Tag: Basques in World War II

Dr. Sandra Ott’s Living with the Enemy Featured on Historias Podcast

Dr. Sandra Ott

Dr. Sandra Ott

Dr. Sandra Ott, a professor here at The Center for Basque Studies, was a guest on the most recent episode of Historias, a podcast about Spanish history hosted by Foster Chamberlin, who holds a PhD from University of California, San Diego in modern European history. This episode of Historias is about the subject of Nazi occupation in the Basque Country during World War II, Ott talks about her book Living with the Enemy: German Occupation, Collaboration and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940-1948which was published by Cambridge University in 2017 and how the German occupation in the 1940s affected the Basque people’s way of life.  The conversation between Chamberlin and Ott is full of stories about oppression, daring resistance, and everything from political conflict to how the occupation affected family relations. It is truly a fascinating episode. To check out the episode click the following link: https://bit.ly/2D5IpDH

May 29, 1893: Birth of Basque adventurer Marga d’Andurain

On May 29, 1893, Marguerite Clérisse was born in Baiona. Known by her married name, Marga d’Andurain, she would go on to gain a certain degree of fame and even notoriety  in interwar Europe as a libertine adventurer.

Born into a bourgeois family in the capital of Lapurdi, she received a religious education, including some time spent at the Ursuline institute in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa. In 1911 she married her cousin, Pierre d’Andurain, a member of the Andurain family, owners of the Château de Maÿtie or Château d’Andurain in Maule, Zuberoa. Pierre was a lover of exotic travels and on marrying the couple immediately traversed Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Algeria. In 1912 they embarked on a journey to Latin America, where they intended to take up cattle ranching. However, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 brought Pierre back to Europe to enlist in the French army and he was wounded in 1916.

After the war, the couple, now with two sons, Jean-Pierre and Jacques, settled in Cairo where they were involved in trade and commerce. With Pierre unable to travel because of his war wounds, Marga decided to carry on exploring the world on her own. In the company of an Englishwoman, Baroness Brault and a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service, she visited Palestine (under a British mandate after World War I) and Syria (under French Mandate), falling in love with the Syrian city of Palmyra. She relocated the family there in 1927, with the intention once more of establishing a cattle ranch. However, the couple ended up running a local hotel there. Here, in the context of the escalating tension of interwar Europe and in a highly sensitive geopolitical area, rumor has it that she was involved in espionage on behalf of Britain, although nothing seems to have been verified on that count. Visitors to the hotel included Agatha Christie and King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

In 1933, she came up with a daring plan to be the first Western woman to visit Mecca, the holiest city in Islam and only accessible to Muslims. In order to do so, she legally divorced Pierre and entered into a marriage of convenience in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a Bedouin, Sulaiman Abdulaziz Dikmari, although he died soon after. Subsequently, her plans to visit Mecca, Medina, and Unaizah, before crossing six hundred miles of desert to Hofuf and going on to the island of Bahrain, turned into a nightmare. She was arrested in Jeddah and accused of having killed her new “husband.” In the trial under Koranic law the prosecution demanded that she be stoned to death, but ultimately she was declared innocent and, through French diplomatic pressure, released. The trial itself was somewhat of a cause célèbre, attracting press attention from all over Europe and the US.

On her release, she remarried Pierre but after he died, she returned to France in 1937. One of the many rumors that surround her life there is the allegation that she was an opium dealer in Nazi-occupied Paris during the 1940s, as a cover for her spying duties. She died in 1948, very much in the same kind of circumstances in which she had lived her life. While sailing off of the coast of Morocco, which some observers allege also had to do with drugs smuggling, she was reputedly thrown overboard by the skipper of her yacht in November that year. She was fifty-five years old and her body was never recovered.

Many stories have circulated about Andurain, most of them unverified. In texts she penned herself, she claimed to have inherited the adventurous spirit of the Basques. Sh spoke fluent Arabic and wrote especially about women’s lives in the Muslim world she knew so well.

