Thursday, May 19

80 years since the escape of the republican prisoners from the Capuchinos prison in Teruel

There are several versions of what happened on the afternoon of January 18, 1942. For some, it was just an irrelevant attempt to escape, for others an episode of horror and only for the fewest it meant the long-awaited freedom, not devoid of fear, it should be noted. However, among the different accounts, some data do seem clear: twelve prisoners from the Capuchinos prison, in Teruel, tried to escape, five of them managing to escape through the main door. The rest of his companions did not suffer the same fate and were either killed in their attempt to escape, or arrested, immediately tried, sentenced to death and shot. Buenaventura Navarro, a historian based in Sagunto, has investigated the events surrounding this escape from Teruel prison.

The first version, the official one, hardly recounts the details of this historical escape. In the minutes of the Disciplinary Board of this prison, chaired by its director, García del Busto, he boasts of “the discipline and order” that was maintained during the event and adds: “having only been a group of desperate who tried to escape, while the entire inmate population remained in the most perfect order…”. But there are other narratives, those of the inmates who witnessed the events from prison, much cruder and more grotesque.

Emilio Manzana, a prisoner in Capuchinos when the escape occurred, describes it as “one of the most unpleasant, most dramatic, most horrifying moments and that, a thousand years later, would not leave my mind and would reproduce with the same clarity as that fatal day in Teruel prison […] before the spectacle offered by the comrades shot in the prison courtyard for the cruel crime of having wanted to achieve freedom. In this autobiographical writing, which Navarro was able to access, he recounts how around five in the afternoon the prisoners who were in the rooms heard a stir in the courtyard, heard screams and shots and how he himself knew immediately that an escape was taking place.

Shortly after, the companions who had not managed to flee and those who were made to return to their respective rooms would confirm this. “Once in the rooms, we remained firm and under close surveillance for as long as they wanted and between shouts and threats from the ‘little officers’, they ‘challenged’ us until the next morning when an ‘exemplary’ punishment was to be given. . I don’t know if there was a summary trial or not, yes, in the morning, I can’t specify the time, we were forced to line up in the courtrooms and our comrades were shot in the prison yard. The fateful volley was heard, followed by the coup de grâce. Later, between insults and shoves, they made us parade in front of the still warm corpses of our shot comrades”, he recounted.

Another prisoner, José Soler Sanz, a resident of Cella (Teruel) who was in Capuchinos when the escape occurred, told Navarro first-hand how his companions appropriated a weapon and, threatening them, were able to reach the main door of the prison. the jail. Also the horror that he supposed to have to form before the bodies of his companions.

Vicente Buj Monterde, Víctor Gómez Martínez, Lorenzo Tonda Escorihuela, Antonio González Blesa, Alfonso Íñigo Cano, Emiliano Leal Fernández and Benjamín García Mora, are the names of the prisoners who did not achieve their goal. On the other hand, there were no casualties or injuries among the prison guards in this escape, but the punishment was not less for it.

The fugitives

As for the five fugitives –Antonio Ros, from Villastar (Teruel); Inocencio Villanueva, from Plenas (Zaragoza); Joaquín Hernández, from Visiedo (Teruel); José Moya, from Utrillas; and José Pinilla, from Orea (Guadalajara) – each suffered a different fate. Villanueva and Moya were arrested a short time later, while the rest were able to rebuild their lives.

Inocencio Villanueva was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the escape, in addition to a death sentence for “joining the rebellion” for his actions during the war, although the latter was commuted to 30 years in prison. José Moya was sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting the armed force” – due to the escape attempt – and another inmate involved in the escape, Santiago Báguena, who was discovered and detained before the events took place, was also sentenced to prison. a sentence of eight years for this same crime.

As for the three fugitives who achieved freedom, Navarro was only able to learn about the ups and downs of José Pinilla, whom he personally interviewed. “After the escape he spent seven years in freedom and during that time he remained in hiding, living under false names with his family in various parts of the Spanish geography. He was finally arrested again by the Francoist police on March 13, 1949 near Olot (Girona), when he was preparing his passage to France”, he explains.

Throughout his life he spent more than 11 years in different prisons, until his conditional release in January 1958. Upon leaving his last prison, he was able to return to work at the Altos Hornos steel factory in Puerto Sagunto, in the Taller electric, until his retirement. He passed away in 1997.

The Capuchin Prison

The harshness of the fighting that devastated Teruel in the winter of 1937 and 1938 left the city in dire conditions, with a third of buildings completely destroyed, and another third with more or less serious conditions. At the end of the war, the space that until then had been used as a prison was in ruins and the number of prisoners from the rebel side was estimated at around 3,000.

It was then that the Capuchin Convent, located on the banks of the Zaragoza highway, was chosen as the place of confinement. In November 1939, the superior of the Paules Fathers, until then owners of the convent, and the administrator of the Diocese of Teruel signed, together with the commander of engineers of Devastated Regions, a lease agreement in which they gave their consent for said space was dedicated “to the purposes that [las Autoridades] they deem convenient” and “the appropriate modifications” were made.

In March 1940, the inmates themselves worked to prepare the space that would later become their prison. “About 450 prisoners were installed there, despite the fact that the real capacity was 200 people,” explains the historian, Serafín Aldecoa, who underlines the overcrowding and terrible living conditions to which they were subjected.

Capuchinos was hastily conditioned by the interest of the General Directorate of Devastated Regions to house the prisoners who were to belong to the battalions of workers who redeemed their sentences by collaborating in the reconstruction of the city. In the prison there were two penal detachments, says Aldecoa, No. 171 and No. 75.

Although this was the most famous and numerous escape, it was not the only one carried out by the prisoners of this former convent. On August 22, 1941, the director of this same prison sent a letter to the Civil Governor indicating that the prisoners, Joaquín Torrens Vilabella, Gabriel Arroyo Llamas, –both sentenced to 20 years– and José Fontanillas Serra –sentenced to 15 years– had “been escaped from the pits where they worked”.

The Capuchinos prison closed definitively in 1951, when the prisoners were transferred to the current prison, just a few meters away.