. but during the summer they could be in the street until 11 p.m. (POVEDA 2004, 172-173).
In spite of the curfew rules, on day the three friends decided to visit the local cinema. When the film had finished, a couple of civil guard were waiting for them to move the three young men to the prison again: “three of us having broken the curfew rules from the hotel to visit the local cinema. We were escorted to jail through the main street, I thought with some satisfaction by the civil guard” (mail from John Frederick Franklin, 20th July 2006)
John Franklin, Ray Hindle and John Betolatti were in prison again but thanks to Joan Garcia they were liberated: “with the small stone cell and the tiny grill window we were released with your grandfather in the background. You can imagine our relief next morning” (mail from John Frederick Franklin, 20th July 2006).
About the time while Joan Garcia Rabascall was working for the British Consulate, I know some unconnected family stories. His daughter M. Carme Garcia Solà remembered a story about an evader who was a prince; Joan Garcia had bought him some coins of gold because the aristocrat needed more money than the allowance given by the Consulate to every refugee. She also remembered a situation happened in the Palace Hotel in Lleida when a couple of German police came in to inspect. Joan Garcia had to face up to the refugees complaints; surely they been frightened with these unexpected visitors. Garcia only could say to them: “in this country is more legal the presence of these Germans that the British Consulate activities”. Poveda also describes in his book this situation:

“Cierto día, visitaron al nuevo Gobernador Civil dos oficiales alemanes de la guardia fronteriza, perfectamente uniformados, altos, fuertes y con aire de arrogancia. No supe nada relacionado con el propósito de la visita y pensé que se trataba de una cortesía protocolaria hacia la autoridad española vecina.
Horas más tarde, cuando me dirigía a la oficina de Correos, los vi salir del Hotel Palacio, zona muy céntrica de la ciudad y, consiguientemente, algún refugiado tuvo que advertir su presencia y comunicarlo rápidamente a otros. Así ocurrió, sin duda, pues cuando regresaba de mi gestión por el mismo camino, cuatro refugiados se me acercaron con muestras de nerviosismo y me preguntaron qué peligro podría representar aquella visita. Les tranquilicé diciendo que, en todo caso, no se vería alterado el statu quo establecido y del que se derivaba su situación de libertad. La inquietud se me manifestó en otro encuentro a continuación.” (POVEDA 2004, 174).

M. Carme Garcia remembered his father talking about once when he took care of Alexander Fleming’s wife. The last family story we have is perhaps the more distressed. Joan Garcia was inside a car with a Consular official when they were shot. We think there weren’t any dead person in this attempt.
Joan Garcia had a nightmare repeatedly during his life. He dreamed somebody was persecuting him and he shouted demanding help. When he woke up he said he didn’t remember anything. Maybe this nightmare hasn’t any relation with the situation in the car but these are some details about the troubles lived during these hard years.
Joan Garcia Rabascall died in Lleida on 5th January 1985. He was 84 years old.

Some Consular representatives and Red Cross representatives in charge of the refugees in Lleida during the Second World War:

Garcia Rabascall, Joan. British Consulate in Barcelona. Documentation of Family Riudor-Ros / (POVEDA 2004, 167, 180-181) / Documentation of the Arxiu Històric Provincial provided by Josep Calvet.
Tous Gironès, Josep. Dutch Consulate. Documentation of the Arxiu Històric Provincial provided by Josep Calvet.
Revelly, Yves. International Red Cross. French delegation. (POVEDA 2004, 111).
Scherer, Marc. French Red Cross. (POVEDA 2004, 114).
Reyes, Alicia. Belgian Consulate in Barcelona. (POVEDA 2004, 162).
García, Roberto. American Consulate in Barcelona. (POVEDA 2004, 166).
Gomand, Norbert. Luxembourg Red Cross. (POVEDA 2004, 167).


GOODALL, Scott, The Freedom Trail, Inchmere Design, 2005.