The Andurain family name lived on, though. Her son Jacques is said to have fired the first shot in anger on the part of the French Resistance in World War II: on August 13, 1941, from a Baby Browning 6.35 mm gun that actually belonged to his mother.  And her granddaughter, Julie d’Andurain, is a well-known French historian.

 

April 9, 1914: Birth of Feminist Anarchist Militant “Kaxilda”

On April 9, 1914, Soledad Casilda Hernáez Vargas was born to a single mother in Zizurkil, Gipuzkoa. In the 1930s she became a well-known feminist political activist and anarchist militant in Gipuzkoa, taking an active part in fighting at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War as well as later in the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France.

Kasilda (1914-1992)

Subsequently known as Kasilda, Kaxilda, Kasi, or “la Miliciana,” she was raised in  Donostia-San Sebastián in a Bohemian family with strong connections to the anarchist movement. As a young woman in the early 1930s she caused a scandal by bathing nude on the Zurriola Beach in Donostia. Becoming an activist in the anarchist movement, she was arrested in 1934 for distributing propaganda and possessing explosives during the revolutionary strike of October that year.  She was, though, released in 1936 as part of a general amnesty conceded by the newly elected Popular Front coalition government in Madrid. On leaving prison prison, she met fellow Basque anarchist activist Felix Likiano (1909-1982), her partner for the rest of her life.

When the Civil War broke out in July 1936, she joined Likiano in the anarchist militia formed to defend Donostia against the attack of the rebel troops, seeing active service in the Battle of Irun (Aug. 27 – Sep. 5, 1936) and, later, after the fall of her home city, also as part of the Hilario-Zamora Column on the Aragon and Ebro Fronts in 1938. With the triumph of the rebels, however, she and Likiano fled to France, where they were subsequently arrested and sent to the Argelès-sur-Mer and Gurs concentration camps. Released in 1940, the couple then moved first to Baiona in Lapurdi, but ultimately settled in Bordeaux, where their home–nicknamed the “Basque Consulate”–became a well-known meeting place for exiled Spanish Republicans. With the Nazi occupation of France they collaborated actively with the French Resistance.

After a spell in Paris, they returned to the Basque Country, settling in Biarritz. She died in 1992 and on her gravestone one can read the inscription “Andra! Zu zera bukatzen ez den sua!” (Woman! You’re the fire that never goes out!).

March 27, 1944: Bombing of Biarritz by US Air Force

At 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, March 27, 1944, toward then end of World War II, the Basque towns of Biarritz and Angelu in Lapurdi was bombed by 44 Consolidated B-24 Liberators in the 458th and 466th Bomb Groups.  In eight minutes they dropped 44 tonnes of bombs on the Nazi-occupied town, resulting in 117 casualties and around 250 injuries.

The official aim of the mission that day–according to the archives–was to destroy the nearby Parma airfield and the Latécoère aircraft company factory, although it is also likely that it included the target of a German base there storing V-1 doodlebugs and V-2 rockets. Moreover, the Nazis had constructed a major command center in bunkers beneath Biarritz. The mission was part of the conclusion of a more general strategy to bomb occupied France on the part of the Allies between June 1940 and May 1945; and served as a prelude to the D-Day landings of June 1944 in Normandy. However, lacking the necessary precision technology, many devices went astray in the carpet bombing and hit the civilian population as well as the Nazi occupiers, with approximately one hundred German soldiers among the dead, and destroying 375 residential homes in the process too.

See “Les mystères du bombardement de Biarritz” in Sud-Ouest, March 26, 2013 (in French) and “70 urte, AEBko hegazkinek Biarritz eta Angelu bonbardatu zituztela” at EITB, March 27, 2014 (in Basque). Check out a video report on the bombing by ETB, the Basque public broadcaster, here (in Basque) and listen to a fascinating piece of oral history in this first-hand account by people who experienced the bombing (in Basque).

