Saturday, February 24

‘Illote P, Barraca 16’: the memories of the Galician who drew the horror in the French concentration camps

The life of Santiago Rodríguez Salinas could be another story born of the Civil War, but in reality it is something else. Santiago lived with his mother Antonia in Madrid in 1936 when he enlisted in the Popular Army Front. Things did not turn out as expected and, after the fall of Barcelona, ​​he had to cross the French border on a journey that dragged him through three concentration camps. It was such a bitter experience for him, that until more than four decades later, in 1985, shortly before he died in Redondela (Pontevedra), he would not capture it in a memoir.

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In the book ‘Illote P, Barraca 16’ (Editorial Galaxia), which has just been published posthumously, Rodríguez Salinas recounts the deplorable living conditions of the exiles in the improvised French concentration camps. Crammed into barracks, lacking warm clothes and with hardly any food or drinking water, every dawn they witness devastating scenes. “Every morning they removed several rigid bodies wrapped in sheets. They were the corpses of the weakest, elderly or sick”, he describes bitterly in a part of his writings, where he recounts how many of these elderly and sick “had been separated from their families crossing into France, abandoned to their fate”. Some of them appear in the drawings that Santiago made in his confinement. And intertwines among the memories the drawings that its author was making from his captivity.

His story and that of his family spans the entire 20th century, but it is a story almost unknown, except for those closest to him. “My father maintained absolute silence at home on this issue,” his son Eduardo Rodríguez ‘Tatán’, an actor who is an institution in the theater in Galicia, especially as founder of the historic puppet group ‘Tanxarina’, explains to ‘.

Born in Madrid in 1917, Santiago Rodríguez Salinas was the son of a Republican teacher who had him as a maiden and decided to give him the same surnames. Antonia, a key person in the future of this family, decided to educate Santiago in an upper-middle class environment of the time, studying at the French Lyceum and at the School of Arts and Crafts. Antonia lived in Madrid with her partner Alberto Marín Alcalde, a left-wing intellectual and prestigious theater critic for newspapers such as ‘La Vanguardia’. The military coup of July 1936 turned everything upside down.

Integrated into the Popular Army Front in the battles of Teruel and the Ebro, Santiago had to go to France when Barcelona fell to the fascists. There he begins his new life as a refugee on various French beaches, converted into concentration camps: “We were pioneers of that current transhumant beach tourism,” he writes ironically in his book. The number of refugees arriving in those days overwhelms the French authorities, disconcerted by the avalanche of people. They anticipated 4,000 exiles, and it is estimated that close to 500,000 arrived.

In his memoirs, Rodríguez Salinas recounts the passage through the Pyrenees in February 1939, in the middle of winter, and his arrival at the concentration camps of Saint Cyprien, Le Barcarès and, finally, Argelès-Sur-Mer, for which it is calculated that 100,000 Spanish refugees passed through. With humor despite the debacle, Santiago describes the situation of being behind a barbed wire, feeling “like animals in a zoo, thin due to the rigorous diet,” ironically in relation to the hunger they suffered. “A loaf of bread was distributed for every 25 people,” he says.

His confinement was developing at the same time that the political cloud was increasingly black. Franco settled in Spain, France declared war on Germany and then Hitler occupies France. Every day, the future collapsed a little more for all the ex-combatants.

“We were the mass of the exodus, without depending on any party or its associates,” Santiago Rodríguez Salinas complains bitterly in his memoirs. “My father did not trust the communists very much, because he saw many of them with dubious feelings of adherence to the Republic,” recalls his son Tatán, in charge with his sister Carmen of guarding the family memory.

Muiñeiras and cante jondo in the concentration camp

Rodríguez Salinas describes Argelès-sur-Mer as a big city where “everything has a temporary feeling”. The refugees dodge the hardships by playing football matches or with musical performances “where they listen to everything from cante jondo to muiñeiras”, and in which they offer their services from tailors, photographers or barbers, “who used the razor as if it were a scythe”.

