“They told me that my grandfather had been in a prison and that his father had died there. I did not believe it, it was impossible. The concept of prison grew until it became Nazi concentration camps”, recapitulates Judith Miralles, a young woman who resides in Villamayor de Gállego and feels that he took over from his grandfather to make visible everything that happened in Mauthausen-Gusen.
It all started as the typical curiosity of a girl who hears her grandfather repeatedly talking on the phone about something “taboo” in the family. As if a call from the “forbidden” had prompted him to sit down with his Walkman with his grandfather, José Egea Pujantes, to ask him some questions as an interview that led to the “responsibility and need to make visible and make sure they are not forgotten “all those people who were in the Nazi concentration camps for their ideas.
“I feel that I have inherited that responsibility and I cannot get rid of it or put it aside. I am what I am because of what my grandfather has lived and told me, although he has never transmitted any kind of resentment and hatred to me. I just believe that we must fight against oblivion, both of the people who were released and of those who died there, “says Miralles.
His grandfather José Egea Pujantes, a native of Murcia but rooted in Sitges and Aragon, was born in 1921 and, when the Civil War broke out, he was a 15-year-old teenager who dreamed of being an aviation pilot. In these years, his father, José Egea García, had to go into exile from the country after being denounced for being involved in politics, serving as secretary of the CNT in Sitges and being an anarchist. From that moment on, they lost track of him.
“My grandfather ended up being part of what they called the Bottle Leva, which was made up of the youngest recruits of the Republican army in areas still controlled by them. On the other hand, when Franco began to act, they had to lay down their arms in La Junquera and flee. They ended up in Argelès-Sur-Mer, a French deportation camp, “says Miralles.
In this place, which was a beach surrounded by a fence where to sleep they had to dig holes in the sand, José Egea (son) learned that there was another person named after him and that it turned out to be his father, whom I hadn’t known anything for a long time. “When they saw each other, they hugged and cried. He had been there for a long time with two other colleagues from Sitges, Tomás Iglesias and Carlos Fransó, who were of a similar age, about 43 years old.”
Weeks passed until they were offered to enlist in the French army to obtain French nationality. They ended up signing up for what they called the 11th Company of Foreign Workers (CTE), made up of 250 Republicans, along with other Spaniards such as Antonio Sospedra Herrera and Mariano Año, who helped Pujantes months later at the request of their father as they were only 20 years old and being held by the Gestapo in one of his escapes.
“The story of my grandfather and his father is one of comings and goings. They meet, they get lost, they meet, they get lost. In a bombardment by the German aviation they ran away and, at that moment, they captured my great-grandfather to take him away. to a detention center prior to the concentration camp “, Judith Miralles explains about the arrival of both to Mauthausen, which was” very traumatic due to the stress and agony of the train in which for three days the doors were not opened or given for drink”.
The odyssey of arriving, serving and surviving in Mauthausen-Gusen
According to his granddaughter, they arrived on January 27, 1941, a date that was already marked on the calendar as it was his grandfather’s birthday. At that moment, they got off the train with half a meter of snow that only opened the way to the so-called ‘The path of silence’ and where only the crunch of footsteps and SS dogs could be heard. “At that moment, my great-grandfather took his son and said: ‘José, we’re not leaving here. This is our last trip together,” he says.
After this tour, those people who came to Mauthausen-Gusen had to be disinfected by stripping all their clothes and souvenirs, cutting their hair and giving them a uniform of which size did not matter. They stopped having names and surnames because they were assigned numbers to refer to them. For Pujantes the number 5894 and for García 6315. They then went on to star in a quarantine that put them to the test and in which relationships were altered and harmed by harsh punishments and pressure.
