‘Some students don’t even know who Franco was’ says 97-year-old Civil War veteran
Miquel Morera is one of the last remaining witnesses of a brutal conflict that left half a million dead and forced nearly as many to flee the country
It’s been more than 81 years since the Spanish Civil War erupted on July 18, 1936, following a military coup against the democratically elected left-wing Popular Front government. Yet, Miquel Morera, now 97 and still completely lucid, seems to remember everything from the moment he received an unlikely offer from his father: to join the Catalan government’s Macià-Companys column and fight side-by-side with him to defend the Republic. Morera said yes, even though he was only 16 at the time.
The Spanish Civil War lasted three years. Some 500,000 people from both sides were killed, mostly civilians, while some 450,000 refugees fled Spain. The Second Spanish Republic government was defeated by the military insurgents, leading to General Francisco Franco’s 40-year-long dictatorship and a systematic repression in which the losers were persecuted, imprisoned and killed.
Morera shot to kill, and was almost killed several times. He was bombed by Nazi-German planes. After the war ended, he and his father were arrested by Franco’s secret police and jailed in Barcelona’s Model prison for eight months --there were two beds for 12 people. He still doesn’t know why.
“I do not forgive, and I will never forgive, all the repression that came after the war"
Miquel Morera · Spanish Civil War veteran
They were subsequently sent to three concentration camps, and Morera would have probably died of typhus if it hadn’t been for his father’s stubbornness. “The doctor said I would not last more than two days, but my father managed to get me some medicine. He gave me life again,” he says.
‘I do not forgive’
Morera belongs to the so-called ‘Lleva del Biberó’ (Draft of the Baby’s Bottle), a group of 30,000 men born in 1920 and 1921 who were called up by the Spanish Republic to fight on the Aragon front. Morera, one of the few still alive, says the years of their youth were stolen.
And yet, Morera has no hard feelings about his time at the front. “What I suffered during the war I don’t blame on anyone because I was a volunteer and I looked for it,” he says. But what came next was different: “I do not forgive, and I will never forgive, all the repression that came after the war.”
In 2013, the United Nations urged Spain to investigate the disappearances of civilians during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. A report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances told the Spanish government to act immediately “given the lapse of time since most of the enforced disappearances began and the advanced age of many of the witnesses and family members.”
A follow-up of the 2013 report is to be published in September. The head of the group, Ariel Dulitzky, told ACN that “regrettably, there have been no changes.”
Morera now lives in the tiny southern Catalan village of Les Borges del Camp. He spends most of his time doing metalwork, a craft he learnt from his father, in a studio located in an old-winery beneath his house.
Morera also dedicates himself to preserving Catalonia’s 20th century history --the so-called ‘memòria històrica’ (historical memory). He gives interviews, attends events, visits schools and high schools.
Among the young people, there are some who are even more interested in history than the people of his own generation, he says. However, there are also some who do not seem to care about their country’s past: “I have met students who don’t even know who Franco was.”
The Catalan government is making sure that Morera’s voice --along with those of others who witnessed Catalonia’s most remarkable 20th century events-- will be available to future generations. That is why Memorial Democràtic (Democratic Memorial), a public institution focused on recovering Catalan history, created an audiovisual databank with some thousand interviews, of which more than 400 are available to the public. Morera’s story can be found there.
An agreement signed in early July between Democratic Memorial and the Catalan Media Corporation (which includes Catalan public TV) will bring some thousand more interviews to the audiovisual databank. In total, more than 300,000 hours of interviews will be online, thus becoming the largest oral history archive in Europe.
One of Morera’s big concerns is making sure that his story --and Catalonia’s history-- will survive when he is gone. “This can’t just end here. It has to be a memory for all the people who will come after me and which will shape Catalonia’s future. And this is very important to me,” he says.
This is precisely what he meant with the introductory quote he chose for his memoir, Un noi al front: una joventut trencada 1936-1945 (A Boy at the Front: a Broken Youth 1936-1945): “The person who knows the past and appreciates the present deserves the future.” According to Morera, that person deserves everything.