The Center’s own Sandra Ott has written extensively on the German occupation of the Basque Country during World War II. Check out her War, Judgment, And Memory In The Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945 and Living With the Enemy: German Occupation, Collaboration and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940–1948as well as her edited work, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946.

Note (from Wikipedia): At the end of World War II in Europe, the U.S. Army’s Information and Educational Branch was ordered to establish an overseas university campus for demobilized American service men and women in Biarritz. Under General Samuel L. McCroskey, the hotels and casinos of Biarritz were converted into quarters, labs, and class spaces for U.S. service personnel. The University opened August 10, 1945 and about 10,000 students attended an eight-week term. This campus was set up to provide a transition between army life and subsequent attendance at a university in the US, so students attended for just one term. After three successful terms, the G.I. University closed in March 1946.

The Incredible Story of Margot Duhalde: World War II Veteran and Combat Pilot

Continuing with our celebration of Women’s History Month, today we bring you a quite amazing story in many respects; certainly an untold story for us here at the Center. It concerns Margot Duhalde, a Chilean-born woman of Basque descent who saw active service in both the British Royal Air Force and the French Air Force.

Margot Duhalde (c. 1944). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Margot Duhalde Sotomayor was born in Chile in 1920. Her paternal family originally came from Luhuso (Louhossoa), Lapurdi, in Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country. In her own words (all citations from the wonderful article by Palmira Oyanguren cited below): “When my grandfather died, I would have been nine years old. He was an imposing Basque who used to sport some tremendous mustaches and who loved to recount his stories in song.” Growing up in a farming family in Río Bueno in southern Chile, her destiny appeared to be that of a rural life. However, she became fascinated at an early age with the planes that would fly over the family ranch to take the mail to the far corners of Chile.  When the family relocated to Santiago de Chile so that their children could receive the best education possible, she implored her parents to be able to take flying lessons; and, at age sixteen, she began to learn to fly at the Club Aéreo de Chile. As she recalled, “It was tough finding someone who was willing to teach a young half-farm girl to fly.” But she succeeded in her dream and by the late 1930s was a qualified pilot.

When World War II broke out in 1939, she went to the French Consulate in Santiago to volunteer, on the basis of her paternal family connections with France, for the Free French Forces led by Charles De Gaulle, who was based in London. She was not yet twenty-one and therefore not of legal age, so to get around this she had to invent a story for her parents (who would undoubtedly have refused any permission for her to take part in the war). She told them she would be going to Canada as an instructor, which they accepted. She subsequently sailed from the port of Valparaíso for Liverpool, in the company of thirteen other volunteers, including two young Basques with whom she made great friends, Juan Cotano and “some Ibarra”: “Because I was quite useless and knew nothing about any kind of domestic chores, they ironed my clothes, did my laundry … they affectionately nicknamed me ‘blockhead’.”

On arriving in the UK, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of being a spy and spent five days in a London jail. When she was finally released she ran into yet more obstacles when it came time to presenting herself at the headquarters of the Free French Forces: “The truth is that the French … didn’t know what to do with me. They’d mixed up my name with that of Marcel, in other words, they thought I was a man.” She waited three long months without hearing any word and then a post was assigned her helping out with domestic chores at a recovery center for injured pilots. While there, she unexpectedly received a letter from a French second lieutenant who had lived in southern Chile and had seen interviews with her in the press there. He told her to forget about the French ever allowing her to fly and try her luck elsewhere. This led to her decision to apply to the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), an organization that helped ferry aircraft to different destinations. Despite having practically no English, she was accepted for the ATA, initially working as a mechanic while she learned English. Soon after, however, she began a tough training schedule learning to fly both single and twin-engine aircraft, and both British and American machines. This eventually led to her flying over a hundred different types of planes (including both fighter planes and bombers) throughout the war for the ATA from bases in England to combat zones in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. She eventually rose in rank to become a first officer in the Women’s Section of the ATA.

Margot Duhalde in retirement.