His knowledge of the French language allowed him to get a job as a postal assistant, sorting letters between exiles and their families. In the mail he receives a letter from his mother Antonia, where she tells him that his partner Alberto Marín Alcalde has been taken prisoner in Madrid, sentenced to death and sent to the San Simón prison, at the bottom of the Ría de Vigo. Antonia then decides to move to Redondela, to be close to Alberto Marín.

Antonia’s letters reach her son, but others do not suffer the same fate in the concentration camp. “We couldn’t find the recipient and we couldn’t send them back to their families, because we could put them in danger, so we burned them,” writes Santiago. A painful decision, marked by fear and prudence. There he also checks the generous donations of solidarity aid to exiles, such as those sent by the illustrious cellist Pau Casals, a renowned anti-Franco militant.

Back to Spain

After 16 months of itinerant exile in France, in 1940 the exiles are put on a train and handed over again to the Francoist authorities. On his return, he ends up in another concentration camp in Reus, two disciplinary battalion camps and a forced military service in the Canary Islands. In total, almost seven years of punishment that the author is reeling off in his book ‘Illote P, Barraca 16’.

Until Santiago Rodríguez Salinas arrives in Redondela, to settle in this town and be at the side of his mother Antonia, the republican teacher who came to take care of her partner Alberto, sentenced to death and a prisoner in San Simón. “Alberto Marín Alcalde was a prestigious intellectual in the Republic and, since he had no blood crimes, the Franco government received a list of signatures to free him, even signed by Antonio Machado,” explains actor Eduardo Rodríguez, ‘Tatán’.

Marín finally had his death sentence commuted, was released and returned to his family in Redondela with Antonia and Santiago. But shortly after there is a bitter disagreement between the couple that will cause their paths to separate. “Alberto probably did not adapt to the life of the town and he needed to be with his work in Madrid”, summarizes Tatán.

Antonia stays in Redondela, and lives by giving private classes at home, “since she never agreed to validate her teacher’s degree from the Republic and join the Francoist education system”, explains her grandson, with whom she had a very close relationship. close. Antonia teaches many children of reprisals, with a very particular methodology, “she recited Lorca to them and ripped out all the pages of the Francoist and Falange hymns that the encyclopedias had,” explains Tatán.

It was a supposedly peaceful life in the town, but in which deep down everyone has internal wounds that still fester, and which they carry with resigned silence. Santiago lives with his condition of humiliated defeat and Antonia with the bitterness of her breakup with Alberto Marín Alcalde. Until in 1959 he receives the news of his death, which affects him deeply. “Grandma always had a great love for Alberto. He was still part of the family for us,” explains Tatán, who was registered at birth with the names of Eduardo Alberto, the second in honor of Marín Alcalde.

Santiago settles in Redondela, gets married and has three children, one of whom is deceased. “He had a brush factory and various trades, he was a hustler who did what he could to support us,” recalls his son Tatán. Meanwhile, he kept in touch with the exiles from ARDE (Spanish Democratic Republican Action) in Mexico, who had sent him a republican flag that he kept hidden, perhaps in the hope of one day taking it out again and displaying it proudly on the balcony. Some of them were also ex-combatants who passed through the concentration camps.

When he retires, and after decades of silence, Santiago feels that he doesn’t have much time left and in 1981 he begins to tirelessly type his old Olivetti typewriter. He died shortly after, in 1985, at the age of 68, after finishing the book that now sees the light. His family used the Republican flag that he hid for decades in a drawer to wrap the coffin in which they carried him on their shoulders on the way to the cemetery.

His mother Antonia would still outlive him a few more years. She was honored by her students, before dying in 1995 at the age of 101 in Redondela, the place in the world where she had come to take care of her fellow prisoner on the island of San Simón, the victimized Alberto Marín Alcalde.

Always, until she had strength and they left her, Antonia lit a butterfly of light floating in oil every night to remember who her partner was. That dim light with which in recent years he would also remember his son Santiago and that, surely, also represented the nostalgia of what could have been and Franco and the Civil War did not let it be.