¡Viva la Republica!

Ángeles García-Madrid is an impressively strong 95 and a half-year-old woman who survived years of injustice torture, and pain in the jails for Republican women under Franco’s cruel regime.  In the seminar Megan and I took with Professor Cate-Arries in the fall, we read excerpts of her writing and watched her give her testimony in various documentaries.  At the time of the course, both Megan and I were drawn to García-Madrid’s work and experiences and chose to write about them in our essays.  We had no idea what was to come, and we never could have imagined that we would get to meet her!

To give a little bit of background, Ángeles was imprisoned for years (starting in her early twenties) for nothing more than her identification as a republicana and her membership in the JSU (a youth socialist group founded in March of 1936).  She was arrested and put into jail for three years.  However, for the thirteen years after her release, she had to present herself to the police and the Guardia Civil every fifteen days.

Ten years ago, in 2003, Ángeles published the second edition of Requiem por la Libertad, her memoir.  The book vividly describes daily life in the prison, including violence, torture, rape, unsanitary conditions, lack of food and the injustice that many republican women thrown in jail had to endure.  Interestingly, the book is written in third person, speaking of “Ángeles ” and “la muchacha” instead of “I.”  When Professor Cate-Arries asked her about this, she said she wrote the book that way because she wanted to make sure that the voices of her friends (some that were killed) became known.  I also wonder if it might have something to do with psychology—perhaps it was easier to write and describe the experiences with a little more distance, instead of having to “relive” it as intensely as “herself.”

There are two other specific things about the book that I would like to draw attention to, the first being the prologue.  In the prologue of her book, García-Madrid writes about her experiences once she was released from prison and given back her freedom.  She puts this word in quotes in order to show the reader that she has never been totally free after her experiences in jail, even once removed from the physical space.  She explains that her time in jail has had (and continues to have) an enormous impact on her, and that, once “free,” she had to search for “la forma de seguir viviendo valiéndome de la parte no dañada (“the way to continue living while relying on the part of me that is not damaged”).  She continues by explaining that she eventually found a good solution, which was to “tirar de mis recuerdos y reposarlo en el papel” [“to pull out my memories and lay them to rest on paper.”] (9).  I ended up using this as support for the thesis for one of my seminar essays; my argument was that writing serves as a form of therapy for the women that lived through these atrocities in the jails).  For Ángeles  (and for many other republican women that we studied in our class), it was possible to live more happily and freely when the weight of their unpleasant memories did not have to remain trapped inside their heads.

The next thing I would like to highlight is that throughout the book, Ángeles repeats words such as “desprecio,” “angustia,” “injusticia,” y “falta de humanismo,” (contempt, distress/anxiety, injustice, and lack of humanism) to describe the time period.  She even goes as far as stating, “Si existía un más allá, ni la muerte sería capaz de borrar tanta ignominia” (68).” (“If there is ‘something more’ [ie life after death], not even death would be able to erase such abomination.”)  An example of the disgrace she refers to is the now-infamous story of the trece rosas (thirteen roses).  The trece rosas were a group of 13 women, 7 of them minors, accused of participating in the rebellion and assassination of Isaac Gabaldón, the commander of the Guardia Civil at the time.  They were innocent, but had no opportunity to defend themselves.  They were imprisoned, tortured, and fusilada (executed by a firing squad) without any proof that they had done anything wrong.  Ángeles lived with and was friends with several of the girls while in jail, so their unjust death had an enormous impact on her.  One of the girls even asked Ángeles  to tell her mother that she was innocent as she was being taken out of the cell to be killed.  About this event, Ángeles writes in her book, “¿Quién podía entender que se atreviesen a quitar la vida a un grupo de chiquillas que apenas la había entrevisto?… ¿Quién podría olvidar sus pasos hacia la muerte…?” [“Who could understand that they [the franquistas] would dare to take the lives of a group of young girls that they hadn’t even interviewed? Who could forget their steps toward death…?”] (82-3).  Clearly, this is something that has remained with Ángeles for her entire life, and of which she still has very vivid memories.

In addition to Requiem por la Libertad, Ángeles has published a wide-array of poetry and has also inspired (and written an epilogue for) a modern theatrical work entitled, La abuela Sol y las Trece Rosas (2008).  This book is written by Maxi de Diego and is geared toward adolescents in order to teach the new generations about a part of their history that they are likely to know little about.

During our meeting with Ángeles, which took place at a small restaurant near the assisted living facility she now lives in, she told us some of her stories first-hand.  She talked about her time in jail and the trece rosas.  However, as with almost every single individual we met throughout our travels, we were left with a tone of hope and optimism, even in the face of such horror, tragedy, and injustice.  She showed us the cupid necklace she has worn for over seventy years, and talked to us about the importance of love and the ability to forgive.  It is blatantly clear that Ángeles tells her story because 1. It is therapeutic to get her thoughts out of her brain and onto paper, 2. She wants Spaniards to know and take responsibility for a tragic part of their country’s history, and 3. She wants to inform others of her experiences in order to prevent history from repeating itself.    She is one impressive lady, and meeting Ángeles was one of the highlights of our trip.  I will always remember her and her stories.

So, that is the last of my blog posts.  We have had such an incredible adventure for the past 3 ½ weeks, and met so many wonderful people.  It has truly been a life-changing experience, and I am so grateful. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to Professor Cate-Arries for choosing me as one of her research assistants, to Megan Bentley for being such a wonderful friend/co-researcher, to Mike Blum for his optimism and talent, to all the people who helped us with/participated in our research along the way, and finally to Mr. and Mrs. Weingartner for making all of this possible.

¡Viva la Republica!