POVEDA LONGO, Alberto, Paso clandestino. Las otras listas, Ed. Alberto Poveda Longo, Madrid, 2004.

dilluns, 30 de juliol de 2007

Tino Parramon from Josa de Cadí, frontier agent during the Spanish Civil War and crossing agent during the Second World War

By Clara Arbués

Laurentino Parramon Elias was born in Magre’s house in Josa de Cadí (Alt Urgell, Catalonia) in 1911. His father was Ermenegild Parramon Riera from Vansa’s house (Josa de Cadí) and his mother was Pepa Elias Mitjana from Músic’s house in Gósol (Alt Urgell, Catalonia). He studied a few years in the Seminary in la Seu d’Urgell (Alt Urgell, Catalonia).
During the 1930’s he was an active militant of Estat Català party. During these years he related to the most important politicians in the country. He took part in the organization of an Estat Català group in Sant Llorenç de Morunys (Solsonès, Catalonia).
On October 1936 he enlisted as a frontier agent of the Generalitat (Catalan Government).After he was the mayor of Josa de Cadí. When Catalonia fell he lived between Andorra and Ariège for a period.

Crossing agent during the Second World War
During the Second World War the Palanques Hotel in la Massana (Andorra) was a safe house for several evasion networks. The Molnés brothers, the hotel owners, moved the evaders with their car to Bordes de Peguera (Sant Julià de Lòria, Andorra). This was the places where Tino Parramon started his adventure: his mission was to guide the people to Barcelona safe and sound. They had to do a long trip over 7 or 8 days, always by foot during the night and stopping during the day to rest. From Bordes, Tino went with the evaders to Bescaran (Alt Urgell, Catalonia), they crossed the Segre river through Pont d’Arsèguel, they went to Arsèguel and crossed the Cadí Mountains through the Tres Canaletes and the Canal Baridana. They arrived at Josa de Cadí coming from el Baixer, and they continued to l’Espà (Berguedà, Catalonia) to go to la Corriu (Solsonès, Catalonia). After that they went to Cor-de-Roure country house (Berguedà, Catalonia); it was a small hotel. There, they rested during the day. When it got dark, they marched again and arrived to Sallent (Bages, Catalonia). They continued until near Mura, they crossed the Sant Llorenç del Munt Mountains and arrived to Sabadell where they took the Catalan Railway to Barcelona. When they were in the train, Tino pretended that he didn’t know the escapers. All the group members have to do what Tino did but without say anything. When they arrived to Barcelona, they went by foot to the British Consulate, in Urquinaona square, where Miss Collie received the travellers.

After the war. Between Josa and Santa Coloma de Gramenet
After the war Tino had a migrating sheep flock. At the end of the autumn season he went to Santa Coloma de Gramenet with his flock, doing a similar way that he followed when he was a passeur. In Santa Coloma he was arrested by the Spanish police because of his activities during the Civil War and the post-war. He knew a local Falange chief and thanks to that he could avoid prison arguing “what could a poor shepherd do?”. In Santa Coloma he met his wife Carme; she was an emigrant from Sariñena (Huesca, Aragón).
During the sixties and the seventies Josa suffered a great depopulation. When Tino migrated in winter with his flock, his village remained uninhabited. During this period he looked after the houses of the village but he could not avoid some robberies. When the democracy arrived Tino was the Josa mayor for many years. He died on 2004, during the autumn.

