September 19, 2020

The “beggars” whom Franco persecuted to ‘clean’ Spain “at any cost”

‘Clean’ Spain. At whatever price. The extreme violence against the ideological rival unleashed the founding genocide of the Franco regime. A formula of terror that sowed the country with mass graves – most of them still to be opened -, of prisons and concentration camps for dissidents of all kinds. But the Franco regime took time to put in the sack also the eternal defeated: the hustlers, from the rag boys, black marketers and cigarette butts, those excluded by “beggars.”

“Soon, very soon, my troops will have pacified the country,” Franco told journalist Jay Allen. It was on July 27, 1936, the coup d’etat totaled a dozen days. “Does that mean that he will have to shoot half of Spain?” Asked the reporter. “I have said at any cost,” stressed the then dictator. The cleaning task had started in the country of forgetfulness.

And soon the Franco regime modified, for a more crude use, the bums and crooks law approved during the Second Republic, in 1933. The norm, known as La Gandula, did not include criminal punishment and corrected “antisocial behavior”, with types ranging from “professional beggars” to “habitual lazy” or “ruffians and pimps”.

In the midst of the Civil War, the coup plotters already prohibited giving alms. Then the dictatorship used the law to repress people without resources, including in this profile the homosexuals, and even creating internment camps: the Reformatories for Vagos and Marauders. “Between 1974 and 1975 a total of 58,000 files of social danger were opened with 21,000 convictions”, explains the professor of Contemporary History at the University of Castilla-La Mancha, Damián González, in Political violence and Franco dictatorship.

As a profession, “beggar”: the file of a 90-year-old woman in Córdoba is a clear example of this repression against precariousness. And one of its greatest exponents is in an extermination camp: Las Arenas in La Algaba (Seville), with 144 poor people dying of hunger and disease.

The death camp for “beggars”

In the 1940s, just after the Civil War, the shortage “starved some 200,000 Spaniards,” calculates Damián González. The “terrible autarchy” meant “one more repressive strategy” that favored the “social base that had supported the dictator,” according to the historian. All “at the expense of the misery of the defeated.”

And, in the “penury”, he highlighted “that half a million families that for various reasons lacked their head of the family.” There were the hustlers. “There are documented cases in which a day laborer was sentenced to six months’ arrest for stealing some bread and bacon, and for some chickens the penalty could go up to two years in prison,” he says.

The Seville City Council created, in the early 1940s, the Las Arenas detention center in the neighboring town of La Algaba. The idea was to clean the city of “beggars”. The place was soon turned into “a true extermination camp”, as reported by María Victoria Fernández Luceño, author of the book Misery and repression in Seville.

Up to 144 people died within its walls of hunger and disease. They are still buried in a mass grave. Another example, a few years earlier, happened in Malaga, when on July 6, 1938 a “concentration camp for beggars” was inaugurated. In cases, the Franco regime used prisoners, of all conditions, as part of the slave labor.

Because political repression was a keystone of the Franco dictatorship. “Unlike the Republican, in rebellious Spain the repression had an absolutely premeditated, systematic, institutionalized character, until it became an objective in itself for the construction of the new State,” says Damián González.

The punishment for precariousness

“Yes, there are several cases of retaliated beggars from Córdoba capital that caught my attention,” Julio Guijarro begins. The researcher considers in this category “not only the beggars declared as such in their profession as stated in their statement or in their prison records, but also those whose situation of economic and social precariousness is sensed.”

The archivist adds “to date” a total of 11 “beggars”, with five women, “between 48 and 90 years old.” One receives a “court martial death sentence, commuted to life.” And four “executed without trial during the hot terror”, “two men and two women between the ages of 71 and 80”, between August 1936 and January 1937. Or the 90-year-old woman from Córdoba, a “beggar” by profession , detained in the Provincial Prison.

“It would be the cases that it detected of those grandparents between 70 and 90 years old who have their residence in the Madre de Dios Asylum, for elderly without resources and in a situation of total precariousness, collected by the municipal charity,” he continues. Some suffered “economic repression” with fines of “up to 1,000 pesetas”.

Or more, as the excavated mass grave in the La Salud cemetery: “I interpret some findings from Córdoba as a very rare profile of reprisals, with terrible injuries not healed and with whom they lived,” explains anthropologist Juan Manuel Guijo. Cases that do not have “the slightest coincidence with what the previous information told us about their profiles.”

Street children

And the punishment for precariousness continues. The 1940s saw the beginnings of the Franco dictatorship from famine, rationing and black market. A poor country is born, impoverished by the war, which almost ghostly figures carry in the streets. Invisible except for scorn or charity.

The propaganda of the charity motivated the Social Help, an institution supervised by Falange. In October 37 “it had 711 dining rooms and 158 kitchens,” says Laura Sánchez in ‘Social Assistance and the education of the poor: from Franco to democracy ‘. This citizen “relief” was “inspired by the social guidelines of the german nazism and Italian fascism “, in the words of the Valladolid University professor Pedro Carasa.

And in Madrid these new social services were boiling. The streets also picked up the losers of the war. In 1941, the Franco regime carried out a massive cleaning of “beggars” that it distributed throughout the rest of the country, the writer Rafael Abella said in Daily life in Franco’s Spain. The street children ended up living in the Social Aid children’s homes.

This reality portrays the book Francoist typism. Memories of a lost society (Arzalia editions) by David Pallol. There are the figures that dress Spain in crudeness. From the rag boys who purge the garbage to get … something, to the trileros, black-marketeers of all kinds and even the cigarette butt picker. “Social types and disappeared trades” that evoke “the portrait of a lost society”, as described in the work of the art historian and writer, also responsible for Madrid Art Deco and author of Building empire. Guide to Franco’s architecture in postwar Madrid. Poor photography, which defines an entire era that condemned the eternally defeated.


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