Long-lost watch, confiscated by Nazis, returned to family of its original owner

Joan Lladó, who fought for the French resistance, died in a concentration camp just 5 days before it was liberated

The wristwatch confiscated by the Nazis from Catalan exile Joan Lladó (Used with permission)
The wristwatch confiscated by the Nazis from Catalan exile Joan Lladó (Used with permission) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

March 21, 2021 11:40 AM

In Catalonia, yet another object has now been finally returned to the original owner's descendants after surviving for over 70 years unidentified.

On Friday March 19, a wrist watch confiscated by the Nazis was returned to the closest living relatives of the original owner, Joan Lladó, by the Catalan justice ministry after it was displayed at the #StolenMemory exhibition at the Exile Memorial Museum (MUME) in La Jonquera, in northern Catalonia.

The watch's owner: Joan Lladó

Born in Manresa on December 13, 1914, Lladó was a Catalan exile who fought in the French resistance during the Second World War. Shortly after fleeing his home country in response to the fascist dictator Franco's victory in 1939, he was discovered by the Gestapo in Rennes, Brittany, for collaborating with the resistance there.

He was first imprisoned in a concentration camp in Argelès just north of the French-Catalan border, and then moved to Neuengamme in the north of Germany, where he was prisoner number 30857.

He was finally moved to Ravensbrück and died in April 1945, just 5 days before the camp was liberated, from pneumonia as a consequence of the extremely poor living conditions he endured during his stay there. He was 31 years old.

#StolenMemory exhibition

The #StolenMemory exhibition, on at the MUME from September 26, 2020 until February 14, 2021, displayed over 3,000 personal objects recovered from prisoners at different Nazi camps.

Around a tenth of the objects in the MUME belonged to Catalan and Spanish victims, with 1,904 Catalans having died in Nazi concentration camps.

However, the exhibition essentially collaborated with another key organisation, the Arolsen Archives, which has now collected information on approximately 17.5 million people who fell victim to the Nazi regime.

The grandson of one of Joan Lladó's cousins, Èric Torra, contacted the Arolsen Archives, who told him about the existence of the watch and directed him to the #StolenMemory exhibit, where they had recorded that it was on display.

The combined efforts of the Arolsen Archives and the MUMA exhibition aided the return of Lladó's watch to his family and have done the same with other long-lost personal objects. For example, #StolenMemory led to the return of a watch and chain to the family members of Baldiri Soler, the mayor of Sils, in northern Catalonia, during the Spanish Civil War.

Recovered items were also returned to family members of Josep Vergés, similarly imprisoned at Neuengamme, and born in Soria in the north of Spain.

Other historical memory initiatives

There have been other similar events and organizations working in Catalonia in recent years, including the government, to keep historical memory alive and return long lost items to the relatives of their original owners.

For example, in September 2020 the Stumbling Stones exhibition in the town of Vilafranca de Penedés, south of Barcelona, granted the city a new set of memorials to mark one of the darkest chapters in human history and its impact on Catalan people as part of a worldwide project paying tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution. 101 plaques were placed across Catalonia that month, adding to the 184 aleady there. Its aim was to remove the anonymity of the victims by giving them their own personalized memorial.

"Persecuted and Saved" is another project, council-run, that was launched in the city of Lleida in western Catalonia with the main objective of recovering the memory of the thousands of Jews that crossed the Pyrenees as they fled Nazi persecution. The president of Lleida council travelled all the way from Catalonia to Israel in order to deliver a long lost letter to relatives of the original recipient, Rachel Gerwüz, a victim of persecution against Jews during the Second World War.

Memorial Democràtic (Democratic Memorial), is a public institution focused on recovering Catalan history, which created an audiovisual databank with some thousand interviews, of which more than 400 are available to the public. It particularly focuses on retelling Catalan history from the years 1936-1980, some of the most traumatic times in the country’s history.

Mass graves

The Catalan government has been especially looking for and unearthing graves from the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, since 2017 when the foreign ministry launched its first 'Mass Grave Plan'.

So far, the initiative has led to 34 sites with mass graves being unearthed and 339 corpses found. In January this year, 61 mass graves were found near an old hospital in Móra d’Ebre, southern Catalonia, which was used during the Battle of Ebre by the republican side.

In an effort to identify the corpses, their DNA will be extracted, and if there any matches with the government's DNA bank, some will be able to be identified. It is unlikely to be successful, but there is the additional hope that a doctor's notebook with the names of around 30 deceased soldiers written down was also found at the site.

There are thought to be at least 527 mass graves still unearthed and 20,000 bodies still unidentified in Catalonia, over 80 years after the end of the conflict.