At the end of the war, she was finally accepted into the French Air Force, in which she now flew warplanes officially, becoming France’s first woman combat pilot.  She also completed a public relations tour of Latin America for the French Air Force, demonstrating French aircraft in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Having eventually served her time and achieved her goal of becoming a combat pilot, she then returned to Chile in 1947, where she remained for the rest of her life and worked as a commercial pilot, instructor, and even air traffic controller, retiring at age eighty-one.

She married three times, and had one son. In the 2003 interview cited here she states: “Nowadays I live in an apartment accompanied by my dog Maite, who is as old as me, and by my young cat. Whenever I can, I get in gear and go to the land of my ancestors, Luhuso; or to Baiona, where I still have family with whom I maintain excellent relations.”

In 1946 Duhalde was made a Knight of France’s Legion of Honor and in 2007 she was made a Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honor; in 2009 she was awarded the Veteran’s Badge from the British Ambassador in Santiago for her work with the ATA during World War II; and she has also been honored officially by the Chilean Air Force, which bestowed the rank of colonel on her.

Further Reading

Palmira Oyanguren M., “Margot Duhalde: Confesiones de una aviadora,”  Eusko News & Media (2003).

 

July 29, 1940: British government agrees to back Basque independence in event of Spanish support for Hitler

The tumultuous period between the end of the Spanish Civil War in April 1939 and the outbreak of World War II in September that same year marked a critical time in Basque history. Basques exiles who had fled into France and beyond during and after the Spanish Civil War suddenly found themselves once more prey to the advance of Fascism.

Following the fall of Poland in 1939,  Hitler’s forces swept north and westward in the spring of 1940, taking Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and, finally, France, with Paris falling to the Germans on June 14. In the less than a year most of Western Europe had fallen to the Nazis. Only the United Kingdom held out.

The charismatic leader of the Basque government-in-exile, Jose Antonio Agirre, had gotten caught up in these events and had been forced underground–ultimately in of all places, Berlin–into an incognito existence as he sought an escape from the Fascist clutches (on this, if you haven’t already done so, check out his riveting memoir Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe). In his absence, the Basque government-in-exile was replaced by a Basque National Council, headed by Manuel Irujo and based in London.

Irujo_Agirre_Lizaso

Manuel Irujo, Jose Antonio Agirre, and Jose Ignacio Lizaso, London, 1945.

It is during that time, in the interesting period before Agirre’s reappearance in October 1941, that the Basque National Council carried out a series of negotiations, most notably with both the British government and the representatives of Free France (effectively the exiled democratic French government) led by Charles de Gaulle. Most famously, perhaps, these negotiations resulted in the creation of the Gernika Battalion, made up of Basque exiles, which fought with distinction with the French army in defeating the Germans in 1945 (the story of which we covered in a previous post here).

Less well known, certainly, was a fascinating agreement brokered by the Basque National Council in London. Xabier Irujo picks up the story in his Expelled from the Motherland (p. 17):

In less than a month the Basque National Council and the British government had made their first agreement on military collaboration. Robert J. G. Boothby, representing the British government, and Jose Ignacio Lizaso, representing the Basque National Council, signed the first agreement on July 29, 1940, which spelled out that the British government was committed to defending the independence of the Basque Country if the Spanish government went to war on the side of the Axis powers.

Ultimately, and despite plenty of willing on the part of Franco, Spain did not enter the war on the side of Hitler and this agreement was never implemented; yet another example of one of those twists of fate around which history revolves.

If you’re interested in this topic, as well as the abovementioned works, see also War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, available free to download here; and, for more general background, Modern Basque History, by Cameron Watson, available free to download here.

 

A Tale of Basque-Americans in World War II

Many Basque-Americans took part in World War II, serving with distinction in the US Armed Forces. This Veterans Day, in honor of these people, we’d like to share a couple of their stories with you.

