Thursday, July 7

The ‘red angel’, the anarchist who risked his life to save enemies: “The Revolution is not killing defenseless men”

Irreducible anarchist, bullfighter, metalworker, modest writer of homemade verses and mayor of the town on the day that Madrid surrendered to the coup army, Melchor Rodríguez from Seville was above all a man who did good, even when it could cost him his life. “For ideas you can die, but you cannot kill,” they say he said. The phrase explains why his skin was risked to save hundreds of Francoist prisoners from the enraged mob that wanted to lynch them.

It was not the only time, although it was the most famous, in which he protected his enemies. Rodríguez, from then on The red angel for the Francoists, He was able to stay true to his ideological principles in the middle of the war without betraying his deepest conscience: nothing is above the life of a person. It is possible that, years later, those righteous acts saved his own. A Sevillian publishing house now reissues the novelized biography The red angel. The anarchist who saved his enemies (Ediciones Espuela de Plata), to which its author, Alfonso Domingo, contributes new interviews and a more complete treatment of the character in which, he says, there are also shadows.

A man in front of the mob

December 8, 1936. An angry mass crowds at the gates of the Alcalá de Henares prison. The town has been bombed by Franco’s aviation. They are still lifting rubble, recovering corpses, mourning their dead, but the mob is already gathering, armed with rage, in front of the jail. He wants his justice.

There are 1,532 prisoners there, some famous: the Falangist Raimundo Fernández Cuesta, the high-ranking military man Agustín Muñoz Grandes, the CEDA deputy Javier Martín Artajo, the Luca de Tena brothers, the military doctor Gómez Ulla, the announcer Bobby Deglané or the soccer player Ricardo Zamora. The majority, anonymous. Everyone’s life is at stake. Five days earlier, the mob had killed 319 of the 320 prisoners confined in Guadalajara.

“What justice is this of the people to kill without more, in an orgy of blood? The revolution is not to kill defenseless men.” Up on a table in front of dozens of fists calling for revenge, Rodríguez tries to reason. He is the delegate of prisons and trade unionist of the CNT, but for those men and women he is closer to the enemy. The crowd does not want words but blood. “Traitor! Fascist!”. They yell at him. Fingers and shotguns are pointed at him, but he is not daunted.

– Shoot, you bastard! Challenge a militiaman.

Melchor Rodríguez’s bare chest is the only thing that stands between the rifle and the lives of the prisoners. A few minutes might be enough, but nothing more. So try your luck. Cipriano Mera’s division is on the way, he announces. He has given orders to arm the prisoners if the weak defense falls at the prison gates, he lies. It is enough to sow doubt. The assailants think about it and, after seven hours of tug of war, they leave. Melchor Rodríguez will be, since then, the red angel.

Alfonso Domingo believes that this episode reflects his personality better than any other. “Along with ideas, he had the will and courage of someone who wanted to be a bullfighter, to face danger and not refuse it. Also to get away with it, because he was stubborn “. There is also ego: no one faces a mob without believing too much in oneself.

The delivery of Madrid

The Alcalá episode is unique and extraordinary because of Rodríguez’s courage and the result. But in the months that followed, the Red Angel It continued to save lives: it stopped sacks, stopped transfers to Paracuellos, strengthened control of the prisons and extended guarantees and safe conducts. He came to seize a palace to shelter the persecuted.

Finally stripped of his position in prisons, he was appointed councilor of Cemeteries of Madrid. It is he, who does not flee to Valencia, who tearfully hands over the City Council to the Francoists. He was then arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison, but it came out after five. He passed away in 1972.

His confrontation with Carrillo

The value of Red Angel it was not understood by all. His firmness in defending the lives of imprisoned enemies put him at odds with some communists. There are conflicting versions of a fight with Santiago Carrillo, then a public order counselor at the Madrid Defense Board. “When I interviewed him, Carrillo asked me if Melchor had already died. He said that he was a rare bird in the war, because what was breathed was death,” explains Alfonso Domingo. The historical communist only admitted to having seen Rodríguez once: “He never told me there was a confrontation, but I have learned that they almost came to blows and that Miaja separated them. There are testimonies from those who saw it and Melchor himself told it.”

Nor did some anarchist circles like the medal that the announcer Bobby Deglané gave him in 1964, in the program entitled Who sings forty … to cruelty?. Deglané was very smart and wanted to do some relaxation. He brings together Rodríguez and Teodoro Palacios, a captain of the Blue Division. Melchor accepted because he had been elected by popular vote and was told that he could read a speech. I was going to drive the wedge for political prisoners, but the speech is censored and not broadcast in its entirety. It was going to be a goal from Deglané, but Franco stopped it at the last minute. ”

The Red Angel He never betrayed his principles, to such an extent that he went to jail four more times, accused of introducing propaganda. “He never compromised with the regime. He used his contacts to favor all the political prisoners he could, but he did not take advantage of any job that was offered to him,” recalls Domingo. He turned down a position in the vertical union, even if that meant living off a poor portfolio of insurance clients, and quickly drew distance from him. five-pointism, the anarchist movement that the Franco regime tried to use. “He felt like a Quixote, with a point of bullfighting gallantry. With firm ideas and an iron will.”

It is also a fact that important figures of the Franco regime owed their lives to Rodríguez. Muñoz Grandes himself promoted the commute of his sentence. When he died, anarchists and Francoists gathered around his coffin, covered with the red and black flag of the CNT. There it was sung To the barricades, before the silence of former Francoist ministers, authorities of the regime and the brutal Armed Police.

Low public recognition

Alfonso Domingo came to Rodríguez in 2004, through Eduardo Pons Prades, an anarchist writer with deep knowledge of contemporary Spanish history. He soon understood that he was facing an exceptional character. He had time to interview those who knew him well. Above all, his daughter Amapola, who died in 2013.

For six months, Domingo went to her house for lunch every weekend. At first, she barely confirmed what the writer already knew. But he ended up opening up and contributing a unique voice to document the historical events (he was 16 when the war broke out) and the character’s own personality: “He liked flowers, punctuality, taking his daughter to see zarzuelas, he was always surrounded of the show business and wrote verses, but was unable to dance and sing. ”

The documentary collections and the interviews allowed Domingo to construct a “real fictional story” or a “novel of the real”, in which the documented events are inserted into environments and dialogues forcibly recreated. A story of a humanistic character in fact, not just in word, whose acts of kindness dwarf the merits of many others who are still honored today.

In 2016, the Madrid City Council granted a street in the Aravaca district to Melchor Rodríguez. “They couldn’t have put it further,” Domingo laments. It is not even registered in the list of mayors of Madrid, because it was only “de facto”, after being appointed by Segismundo Casado.

Almost half a century after his death, Melchor Rodríguez continues to be the “paradigm of generosity in a time as difficult as war.” Also a sign that it is still difficult to recognize goodness, just when showing it was also an extraordinary act of bravery.