|La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti|
Arriving in Marseille aita soon learned
that a boat would soon be coming, but only men could embark, and aita wanted to
be with the ama at that time while he waited. Communications between aita and
ama in those days was almost impossible. The phone lines were cut and the mail
was intercepted and read by the Vichy government. Soon aita met a Basque who
delivered messages clandestinely between Biarritz and Marseille and he sent him
an urgent message to ama, saying said "Leave everything and come, there may
have a boat and I can go, you can be with me until it leaves, it will take only
had no way to communicate with him because the messenger was killed "As a
spy." Ama was torn between the alternative of leaving "two girls so
small and helpless,” or to leave her husband alone in the weeks before he left
for America. Aunt Juli resolved her doubt.
She encouraged her not to leave her husband alone.
She would take care of us, and ama, thinking that maybe it would be a
matter of weeks, decided to join our father in Marseilles, leaving us with Aunt
Julie. Although it was a very painful choice, encouraged by her sister Juli she
decided to go to be with our father. She
waited for my sister and me to take our naps to say goodbye.
She covered us with kisses, and crying left us asleep. She worried about
leaving us as small as we were in occupied France where everything was rationed.
She later noted that in the plight of the moment "one reacts like a robot
and doesn’t think." Begoña
was thirteen months old and I was 29 months. At two in the afternoon she went by
train to Marseille. She said repeatedly that this decision would affect and
weigh on her all her life.
her trip on the train to Marseille from Biarritz she cried.
It broke her heart to think of the moment that we would wake up and she
was not there with us, and she knew that I would notice her absence more than my
sister and ask for her. Ama tells us of the "very bitter years I spent
separated from the girls.” Once
again she was heading into the unknown
Marseille they went hungry with food rations of condensed milk carrots, figs,
bread, eggs, and no salaries. The Mistral wind, a strong, cold wind from the
northwest, made for a most distressing situation. There were rumours now that
ship could take wives and families. Ama tried to convince Aunt Julia to come to
Marseille with us to leave all together to America, which had always been the
dream of his sister Julie. They already had passports for us and for her, but
she preferred to return to Euskadi to see their father, who was old and sick,
and she would take us with her as she believed that the boat trip was dangerous
for us and we would be safer and well looked after with her.
And she did so to the dismay of ama, who did not want to leave without
few days before boarding the ship, ama went for a walk alone on the beach.
Watching the sea reminded her of her days on the beach at Biarritz with
us two. She took out of her
pocketbook the tiny black and white photograph of us on the beach and, upon
seeing a painter; she asked to have the small photo transformed into a large
painting to hang on the wall. And
the painter, moved by the grief of the mother, painted a color version of the
photo. She kissed and hugged her
painting give her some comfort. This painting was placed at the head of their
bed in the cabin of the boat and in their homes it was always given a proud
place. Even so, after her death the
there is another picture also taken in Biarritz and it is my favorite, perhaps
because of her sensitive maternal gesture to me that I needed, both during our
separation in my childhood and later in my worst moments of doubt and inner
struggle of my memories of these times. The
photograph helped me to reconnect with that dear little girl in Biarritz.
a cold January day in 1941, after they had been waiting for three months in
Marseille, a ship appeared on the horizon. It was French, the Alsina,
built in 1921 with a weight of 8,043 tonnes.
Its itinerary was Dakar-Bahia-Rio de Janeiro-Santos-Montevideo-Buenos
Aires. The ship sailed on 15 January 1941 with 150 Basque adults and 38 children
from one month to 14 years old. It was very painful for ama to see the families
with young children on the ship and she being without us and knowing how much we
needed her, and much she needed us too. She locked herself in her cabin to cry.
She did not want aita to see her suffer to not give him more grief.
For several days she was sick with an unexplained fever. The ship would
take them and 188 Basques from that bloody war they would be safe in fifteen
days. Our parents said goodbye to European soil very sad to leave behind two
young daughters and their old Europe.
