Tuesday, October 19

The journey of a rural teacher from an Aragonese town to the Mauthausen concentration camp

The recovery of historical memory is also a race against time. The possibilities of speaking with the direct protagonists of the Civil War and the subsequent repression are increasingly limited and researchers have to turn to their direct descendants -often also disappeared-, to published documentation, physical and digital archives and to the oral memory. Another added difficulty is represented by the geographical situation to be studied; Rural Spain was as protagonist as urban Spain and presents, although on a smaller scale, another picture of atrocities and proper names that 80 years later continue to see the light of day.

This is the case of the Huesca town of Lierta, which today has 42 registered inhabitants and where a group of neighbors has begun to dust off local history. La España Vaciada also collects proper names that illustrate those barbarous years. Stories that have passed from father to son such as that of Antonio Monreal Serrate, who on July 18, 1936, surprised him in his native home and who was some 7,000 Spanish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen. He survived and went into exile in Venezuela. His biography, scarcely glossed to date, still has closed doors. David Rivarés, who is part of the Lierta Neighborhood Association, is currently trying to find all the keys.

Rivarés is the grandson of a Lierta neighbor who was retaliated against during the Civil War and the dictatorship, sentenced to 20 years in prison for “aiding the rebellion” through a summary emergency court martial. Antonio Monreal Serrate has followed a vital trajectory that starts from this population and took him to France before his capture. He was not a teacher there, but Zaidín among other locations. And one of the Republicans who took the path of exile as soon as it was found that the rebels controlled the municipality of La Sotonera, to which Lierta belongs. Fifty in a census of 600 were retaliated.

Born there on October 12, 1907 and died on September 20, 1985 in Huesca, he listened to the recommendations of those who alerted him that his life would be in danger there. It was no exaggeration. While the one known as Casa Nisano’s teacher was looking for a way to escape the terror, which was helped by the peculiar orography with a single road that ended in the town, Lierta was a source of agitation. The war entered with fury in December 36 and on Kings Day 1937 the anarchist propaganda recorded in images the triumphal entry of the militiamen of the Red and Black and the Ascaso Column, who were fighting on the Huesca front. Four of them murdered a neighbor, a fact that was documented when no political affiliation was known to him, and this point in no man’s land would not recover electricity until the 1950s. In 1938, two children, Manuel and Alfredo Barrio, they died while handling a bomb.

Oblivious to all this, Monreal Serrate went to France in the closing stages of the Civil War and, according to the Bank of Democratic Memory of the Generalitat de Catalunya, he joined the 43rd Division. “He was a powerful agitator, a bit of a hooligan, we think he was a communist,” says David Rivarés, who has certified his capture after the Battle of Dunkirk in France in 1940 and his transfer to the Saint Cyprien prison camp, raised to become a regular destination. of the Spanish exiles near the Argèles beach. From there, and for reasons still unknown, he was thrown into Nazi terror in Austria: on December 19, 1941 he crossed the gates of Mauthausen with the registration number 4,895 and would not leave until the allies liberated him on May 5, 1945 .

The first year he was several times on the verge of death, he was saved by the boss of his barracks, which was in Bolea, a town very close to Lierta.

A three-year journey in which he became a survivor. “He did not know where he entered, he wore glasses and they advised him to hide them because it was a sign of weakness and they would have pointed him out,” says a Rivarés who weaves this itinerary from what the protagonist revealed later. “The first year he was several times on the verge of death, he was saved by the boss of his barracks, which was from Bolea”, a town very close to Lierta. He passed a skills test that led him to Gusen, a subfield under Mauthausen where he helped manufacture parts for German aviation and jet engines for the V2 rocket: “He got along with a mutilated German guard on the Russian front who passed him food and saved him from being expunged. ”

After the Nazi concentration camp was dismantled, he met with a sister and both went into exile in Venezuela. In the 1970s, when the political situation allowed it, Antonio Monreal Serrate returned to Lierta and did not leave the town until his death. “In America he made a good living and returned with a Venezuelan accent,” they told David Rivarés. He has spoken among others with his great-nephew, José Ramón Pérez Monreal. His grandfather and uncle joined the maquis and one day the town witnessed the arrival of several French people to explain that thanks to them many had remained alive.

The databases of the DARA of the Government of Aragon, the democratic memory of the Generalitat de Catalunya or the Amical de Mauhausen enrich the work of memorialist associations. In Lierta they also rely on the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory and are organizing to shape an association from which to address the institutions. In the blog ‘Vestiges of the Civil War in Lierta’, Pablo Gracia traces the footprint of the confrontation in the town and its surroundings and wants to place in the town one of the ‘Stolpersteine’, golden cobblestones to remember those murdered and retaliated by Nazism throughout Europe and to also vindicate the master of Casa Nisano.


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