Joaquim Baldrich in the British evasion networks

By Claude Benet

Joaquim Baldrich (Quimet) was born in Pla de Cabra (Tarragona, Catalonia), in Salas house, on 2nd February 1916, now this village is named Pla de Santa Maria. His parents were farmers. Quimet had two brothers and a sister. He was the eldest. When he was young he was a cycling fan.
Before the Spanish Civil War, he was a militant of the CNT syndicate like his friends in his village. He took part in several meetings organized in Barcelona. When the Civil War started he enlisted as a volunteer; he went to Aragón and he was a member of the “Tierra y Libertad” column. They were moved to Madrid and he belonged to the 77 Brigade of Cipriano Mera. On March 1937, he took part in the Battle of Guadalajara: Quimet remembers they were fighting for five days. Guadalajara was one of the most important republican victories. After, he was moved to the Train-Brigade because he had a driving licence.
On 1st April 1939, the day when the Civil War finished, Quimet and a friend went from Aranjuez (Madrid) to Tarragona on foot. The following three months he was hidden in the Poblet forest (Baix Camp, Catalonia); then he decided to exile to Andorra. He arrived in Andorra on 15th August 1939, entering through Setúria (Pal, La Massana). He was met by Pep from Colat house, who was doing agricultural works. Quimet worked as a farmer, for a long while, in Cremat house in Anyós (La Massana, Andorra), but he left this work to become a smuggler. With the smuggling activities he could earn more money to sustain his family.
The smuggling paths went to Vallcebollera (Alta Cerdanya, França). They carried all kinds of products: “crucifixes, burner stones, tulle to make women dresses, bishop cassocks and hats, perfumery articles (it was very expensive), tobacco, truck pneumatics…”

Before smuggling products and after smuggling escapees
Once when Quimet was smuggling, he found a group of lost people in the Toses Mountains (Baixa Cerdanya, Catalonia). He went with the group to Brau house in Guardiola de Berguedà (Berguedà, Catalonia) and he bought them 25 train tickets to go to Barcelona. Then he visited a Catalan refugee named Josep who lived in Ussat les Bains (Arieja, França). This man was a helper, he smuggled evaders into Spain. From this day Quimet became a passeur in a new escape line.
The members of the line were Antoni Forné, he was informed for the evaders arrival. Josep Mompel and Antoni Conejos guided the evaders from Luzenac (Arieja, França) to el Serrat or to Llorts (Ordino, Andorra). There they were picked up by the organization of Forné and Molnés brothers from Palanque Hotel in la Massana. Later, Quimet or Salvador Calvet guided the escaping groups to Barcelona.
They used different paths to arrive to Barcelona but all of these joined in the Manresa’s Railway Station. Sometimes they went from Mas d’Alins (Sant Julià, Andorra), to Sant Joan Fumat (l’Alt Urgell, Catalonia), Castellciutat, Lavansa and Tuixén; then they arrived to the river Llobregat and went to Manresa. They avoided passing through the villages and they stopped in several country houses where they were fed and lodged. Another path started in Portella de Joan Antoni and els Pessons (Encamp, Andorra) and went to Ger (Cerdanya, Catalonia) and Alp, where at times they took the train. Sometimes they went to Toses and Guardiola de Berguedà, they slept and ate in Brau house. At the end they arrived at Manresa (Bages, Catalonia) where they passed near the Pirelli’s factory to go to the Railway Station. They arrived to Barcelona by train; there they walked to the British Consulate situated in Urquinaona square.
In the British Consulate Quim received 3.000 pesetas for each person. With this money he had to pay the travel costs: train tickets, maintenance in the country houses, clothes and bribes; the rest was distributed between the line members. From what Joaquim says he passed about 340 people from Andorra to Barcelona without losing anybody.

After the Second World War
He finished the passeur work when the war finished but he continued with the smuggling for twenty four years more. He bought a truck with a partner so they introduced themselves in the transport business. They came to have nine trucks.
He was a member of Passeurs et Filièristes Pyrénéens et Andorrans, a society nowadays disappeared. He never has received neither decoration nor recognition by the British Government. There is only a monument and an inscription, inaugurated in 2006 in la Massana, in front of the Palanques Hotel, that remembers the important work done by Joaquim Baldrich and his friends in the escape line.

