A Basque in Boise

A Few Good Men

On February 4, friend and fellow blogger on this site, Pedro Oiarzabal, published a beautiful post where he highlighted the lives of several men who fought against the Holocaust. The original entry was written in Spanish, but he gave me permission to post it in English. So please, forgive any errors I might have made in the translation, and enjoy Pedro’s article.

 

A Few Good Men

“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption”
(Baal Shem Tov, 1698-1760)
In memory of Julio Arostegui

 

These few words, profoundly thoughtful, guard the exit of the history museum in Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority – in Jerusalem. Only a few days ago, on January 27, the “International commemoration day in memory of victims of holocaust” was celebrated, whose date remembers that January 21, 1945, when the Soviet Army went into Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland), freeing what would later be defined as the largest Nazi concentration camp, and one of the biggest atrocities in human contemporary history.

Pedro Junkera Zarate was born on November 22, 1930 in Bilbao, where he grew up until being evacuated to Belgium at the age of six, along with his 8-year old sister and hundreds of other Basque children. After several days in a camp, they were taken to Brussels where two married couples decided to take care of them. A young couple, Jules Caillaux and Eva Samain, took Pedro in and treated him like a son. He has always referred to them affectionately as “mom” and “dad.” His foster parents went out of their way for him during the three years he lived with them. Angeles was repatriated in 1939, and a year later, Pedro would be too. Belgium was no longer a safe place. A few months after being repatriated, the country was invaded by Germany. Pedro stayed in touch with his foster parents throughout the years and was able to visit them for the first time when he was in his twenties, in a reunion he defines as very emotional. He didn’t know much about his father Jesus’ feats during the World War II, which were revealed over the years.

Jules Caillaux was born on October 31, 1900 in Péronnes-lez-Binche, in the Walloon province of Hainaut. He volunteered in the Belgium Army in 1918 during the German occupation in World War I, and he fought from 1940 until 1945 in World War II. He was awarded numerous honorary medals for his participation. On November 20, 1980, Yad Vashem recognized Jules Caillaux, an electrician by trade, as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” for protecting two families of Jewish origin – Roman Wachtel’s family, Austrian refugees, and Belgian Oscar Fisher – who lived in his town, Ohain, in the south of Brussels. Jules prevented the families from being arrested by the Germans that were looking for them, took Fisher in, and got ration cards for them. This award is one of the most distinguished honors granted to those altruists who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Jules passed away in Tournai on December 29, 1985. Pedro attended his funeral on January 3, 1986.

Facundo Saez Izaguirre was born on October 27, 1917 in Donostia-San Sebastian. Affiliated to the Anarchist Union, National Confederation of Labor, fought for the Republic and the newly formed Basque Government, at only 18 years of age. He was made prisoner in 1939, and was given the option between forced labor or joining the Legion. He chose to enroll, escaping shortly afterwards. He crossed the border and was confined to the detention camps created to shelter refugees who fled after the Civil War. Facundo was in the camps of Saint-Cyprien and Gurs. In Gurs he’s placed with his brother Francisco, who is thought to belong to the General Union of Workers. After the German invasion of Poland in September, 1939, World War II begins. In a short period of time, during May 1940, German invades France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg. In July, 1940, the French government starts collaborating with Germany, which caused a large movement of internal resistance, where the guerrilla groups stand out – commonly known as Maquis –, and where Facundo took an active part. He was made prisoner and sent to Lorient (Brittany) as foreign workforce to build the base of Keroman submarines in 1941, 1942 and 1944. He was part of what would be known as the “Atlantic Wall”: a series of German military forts in the Atlantic coast whose main objective was to prevent a invasion by sea from the United Kingdom. Once again, he was able to escape. After travelling more than 454 miles towards Basque territory, he was arrested again in February, 1944 in Hendaye. He was transported in a freight train with thousands of prisoners and deported to a concentration camp in Neuengamme (Germany). In May, 1945, the British troops freed Neuengamme.

Upon his return to Iparralde, Facundo was able to reunite with his family in Ciboure by the end of the 1940s, meeting his son Jose for the first time, who was born in September, 1936, during the evacuation of Donostia-San Sebastian, in route to Bilbao, in the middle of the Civil War. Thanks to the International Organization for Refugees, Facundo, along with his wife Candida Sagarna, Jose and his other small children (Mari Luz and Javier), headed towards Santiago de Chile. Decades later, Facundo and Candida decided to return to the Basque Country. Facundo died in Donibane Lohizune on August 29, 2008, at 90 years of age.

 

I would like to call for the finding of militia men and gudaris (Basque warriors) who participated in the Civil War and who, as of today, might be living outside the Basque Country. Ordinary people with extraordinary stories who lived historic moments of unquestionable importance. Just as remembering is important, so it is the ability to preserve that memory to prevent this stories from being forgotten.

[My most sincere thanks to Pedro Oyanguren, Jose Saez Sagarna, and Yad Vashem and Pedro Junkera Zarate for the information given about Facundo Saez Izaguirre, and Jules Caillaux and Éva Samain, respectively. The interviews with José Sáez and Pedro Junkera are part of the research project on Basque emigration, exile and return (e-Etorkinak, Bizkailab) from Deusto University.]

 

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Thanks for passing by: ↓

Anne Marie

2 thoughts on “A Few Good Men

  1. Steven Roosevelt

    It’s stories like this if ordinary people performing extraordinary deeds to do what they know to be the right thing that restores my hope for humanity. Thanks for translating and sharing this.

  2. Henar Chico

    You are welcome. I knew as soon as I read his story that I had to translate and share, with his blessing.

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