Category: This Week in Basque History (page 1 of 7)

May 22, 1938: The San Cristóbal Prison Break

On May 22, 1938, some 792 prisoners escaped from Fort San Cristóbal, on Mount Ezkaba, about 2.5 miles outside Pamplona-Iruñea, in what is estimated to be one of the numerically biggest prison breaks in history.  These inmates were prisoners of war who had been detained by Franco’s rebel forces during the Spanish Civil War. There were 2,487 inmates in total in 1938, most of them Republican sympathizers arrested during the war. Condition were brutal, with prisoners suffering torture, starvation, and death.

The escape was planned by around 30 inmates, who used Esperanto to communicate among each other. It started during dinner, when the guards were most dispersed, and different groups of prisoners managed to overpower them within a half hour. Thereafter, they began their escape, but, unbeknownst to them, a soldier had witnessed the events and rushed to Pamplona-Iruñea to inform the authorities there. Ultimately, it was not so difficult to capture the escapees. They were poorly dressed, malnourished, and without any specific plan beyond just breaking out of Fort San Cristóbal. Within a matter of days, of the 795 who originally escaped, 585 were captured, 207 died or were killed, and just 3 made it to the French border and safety. Of those recaptured, 14 were sentenced to death after being singled out as ringleaders.

*Image: Monument to those who escaped from Fort San Cristóbal on the southern slope of Mount Ezkaba. Photo by Jorab, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 17, 1837: The Battle of Irun

On May 14, 1837, around 20,000 Liberal troops under the command of General Sir George de Lacy Evans, head of the British Legion that was assisting the forces of Isabella II during the First Carlist War, rendezvoused in Donostia-San Sebastián before setting out with the aim of taking the corridor of towns toward the French border. Taking Hernani swiftly, their Carlist opponents retreated to the border town of Irun, the ultimate goal for the Liberals. Around 12,000 of the original 20,000 took part in the assault on Irun (including 5,000 soldiers of the British Legion). The Carlists, meanwhile, were hopelessly outnumbered, with many of their number having been committed elsewhere to the so-called Royal Expedition, an attempt to attack Madrid directly and try and wrest control of the throne away from Isabella II. On May 16, the British forces began bombarding Irun and the following day, May 17, they attacked the city. The Carlist forces there, though as mentioned much less in number, defended their position stoically. Following this desperate resistance by the Carlists, though, the Liberals triumphed, pillaging Irun and carrying out widespread reprisals against their enemy. Despite efforts by de Lacy Evans to precvent such reprisals, British troops, too, took part in the pots-battle retaliations, probably due to having been humiliated by Carlist forces at the Battle of Oriamendi on March 16 that same year.  The following day Hondarribia, too, fell to the Liberal forces, who were ultimately successful in their attempt to seal the corridor to the French border.

*Image: Attack on the Behobia Gate, Irun, by the British Auxiliary Legion, during the Battle of Irun. From Twelve Views in the Basque Provinces illustrating several of the actions in which the British Legion was engaged with Carlist Troops, by Thomas Lyde Hornbrook. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 6, 1542: Francis Xavier arrives in Goa

On May 6, 1542, Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary, arrived in Goa as part of a Portuguese mission to spread the faith in its new territories in the East Indies.  His primary goal was to  restore Christianity among European settlers in Goa, which had been a Portuguese possession for some thirty years. But ultimately, he extended his mission in attempts to convert the local population as well.

A Japanese depiction of Francis Xavier, dated to the 17th century. From the Kobe City Museum collection. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Francis Xavier–Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta–was born in Xabier (Javier) in the Kingdom of Navarre in 1506. The son of the seneschal (steward) of Xabier Castle and a high-ranking official at the royal court, he had a privileged upbringing. But ruin befell the family after the conquest of Navarre by Castile in 1512. Remaining loyal to an independent Navarre, his older brothers were involved in a failed plot to oust the Castilians. In retribution, the family lands were confiscated, the outer wall, gates, and two towers of the family castle destroyed, and its moat filled in.  Too young to participate in these events, Francis was sent to Paris to study. There he encountered Ignatius of Loyola and ultimately the two of them, along with five others, would take the famous vows of poverty and chastity as well as loyalty to the Pope at Montmartre, Paris in 1534 (the forerunner act to the establishment of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order). Francis was ultimately ordained in 1537 and, following a request in 1540 by King John of Portugal for Christian missionaries to go to Asia, was chosen by Loyola to undertake the task.