The Ponzán’s group and Joan Català from Llavorsí

By Josep Calvet

The Ponzán’s group
Francisco Ponzán Vidal was an anarchist schoolteacher from Huesca. During the Spanish Civil War he had worked for the Peripherial Special Information Service (SIEP) of the Republic. The mission of this service was sabotage and spying. He was exiled to France on March 1939. He was interned in the Vernet d’Ariège concentration camp but he escaped. He contacted with the British, Belgian and French secret services to continue the fight against Nazism. He helped politicians, military men, aircrews and Jews to escape. The Ponzán’s group helped nearly 3,000 people to evade and did an uncountable number of mail services, especially for the Pat O’Leary network, one of the most important allied networks in occupied Europe.
The Ponzán’s group had its headquarters in Toulouse (Haute Garonne, France); its members were mainly Spanish anarchists. The most important passeurs were: Joan Català, Floreal Barberà, Agustín Remiro, Josep Ester and Vicente Moriones. The evaders crossed the Pyrenees with a passeur who guided the people to the British Consulate in Barcelona. The Consulate prepared their journey to Great Britain via Portugal or Gibraltar.
Francisco Ponzán was arrested on April 1943. He stayed for a year in prison. The Gestapo killed him 18th August 1944 in Buzet-sur-Tarn (Haute Garonne, France) with another 53 people. He was posthumously decorated by the French, British and American Governments. Francisco Ponzán is a forgotten person in Spain and all his work during the war remains unknown. His legacy is preserved in the Musée Départemental de la Résistance et de la Déportation in Toulouse

Joan Català background
Joan Català Balanyà was born in Llavorsí (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia) on 21st February 1913. When the Spanish Civil War started he enlisted as a volunteer in the Durruti’s column (26 Divisió) and he went to Aragón. In the middle of 1938 he enlisted in the 143rd Brigade 24th Division of the Republican Army, situated in Alt Urgell, where he became a guide and a spy. He was a member of the Peripherial Special Information Service (SIEP), Francisco Ponzán was his chief. His relationship with Ponzán continued after the Spanish Civil War and survived during the Second World War.
On March 1939 he went to France and he was imprisoned in Vernet d’Ariège concentration camp. He escaped and went to Andorra.

From Andorra to the escape lines
Joan Català became a smuggler in Andorra but he got together with Francisco Ponzán, who already worked for the allied secret services. Joan Català worked as a spy in the Ponzán’s Group. He was arrested in Cadiz when he picked up the fortification maps of the province. He was interned in the Cisne’s Prison in Madrid and escaped in November 1940. He returned to Andorra to work again with the Ponzán’s Group helping the evaders to arrive to Spain. Joan Català was one of the most important passeurs of the Ponzán’s Group. But Català preferred to transport mail rather than people.
On April 1941 he was arrested again in the France Railway Station from Barcelona while he was with two American aircrews. He escaped again. From this moment on, he only transported mail, never people.
He was arrested again when he was waiting for an anarchist who was a police confident. On Desember 1942 he escaped from the Model’s Prison in Bacelona. A few days after he was arrested and moved to Lleida’s Prison. He was liberated on July 1943, thanks to a strange bureaucratic mistake.
Three months before, Francisco Ponzán had been arrested in Toulouse; with Ponzán gone his group had fallen apart too. When Català left the Lleida’s Prison, he went to Barcelona. The British Consulate wanted to create another escape line with Català, to substitute the collapsed group. In the British Consulate Joan received 3.000 pesetas for each person who arrived there. The new escape line had its headquarters in Cerdanya. They moved several Polish military groups with trucks.

The paths
Joan Català crossed the Pyrenees through Andorra or through the French Cerdanya, from Osseja (Alta Cerdanya, France). He always took a look at the escape group: if they were old or young, if they were in a good shape or not, then he decided the path. Jaume’s Hotel in Alp (Baixa Cerdanya, Catalonia) was a place where the evaders could sleep and eat before crossing the Cadí Mountains. They went on foot to Manresa (Bages, Catalonia) resting in several country houses where they were fed and lodged. They took the train in Manresa to Barcelona where they were received by people from the British Consulate in Urquinaona Square.
Sometimes, Català crossed the frontier through the Alt Empordà (Catalonia) because it was easier.

