Valladolid DawnLee Conrad / History & Fiction
By Lee Conrad
Copyright 2014 by Lee Conrad
The light of the morning barely shone through the planks of the boarded up windows of the railway passenger car. The heat of the July morning was already stifling. Tomas Serrano had only been here for one day, but sleeping on the floor had made his whole body ache. The bruise from the rifle butt to his head added to his misery.
Tomas pulled his small frame up off the floor, brushed off the dust and dirt on his dungaree mono and wiped the sweat from his face with his red neckerchief. He ran his hands through his dark hair, and tried to stand. Pain riveted through his head and he almost passed out. How many brought here with him were still alive? He had heard the volley of shots at dawn and tried not to think of what lay in store for him.
As head of the union of railway workers in Valladolid it was his duty to make sure his members kept the trains running as the crisis built. Now the railway was in the hands of the Spanish army and the trains were still running, but sending troops to other Spanish towns as the revolt of July 19th, 1936 spread.
The door at one end of the car opened and striding through was an armed guard and a captain of the Army.
“Prisoner Serrano, I am the new Captain of the local barracks in Valladolid. I am here to inform you that you have been sentenced to death by the military tribunal. Because of special circumstances you have not been shot right away with the other red scum in your union. You have one more day to live. Arriba Espana,” he shouted, raising his arm in the fascist salute. With that said the captain and the guard abruptly walked out. Tomas spit at the door as they left.
Special circumstances? What could that mean thought Tomas.
Two days ago there was urgency in the air. The union headquarters was sending out special bulletins by telegraph and phone for all railway union locals to arm themselves and be prepared to resist any attempt to take the stations by the forces of the Army revolt.
He knew it would happen sooner or later. Since the elections of 1931 and the forming of the republic, the wealthy landowners, the Army, and the Catholic Church had been itching to stomp out the unions and the left wing organizations. The subsequent election of February of 1936 which reinforced the republic and the peoples’ movement was too much for them to accept and the plotting began. The nationalist forces, as they called themselves, led by segments of the Spanish army, had various rightwing, fascist, monarchist sympathizers, and the Catholic Church allied with it. The republican government had liberal organizations, left wing parties, and the unions allied with it. In many cases families were divided in loyalties. That was the politics of Spain in 1936. Tomas’s brother Jorge was an officer in the Spanish Army. He knew his politics and what side he would be on.
The revolt began with a rising of the Army in the Canary Islands, Spanish Morocco, and in areas throughout Spain. Rebel nationalist generals and army officers arrested and shot fellow officers loyal to the government. One particular General named Franco even ordered his cousin shot.
While the nationalists moved the republic hesitated, not believing reports of a wide spread conspiracy and rising.
When the rebel nationalist army came into Valladolid on commandeered trains from stations they had captured, the rebel soldiers and their citizen allies made quick work of taking the station and subduing the poorly armed workers who stayed. Many union workers were killed or wounded in the assault. Tomas, organizing the barricade at the station, saw many friends and comrades die. He never saw the rifle butt coming to his head as the soldiers stormed over the barricade and took control of the station.
He awoke in this railroad car a prisoner. Not dead, not shot… but alive due to special circumstances.
Tomas, held his pounding head in his hands thinking… Could we have been defeated so quickly? What is going on in the rest of Spain?
With those thoughts still lingering in his brain the door once again opened. The guard walked through and behind him another Army officer, his brother Jorge.
“Hello brother,” Tomas said with a tired and surprised voice. “Have you come to set me free or witness the execution?”
It had been two years since they had seen each other. Jorge, the oldest son of the family, joined the Army. As part of the upper class he naturally was an officer. Tomas thought he made the perfect officer, cold and autocratic. Tomas was a young idealist who shunned tradition and the family estate. He would rather spend time his time down at the rail yard and learned the workings of the rail system quickly. He joined the union and because of his knowledge and good rapport with the workers soon became president of the local. Of course none of this was acceptable to Jorge or their father. Tomas was considered a traitor to his class. Their parting had ended badly.
Tomas listened as Jorge, dressed in his army colonel uniform and wearing a holstered Astra 400 pistol, coolly stated, “Tomas, anyone with a union card on them is automatically executed. I knew you would be at the barricade. I had my men arrest you instead of shooting you until I met with you.”
“You are my special circumstance?” a disbelieving Tomas exclaimed. “So what is the fate for those of us supporting the republic?”
