Tag: Jose Antonio Jose Antonio Agirre Lekube

October 7, 1936: First Basque Government Formed

The first Basque Government was created on October 7, 1936, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The government was led by Jose Antonio Agirre and was based in Bilbao’s emblematic Hotel Carlton.

Agirre and other government members address crowd from balcony of Hotel Carlton

Given that holding elections was impossible on account of the outbreak of the civil war in July 1936, a transitional decree was approved whereby the councilmen of municipalities in territory not occupied by the military rebels would elect the first lehendakari or Basque president. They duly elected Jose Antonio Agirre unanimously at a meeting in the historic assembly hall in Gernika. Agirre subsequently formed the first Basque government from among his own Basque Nationalist Party as well as the other parties that formed part of the Popular Front, the democratically elected coalition governing the Second Spanish Republic that Franco’s military uprising was seeking to overthrow.

The importance of Agirre and the first Basque government were explored at a major international conference whose results were published in The International Legacy of the Lehendakari Jose A. Agirre’s Government, edited by Xabier Irujo and Mari Jose Olaziregi.

 

Flashback Friday: Safe and Sound

On November 6, 1941, Jose Antonio Jose Antonio Agirre Lekube (1904-1960), lehendakari or president of the Basque Country, arrived in Philadelphia and met his friends Manuel Maria Intxausti and Manuel de la Sota. On May 8, 1940, Agirre had departed from Paris (France) to Brussels (Belgium) along with his wife and children to visit relatives living there. Immediately after their arrival, the Agirre family was caught unaware when, on May 10, Adolf Hitler’s forces invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Thereafter, they struggled to escape from Europe to America. Eventually in August Agirre exiled safe and sound to Brazil. On November 4, after receiving a residence permit from the US Government, he arrived in Miami, before passing through Argentina. After his short visit in Philadelphia on November 6, Agirre went to New York and settled there, where he found a large Basque immigrant community. In the city of New York, then, he headed the reorganization of the Basque government-in-exile.

A short film documentary of 1942 about Jose Antonio Agirre and the Basque government-in-exile delegation in the city of New York:

Source: Basque Film Library.

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Portrait of Jose Antonio Agirre. Source: Jon Bilbao Basque Library, UNR

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Members of the Basque government-in-exile in New York. From left, Antonio de Irala, Telesforo Monzon, Santiago Aznar, Manuel de la Sota, Ramon Aldasoro, Jose Antonio Agirre, and Gonzalo Nardiz.


The remarkable story of Agirre’s escape from Europe is told in his own words in Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe.

On related topics, see Expelled from the Motherland: The Government of President Jose Antonio Agirre in Exile, 1937-1960, by Xabier Irujo; A Basque Patriot in New York: Jose Luis de la Lombana y Foncea and the Euskadi Delegation in the United States, by Iñaki Anasagasti and Josu Erkoreka; and War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott.

Every Friday we look into our Basque archives for interesting historic events that happened on the same day.