After the Second World War
Català was arrested in Adrall (Alt Urgell) on 25th de June 1944 while he was returning from Barcelona. On December 1946 he was judged and condemned for 12 years in prison. On March 1947 he escaped from Carabanchel’s Prison in Madrid. He went to France where he was arrested because he hadn’t any identification. Thanks to Robert Terres, an important French secret agent he was liberated. Living in France he had a lot of economic difficulties. On 1951, with some mates, he held up a mail wagon. He was arrested and he remained in prison for 15 years. He was freed in 1965. He went to live in Andorra. Now he lives in Seu d’Urgell (Catalonia).

Roger Rieu and Manel Vidal, link agents from the Wi-wi net

By Annie Rieu

Roger Rieu Thoumaset, from Jacqueli house, was born on 5th July 1920 in Rieu, a little village in the Capvert valley (Seix, França), his mother was a farmer and his father unknown. He had an older brother and two stepbrothers younger than him. His stepfather was a farmer and his mother earned her living doing several jobs: street-seller, needlewoman, making glasses, etc. Roger married in 1944 with Josefina Mias (a Catalan republican daughter, exiled in France in Febroary 1939 crossing through Pertús). They had three daughters and two sons. Roger helped his mother and his stepfather doing the farm work and he also worked with other neighbouring farmers.
Manel Vidal was born in Isil (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia) in 1899; he belonged to a poor farming family. He had two daughters and three sons. The flood of 1937 destroyed his house.
During the Spanish Civil War, Manel guided through the Pyrenees Mountains some people who were escaping from Franco’s government. During these journeys Manel carried some food in order to bring it to his exiled cousins in France: he carried several pork aliments from Isil and brought from France things like coffee and tobacco, scarce in Spain. The authorities became suspicious he was a smuggler because of these journeys and he was imprisoned accused of smuggling. He stayed in Sort’s prison for a few days, there he was known as anti-Franco and he was deported to Aragón for two months, to Los Corrales (Ayerbe, Huesca).
Thanks to these journeys to France he knew a lot of people in Couflens and Salau (Ariège, France), local people and Spanish exiled. He built some close relationships with these new French and Spanish.

The Wi-wi network
Jean-Marie Morère (native to Soueix, Ariège) was the Wi-wi network chief in Marseille. On 1943 he got in touch with Roger and on 25th June Rieu enrolled himself in the network as a volunteer for the duration of the war. Roger was a link agent and he passed every fortnight, sometimes every eight days. For every journey he got 10.000 francs. None of his family knew what he did. His mother told him he was a lazy sort and she thought he dealt in saccharin.
Manel was 45 years old when Jean-Marie Morère asked him to be a network link agent. He accepted the mission for economic reasons and for personal and ideological reasons too, like Roger.
At the beginning of the network creation, Jacinto Bengoetxea (a refugee from Navarra who was a bus driver working for the Itté company) transported the mail from Saint Girons to Soeix. The network’s chief in Saint Girons was Felicien Carrère, from Soueix and his son Marcel Carrère, link agent, he miniaturised the information received. They had some places for use as mail boxes, for example Barthélémy Gabarre’s home at Saint Girons or Caroline’s drugstore at Couflens. Roger and Manel were passeurs between the two sides of the border.
To carry out his missions, Roger rode an old bicycle, wore rags and said he went to visit doctor Lagorce because he must be treated for supposed malaria contracted in Morocco or Algeria when he was serving in the army. He hid the messages in unusual places like the bicycle handlebar or in the air pump. His astuteness allowed him to escape from the Gestapo controls without any problem but with very much fear. Once he carried in a basket a pistol taken to pieces and covered by cherries. He left the basket in a German passenger’s lap who travelled to Couflens by bus.
The network members’ appointments took place in the Café Madrid in Saint Girons, thanks to the complicity of a waiter named José Da Silva. The messages changed hands inside the café’s toilets. The messages were carried from Marseille to Saint Girons by Morère, or by a young girl and sometimes by a priest (who was a passeur). Roger carried the messages to Angouls and he crossed the frontier by foot through the Vinyals pass, situated between the Aulà and Salau passes. Then Roger went to Borda Petit, a property of Manel, who picked up the messages. Sometimes Manel waited for Roger in the hillock or in the middle of the way to Borda Perosa. The messages arrived to Barcelona thanks to Manel’s care.
Sometimes the network members had to carry messages from Barcelona to Marseille.
Roger had friendly relations with the Spanish exiles in Haut Salat. The nearness between the Occitan and the Catalan languages made communication easy.

