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.