In the early morning of June 8, 1946, in a mountainous place on the border with France, in the Girona region of La Garrotxa, the republican maqui Antonio Figueras said goodbye with a hug from his guide, Cristina Zalba. “You guerrillas are the best children in Spain,” she encouraged him. He replied that he was very grateful, that only death would make him forget her. And so, after 508 days hiding in his house, in a farmhouse in the area, he headed for the border town of Lamenère.
The maqui Cisquet or the youth of the Spanish republic in the European storm
Figueras, who was 26 years old at the time, recorded these events in a report that he later sent to the leadership of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE), once he was safe. He did it as head of the Bordoy Group, a failed maquis unit that dismembered after an ambush by the Civil Guard in a house in Sant Iscle de Colltort, in La Garrotxa, on New Year’s Eve 1944. The document has now been rescued by the Asociación Amical Antiguos Guerrilleros de Catalunya, which for years has been dedicated to ordering, as if it were a puzzle, the pieces that make up the actions of the anti-Franco guerrilla throughout the Girona area.
Starting in 1944, with the failed Republican invasion of the Aran Valley, and throughout the 1950s, thousands of Republicans were part of the guerrillas organized by the Communists and who sought to destabilize the Franco regime. Many came from the French resistance against the Nazis. They expected then an intervention of the international powers against Franco that never took place. Throughout Spain more than 2,000 maquis were killed in skirmishes and some 3,000 were imprisoned.
One of those maquis was Francesc Serrat, ‘Cisquet’, son of the republican mayor of Olot, the capital of La Garrotxa. After participating in the fight against Nazism, he infiltrated Catalonia in 1944 and camped in different regions at the head of the Palafox guerrilla group. In 1946 he was arrested and executed. His story was collected by the activist Raül Valls, president of the Amical Antiguos Guerrilleros, in the book Cisquet, an olotí maqui.
“It all started with Cisquet. After rebuilding his journey, we started to pull the thread,” explains Valls. And the thread took them from Cisquet to Figueras. The guerrilla groups of these two young republicans – Palafox and Bordoy – entered Spain together, hidden in a truck from Prades, in December 1944. But the second group, the one led by Figueras, took very little to fall. “The Civil Guard somehow found out where they were and ambushed them on December 31 at Masía Puigverd, where they went to look for food. One of the guerrillas, nicknamed ‘Palau’, died there,” says Valls.
From the Civil Guard raid to the refuge
This episode, that of the Francoist police trap, was related by the daughter of the farmers of that farmhouse, Roser Costa. And it fits the dates with the escape that Antonio Figueras detailed in writing years later in his report for the PCE, which was kept in the party’s file. The seven-page document describes the conditions in which this maqui was welcomed by the Sala family, in the country house that they occupied as masovers in the town of Oix, and places special emphasis on the role played in his protection by Cristina Zalba, the woman, who defended him tooth and nail when others wanted to throw him out. He was in hiding in that farmhouse for a year and a half.
The story begins with his arrival at the La Sala farmhouse between January 13 and 14, 1945. “The night before, a height of 30 centimeters had snowed. It was very cold that day and I hadn’t eaten anything for five days, not even a gram of bread, “he writes.
Figueras ran into at the entrance of the farmhouse with the masover Enrique Sala, the head of the family, whom he asked to let him eat and recover before continuing on his way to France. “Once I had eaten, they treated my right knee, they put oil on me and then I told them if I could stay to rest that afternoon, they said yes and they put me in a pen that had rabbits with straw, that this pen is under the It was from the house, ”he says.
The family of masovers – a term that describes the farmers who occupy a house in exchange for cultivating their land – was made up of Enrique, his wife Cristina Zalba, their three children, and her adoptive parents. Also living in the house was a waiter, Joan Solà, whose real name was Juan Camps and apparently he was also hiding there because he was a member of the PSUC.
Cristina Zalba, her protector and “true mother”
After eight days recovering in that corral, Cristina Zalba told the ninth that she had to leave because the police were stalking them. So he moved to an abandoned house nearby, called the Canova.
But she had not been the instigator of his expulsion. “While I was in the corral, Mrs. Cristina told her family that there was no right that I had to be that way. Later in the Canova [la casa en la que se refugió] This woman did not stop telling her family that there was no right for them to abandon me, that I should be cared for and protected by them, and she said these words to the whole family: ‘Do not forget that the fight of the maquis is for our own well-being and to free ourselves from the cruel terror of Franco and fascism ‘”, Figueras details in the report.
Figueras explains how after three days of being alone in that abandoned house, Cristina Zalba and the waiter went to look for him to return him to the farmhouse and apologized. The guerrilla soon got along with the woman, who was 37 years old and had been a member of the CNT in her youth. In fact, from the Amical Antiguos Guerrilleros de Catalunya they assume that the Republican combatant did not end up in that house by chance.
Later, Figueras explains that he was in a room for eight months in which he suffered an “illness” that he does not detail, but that prevented him from walking. And from that moment on, he praises Cristina Zalba. “During all the time I was ill, the one who always took care of me, putting great will and courage and always with the affection of a true mother, was Mrs. Cristina. She would go to sleep one and two hours later than the others every night, but not before having healed my knee and having done everything I needed. ” and sacrifice has saved my life, “he adds later.
Upon overcoming that illness, they later had him hidden in another room, full of alfalfa. “When I felt that the tricorns and the soldiers or a neighbor were coming, I would hide in the alfalfa and until they left I would not come out of hiding,” he explains.
The departure, after 508 days
In the description of the relatives that he makes for the party, he leaves Cristina Zalba as a heroine and her husband as a nickel and a selfish man. Among other things, because he got in touch with his family and forced them – without telling him – to pay them for his maintenance. “10 pesetas a day,” notes Figueras. His family tried to procure false documentation for him, but they were unsuccessful, so in June 1946 he finally decided to leave the country.
Again, he could not have completed the final leg of his escape without the help of Zalba, who offered to guide him when her husband refused. Always according to his story, they left on June 7. They were walking, 50 meters from each other, all night. “Without having met anyone on the way,” says Figueras, they reached the border. It was there that the emotional farewell took place. Figueras also remembers that she told him: “One day you will return and this day will be the day of the glory of the freedom of the Spanish people.”
In time, this young guerrilla got married and never returned to Spain. The little that is known about him is through his correspondence with the waiter with whom he shared those days. 75 years later, the Amical Antiguos Guerrilleros de Catalunya contacted Cristina Zalba’s daughter, Maria Sala Zalba, to make her aware of that story. “We hope that with this information we will erase the silence forced by the repression of those dark years. By handing him this documentation, we want to pay tribute to his family, especially his mother, and thank him for his solidarity and courage ”, they expressed in the letter.