Xabier Castle in Navarre. Photo by Jsanchezes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He enjoyed mixed fortunes in his quest.  Starting in Goa and Portuguese India more broadly, he subsequently traveled further east, evangelizing in Malacca, the Maluku Islands, and Japan. Returning to Malacca and Goa in late 1551 and early 1552, he then set out on a new mission to China. Reaching  the island of Shangchuan in August 1552, he set about making plans to travel across to the mainland, but he was subsequently taken ill and died from a fever on December 3 that same year.

Body of Saint Francis Xavier in a silver casket of Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa. Photo by Gaius Cornelius, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He was beatified by Paul V in 1619 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622 (at the same time as fellow Basque Ignatius Loyola).  Pius XI proclaimed him the “Patron of Catholic Missions” and his feast day is December 3. His relics are kept in a silver casket, elevated inside the Bom Jesus Basilica in Goa.

May 1850: The “French (or Basque) Revolution” in Murphys, California

This week’s Flashback Friday post is a little different, referring to events that took place throughout the month of May 1850 in what was known at the time as “Murphys Camp,” one of the sites of the original California Gold Rush. Today this is Murphys in Calaveras County, CA. In Amerikanuak: Basques in the New World (pp.208-9), William A. Douglass and Jon Bilbao recount the story of how, in this settlement at the heart of the Gold Rush, there was what was described at the time as a mini “French” (we should really say Basque) Revolution!

Historic view of Murphys Main Street, from the visitmurphys.com

Douglass and Bilbao observe that Basques from Iparralde formed a sizable part of population of Murphys, and one that was capable of collective action. They quote the German traveler Friedrich Gerstäcker, who visited the camp in May 1850 and reported on what he termed the French Revolution:

An immense number of French, a large part of them Basques, had likewise arrived in Murphys, and a great many French stores sprang up along with those of the Americans. . . . There were also Germans, Spaniards and Englishmen in Murphys, but the French outnumbered them by far, and in any case made up three-fourths of the entire population of this little mining town.

The Basques became incensed when,

a law was passed by the California legislature that a tax of twenty dollars per month would be levied on all foreign gold miners in the mines of California, and in case they did not want to pay that, or were not in a position to pay it, they should leave the mines at once. If, in spite of this, they were thereafter to be found at another mine also engaged in gold mining, this would then be considered a crime against the state and punished as such.

… Especially the French complained and argued profusely; declared the law infamous, and decided not pay a  penny. Among the Germans were some Alsatians who especially agreed with them, and the Basques brought forth rifles and shotguns, declaring that it would be best to place themselves in armed readiness from the very beginning, so as to win the respect of the Americans.

[The tents] surged with Frenchmen, and especially Basques . . . and [there were] mixed outbursts of anger, such as: Wicked!, Help!, Down with the Americans!

A rumor later spread that two Frenchmen and a German had been imprisoned at Sonora over the tax, and an armed mob marched on the camp , only to find out that it was not true. They disbanded, although not before almost hanging the rumormonger, and California’s “French” or “Basque” Revolution came to an end!

 

April 24 and April 26, 1937: Eibar and Gernika bombed

Eibar after the bombing in 1937

We have been commemorating the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika all week and today, we’ll just take a brief moment to recall that Gernika represented the climax to series of aerial attacks on Basque towns, the first use of this tactic (now arguably the most prominent form of waging war) on European soil. In earlier posts we have discussed the bombings of Durango and Elorrio as well as of Otxandio, and it also worth recalling that the town of Eibar in Gipuzkoa also suffered a bombardment on April 24. At 6 pm that day, the church bells rang out to warn people of the imminent attack. Most tried as best they could to get to shelter, and others fled west toward Bizkaia. Around 60 people were killed in the attack.

In That Old Bilbao Moon, Joseba Zulaika cites at length (p. 30) fragments from the diary of Wolfram von Richthofen, who was in charge of the elite Condor Legion, the Nazi unit dispatched to Spain to help Franco in the Spanish Civil War and test out the tactic of terror bombing, which would feature so prominently in World War II. The very “normality” of his observations makes for chilling reading:

4.4.1937. I have gone to Otxandio. Marvelous effects of the bombardment, and of the fighter plane and of the A/88 . . . Dead and mutilated people everywhere; heavy trucks, carrying part of the munitions, blown up.

24.4.1937. Elorrio has been evacuated by the enemy, one of our battalions is further advanced 500 meters in red territory. It is very entertaining to see, at the beginning of the sunset, the fire that comes out of the rifle mouths. . . . First they were bombarded once by the Italians, but then they were spared because of their pretty palaces.

25.4.1937. Finally the bomber planes arrive; the Ju dropped heavy bombs over Ermua very beautifully. . . . Again the Italians miss the target and bomb Eibar by mistake. . . . Elgueta, which was taken care of completely by the Italians on the 23rd, has a horrendous aspect. Very good results of the bombardment, the hits fell very tightly.