The most important actions of the Wi-wi network
The most important messages carried by the network members were:
- The plans of the Marseilles anti-craft defense.
- The plans of the submarine base at Cap Janet.
- Information about the sabotaged ships in Toulon.
- Information concerning the defense installations at the Italian border.
- Information on armoured trains based at Callade les Aiguilles, in the Marseilles suburbs.
But the most exceptional reports were concerning the torpedo aircraft (Fockewulf pursuit plane), and the mines installed by the Germans all over the French coast. These two treasured messages gave important information about the places where the Germans hide their airplanes. So that the Allies could bombarded effectively these places.

Life after the World War and recognition
When the war was finished in France, Roger Rieu enrolled himself for three years in the 2nd explorer skier’s Company on 1st October 1944. He was sent to Tyrol (Austria). After, he refused to go to Indochina and he was demobilized on 20th April 1946.
Then, he returned home and he continued working as a farmer and keeping goats. During many years he earned his living doing several precarious jobs. In 1957 he became a provisional worker in the Electricité de France Company and in 1960 he was contracted in the Salau’s factory to be the watchman.
In Febroary 1946, Roger was decorated with the Croix de Guerre Étoile d’Argent by General De Gaulle and the Blacksmith Juin. After, he obtained the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre avec palmes, on 5th de July 1951. The United States decorated him with the American Legion in 1994. He retired in 1980 and he died in 1997, when he was 76 years old.

Manel left Isil in 1950 and emigrated to Saint Girons for the rest of his life. He and his family were lodged at an aunt’s home until they sold their flock to buy a little house with the money earned. Manel worked for the Navarre Company and in the subterranean laboratory built in Moulis. Every day when he had finished his work, he did overtime to feed his family. Later, he worked for the Azalini Company, a sawmill enterprise in Saint Girons. He retired when he was 68; he only had worked in France for 14 years.
Manel has never received any recognition for his work in the Wi-wi and he didn’t obtain the Carte d’Ancien Combattant until 1980. His daughter brought it to him when he was in hospital where he died a few days later. He was 81 years old.

The Soldevilas from Escart and the de Jean Belgian network

By Noemí Riudor

Jaume Soldevila Pich (Marquetó house) was born in Escart (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia) in 1906. He emigrated to France in 1931 and he married Generosa Cortina, who was born in Son (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia) in 1910. Generosa had immigrated to France in 1925.
Joan was born in 1913 and Ricardo was born in 1916. Both of them were Jaume’s brothers. When the Spanish Civil War started in 1936, he enlisted as a volunteer in the Carabiners Corps, to defend the Republican Government. He remained in Madrid during the war and when it finished in 1939, he returned home. Ricardo enlisted as a volunteer in the air force. He stayed in Múrcia. When the war finished he was imprisoned in Cartagena.
The postwar period was very hard. During these years, Joan and Ricardo worked on a farm, in the forest and smuggled wool to Andorra.
The night of 10th June 1943, Joan and Ricardo were intercepted when they were starting one of their trips to Andorra. The Soldevilas brothers and another inmate were moved to the Seminari Vell’s prison and they had to serve a 30 day sentence, accused of smuggling.
During 1943, Seminari Vell’s prison was full to bursting point. There were Spanish prisoners accused of different crimes, and foreign people from many countries captured by the Guardia Civil crossing the Pyrenees escaping from the Nazis. In prison, the Soldevilas brothers met a French boy who was born in Saint Girons (Ariège, France). When Joan and Ricardo finished their sentence they returned home and continued with their activities.