Meanwhile in Spain Franco and his Falange party imposed the law that children of
Spaniards abroad were to be repatriated to Spain because they had a special
interest to retrieving the children of the defeated enemies. They were called
"children recovered for the country," where they underwent a process
of ideological reeducation. France, as
the refuge of most of the Basque children was immediately the traget. A
Basque evacuated to England at the age of fourteen commented in his home in Begoña,
in Bilbao, 43 years later, "I guess the fascists thought prolonging our
stay in democratic or socialist countries would ripen the seeds of future
enemies.” Another boy from the
Citadelle colony at St. Jean Pied-de Port said "None of us wanted to go,
but we were at their mercy. At the Citadel we felt like we were home and now
going into the unknown. At the border, the Guardia Civil tried to make us salute
the flag of Franco, but we only looked at them."
Every time war erupts it is the children who suffer most because in
addition to separating them from all they know and need, they do not understand
why what is happening around them.
children, who were six or older, who had left during the Spanish civil war were
repatriated, but many of them never returned from exile. Our case was different.
In the midst of World War II our parents emigrated, leaving us in
Biarritz, France, and we both suffered from the maternal deprivation from the
tender age of 1 and 2 ½ years old respectively.
We were both too young to be separated from our parents, but especially
from our mothe. The painful decision brought sadness to ama and to us for the
rest of our lives. She relates "I spent very hard years separated from the
girls ... A constant resentment, why didn’t we bring them?" was mixed
with the anxious questions: "What is waiting for us and where would we
go?" And before that unknown she thought it was better that we were not on
the Germans did not allow Vichy French ships to cross the Atlantic, Hitler
bombed from the air the ships that dared such a feat. So when the Alsina
passengers got to Dakar, Senegal, twelve days later they had to wait to get
aboard a neutral vessel. In the long wait in Dakar, a child died of malaria and
another person of yellow fever else, and it was at times like these that our
parents consoled themselves, thinking that it was a blessing not to have us both
of us with them.
celebrated Easter on the ship using barrels of wine as an altar, and singing in
Basque and French. Preparing for it they made their confessions took communion
on the kneeler that ama covered with her red coat. The diva Doña Maria, dressed in a long black dress, gave
them concerts. Aita taught Basque classes during this time and ama tried to
learn, but her soul, aching over our absence, didn’t let her mind concentrate
very well to learn as well as she would have wanted. She knew that for aita it was important that she learn.
The chief of police of Dakar was French Basque and spoke Basque.
He came aboard and invited about thirty of them to his home and he gave
them a good meal and they sang into the night.
five months anchored in Dakar, they returned to Casablanca.
When they arrived there, they were taken to a concentration camp, called
Sidi-el-Ayachi, in a bus, and there, with wet towels on their heads and their
feet in water they spent some very bad times as far as food, heat and hygiene
were concerned. There were forty
persons in a shed or storehouse with a tin roof, a stone floor, and sacks filled
with hay on the floor to sleep. The
walls were covered with limestone and rats chewed at the clothes they hung up.
Horse flies flew around, drawn by the nearby stables.
Outside there was no shade because there were no trees.
They were given sardines and hardboiled eggs to eat.
A scorpion stung a child in the night and his cries were alarming.
Ama says that their thoughts were constantly with us.
a while, perhaps because of good conduct, they sent them to live in Casablanca
until they could sail. Months
passed, and even though they lived better here than in the concentration camp,
the days still passed slowly. They
had nothing to do except try to survive on the little food they were given.
learned that some ships with Basque crews were arriving in Casablanca, and she
asked the crew members to take to us two plastic dolls dressed by her in
complete beautiful outfits. One she
dressed as a new-born for Begoña and the other like a little girl for me.
The seamen were happy to fulfill their promise, and I remember receiving
my doll, which I baptized Nicole, and I carried her everywhere with me.
It seems that I asked for ama and aita, and my aunt tole me “they are
going far away, to America.” And
I replied “and why don’t they come here to be with me?”
My Aunt Lola simply held me without saying anything else.
