Carles Rahola faces another firing squad

[en català] [en español] [auf Deutsch]

Translated by Peter Guest

On Saturday 9 January, 2016, Carles Puigdemont, Mayor of Girona, was designated as candidate for the Presidency of the Generalitat de Catalunya, and was elected President on the following day, January 10.

Carles Rahola i Llorens

Carles Rahola

Some media, antagonistic towards Puigdemont and, in general, opponents of Catalonia’s drive towards independence, have tried to muddy the waters by using, out of context, a quote from an article by the historian Carles Rahola that Puigdemont used in a speech he gave two years ago. Rahola was shot by firing squad on the orders of the dictator Francisco Franco after the Civil War. An example: Carles Puigdemont, the mayor who wants to deport the invaders, was a headline in the El País newspaper, the most widely read of Spain’s newspapers. In short, they suggest that Puigdemont is a xenophobe. Representatives of political thought contrary to Puigdemont’s investment thoughtlessly repeat this argument, even during the investment debate itself.

On 11 January, the Assistant Manager of newspaper Ara, Ignasi Aragay, published an article, linked to here, explaining the precise origin of the words. For your information, we have translated the article into several languages and will publish them over the next few days.

It was moving to read again, in a single sitting, the book that Josep Benet published in 1999, Carles Rahola, executed. It filled me with sadness and rage. Because of the injustice that, on 15 March, 1939,  led Franco to execute that good man and because of the ignominious  use made  by the press and certain politicians of his memory. How dare they?

Despite the written and oral explanations given, we are not aware of rectification by any media or politicians who have stained, in such an underhand and libellous manner, the memory of a person unjustly executed by Franco’s dictatorship.

And today, as yesterday, our hope for freedom is firm and fervorous

Carles Rahola, in L’autonomista, 8 February, 1938

We feel these facts are reason enough for the Section to give support to the proposal made by Pilar Rahola, journalist and relative of Carles Rahola, to give the name of the executed poet and thinker to the Foundation currently known as the Fundació Príncep de Girona.

In defense of Carles Rahola and Carles Puigdemont


Translated by Jordi Vilanova i Karlsson and Miquel Strubell. Proofread by Liz Castro.

I was thrilled to reread in one go Carles Rahola afusellat (“Carles Rahola Shot by Firing Squad”) published by historian Josep Benet in 1999. It made me feel sad and angry. Because of the injustice of General Franco having this kind man shot on 15th March, 1939, and because of the ignominious use that a certain press and politicians have made of his memory. How dare they? Do they really know who Carles Rahola was, what he thought, what he did? Democracy cannot be defended based on lies and amnesia. Democracy cannot be defended by distorting the figure of a peaceful, deeply human democrat, a civic example of tolerance, as many personalities have attested to –from writer Josep Pla to lawyer and poet Tomàs Garcés– or as corroborated by the failed efforts of prominent Franco supporters such as historian Ferran Valls Taberner, army officer Antonio Correa Véglison (at that time the Civil Governor of Girona), Miquel Mateu Pla (then Mayor of Barcelona) or Bishop Josep Cartañà, who all tried to prevent his supposedly legal murder.

It was no good: the Generalissimo signed the order. In the summary trial –a farce with no legal guarantee– it didn’t count that Carles Rahola had helped save several priests during the war years. He was sentenced to death for something he was not: a separatist. Amid the incriminating evidence was an article that has now been used to crudely attack Carles Puigdemont, the new President of the Catalan Government, who like Rahola is a devotee of the city of Girona and of Catalonia. A religious, left-wing Catalan republican, a believer, a pondering man of letters and a family man, Rahola was above all an exceptional person. Even the presiding judge of the court-martial, in an unusual gesture at that time, dissented on the conviction.

A member of the Royal Academy of History in Madrid and the Royal Academy of Literature in Barcelona, overwhelmed by revolution and war, Rahola had virtually stopped writing in the press during the war years. He buried himself in his work, his files, his home. His spirit of concord and peace had been shaken. He only published a few texts of historical information, with just two exceptions.

In 1938, when Franco’s air force –composed mostly of Italian and German aviators– intensified their bombings, he broke his silence blasting the barbarity of it all. On the 8th of February, 1938 he published in the Girona newspaper L’Autonomista –directed by his brother Darius– the article Refugis i jardins (“Shelters and gardens”) in which he lamented the disappearance of a garden for children in order to build a bomb shelter. And on the 6th of August that same year, he wrote L’heroisme (“Heroism”) in which he used the prologue he had written years before for the translation of Maeterlinck’s work of the same name. As Josep Benet explains, it depicted the heroic conduct of the Belgian people facing invasion of their country by the German armies during the First World War. The article ended with a brief reference to the war that the peoples of Spain were suffering.

It read as follows: “With the same procedures, the Germans, along with the Italians, are today engaged in the methodical, scientific and systematic destruction of Catalonia and other kindred territories. And today, as yesteryear, our hope for freedom is firm and fervent. The invaders shall be expelled from Catalonia, as they were from peaceful Belgium, and our land shall once again be in peace and industrious under the Republic, mistress of her freedom and destiny.” Puigdemont has now been reproached for the last sentence of the quote, taken out of context. No comment is necessary. The two articles mentioned were the main pieces of evidence used to justify Rahola’s execution.

This is the same Rahola who in 1934 had published a historical monograph on the death penalty in Girona during the 18th and 19th centuries which he completed thus: “We must hope, in humanity and Christian spirit […], that the gallows shall not be raised again in the august body of the noble and beloved Girona.” Two years later there were executions once again, of three soldiers accused of involvement in the Franco uprising. During the war there were a further 15 republican executions. At the beginning of the dictatorship, executions soared, up to 69 in one day. Hours before his execution, in chapel, 58 year-old Rahola wrote to his family: “My dearest Rosa, my beloved children, Ferran, Maria and Carolina: I take leave of you for eternity. You all know how my life is pure and bright; you all know how I have lived in honesty; how I have worked in faith; how intensely I have loved you. I go towards the beyond, tranquil and serene. […] I don’t think I leave any enemies in this land, in this sweet Catalonia that I have loved so, in this Girona of my passions, nor elsewhere.” Let us show respect for this great man.