The organization of the de Jean’s network in the Pyrenees
A little time after they had finished their sentence, the Belgian Consulate in Barcelona got in touch with the Soldevilas brothers. The boy from Saint Girons had recommended Ricardo and Joan to the Belgians who were looking for someone to move the secret mail between Toulouse and Barcelona through the Pyrenees Mountains. The brothers started working for the de Jean network.
Firstly, only Ricardo (agent José) and Jaume (agent Pablo) worked for the Belgians. Ricardo would go to Barcelona to pick up the packets. There he had to sign a register book, with his codename, where the Belgians also noted the date and the payment amount: 5,000 pesetas per trip. Ricardo moved the packets to Er (Cerdanya, Pyrénées Orientales) where he left them in a mail box house. Jaume would pick up the packets and carry them to Toulouse. Then, his wife Generosa gave them to another agent: an unknown woman.
But they had to abandon this route because of security reasons. After this, they started a new way through the Pallars Sobirà. Ricardo moved packets from Barcelona to Escart. Joan (agent Rodrigo) did the same between Escart and Couflens (Couserans, Ariège). He crossed the Pyrenees Mountains through the Vinyals way. In Couflens village Joan left the packet in a safe house and Jacinto Bengoetxea, a refugee from Navarra who worked for a public transportation enterprise, brought it to Gabarres’ home at Saint Girons. The Gabarres were native to Isil (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia). Finally, Jaume moved the packet from Saint Girons to Toulouse.

Roch’s mission and the de Jean network fall
On April 1944 the Belgian government in London started the Roch’s mission. The objective of this mission was to evacuate “burned” agents and very important people. For this, the Belgian aviator Captain Charles de Hepcée was sent to France through the Soldevilas’ line.
Ricardo went with him from Barcelona to Pallars Sobirà. The Soldevilas brothers tried to lodge the Belgian in a house in Son village but they had to change their plans: they found in the house a man who got on well with Franco’s government. Hepcée and the Soldevilas brothers were afraid of a denunciation and they decided to go immediately to France.
Joan and Ricardo looked for a boy from Salau who was refugee in Borèn (Pallars Sobirà, Catalonia) village because they considered he would be a better guide than them in France. But the boy abandoned Hepcée and a German patrol arrested the Belgian in Pont de la Taule (Couserans, Ariège) on 12th April 1944. Hepcée was interrogated, imprisoned and executed.
A month later, the Gestapo arrested Generosa and Jaume at their home in Toulouse. Generosa Cortina was deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp (Germany). Jaume was imprisoned at Toulouse. On 27th June 1944 the German police took him out of the prison and drove to a forest, near Castelmaurou (Haute Garonne, France), with another three prisoners. The Germans gave every one a shovel to dig their graves. But a horn’s noise distracted one of the guards. Jaume used this opportunity to run away into the forest, they shot after him and his knee was injured. Jaume was the only survivor. He escaped and arrived at a house. There lived an Italian doctor who treated Jaume’s injury. Jaume could hide at Barcos home until a cousin, named Toribio San, came for him with a group of militiamen. The date of the Toulouse liberation was near, the 20th August 1944.
Generosa suffered torture and hard labour in a German armament.
The Russian troops liberated her on 3rd Mai 1945 and she returned home to her family.

Other resistant activities
Jaume and Generosa had worked for the Françoise network, called also Pat O’Leary, organized by the British Government. Soldevilas’ home at Toulouse was a Françoise network mail box. Jaume worked like a passeur too; he guided through the Pyrenees severals aircrews. Joan Soldevila remembers when his brother came to Spain with five British and Canadian aircrews, and Joan had to go with the team to Barcelona.

