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My Father’s Silence (continued)

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939. On February 21st, Franco, escorted by his notorious Moorish Guard, entered Barcelona to lead a victory parade. Down the elegant Passeig de Gràcia with its broad sidewalks and art nouveau façades the Moroccan soldiers marched, dressed in crimson uniforms, flowing white capes, and turbans, and mounted on Arab horses caparisoned in gold. Behind them, standing in an open car, the small, plump Generalísimo smiled behind his black mustache and held out his arm in the fascist salute. The avenue was thronged with cheering people, not necessarily supporters of the Caudillo, but war-weary Catalans celebrating the end of the bombings, and hoping that there would now be food.

Among the multitude were my father, who had just left his parents’ apartment for the first time in three years, and his sister. And as Franco went by and the crowd raised its right arm in unison (documentary films of the event look a lot like Hitler’s rallies) my father, distracted and overwhelmed by the unaccustomed sensations of fresh air and sunlight, and deafened by the roar of the crowd, neglected to raise his. He was observed, promptly arrested, and marched to the police station.

In a panic, his sister ran home to tell the family. The repression of anyone harboring views contrary to those of the dictator was already in full swing, and suspected dissidents were being imprisoned and executed around the clock on the outskirts of the city, in the nearby castle of Montjuïc. Ironically my father, who had spent the war in hiding from the leftists, was now in danger of being shot by the fascists. When they heard the news of the arrest, his parents felt sure that they would never see their son again. And they wouldn’t have, had it not been for a friend of a friend who had connections to the new regime, rushed to the police station, vouched for my father as a “faithful Catholic and patriotic Spaniard,” and got him released.

The next time my father ventured out, he and his brother went in search of food. The hope that the end of the war would mean the end of hunger and deprivation had not been realized. Spain’s agriculture and infrastructure were in ruins, and what little food there was was of poor quality and severely rationed. Between 1939 and 1944, 200,000 people died of starvation. But on that day, after trudging for hours along the semi-deserted streets—there was almost no gas, so cars were few—my father and his brother got lucky. They found, or possibly stole, a big sack of dried beans. How to get this bonanza home quickly and without attracting attention was a problem, however, since they were both so weak and malnourished that they could barely lift it. But somehow they managed, and month after month the family survived on beans.

As was his habit, my father never referred to the arrest or to the bean episode. I only found out about the latter when my mother explained why in our house we never ate beans.

(To be continued.)

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