The ‘red’ military man who revealed the massacres of civilians organized by the Second Republic in the Civil War

It was the first days of August 1936 and it had not been a month since the coup had broken out. Our Spain was walking in these, debating between one and the other, when the commander Joaquin Perez Salas entered into Bujalance. He had to stop in the small Cordovan town to feed his men and prepare his weapons. The task would take no more than two weeks. The military man, with the Artillery weapon, did not predict any inconvenience. The nationals were far away and would still have to turn a few pages of the calendar to go into combat. It seemed like a quiet day in the bosom of the Republican army. One of the few, wow.

surprise. At about six in the afternoon, under the maddening Andalusian sun, a lady requested an audience. Her voice was shaky and tears of despair glistened on her cheek. «Forgive me, but I have no one to turn to …», He explained to the good officer. Then a story came out of his mouth that shook those present. A nightmare that spoke of the future death of her husband on the Republican ‘walks’; the executions perpetrated in the middle of the street by the popular militias. Salas pledged to safeguard her husband’s life and that of the rest of the inmates of the local jail … And he kept his word.

The officer was one of the few who made an effort to stop the massacres perpetrated in the Republican rear during the Civil War. A man willing to “fight anyone and everyone”, as he wrote Carlos López Serviá, one of his subordinates, after the conflict. «Don Joaquín – how many and how many homes remind you! – saved hundreds of people from death, without knowing them, and where he was, he did not allow what is known as ‘the walk’. […] As he did not tolerate it and, moreover, he publicly condemned such acts, he was always considered, both by those on the left and on the right, as’ fascist ‘”, revealed the aforementioned soldier in the article’Don Joaquín and the walks‘, prepared in the seventies for the magazine’ Historia y vida ‘.

Although there is no doubt that Salas prevented dozens of inmate deaths throughout the conflict, the reality is that he was not the only one. His unknown work was added to that of more popular characters such as Melchor Rodriguez, the call ‘Red Angel‘. This, for its part, faced the Republican government already Santiago Carrillo saving thousands of national prisoners. Today, eight decades after the end of the Civil war, his fight against the ‘sacas’ –the indiscriminate killings of Falangists– and the no less fearsome still resonate in the books’czech‘- buildings in which, in a clandestine way, the enemies of the government were subjected to perverse trials and later ended their lives. Almost nothing.

Don Joaquin

Go ahead the biographical data. As explained by the professor in Contemporary History Pedro Mary Aegean on ‘Joaquín Pérez Salas: between the defense of the republican order and the counterrevolution‘, the Sevillian officer came to the world on December 23, 1883. That implies that, when the Civil war He knocked on the doors of Spain, he was already over half a century of life. “He is approximately six feet tall, with black hair with some gray hair, brown eyes, a thick nose, he is very nearsighted and wears glasses,” explained the report of the summary emergency process to which he was subjected after the conflict. In the words of the author, he was one of the gunners who rose up against Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1929.

There was no surprise, therefore, when Salas declared himself against the coup. Something that one of his companions, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Cordon, explained after Civil war: «He could not be classified among the military called ‘provisional loyalists’ or among the geographical ones, that is, of those who served resignedly in our ranks because they had found themselves in places where the people had triumphed over the uprising, but who did not feel the popular cause ». To him he was, quite simply, a convinced republican. Most historians also agree that he was an apolitical officer who never allowed communist flags among his men and who rejected institutions such as the famous Military Commissariat.

Serviá, for his part, praised his superior in the article published for ‘Historia y vida’:

«When we remember a life like that of Don Joaquín Pérez Salas, what stands out, above being the number 1 of his promotion in the Artillery Academy, of his courage, intelligence, control of his nerves … is the overwhelming force of his spirit. The rectitude within the tremendous difficulties that the so-called ‘red zone’ contained within itself, of the inflexible behavior that had been drawn. He fought against everyone. In particular, if those who ordered or tolerated what in their opinion should not be ordered or tolerated was of a higher category than his, ministers included.

Authors like Egea himself are in favor of the fact that, from the first moments of the Civil War, the commander was against the atrocities orchestrated by the Government. This was confirmed by his partner, Lieutenant Manuel Entrambasaguas Peña: “He always distinguished himself by avoiding mass shootings and taking ‘walks’ in the areas under his command.” The latter consisted of removing prisoners from prisons and from their homes to later shoot them to death in a known place. Felix schlayer, the Norwegian consul who discovered the massacres of Paracuellos and charged against Santiago Carrillo For organizing them, he referred to them as follows in his biography:

«Men, women and children went on pilgrimage every morning, especially in Madrid itself, to the specific and well-known places where the nocturnal murders were perpetrated and they contemplated, with interest and with all kinds of comments, the” booty “of the hunt . It had become a horrendous popular spectacle, in which all feeling of respect for the sacredness of death was destroyed, in a country in which, before, there was no man, neither old nor young, who passed near it. an undiscovered hearse. It is terrible to destroy already in children, respect for the lives of others and to create in them a feeling that will bear even more bitter fruits! ».

I barely bring

Perhaps for this reason, none of the men who accompanied him were surprised that he cared for this woman during the first days of August 1936. For them it was something habitual. The lady came to him, in Serviá’s words, “crying out loud, quietly, with continuous hiccups,” while everyone “shivered.” When he managed to calm down, he began his narration:

“Forgive me, but I have no one to turn to and, since you are the military chief … My husband, a good, honest and hardworking man, who has done nothing but work for his home and for everyone, probably … they will kill him tonight. That is what I have come to do, for you to save him, and I ask it, sir, because truly, I swear, he is a good and honest man ».

Salas invited her to calm down and begged her to expand on what she said. She confirmed then that, for a few days, the Republicans had taken out dozens of prisoners every night to shoot them less than 500 meters from the prison. As they said, because they were trying to escape. Then she continued through tears:

«My husband I think belongs to the yieldBut the CEDA was an organization authorized by the Republic and has never belonged to clandestine organizations, nor was it significant in theirs. On the other hand, all the people knew it, he was a good person as well as possible ».

The officer listened without saying anything. When the woman calmed down, she replied: “Tonight, her husband will sleep at home, the same as the other prisoners who are not in jail for judicial conviction.”

“Nobody thinks I’m a Republican”

As promised, Salas later met with the mayor of the town and had a conversation that was as tense as it was revealing:

SALAS – Do you have many prisoners?

MAYOR– Less than half of those who should be, because you do not know how many fascists there are in this town.

SALAS– These people, have they been tried by a judge and sentenced to jail?

MAYOR“But haven’t I told you that they are fascists?” They are undesirable fascists, that you know it once and for all.

SALAS– What I want to know is if some judge has judged and condemned them.

MAYOR“Look, you either don’t understand me or you don’t want to understand me.” Those individuals, and those we kill, are undesirable fascists who are enemies of the people. And you leave this subject already, that it smells bad.

SALAS– All those who are in jail, who have not been tried, you will send them home, each one accompanied by a couple of militiamen. Well understood that if any of them suffered an accident, you and all of them will be tried for treason against the Republic and for murder. I will not tolerate anyone taking justice into their own hands, and whoever does so I will punish, as a traitor to the Republic, with the utmost rigor. Please inform me of the fulfillment of the order and of having carried it out as I have ordered it.

When Salas informed the woman that her husband would be safe and would return home, she thanked him countless times: «Believe me, the greatest joy I have is knowing that I don’t owe this to any red, one of ours. Once he had left, the commander turned to his retinue and said something that he used to repeat regularly: “It’s sad that no one thinks I’m a Republican!”

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