dilluns, 30 de juliol de 2007

The Soldevilas from Escart and the de Jean Belgian network

By Noemí Riudor

Background
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.