After the World War: professional activities and recognitions
When the Second World War finished, Jaume continued with his work: he was a mechanic in Toulouse. With Generosa, they opened a little bar-restaurant. Generosa Cortina died on 1987. Jaume died on 1998.
To recognize their work in the Resistance, they were decorated by the French and American governments. In 1947, the president of the United States gave them, the Medal of Freedom. In 1962, Generosa was decorated with Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Joan and Ricardo never have received any recognition for they work in the allies escape, evasion and information networks. After the war they continued earning their living working in the forest and with smuggling. Ricardo immigrated to France during the 50’s. He married a French woman and he worked as a commercial traveller for a clothes department store in Toulouse. Ricardo died in 2003. Joan married in 1946 and he continued living in Escart. At present he lives in Esterri d’Àneu with his wife.

Battle of the Pyrenees. Intelligence and evasion networks during the Second World War

“Battle of the Pyrenees” was the name given by the British secret agents of MI-9 to the evasions from Europe to Great Britain, through the Pyrenees. After the war, these networks and its members were recognized by the British and Belgian governments and these secret agents have written their memoirs only very recently.
The important work done by the intelligence and evasion networks was hidden during the years. The Ecomuseu de les valls d’Àneu shows, with this exhibition, the importance of these events in the Pyrenees. During the worst years of Franco’s dictatorship, with murders, tortures and illegal imprisonments, some Pyrenean inhabitants fought beside the allies, being couriers and evasion helpers. When the Second World War finished, democracy didn’t come to Spain and even now some Catalan helpers ask if they will be imprisoned for their activities during the war, 60 years ago.
The exhibition shows several unknown stories. Our protagonists are: Joan, Jaume and Ricardo Soldevila (Escart, Catalonia); Generosa Cortina (Son); Roger Rieu (Couflens, France); Manel Vidal (Isil, Catalonia); Laurentí Parramon (Josa de Cadí, Catalonia); Joaquim Baldrich (Escaldes, Andorra) and Joan Català (Llavorsí). They worked for the intelligence and evasion networks from Belgium, Great Britain and the United States.
Our researchers are Annie Rieu, Josep Calvet, Clara Arbués, Claude Benet and Noemí Riudor.
All the information found over the last few months is more than we can use in this exhibition, so the research team have decided to do a book where you can find the whole story.
Coordination: Josep Calvet (Universitat de Lleida) Noemí Riudor and Ignasi Ros (Ecomuseu de les Valls d'Àneu)
The Soldevilas from Escart and the de Jean Belgian network, by Noemí Riudor
Roger Rieu and Manel Vidal, link agents from the Wi-wi net. A Franco-American intelligence network 1943-1944, by Annie Rieu-Mias
The Ponzán group and Joan Català from Llavorsí, by Josep Calvet
Joaquim Baldrich in the British evasion networks, by Claude Benet
Tino Parramon from Josa de Cadí, frontier agent during the Spanish Civil War and crossing agent during the Second World War, by Clara Arbués
Josep Ibern, a republican in the allied evasion networks, by Fredi Ribó

French translation: Cristina Simó

Cartography: Xavier Eritja

Exhibition designer: Ramon Berga

Photography: Soldevilas family, Vidals family, Rieu-Mias family, Parramons family, Joan Català, Joaquim Baldrich, Centre d’Estudis Josep Ester Borràs from Berga, Arxiu Nacional d’Andorra, Musée Départemental de la Résistance et la Déportation de Toulouse, Noemí Riudor, Annie Rieu-Mias, Iberns family.

Special thanks to: Joan Soldevila, Joaquim Baldrich, Joan Català, Julien Soldevila, Soldevilas family, Vidals family, Rieu-Mias family, Parramons family, Annie Rieu-Mias, Guillaume Agulló (Musée Départemental de la Résistance et la Déportation de Toulouse), Emmanuel Debruyne (Centre d’Études et de Documentation Guerre et Sociétés from Brussels), Xavier Muntanyà, Jordi Abella, Ester Sánchez, Víctor Rey, Scott Goodall (Association Le Chemin de la Liberté), Marta Giráldez, Jean Feutray, Cristina Simó, Ramon Berga, Xavier Eritja, Lídia Cardona, Rosa Florensa, Anna Tarrado, Phelin Leahy, Llum Divina Ibern, Iberns family, Rosa Manau i Parramon, Campmajós family.