26.4.1937. Eibar, touching. . . . With the exception of a few houses, the center of the town was completely burned out. The beginning of the fire and the collapse of some houses was a very interesting
phenomenon.

27.4.1937. [The day after the bombing of Gernika] After lunch, a nice trip to the coast of Deba, where the headquarters of the Italian General Staff are, and to Ondarroa, the frontline, where there is also a command post.

Magnificent coast, which recalls Amalfi. . . . Toward Zarautz, where I find Sander and lodge for the night. Beautiful grand hotel at the edge of a pretty sea, with a good room and good food. There, magnificent.

In the morning again we discuss everything point by point. The transmission of news from unit to unit is a matter of concern. . . . It is not worth having transmissions of our own for this zarzuela operetta.

In the afternoon, Sander, Jaenecke and myself play cards.

28.4.1937. Also in the afternoon, precise information that Gernika has been literally razed to the ground.

29.4.1937. In the afternoon, playing cards with Sander and Jaenecke; the latter always ransacks us.

 

April 18, 1815: A Daring Basque Robbery

On April 18, 1815, a convoy including the Duke of Bourbon, the cousin of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was making its way over the Arlaban Pass that marks the border between Araba and Gipuzkoa. On the steep climb up the hill, the carriage containing the duke, which was being pulled by two oxen, became slightly separated from the convoy. Seizing the opportunity, five armed men appeared from out of the woods and proceeded to liberate the duke of all the equipment, treasures, and documents he was carrying.

Asalto al coche (Robbery of the coach), 1786-1787, by Francisco Goya. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arlaban Pass had, it should be noted, gained an infamous reputation for such highway robbery. Indeed, many of the so-called highwaymen gained a kind of infamous notoriety, men like the guerrillas Espoz and Mina as well as Sebastián Fernández de Leceta or “Dos Pelos” (Two Hairs). 

Witnesses to the robbery said that the thieves were Basques, as could be discerned from their accents, which also led people to believe they came from an area between Tolosa and Hernani in Gipuzkoa. The main suspect was subsequently thought to be one N. de Lazkao, who was fairly identifiable because of his green eyes and red beard. But despite the dispatch of multiple search parties and an investigation that lasted ten years, no one was ever apprehended.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 167-68.

April 14, 1983: Basque national anthem established

By a Basque Parliament decree of April 14, 1983,  “Eusko Abendaren ereserkia” (The hymn of the Basque ethnic group) was adopted as the official anthem of the Basque Autonomous Community. The music itself is based on a popular Basque melody that was used typically at dances as a form of introducing the proceedings paying homage to a flag. Sabino Arana, the founder of Basque nationalism, then added words to the tune. The first Basque government, which came into being in 1936, had originally adopted the melody (but not the words) as the Basque national anthem before the triumph of General Franco’s rebel forces in the Spanish Civil War led to the abolition of Basque home rule.  With the Statute of Autonomy (1979) and the creation once more of the Basque government, the 1983 law was passed to provide the new autonomous community with its own anthem. Once again, as in 1936, the official anthem is the music without the lyrics Arana wrote. That said,  it is known popularly as “Gora ta Gora” (Up and Up) on the basis of its first line (“Gora ta gora Euskadi,” Onward and upward the Basque Country).

April 7, 1767: Jesuits expelled from Basque Country

Following a meeting by a commission convened by King Charles III on January 29, 1767, it was decided to expel members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, from all lands belonging to the Spanish crown. The decision was made on the basis of the perceived threat of the Jesuits to royal authority. On April 7, 1767, the corregidor–the king’s representative–communicated the royal command to the public authorities in Bizkaia and the Jesuit residence in Bilbao,  San Andrés college, was immediately occupied by law enforcement officers and there gathered Jesuits from Lekeitio, Urduña/Orduña, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and Logroño. On May 3 they boarded two waiting ships in the Olabeaga neighborhood that would transport them to Civitavecchia, outside Rome.

Pedro de Calatayud (1698-1773).

Among those expelled was Pedro de Calatayud, a member of the Bilbao order from Tafalla, Navarre, and the author of a controversial book some years previously in which he criticized traders, shipowners, and iron foundry owners in Bizkaia for their excessive greed and usury, even branding them “public sinners.”  In retaliation, these business interests in Bizkaia began a campaign against him with the aim of getting the book banned or at least condemned by the Church. This campaign lasted some twenty years before, finally, in 1766 the work was indeed banned. Calatayud appealed against the ban, but the expulsion order brought an end to the matter. Calatayud died in Bologna in 1773.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p. 146.

