By Almudena Cros, President of the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales
Hitherto the presence and role of the international volunteers in Andalusia has received very limited attention, particularly when compared to the homages that the brigaders have received in Madrid, Albacete, Barcelona and other places around Spain. The International Brigades saw action in the Córdoba mountains as well as in the area between Sierra Nevada and the coast of Granada.
Only in 1999, in Lopera (Jaén), took place a tribute to the volunteers of the XIV International Brigades who took part in the Battle of Lopera (December 1936). This homage was dedicated mainly to the British writers Ralph Fox and John Cornford, who fell during this battle. A memorial was raised to these two authors in the Jardín del Pilar Viejo, also known as the garden of the English poets, and there is also a plaque dedicated to Ignacio Muñiz Sanz, commander of the 4th Battalion of the Garibaldi Brigade. Lopera has received visitors interested in this history, particularly French nationals. Every year, Lopera holds sessions on the Battle, and the process to try to locate mass graves with casualties from the battle has begun. The project to open a Centre for Interpretation of Historical Memory is being discussed.
Thousands of volunteers who fought in Andalusia between December 1936 and September 1938 must not be forgotten. The most relevant sites of action were: 1) the battle of Lopera, where the XIV IB fought, 2) the defense of the line from Sierra Nevada to Castell de Ferro (on the coast of Granada), where the XIII IB was involved, 3) the battle of Pozoblanco and later action in the region of Los Pedroches, where the XIII IB and the 20th International Battalion (which was turned into the 86th IB in January 1938) fought.
One of the leaders of the 20th International Battalion, the German national Ernst Dudel, lamented many years later the oblivion into which this battalion had fallen: “No book or report has hitherto mentioned the 20th International Battalion. Why? This battalion was sent to the southern front... From a historical point of view, did this battalion not undertake any action that deserves to be remembered?”
Fortunately, the history of the role of these international units has been reclaimed by historians such as the Cordoba-based Francisco Moreno in his book Trincheras de la República. Desde Córdoba al Bajo Aragón, al destierro y al olvido. Antonio Pantoja and José Luis Pantoja have done a great job with the publication of La XIV Brigada Internacional en Andalucía. La tragedia de Villa del Río y la Batalla de Lopera.
Through these, and other publications, we are able to have a better sense of those fights against the fascist army, but it is urgent that the Republican memory, and in this case that of the International Brigades, is not relegated to books only, but is present on the street and discussed by the general public.
It would be useful to teach our youth of today what thousands of young people did 80 years ago when they left behind their homes, families and countries to defend freedom in Spain, also in Andalusia. The best way to do this would be the dedication of streets, plaques or memorials to remember and honour these young volunteers.
This is our objective, with the participation of the Town Halls in the area of the Sierra de Córdoba and Lopera who want to take part in the project.
This project is promoted by the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI), the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT), the Italian Associazione di Combattenti Volontari Antifascisti di Spagna (AICVAS), the German Kämpfer und Freunde der Spanischen Republik (KFSR), the French Amis des Combattants en Espagne Republicaine (ACER) and other associations. However, any public body or entity, as well as any organization, is welcome to join this necessary and deserving tribute to the International Brigades.
The City Councils in Belálcazar, Valsequillo and La Granjuela have agreed to participate (on Friday events), as well as those of Andújar and Lopera (on Saturday).
This is the draft schedule for this weekend of commemorations:
Thursday 6 April
Arrival of the different groups to Madrid and travel by AVE (fast train) to Córdoba.
Friday 7 April
9:00 Departure of bus to Sierra de Córdoba. Places to visit:
9:30 Puerto de la Chimorra -please note that this is subject to schedule and not fully confirmed
14:00 La Granjuela
14:30 Lunch at La Granjuela
17:30 Homage ceremony with the presence of local and, possibly, regional authorities.
20:00 Return to Córdoba
The timetable and itinerary have been drafted following agreements with the various City councils in coordination with the team promoting the homage. We are hoping to have some plaques unveiled in the various sites.
Saturday 8 April
9:30 Departure from Córdoba hotel by bus
10:00 Visit to the Telégrafo hill, near Villa del Río
11:00 Ceremony at Andújar train station with the presence of the City Council. Possibly a memorial plaque will be unveiled
12:00 Bus drive to visit the positions of the XIV International Brigade in Lopera.
14:30 Lunch at Lopera
17:30 Ceremony in Lopera involving the possible unveiling of a plaque and/or re-dedication of monument to Fox and Cornford.
18:00 Reenactment of the battle by the Frente Andaluz Recreación Histórica Guerra Civil Española association from Cádiz
20:00 Return to Córdoba.
Sunday 9 April
Return to Madrid by train (AVE).