Those of you who have been following my blog longer might remember that I have dedicated posts with the title ‘Family Stories’ to two of my mother’s uncles, Josep and Conrado Miret, who died during WWII, one in Mauthausen (in one of the satellite camps, Floridsdorf), and the other one who had disappeared in France and they suspected had been killed there whilst fighting for the French resistance.
Josep Miret who was Conseller of the Generalitat (the equivalent to a Minister of the Autonomic Government of Catalonia) has a street in Barcelona named after him and some of the letters he had sent to his relatives (in particular those he had sent to his younger sister, Magdalena) appeared in the book Els Catalans als camps de concentració nazis (Catalans in the Nazi concentration camps) by Montserrat Roig. But…
My cousin, Joan Molet, has been researching the story of these two men for the last few years, and has offered me the opportunity of keeping you up to date with events and new findings he made. When I was preparing a new post on the subject, I thought that you could be interested in the process he had followed and how he had become involved in what is now his mission. I surely find it fascinating. And that was how I went to visit Joan and took many notes. Here I bring you my take on it.
Joan told me that he began researching the history of these two relatives because his grandmother (Francisca Miret, Paquita) had told him some things about her two brothers, there were some (few) objects and items from their period before they left Spain during the Civil War, but there was a void of information about what had happened afterwards, both during their stay in France and in the concentration camp (in the case of Josep) with few details and paucity of documentation. And, Conrado was still classed a missing since the 1940s. Joan decided to investigate and try to fill this void. He started his search in early 2012, three years ago.
To achieve that he tried a variety of approaches.
1) He visited his relatives. That was how we came into contact with each other, as although my grandmother, Juana, had died years ago, Joan went to visit my mother (another Magdalena, it’s a very popular name in the family, although she prefers to be called Magda) to ask her if she had any documentation of the era, but apart from some photographs, we didn’t have much else. When we talked I suggested I could share some posts about his work and his findings in my blog, and he has kindly kept me informed. Thanks Joan! Not all our relatives have taken part or are interested in the matter (as we know, family stories are very personal)
2) He requested information from official sources and archives. Among others:
- Archivos Generales de Ávila (General Archives of Ávila): where the military papers are kept. Officially they have no documentation. (Considering Josep Miret was head of supplies of the Republican Army in the Ebro Front, it’s a bit weird, but…)
- Archivo de Salamanca (Archive of Salamanca). They sent him a few documents.
- The Pabillion of the Republic in la Vall d’Hebrón de Barcelona. He obtained some information about the PSUC (Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya, a communist nationalist Catalan party) and his relationship with the party.
- Central Archives of Catalonia (St. Cugat). It contains several personal collections of researchers and authors interested in the topic (Eduard Pons Prades, Montserrat Roig… including a postcard Josep sent from the camp.)
- The International Red Cross (who sent him a copy of the death certificate for Josep Miret in Floridsdorf, where he was injured during an allied attack and killed off by one of the guards).
- He also researched the family tree, including visiting the archive of the Archbishopry of Tarragone and others, and he managed to recover information up to the end of the XVIII c. (when the French troops burned what they found on their way).
- As both brothers were exiled in France (Josep left before they closed the border with his own paper, whilst Conrado escaped using a false identity and was for a while at Saint Cyprien) my cousin imagined there must be documentation in France, but he didn’t know how it might be organised or where to go. But at this point he got very useful help. He got into contact with:
3)La Amical de Mauthausen. This organisation that has been functioning since 1962 and at the beginning helped the survivors of the camp to obtain help and subventions, has widened its activities, and it is now part of the red ‘Never Again’ to ensure the memory of what happened is never forgotten and to carry on fighting against fascism, and they organise/facilitate informative sessions in schools, organisations… They also do research work and send proposals to organise official homages and commemorative events, and help relatives locate information about their loved ones, be it giving by them any data they possess or assisting them with their personal searches. Here I leave you a link for you to check their activities in more detail. (The information is available in several languages, including Spanish, English and French).
With their help and his effort, Joan found out plenty of information that was very useful, like the fact that the archives and information about the activities or the résistance are organised according to areas (Josep had been in the French Bretagne, in Caen).
His enquiries made him cross paths with L’Amical des Anciens Guérrilleros Espagnols en France (AGEEF-FFI) (the Amical of the old Spanish guerrilleros in France), who as a reply to his questions about Josep, asked him in turn if he was not interested in finding information about Conrado. Thanks to this contact and to the interest he showed, Joan has atended several commemorative events in France (in Prayols there is a monument to the guerrilleros) and even recently in Spain, for example, the 22 November 2014, in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the last retreat of the republican forces during the Battle of the Ebro. (Here a link to a video about the event.)
4) Thanks to his activities, his interest and effort, Joan has become a member of the Junta (Board) of the Amical in Barcelona (since 2013), he represents the Miret family in acts related to the Republican fighters and the Spanish guerrilleros, and recently has become the representative of the Amical at CIIMER (Centre for the Interpretation and Research of the Memory of Republican Spain, Centro de la Interpretación y la Investigación de la Memoria de la España Republicana). As it sometimes happens, in searching for our roots we might discover an interest and a new dedication to a cause.
Joan gave me many details of his journey (tortuous and hard), he showed me documents, some of interest to everybody (official documents, transcripts of the trials), others much more personal (like the envelop of a letter Josep had sent to Joan’s grandmother, addressed to a house Joan still remembered), and I hope I’ll be able to share some more with you and carry on brining you news. (Some, like the commemorative plaque to honour Conrado, that I felt was particularly emotional, I’ve already shared). But for me, there were two moments that felt particularly representative of the experience.
In 2012 Joan joined a number of internet chats about WWII as possible sources of information. Through them he was contacted by Claude Midon, a Frenchman who has now lived in Australia for a long time. His wife, Madeleine (another Magdalena), is the daughter of Josep Miret and Lili Brumerhurst, and they have not only been in contact since, but Madeleine visited Barcelona and met Joan last year, and she was able to join in the ceremony of inauguration of the plaque to Conrado in June 2014.
In May 2012, Joan visited for the first time the camp Mauthausen-Gusen. (At Floridsdorf, of the camp there is only a commemorative plaque left. Joan was sent a picture of it by the president of the Association of the descendants of the Spanish combatants in Austria, whilst completing his research.). As part of their activities, the Amical also organises annual visits to Mauthausen (including a visit to the Castle of Hartheim, that they used for “active euthanasia”, and where they experimented the most effective way to exterminate parts of the populations, Jews in particular). This May (2015), is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp that will be celebrated with a number of acts and I hope to be able to bring you Joan’s impressions of the events. I also hope to visit the camp myself in the future and tell you what I felt.
What impressed him or touched him most of the visit? The truth is everything. More than anything, how easy it was to imagine being there, being one of those men and thinking of their experiences.
Also, the historical incongruences (like the fact that the main building of the Gusen camp is now used by a business company, without any external changes other than very limited cosmetic changes). The fact that one can enjoy a piece of cake at a cafeteria in Mauthausen…
Climbing the steps to the quarry and thinking of the prisoners the guards made jump to their deaths still carrying their load, just for the fun of it.
The human spirit, that’s never defeated.
And his pride for being related to these men who fought to ensure that the world didn’t become a much worse place. I share some of the pictures he sent me of that trip. Not many words are needed.
Many thanks to Joan for offering me so generously his time, telling me his experiences and being so generous in sharing his documentation, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’re interested, please, like, share, comment, and CLICK.