 

March 27, 1937: Singer Lourdes Iriondo born

Lourdes Iriondo (1937-2005).

Lourdes Iriondo Mujika was born in Donostia on March 27, 1937. She rose to prominence in the 1960s as part of the New Basque Folk movement and was widely considered the principal female voice of Basque popular music in the 1960s and 1970s.

The second of eleven sisters and brothers, at age seven she moved with her family from Donostia to nearby Urnieta, Gipuzkoa. She went to Catholic school, first in Urnieta and later in Donostia, where she was taught by French nuns and schooled in French. From an early age she had a calling to help the poor and consequently enrolled in a secular missionary school in Vitoria-Gasteiz. She could not complete her studies, however, because barely a year later she was diagnosed with a heart defect that would require her to be especially vigilant about her health. She was ordered to undertale a lengthy period of rest at home, and she made the most of this time by studying another of her passions: music.

She had grown up in a family environment in which music played an important role, with family gatherings invariably involving singing traditional Basque songs. She was a member of the Urnieta txistulari (Basque pipe and tabor player) group and had studied singing and opera at a Donostia music school. In 1964 she took up the guitar, by which time she had already started to compose songs, many of them infused with religious themes. That same year, 1964, she performed for the first time in public in a fundraising concert for the ikastola or Basque-language school of nearby Andoain. Her performance was a hit with the audience and she was invited to perform again at several concerts through 1964 and 1965. Word spread of her talent and an important local radio station, Herri Irratia, recorded her performing and began broadcasting the recordings. She was a new voice in many ways, not just because she was a woman but because she sang in Basque with the single accompaniment of a classical guitar. This was completely unheard of in the Basque Country at the time and people responded enthusiastically.

It was in 1965, too, that the artistic collective Ez Dok Amairu was established. This was intended as an all-embracing group of artists in different fields, with a special emphasis on music. It was a vanguard collective that sought to reinvigorate the Basque language and culture particularly through the medium of song, and followed in many ways the folk revival in the United States and elsewhere linked to themes of protest at the state of society at the time (in the Basque context, this obviously meant protest, where possible, against the Franco dictatorship). Iriondo was one of the founding members of Ez Dok Amairu yet unlike most of the others–which included Mikel Laboa, Benito Lertxundi, and her future husband Xabier Lete–she was already widely known in the Basque cultural world at that time. Within this context, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, her songwriting became more overtly political in nature with titles like   “Askatasuna zertarako” (Why freedom?), “Nire erria” (My homeland), and, most popular of all, “Ez gaude konforme” (We don’t agree).

Basque musicians in the show “Zazpiribai” (1972). Standing (L to R): Iñaki Urtizberea , Xabier Lete, Patxika Erramuzpe, Peio Ospital, Pantxoa Carrere, and Manex Pagola. Seated (L to R): Ugutz Robles-Aranguiz, Lourdes Iriondo, and Benito Lertxundi. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She married Xabier Lete in 1968 and the couple released several mini LPs together in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, Iriondo took up writing children’s literature, publishing several Basque-language books for children through the 1970s and early 1980s.  She also recorded traditional Basque songs and children’s songs but performed for the last time in 1978. She was physically and mentally exhausted by the demands of performing live, with her health suffering, and increasingly preoccupied by politically charged internal divisions within the Basque cultural world.  Thereafter, she dedicated herself to working for the ikastola movement and parish duties in Urnieta, including organizing children’s theater groups.

She died, aged 68, in December 2005. There is a park and a sculpture in her honor in her home town of Urnieta.

 

March 19, 1624: Representatives of several Basque towns expelled from provincial assembly for not knowing Spanish

Men in stocks in Bramhall, England, 1900. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 19, 1624, the council representatives of Líbano de Arrieta (today Arrieta), Castillo y Elejabeitia (today Artea),  Ispaster, Sondika, Leioa, Berango, Lemoiz, Laukiz, Ubidea, and Bakio were expelled from the Bizkaian provincial assembly meeting because “they were not found to possess the necessary proficiency in reading and writing in Castilian [Spanish].” This followed a decree, passed some ten years previously by the provincial assembly on December 10, 1614, which stated that, “henceforth, whoever does not know how to read or write in Romance [a synonym used for Spanish] cannot be admitted to said assembly.” As a postscript to the story, the same assembly member for Laukiz turned up once more at a later meeting of the assembly, and was rewarded for his audacity by being “placed in stocks and a severe judicial process begun against him.”

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p. 113.

Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and viola Miglio, is a collection of articles by different authors that explore several cases of smaller languages and how they survive within the legal and administrative frameworks of larger, more dominant languages.

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