At first, José Egea Pujantes was working in the 186-step quarry and manufacturing engine and weapon parts. However, in April 1945, they sent him to Gusen, a change that meant that “in a short time it could be liquidated”, since there “everything was accelerated and they were killed through much more macabre methods.” But before this transfer, which did not anticipate his death since he was released on May 5, 1945, Pujantes had to face the death of his father, to whom Gusen was taken on April 8, 1941 when “not serving as a worker nor be profitable for the regime “(empty shells for Hitler) and who was killed on August 15, 1941 in Hartheim Castle by gas inhalation.
“They were sending prisoners through a kind of little truck that was armored. On the way they killed them by connecting an exhaust pipe to this part of the vehicle so that the air and gases from the truck would enter. In the castle they burned them. At the end. , in Gusen and Mauthausen they could not cope “, Miralles confesses about the processes that were bureaucratically modified” to prevent the existence of these centers from being known “despite that chimney” it would smoke and smell of burned meat “throughout the day .
“The Germans used such a product that it burned your airways and had you dying for 20 minutes. Those who were there even lost control of their sphincters. It is a horrible death and I find it surprising that people on one side did. honored and those of the others remain underground or turned to ashes “, emphasizes the young woman.
At the time their great-grandfather was killed, they communicated it to their son, who “only allowed himself to cry that day”, since in the field “you couldn’t think about what was happening to another person or if you had a family it was because only their own existence remained as a tool for coexistence and survival “. As Miralles adds, “the Nazis admired the mental strength of the Spanish for the collective solidarity and camaraderie they had” despite cohabiting more than 30 different nationalities.
“They dehumanize you so much that they learned to live with death. Unconsciously they end up giving it normality and even in the counts they took out their dead companions so that they could be taken into account”
“He said that he could not allow himself to think much about him, if they were going to kill him or liberate him. It was a bit of living by day, arriving at the barrack at night and saying: another day,” Judith sentences, although she also remembers “small sabotage actions” such as tampering with his grandfather’s bullets and his tears for the “uncertainty” the day he was released.
“They dehumanize you so much that they learned to live with death. Unconsciously they end up giving it normality and even in the counts they took out their dead companions to be taken into account. They became part of that macabre system where only the lowest pawns were and where the suffering ends up deep within everyone and normalizing “, he explains about the Mauthausen camp, which was category three and meant that” they did not annihilate you the first time, but they tried to get as much profit as possible from the inmates. ”
The return home, the construction of a new life and the inheritance that fights against oblivion
José Egea Pujantes managed to get out of there along with other people who ended up assuming their position and role of transmitting what they had experienced, although not all of them managed to do it early – in his case it took time to tell even his wife – or they wanted to remember it for him ” a delicate moment “that Spain was going through, in which it was” easy to be cannon fodder “.
When he returned home thanks to a safe conduct, his mother “fainted because she had not seen or known anything for many years” and he “had a hard time sitting down to eat with his family again because he did not feel like a person.”
“His character gradually opened up, being able to verbalize what had happened, despite the fact that my grandmother’s family did not accept him at first because he was poor and worked as a bricklayer,” Miralles admits about his grandfather, who stands out for his “courage, integrity, feeling of struggle and resilience”.
Over time, Pujantes started a family and even returned to the concentration camp to record a documentary. On the other hand, his years there made a dent in his physical and mental health, something that was altered by Alzheimer’s that led him to live a decisive episode with his granddaughter Judith in one of his income when he was already residing in Aragon.
“Suddenly I entered the room, greeted him and he was going through the codes in a rhythmic way. I began to notice that they were numbers in German and, when I asked him what was wrong, he looked at me terrified. At that moment I was paralyzed too because I realized He realized that the 25 lashes that they gave him in the field were stuck in his mind, that his mind had traveled to those moments and that if he lost count he had to start over and feel that pain, “he confesses.
Even so, something that led her to take that “relay” were the words of her grandfather, who told her “this is going to be your turn”, after having a special sparkle in her eyes when observing that they were going to talk about the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in the institutes’ world history books, something for which he had fought on his return to “never be forgotten.”