It’s a real pleasure to come across the life stories of people who don’t typically make it into the history books, as happened recently when I discovered the figure of Cecilia García de Guilarte. Born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, in 1915, she was the first journalist to cover the Northern Front after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
García de Guilarte was the oldest of four children born into a working-class family originally from Burgos. Her father worked at the paper mill in Tolosa, one of the most important companies in the town. Indeed, she also started her working life in the mill. There, influenced by her father’s labor union activities for the CNT, the confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, she took to writing for union publications. Her facility for writing led her, at age 20, to publishing articles for a Madrid weekly, Estampa, signing her name, as she would do thereafter, “Cecilia G. de Guilarte.”
With the outbreak of the war, she continued her work as a journalist, writing for the union’s official publication CNT Norte and becoming the de facto first correspondent to cover the Northern Front (Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Santander, and Asturias), between 1936 and 1937. During this time she secured exclusive stories, such as her interview of the German pilot Karl Gustav Schmidt, who had crashed after the aerial bombardment of Bilbao by Nazi planes in the service of Franco in January 1937. At the same time she met and married Amós Ruiz Girón, the former chief of municipal police in Eibar, Gipuzkoa, who was at the time in the Cuerpo Disciplinario de Euzkadi, a policing force created by the Basque government during the war.
Following the fall of the Northern Front to Franco’s rebel forces, García de Guilarte escaped to Catalonia, from which fled fled to France in 1939 after it, too, fell. While in exile in France she wrote briefly for the newspaper Sud-Ouest before crossing the Atlantic to escape World War II and settling in Mexico with her husband. There she embarked on a productive career in journalism, writing for several journals and newspapers, including many connected to the community of Basque exiles. She was also editor of El Hogar and Mujer. She combined all this with a similarly active political life as a member of the Izquierda Republicana de Euskadi, and she also taught classes in art and theater history at the University of Sonora. As well as all this, she also published voraciously: novels, essays, biographies, and plays.
She was able to return to Tolosa in 1964, although she would have to wait over another decade, and the death of Franco in 1975, before he husband could rejoin her in the Basque Country. Back home, she became the theater critic for the Voz de España, a newspaper published in Donostia-San Sebastián, until it closed in 1979. She died in 1989, having taken an active part in the social and cultural life of Donostia both before and after Franco’s death.
See the bilingual Spanish/English blog Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], which covers all aspects of her life and includes numerous photos and interviews: https://unbarcocargadode.wordpress.com/
See, too, an excellent blog post about her life at the following site: http://monografiashistoricasdeportugalete.blogspot.com.es/2014/02/celia-g-gilarte-periodista-de-guerra.html
War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This multi-authored work traces the impact of both the Spanish Civil war and World War II on people’s everyday lives, with a special focus on (but not limited to) the Basque Country. This work is available free to download here.
Expelled from the Motherland, by Xabier Irujo. This is a book that, while taking as its central subject matter the life and work of the exiled Basque president or lehendakari, Jose Antonio Agirre, also explores the stories of many other Basque exiles in Latin America and beyond.