“Tomas, we are cleaning up Spain of the liberals, the unions, your so-called writers, the reds and those who want to destroy the Catholic Church. Just over the past few days our Army and militia have rounded up and shot over 900 supporters of your vile republic here in Valladolid,” Jorge said with a grim smile. “And you Tomas, once again have betrayed your country and your family. You should be with them right now. I told mother and father that I would come here and convince you to leave the reds and come to your senses,” Jorge said.
“Me come to my senses? I am surer of which side I am on than ever before,” yelled Tomas. “You remember when I left our estate? It was right after you and your army slaughtered the mine workers striking in Asturias. Father applauded you. I knew then that I didn’t belong with you and father. I am sorry for mother. She knew how I felt my whole life,” said Tomas.
His head aching more now, Tomas looked directly at Jorge. “I didn’t think that you would rise up against your own people.”
Jorge looked aghast at Tomas and said, “Are you not listening. They are not my people. They are an abomination to Spain. You have defiled our women by taking them from their rightful place in the home serving their husbands and dare to tell them they can work and become educated. No Tomas, the New Spain that is rising will not allow that. Your intellectuals are poisoning the minds of Spaniards. They will share the grave with your unions, the reds and the rabble that has corrupted Spain,” said Jorge.
“Jorge, you will never understand the idea that is the republic,” said Tomas defiantly. “The idea that we are free to think as we want without the church telling us what to think. The idea that the peasant and the worker are equal to the landowner and the boss. The idea that democracy and social justice will win out over feudalism. You can never kill all of us.”
Jorge looked at Tomas and shook his head. “Your republic will be wiped out Tomas. Look to Germany and Italy. That is the future and there is no room for republics and democracy. But you will not be around to see that future,” said Jorge with weariness in his voice. “I knew when I said I would meet you it would be of no avail. I will tell mother and father of your fate. They will mourn and but father will understand the necessity. The idea of a workers republic must and will be crushed throughout Spain…and individually. We may have come out of the same womb, but we are not brothers. Goodbye Tomas.”
With that, Jorge turned, called to the guard and walked out of the railway car.
Tomas stunned, slumped onto the hard wooden passenger bench.
Feeling thirsty and hungry, Tomas called to the guard at the end of the car.
“Hey comrade, how about some water and food,” he said.
“I am not your comrade and we will not waste any water or food on red scum that won’t live long enough to digest it,” the guard said with menace.
That night Tomas didn’t sleep. Why waste time he thought. He found a pencil on the floor of the railway car and proceeded to write on the wall as he slouched down between two benches.
Here are the last words of a fighter for the republic and for the railway workers union. I leave this earth a free man. I am a free man in thought and belief. I am a free man because I resisted.
Tomas Serrano, president Railway Workers Valladolid, July 21st 1936.
The dawn was just starting to break when Tomas heard movement and orders being given outside the railway car.
The door at the end opened and the guard entered with the officer he saw his first day of imprisonment.
“Prisoner Serrano, stand and come with us,” said the officer.
The guard helped a sore and weary Tomas to his feet with a kick and a prod with the bayonet at the end of his rifle.
Walking out the car door he breathed in the cool air of a Valladolid dawn.
Outside the railway car was a squad of riflemen, some fascist militia members and some wearing the red berets of the monarchist militia.
When they went through the exit to the back of the station they roughly moved him towards the outside brick wall of the building, pockmarked with bullet holes, blood still in the dirt with scuff marks of bodies that were dragged away.
As the officer pushed Tomas against the wall he turned to the firing squad and shouted
“Long live the republic,” shouted Tomas.
The officer walked over to the body with the union card that was confiscated from Tomas when he was captured and pinned it to his chest.
The officer called over to two of the members of the firing squad and said, “Take the body to the front of the station for all to see what happens to those that resist the New Spain.”
In front of the station an Army officer yelled at passengers embarking and disembarking that they must shout “Arriba Espana” to prove their loyalty to the new Spain. Those not shouting are arrested.
A young couple exited the train and doing what they are told in order to keep from getting arrested, yelled out “Arriba Espana”. As they walked down the platform they saw the body of Tomas with his union card pinned to his chest. They passed by and whispered to a no longer hearing Tomas “Long live the Republic, long live the idea.”
Walking on they looked at each grimly but determined as the sun rose in Valladolid.