War and History Fiction posted January 3, 2021


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End of the Spanish Civil War on the eve of WWII

Ever Spain

by Allezw2

"It's happening tonight?"

"NO! That's impossible. The commandant said it would be Monday, when the train from Bordeaux comes,"

"Truth! There is another train here. It's going to Germany."

Earlier this week, the camp commandant made it clear that some of us must enroll in the GTE, the forced labor battalion. Else, we'd be repatriated back to Spain. We had two days.

That afternoon, they segregated us into smaller groups and asked for volunteers to return.

Fernan was distraught. His family was left in Barcelona. The Nationalists had forced us out of the city into a fighting retreat to the border. Then we ran for our lives under the strafing fire of the Nationalist aircraft. We waited until the night hoping to escape unseen into France.

That was a forlorn hope.

We were betrayed by a herder we passed. The border guards disarmed and beat us. "Why are you here? Go back," they shouted as they struck at us.

Fortunately, a senior official pushed them away before they did any serious damage. We were forced into this camp, Le Vernet, after a two days' march without food and only a little water.

"You should have gone with the Internationals when Azana expelled them."

"Fernan, you know why I couldn't; not without seeing Angelique and her family safe."

"Su novia? Idiot!"

I patted his cheek. "Not my sweetheart, my responsibility to a friend. And you? Leaving your son and daughter with their grandmother. You know she hates you. She will betray you if she gets the chance."

He set his jaw. "I knew they would be safe with her. She loves her daughter's children. I'm going back."

"Franco will have you shot."

He shook his head. "They will need miners with experience. I will be safe."

I knew there was nothing more I could say. "Go with God, my brother."

There was a long moment, then we embraced. He smiled, "Y tu tambien, hermano mio." He raised his hand and walked out of the formation. The guard at the table took his name, attached a tag to his jacket and directed him to the growing group behind him.

When the soldier in charge asked for more, no one answered. He nodded and ordered us to reform and marched us back to our barracks.

There were empty bunks now and we congregated around the stove that heated the room.
"Now what, American?" It was Nicola, a Garibaldi Brigade machine gunner.

I looked around at the others. and shrugged. "I don't know. I feel we had better be thinking of escaping before they find something else for us. It is said two Germans met with the commandant this morning."

"So that's who they were?"

I shrugged. "I've heard they are taking Frenchmen to Germany as laborers. Maybe, they want us to be sent there, too." I avoided mentioning a more sinister reason. We were already marked as anti-fascists.

"How do you know so much?"

"I listen and watch. Something we all should be doing." Looking about, I wondered how many would want to risk running across the fields and into the far woods. If the French found out I was an American, it might be grim because they would almost certainly turn me over to the Germans.

Late that afternoon, we were called to come for our meal. The two of us pulled the cart with the kettle of soup and the bread. No flatware, there were only the china bowls. We used the dipper to fill them and tore the bread into pieces with our hands. Finished, one of the camp workers insolently directed us to the scullery. We unloaded the kettle and bowls into the vat of boiling water. The heat felt good. We took our time before we had to walk back in the chill of the gathering dusk.

"How is it you go?" Etienne's English was rough, though he tried. A sympathetic attendant, he smiled often. He was always discreetly friendly when we met.

"Well," I answered in his French.

"I think you should know. I heard a train is here for all of you."

"So?"

"They say it is to another camp for enemies, in Germany."

Now I listened carefully.

"Where? I saw no train at the station?"

"It's near; another siding. They will march you there; a kilometer or two, I think."

"Did they say when?"

"Tonight. When it is unexpected." I nodded.

We retrieved the bowls from the water and stacked them where an officious cook's helper directed.

Now who to tell? I was certain there was an informer everywhere.

My little group of seven sat in a corner seeming to associate randomly. We were all Internationals who had remained against the government orders for various reasons.

We agreed we had to watch for any opportunity to escape.

"Gather everything you need to bring out. Put what you can into your pockets in case we can't take our rucksacks. Save some food, too." They nodded and we went back to our places in the room.

I didn't sleep, too wrought up with the uncertainty.

Nothing happened that night.

In the morning, we washed our hands and faces for breakfast. My comrades made their doubts of me evident. I could only shrug when questioned. It was a day of tension for our little group. It passed slowly as we worked in the details under guard outside the camp.

It was a chance to survey the countryside. The thick brush would make travel overland difficult.

The screams of the guards running down the line of bunks woke us, their batons striking randomly at the sleeping men. "Out, out."

I quickly rolled up and onto my feet. I had kept my shoes on and was one of the first pushed out the door into the chill April night of the assembly yard. Our group was together as we were formed up. A dozen armed men stood in the line ahead of us. A roll call followed. Accounted for, they marched us out of the gate and onto the road. It was the same we had been on the day before.

"Remember that break in the brush, where the trees came down to the road, Tonio?"

"I do."

"I think that is our chance. I'm going for it. It's dark. Maybe we can get away without them seeing us?"

"We'll see." He whispered my thoughts to the rest. we worked our way to the side of the column and waited.

Stooping low, I quickly moved away and past a couple of trees. Then I ran.

Someone was seen. I heard shouts, then shots and screaming.

I was blindly running at first before I slowed to see what I was passing through. I didn't want to stumble into a ravine. I pushed through the brush as fast as I could. Later, the forest thinned, and I came to a meadow. The sky was clear so I could orient myself by the stars.

I'd heard there was resistance to the Vichy regime here. Now if only I could find them.





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