Spanish Civil War

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Conrado López Ibáñez

Conrado López Ibáñez was an apolitical working teenager in 1938. Yet he was captured by pro-Franco paramilitary forces and pressed into service during the Spanish Civil War.

By Susan Martin

Conrado Lopez as a young man

Focused on the task at hand, Conrado López Ibáñez, an ordinary man, never would have thought that the next moments would forever leave an impression on him and drastically change the outcome of his next few years. While simply out gathering firewood, he was captured by pro-Franco forces and thrown into prison for the next 19 months,. Then he was forced to work carrying the casualties in one of the biggest battles of the Spanish Civil War.

López was a criado, a servant, who was expected to do the most menial chores. With only a few days of education and few opportunities for work, this job was crucial to help support his family. Born in Bercedo, Spain, 229 miles north of Madrid, he was an example of the many ordinary, apolitical people who were forced to be a part of the Spanish Civil War. For example, he was captured  while simply performing one of his daily tasks.

“And the woman sent me to gather firewood and, gathering the firewood, they said to me, ‘¡Hands up high!’…They were Falangists… They held me there and took away my axe, and took me to my house, and then they took me to the prison,” López said.

As the interview began, wanting López to look his best, two of his three daughters and a granddaughter encircled him in order to replace his shirt: his dark polo would not do – a buttoned-down, light-colored shirt was better. In hopes of ensuring that every aspect of their father’s story would not be missed, daughters Esperanza and Emilia López Mantilla and agranddaughtercoached him, trying to elicit details that they had heard since their childhoods. His wife, Mary, sat close by in a wheelchair of their home’s cozy living room. Two months ago, his daughters said, their mother had stopped talking altogether.

López, on the other hand, is talkative and walks without a cane. And, they point out good-naturedly, he has quite an appetite.

It has been many years since that day when he was arrested and imprisoned, but Mr. López remembered well the constant troubled feeling caused by his unknown fate and what he recurrently witnessed.

“I was very fearful every day, because they would take guys out and kill them,” he said. “I had no idea if I would be next; they killed everyday.”

However, he had someone watching over him while he was in prison. One Christmas, he had helped a certain priest who had water coming through his roof from the winter snow. In return, this priest had been his guardian throughout his prison sentence.

After serving 19 months in a Valencia prison, the Nationalist forces transferred him to the Battle of the Ebro, putting him to work as a camillero, or stretcher-bearer.

“In the Ebro, days began at four in the morning and did not end until midnight,” López said.

Conrado Lopez today

David Muto interviews Mr. Lopez at his home.

Matamorosa, Spain, where López lives today, is situated along the Ebro River, the same river where he witnessed one of the bloodiest battles of the Spanish Civil War more than 70 years ago. It was a devastating war, he said, of brothers against brothers fighting solely for political power.

After the war ended, López continued to work hard. He became a chapista making sheet metal. He got paid more than his coworkers, he said, because he worked harder and longer. The intense heat of the furnace would cause his clothing to be soaked in sweat by quitting time; therefore, every day when he would come home, his wife would tell him to remove his clothing for washing. After a long day of work to support his family, Lopez would tell his wife and three daughters aboutevents he had witnessed and experiences that forever affected his life.

“The war was very difficult and very bad,” he said.

During the interview, Lopez emphasized how disastrous and tragic the Spanish Civil War had been; although, he also said that it was inevitable. It changed his life and many other ordinary lives completely. However, he said, he survived.

“Here I am now,” he said, “at 97 years old.”

(Mr. Lopez was interviewed at his homeinMatamorosa, Spain,on July 28, 2009, by David Muto.)

Transcript of Interview Excerpt:

Y ‘stando me había mandado hacer leña la mujer. Y estaba yo haciendo leña, [me dijeron,] ‘¡Alto! ¡manos arriba!…Eran Falangistas…Yo allí me cogieron y me quitaron la hacha, y me llevaron a casa y a la cárcel…pues 19 meses es que estuve en la cárcel. Así que me parece que estuve en la cárcel así que con mucho miedo caí… y con mucho miedo…sacaban muchos tíos todos los días a matar…mucho miedo y mañana ¿Vienen por mi? Y no, yo me salve. Y mataban todos los días, todos los días…parecía raro el día que no hacían sacar uno.

English Translation of Interview Excerpt:

And the woman sent me to get firewood and asI was making firewood, [they said to me,] ‘Stop! Put your hands up!’…They were Falangists…They held me there and took away my  axe, and took me home and to the prison. I was in the prison for 19 months. That’s how I believe I was in jail, I was taken really scared… and very frightened…They took out many guys everyday to kill them, [and I thought] tomorrow, will they come for me? But no, I was spared… And they killed everyday, everyday…it was rare a day when they did not take someone out…