Thursday, July 22, 2010

Remembering the IB prisoners

by a New Worker correspondent

WHEN the Spanish war against fascism ended in 1939, the International Brigaders gathered for a final rally before leaving with their heads held high and the words of Dolores Ibuarri (La Pasionaria) ringing in their ears: “You are history, you are legend”.
But some were left behind; suffering the horrors of incarceration in Franco’s fascist jails and their story is not yet well documented.
And remembering these forgotten heroes was the theme of this year’s memorial event in Jubilee Gardens in south London on Saturday 3rd July.
Scores of people gathered in the baking sun, many of them relatives of those who had volunteered to fight against fascism in Spain in 1936 because they could see that rising fascism threatened to unleash a cataclysm on the human race.
The event, organised by the International Brigade association, began with speeches from Ramon Ganderias, deputy head of mission at the Spanish embassy, and from Sr Miquel Caminal, director of Memorial Democratic de Catalunya.
This was followed by the singing of the song Jarama, a one-minute silence and then the laying of wreaths at the memorial statue.
Dolly West-Shaer, daughter of Brigader Frank West and New Communist Party Treasurer, gave an account of her family’s shock when Frank did not return with the other brigaders and the discovery that he was still held prisoner at a time when Europe was hurtling towards war against fascism.
The Franco regime was engaged in the wholesale slaughter of its prisoners of war but DN Pritt, a Labour Party leading campaigner and barrister, “practically sat on the Foreign Office doorstep in his fight to get the remaining prisoners home and Dad was one of the 11 who were the last prisoners to come home,” Dolly told the crowd.
And he came with a harrowing story of his eight months imprisonment in the derelict monastery, San Pedro de Cardenas. The place contained 700 International Brigaders as well as hundreds of Basque and Spanish prisoners, most of whom were killed.
Prisoners’ health suffered badly from the lack of food and medicine – many of them were wounded. The German Nazis sent SS officers to interrogate the prisoners. German members of the brigade were shipped back to concentration camps where few survived.
Further to this the prisoners suffered continual physical attacks from their sadistic guards.
But their spirits did not succumb. “They set up classes in chess, languages, philosophy, sciences and Marxism; they shared their experiences of life in the international working class,” said Dolly. “And they survived!
“And left us a period of working class history that we can all be proud of.”
Christine Collins gave the crowd in Jubilee Gardens an equally harrowing tale of the experiences of her grandfather as a prisoner of Franco’s forces.
The event finished with the emotional singing of the Internationale.
photo:Dolly Shaer salutes the memory of the Brigaders

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