Later ama told us that the pain she felt at not having us at her side was
intense, and more when she saw around her other exiled couples with their small
children, who ran and played. Dressing
the dolls softened somewhat her pain; doing it, she felt closer to Begoña and
a ship appeared in the port. It was
the Quanza, a Portuguese ship that
could cross the Atlantic because it was from a neutral country.
Aboard this ship ama assisted with the birth of the third child of their
friends, the Bilbaos. The seasick doctor lying on his bunk gave instructions to our
mother how to handle the birth. Everything
went well and a girl was born who was called Aintzane.
This ship took them to Bermuda, Vercruz (in Mexico), and Havana.
left the ship in Havana and there they had to wait three months before they
could leave on an Argentine ship, the Rio
de la Plata, which would take them to Montevideo, Uruguay, and finally to
their destination, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A submarine intercepted their ship but allowed them to proceed.
They left the ship on April 15, 1942 in Buenos Aires.
A trip of 15 days had become an odyssey of 15 months.
three ships were witness to the pain of our parents and other European
immigrants from the Second World War. The
fate of the three ships that took our parents from the sad and bloody Europe to
the young, free American land is the following.
From the time the Second World War began until it ended, the Atlantic
Ocean was the principal theater of operations.
first was the French ship, the Alsina,
which took them from Marseille, France, to Casablanca, Africa.
It was sunk in an aerial bombardment by German airplanes on November 13,
1942, near the coast of Algeria.
second ship, the Portuguese Quanza,
which took them from Casablanca to Havana, Cuba, was the only one of the three
ships that ended in a natural way, but sill full of history.
The Quanza has legal and
historical roots in America because it brought nearly a hundred Jews escaping
Hitler’s claws. Arriving at New
York, they were not allowed to disembark not because they were Jews but because
they did not have a visa. It was
decided that the ship would return to Europe with its Jewish passengers, who
would certainly be executed. To
refuel before crossing the Atlantic they had to make a stop in Norfolk,
Virginia. With the ship anchored in
port, the wife of the president, Eleanor Roosevelt, learned of what had happened
and intervened with her husband, Franklin, to let them disembark there, and so
on August 19, 1940, eighty Jews were saved.
The grateful Jews sent a bouquet of roses to the Roosevelts with a card
that read “With eternal gratitude for your humane gesture toward the refugees
of the Quanza”.
This happened 14 months before ama and aita embarked on this ship.
The library of the Law School of the University of Richmond, the capital
of Virginia, is a repository of the history and culture of Virginia. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this event there was
a commemoration, and among other things they exhibited a model of the ship
itself. The ship was sold for
demolition on October 12, 1968, in Castellon de la Plana, Spain.
and I visited the university to see the reproduction of the ship.
And I took along the photo of our parents taken on this ship.
There in the glass case was the ship that took our parents away from the
hot African continent. It was very
moving to see it because we have a photo of ama and aita in front of the life
preserver that indicates the name of this ship.
The designer of the model, a builder of naval models, told me that when
they chose him for the job it was not easy because he had to base his work
entirely on old photos and on designs of merchant ships of the era. But for me it was perfect.
Bob could locate our parents on the stern of the ship between three and
four o’clock in the afternoon by placing the photo and the model of the ship
third ship, the Argentine Rio de la Plata,
which covered the last part of the trip from Cuba to Buenos Aires, was burned on
August 18, 1944, with a total loss of the ship, which now lies on the bottom of
the bay at Acapulco, Mexico.
I) Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama - Tributo a nuestra Ama, por Mirentxu Ametzaga
II) La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
III) Mis manos quieren hablar - mi poema a mi Ama - por Xabier I. Ametzaga
IV) Publicaciones en Internet relacionadas
|Vicente Ametzaga Aresti - His Biography and his works Published on Wikipedia
Mercedes Iribarren Gorostegui - La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga - published on Wikipedia
Xabier Iñaki Ametzaga Iribarren - Information published on Wikipedia