A book to honor the work of the forgotten and to fight historical amnesia
The Catalan journalist Andreu Caralt presents the book “3,669 biberons” (3,669 baby bottles), that explains the story of the “Survivors of the Baby Bottle Regiment of ’41”, the youngest recruits in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War
It was in 1938 when the president of the Second Spanish Republic called up 27,000 young men born in 1920 and 1921 to defend the country against the Fascist uprising by General Francisco Franco. As in many countries, the World War II led hundreds of thousands of very young men to death. Many of those young Catalan soldiers of the Baby Bottle Regiment, aged between 17 and 19, perished in the two most severe battles at the end of the war: at the battle of the Ebro and the Segre in Catalonia. As the author highlights, most of them had never left their villages and had been closest to their mothers.
However, as the Catalan author and journalist points out, in Spain the memory of the sacrifice of these young people was only kept alive and only received social recognition because of the voluntary activities of the survivors themselves. In contrast with other countries, the historical amnesia of the Spanish Civil War and the pro-Franco dictatorship silenced part of the recent history of the Spanish Kingdom and stories like that of the “Baby Bottle Regiment” have been “left to oblivion”, as the author put it in an interview with ACN.
That is why the survivors of this regiment founded the Survivors of the Baby Bottle Regiment of ’41 association in 1982, a few years after the end of the Francoist dictatorship.
For the author it was crucial to explain not only the personal experiences of those young soldiers, but to show the great effort they had to make to receive the social recognition that their sacrifice deserved. At the same time, he said, it felt like an attempt to recover the youth that had been taken from them in such a cruel manner.
"In some European countries this (the need for historical memory) is clear, but in Spain and Catalonia my generation did not study the Spanish Civil War at school"
Andreu Caralt · Author of "3,669 biberons" (3,669 baby bottles)
“If it had not been for their effort, there would have been no theater, no monuments, and no books on this part of our historical heritage. Nobody knew their story. They had to make themselves heard,” the author said.
The entity stopped organizing activities in 2014, even though its president, Pere Godall (one of the two only surviving founders that Caralt was able to interview for his book), continued taking part in some events until his death in March 2016. Unfortunately, nobody will keep their story alive now, as is the case with other associations like the Amical Mathausen association or the Association of Pilots of the Republic: the statute of the Survivors of the Baby Bottle Regiment association does not grant the possibility of a generational relief and thus was destined to end with its last founders.
The silent work
In addition to the recognition and homages that the survivors of this regiment received in life and which were only won with great effort, the group also accomplished a lot of unknown work, that Caralt reports in his book. The ‘baby bottles’ were the first association to exhume a mass grave in the zone of the Meringue, they helped many families to search for their loved ones, and they also founded a chapter that took care of survivors who were living alone and needed assistance.
The author also pointed out that the association carried out the bulk of its activity between 1987 and 1993, but it was only after the year 2000 that the ‘Baby Bottle Regiment’ started to receive more social recognition, just when the numbers of its members were dwindling considerably. Only the last survivors were able to see the collection of films, plays and books, reported the author sadly.
The title of the book is therefore also an homage to the number of survivors of this levy who had participated in the association, even though there were many more, as the author confirms. “Some never participated for a variety of reasons and some had never heard of the association,” Caralt explained.
Work left undone
Caralt works as a journalist in Tarragona, in the south of Catalonia, and specializes in historical memory. He is an expert on the Spanish Civil War and the pro-Franco repression in the territory, and makes it very clear that there is still a long way to go to restore history, saying schools have to have a fundamental role, “like in countries like France and Germany, where the visit to historical spaces, like concentration camps, is compulsory for students,” he added.
“World War II was the most extraordinary episode suffered by humanity during the last centuries. The impact was huge and must be studied and understood. In some European countries this is clear, but in Spain and Catalonia the people of my generation did not study the Spanish Civil War at school, we studied the Visigoths or the French Revolution. There needs to be a change in priorities,” the author concluded.