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Soldiers of Salamis

A book that the history_time community might find very much of interest: Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas (2001). It's Cercas' attempts to reconstruct one incident at the end of the Spanish Civil War, in which Rafael Sánchez Mazas (founder of Spain's Falangist party) was shot in a forest near Barcelona. Sánchez Mazas would go on to serve in Franco's government. The book is a mix of journalism, memoir and historical fiction -- Cercas leaves it intentionally unclear where the boundary is between the genres. The book is as much (or more) the story of his discovering and researching the life of Sánchez Mazas, as it is the history of this incident. For instance:

And so you see, what I'm reporting here is not what actually happened, but rather what it seems likely happened; I do not offer proven facts, but reasonable conjectures.

They are as follows:

In March of 1936, when Sánchez Mazas was in the Modelo prison in Madrid with his comrades from the Junta, his fourth son Máximo was born. Victoria Kent, who at the time was general director of prisons, allowed the prisoner a three days' pass to visit his wife as was specified by the legal code, with the condition that he give his word of honor not to leave Madrid and to return to the prison at the end of the agreed time. Sánchez Mazas accepted the deal, but according to another of his sons, Rafael, after he left the prison the warden called him over and told him under his breath, very bad times were coming, and suggested in so many words, "that it would be better for him not to come back; and that for his own part, he would not put any great effort into hunting him down and capturing him." It might make sense, since this justifies Sánchez Mazas' dubious behavior, to doubt the veracity of this version of events; but one can also imagine it is not false. What is certain is that Sánchez Mazas, forgetting the protests of gentility and heroism which had illustrated his pages of incendiary prose, broke his promise and fled to Portugal. But José Antonio, who took the words of his deputy seriously, who judged that not only his honor was in the balance but that of the Falange as a whole, gave the order from Alicante prison (he and his brother Miguel had been transferred here on the night of June 5th) to return to Madrid. Sánchez Mazas obeyed the order; but before he could again enter the Modelo, the revolution had begun in earnest.

(José Antonio would be executed in Alicante (and good riddance to bad fascists); you can pass your own judgement on whether it is better to keep your word in this sort of situation.) The above is my own, fairly rough, translation from Spanish; the book is available in an authorized translation to English. Also there is a movie based on the book, from 2003.


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