Captain Frank D. Carranza, the son of Basque immigrants, conceived of the idea of using Basque code talkers during World War II.  Code talkers used their knowledge of lesser-known languages to transmit coded messages in wartime.  Carranza had realized that there were approximately 60 Basque-Americans at a US Marines Corps training center with a good knowledge of both Basque and English. Basque was subsequently used–in conjunction with several Native American languages like Navajo–to throw off the Japanese in the Asian Theater. Famously, on August 1, 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz was informed about the upcoming Operation Apple to remove the Japanese from the Solomon Islands with the words “Sagarra Eragintza zazpi” (Operation Apple at seven). And the Guadalcanal Campaign (Operation Watchtower), the first major offensive by the Allies on Japan, was announced on August 7, 1942, with the words “”Egon arretaz egunari” (Heed the day).

 

manuel aldecoa

Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa

Lieutenant Manuel Aldecoa, the son of Basque immigrants from Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, and Ea, Bizkaia, respectively,  served as a pilot with the US Eighth Air Force, whose mission was to support a future invasion of continental Europe from the United Kingdom by means of strategic bombing operations in Western Europe. On November 25, 1943,  his unit, the 55th Fighter Group (“the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth”), carried out an operation over the Hazebrouck-Lille region of Northern France, a key strategic area that included the airbase for the Jagdgruppe 26 (Fighter Group 26), one of the elite German flying units. During the operation, Aldecoa became embroiled in direct combat with Johannes Seifert,  a famed Luftwaffe ace and commandant (Gruppenkommandeur) of the Jagdgruppe 26. During the combat, the two planes collided and crashed to the ground near Merville, killing both pilots. On receving the terrible news of his death, Aldecoa’s sister, Maurina, enlisted in the US Secret Services and also served her country with distinction.

Sources and further reading

Xabier García Arguello, “Egon arretaz egunari” (in Basque).

Iratxe Gomez, “The Secret Language.”

Mikel Rodríguez, “Los vascos y la II Guerra Mundial” (in Spanish).

See also (in Spanish)  Memoria de los vascos en la Segunda Guerra Mundial. De la brigada Vasca al Batallón Gernika (Pamplona: Pamiela, 2002), by Mikel Rodríguez, for a full account of the multiple ways in which Basques took part in World War II.

And if you’re interested in this topic, check out the account of Joe Eiguren’s wartime experiences in Kashpar: The Saga of Basque Immigrants to North America, in which the author recounts how, as a GI in World War II, he was “eager to meet the Germans, because it was always so strong in my mind what the Legion Condor [sic] had done in the Basque Country” during the Spanish Civil War.

See, too, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a broad exploration of how different kinds of wars impacted on the Basque Country and beyond during this crucial period in the twentieth century.

Commemorations Mark Basque Participation in Key World War Two Battle

Euskalkultura.com recently reported on a moving recent commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Pointe de Grave, at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary in Western France, and the Basque participation in this battle.

In 1945, during the closing stages of World War II, Basque exiles from the Franco dictatorship making up the Gernika Battalion were instrumental in the Allied victory at the Battle of Point-de-Grave, one of the last outposts of Nazi resistance.

Gernika Battalion marching through Bordeaux

Members of the Gernika Battalion being honored by France in a victory parade

For their part in the battle, the Basques were awarded the Croix de Guerre, the highest French military honor, and were accorded an official reception in Baiona (Bayonne) for their efforts. Charles de Gaulle himself commented: “France will never forget the sacrifice of the Basques for the liberation of their territory.”

Gernika Battalion with De Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle salutes members of the Gernika Battalion holding the ikurriña or Basque flag

The battle and the wider context in which it took place–the dictatorship in Spain that led to many Basques fleeing Hegoalde (the Southern Basque Country) and the Nazi occupation of Iparralde (the Northern Basque Country)–are discussed in the CBS publication Modern Basque History:  Eighteenth Century to the Present, by Cameron Watson.

On the effects of the Spanish Civil War and World War II on Basques from both sides of the Pyrenees, see War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This work explores the multiple dimensions of the effects of war such as displacement, occupation, and resistance, and demonstrates the extent to which the Basque Country was at the center of European events during this key time in European history.