La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti  

Gure Ama

(Our Mother)


Marie Clark


          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 men."

Ama 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.

During 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

In 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 us.

A 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 painting disappeared.

But 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.

On 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.

Most 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 ship.

Because 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.

They 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.

After 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.

After 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.

Ama 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 to me.

Finally 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.

They 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.

These 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Bob 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 together.

The 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.

Our Mpther -Our Mother1 -Our Mother2 -Our Mother3 -Our Mother4 -Our Mother5 -Our Mother6 -Our Mother7 

-Our Mother8 -Our Mother9 -Our Mother10 -Our Mother11


I) Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama - Tributo a nuestra Ama, por Mirentxu Ametzaga 


I.1 Vida de Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga -Gure Ama

I.2  Life of Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga - Our Mother

II) La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti - por Xabier I. Ametzaga


II.1 La mujer que acompaño a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti

III) Mis manos quieren hablar - mi poema a mi Ama - por Xabier I. Ametzaga


III.1 Mis manos quieren hablar - mi poema a mi Ama

IV) Publicaciones en Internet relacionadas 


IV.1 Sitio en Internet que lleva el nombre de Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti

IV.2 Los tres Barcos que llevaron a Ama y Aita

IV.3 Travesia

IV.4 Reunion familiar Amezagaeguberriak

IV. 5 Antecedentes

IV. 6 Publicacion en Internet de toda la obra de Aita - la que ella ordeno y recopilo

IV. 7 Publicaciones Xamezaga Editor Internet

Dedicatoria y mi homenaje a Mercedes Iribarren Gorostegui - Su esposa y mi ama

Travesia   Antecedentes   Reunion   Fotos     Videos   Slide Show Reunion

Sitio en Internet en homenaje a Mercedes Iribarren de Ametzaga.
Creacion, Edicion y contacto: Xabier Iñaki Ametzaga Iribarren
Blog Xabier Amezaga Iribarren:
Editorial Xamezaga


I.1 Linea de Vida  y su Obra

I.2 Poesias en Euskera Recopilacion Total

I.3 Conferencias Recopilacion

I,4 Articulos Periodisticos Recopilacion Total

I.5 Lengua Vasca

I.6 Gernika

I.7 Uruguay

I.8 Venezuela

I.9 Reseñas Biograficas

I.10 Traducciones

I.11 Obras Publicadas

I.12 Semana Vasca en Montevideo

I.13 Ciclo de Clases

I.14 Nota Bio-Bibliografica

I,15 Biografia en Euskera

I.16 Sitio en Internet en Euskera

I.17 Nostalgia

I.18 Articulos Periodisticos Indice Cronologico

I.19 Articulos Periodisticos Indice Alfafabetico

II) OBRAS COMPLETAS - Libros Publicados en Internet


II.1  El Hombre Vasco

II.2 Hombres de la Compañia  Guipuzcoana

II.3  El Elemento Vasco en el siglo XVIII Venezolano

II.4 Vicente Antonio de Icuza

III) INDICE de TEMAS RELACIONADOS. Libros publicados por sus hijos;


III.1 Nere Aita - el exilio vasco - Mirentxu Amezaga 

III.2 Cronicas del Alsina -  Arantzazu Amezaga de Irujo

IV) Sus Hijos Escriben;


IV.1 Los tres Barcos que llevaron a Ama y Aita

IV.2 Travesia

V) Sus Hijos Escriben tras su muerte;


V.1 A mi Aita

V.2 La cancion de mi Padre

VI) Otros aspectos


VI.1 Reunion Familar en su Memoria

VI.2 Exodo

VI.3 Comision del Cuatricentenario de Caracas

VI.4 Inauguracion de la Plaza que lleva su nombre en Algorta

VI.5 Su Pequeño Poema en la Nota Necrologica 4 Febrero 1969

VII) Toda su Obra Publicada convertida en Formato PDF- puede ser leida en dispositivos  e-Book


 VII.1 Amézaga Vicente  Autor Irujo Ametzaga Xabier

 VII.2 Articulos de Prensa

 VII.3 Bio Biografica

 VII.4 Biografia en Euskera

 VII.5 Ciclo de Clases

 VII.6 Ciclo de Conferencias

 VII.7 Nostalgia

 VII.8 El Elemento vasco en el Siglo XVIII Venezolano

 VII.9 El Hombre Vasco

 VII.10 Los Hombres de la Compañia Guipuzcoana

 VII.11 Obras Publicadas

 VII.12 Vicente Antonio de Icuza

 VII.13 Poesias

 VII.14 Relacion de Escritos como Autor

 VII.15 Reseñas Biograficas

 VII.16 Semana Vasca Montevideo

 VII.17 Semana Vasca Montevideo Indice de Articulos

 VII.18 Traducciones

Sitio en Internet en homenaje a Vicente de Ametzaga Aresti.
Unico sitio en Internet, que lleva su nombre, de referencia completa de su vida y su Obra totalmente publicada en Internet, 
Poesias, Articulos de Prensa, sus Libros, completando asi, y cerrando todo lo que se habia escrito en libros sobre el y su vida
Creacion, Edicion y contacto: Xabier Iñaki Ametzaga Iribarren
Blog Xabier Amezaga Iribarren:
Editoriales relacionadas con sus Publicaciones
Editorial Xamezaga
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