Ibiza History & Culture

LiveIbiza Established 198
Ibiza Artists Anthropology Bibliomania Ecology History Features

History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Thirteen

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the final instalment in our long series. I dare say the telling of our tale has almost taken longer than the dispute itself, at least as far as the Pitiusan theatre of war is concerned. Now, with the holidays approaching, I feel it is best to make a truce with this particular chapter of history, leaving any further inquiry into the subject for another…year, at the very least!

This week, to conclude our study of the war, we will turn our attention to the political refugees who managed to flee the Pitiuses upon the arrival of National rule. Readers will remember from our last instalment that the National repression for those who did not manage to escape was characterized by what can only be termed ‘arbitrary tyranny’. No individual, whether from the left or the right of the political spectrum, was exempt from the scrutiny of the ‘New State’. Extrajudicial executions became a nightly occurrence, especially in the early months of wartime rule. In addition to the elimination of overtly anti-fascist members of society, many of the victims of these political witch-hunts were simply people who, for one reason or another, had in pre-war times inspired the ill-will of those locals who now shared power with the new warlords. Hence, with the breakdown of law and order that characterizes any wartime society, personal vendettas rather than actual political ‘crimes’ were all too often the driving force behind these nocturnal killings.

Family Members Pay Political Debt

Also in operation during the early days of National hegemony was the idea that the relatives of Republican activists and sympathizers should pay the price for their kinsmen’s political crimes. As was only natural, those Republicans who had attained high positions of civic leadership were also those who generally managed to escape, thanks to the aid of the larger political network to which they belonged. Meanwhile the poor brother or father or faithful follower was left behind to reap punishment in the escapee’s stead. To be sure, some of Ibiza’s prominent Republican leaders (Joan Gómez Ripoll and Joan Guasch i Juan to name two) were apprehended in person and executed more or less legally (who’s to say what’s legal in a dictatorship) in Palma de Majorca at the close of the war.

As my invaluable source Artur Parron states in his book, La Guerra Civil a Eivissa I Formentera, “…because of this [scarcity of available targets] repression centred on activists and sympathizers from the popular base, those with no public importance who should not have feared any particularly harsh reprisals for their involvements. For this reason, Franco’s repression was rendered much more indiscriminate and bloody, in that its primary objective was that of creating an atmosphere of terror and collective silence; often times the scapegoat was a relative of the person who had actually played an active political role…”

The Plight of Formentera

Because of the secrecy with which these political exterminations took place, the exact number of victims has never been established with any accuracy. Between the two islands, it is estimated that well over one hundred lives were lost in the name of ‘political responsibility’. In Formentera however, given the leftist orientation of the island, the purges were, in Parron’s words, “brutal, of disproportionate violence”. No less than eighteen Formenterencs were killed, while at least five died in Nazi concentration camps. This last fact, while it has no doubt raised more than a few readers’ eyebrows, should not really surprise us if we consider Franco’s intimate friendship with both Hitler and Mussolini. Not only did Franco invite Hitler to test out his latest weaponry on Guernica in the rebellious Basque Country, el Caudillo also provided der Führer with human offerings for the latter’s labour camps. If we keep in mind the Nationals’ keen desire for retaliation against those pockets of Spanish society that were most ideologically at odds with fascism, it becomes clear why tiny anarchistic Formentera should have suffered the grimmest extremes of this retaliation. The island’s repeated leftist electoral victories were neither forgotten nor forgiven. Moreover, it was not only the terror of the nocturnal killings that afflicted the lesser Pitiusans, it was the fact that life was deliberately kept at subsistence level, with hunger and isolation as ever-present realities. From 1939 - 1942, Formentera was also used by National authorities as a concentration camp for political dissidents from mainland Spain, usually until the time of the prisoners’ execution. Thus, in every possible way, the Formenterencs were made painfully aware of the new political order and its implacability.

Republican Refugees Flee Islands

While political refugees escaped from Ibiza and Formentera throughout the entire wartime period, the largest exodus occurred between 13th and 20th September 1936, the week that Republican rule crumbled and National occupation was known to be imminent. At this stage, many Ibicencos sought shelter in Minorca, which remained Republican territory until February 1939, only two months prior to the close of the war. The idea was to keep alive the Ibicenco institutions that had held sway under Republican rule, so as to reinstate them at some optimistically imagined time in the future. Needless to say, that time never came, so that when Minorca finally capitulated, those Ibicencos who could, were forced to escape to France and other points in Europe, this time with no glimmer of hope that democracy would be reinstated in their lifetime. The inhabitants of Formentera generally chose Algeria and other points along the North African littoral as their place of exile. Most arrived there by rowing, often en masse.

Undoubtedly, one of the most crippling social consequences of the Spanish Civil War was the huge incidence of exile it provoked, an exile that affected every walk of life, from the elite to the humble, from writers, artists and thinkers to the common man and the noble tasks he performs. Spaniards in general sought refuge in Europe, especially France, as a first stop before heading on to more permanent locations farther a field, such as the Soviet Union and the Americas. Large numbers of Ibicencos settled in France, Britain and Latin American, especially Argentina, never returning to the island of their birth, even after political embargoes were lifted. The loss, either through execution or exile, of such large swaths of humanity, left a rather lopsided, unilateral society in its wake, both in the Pitiuses and in greater Spain. As many Spaniards say, until the return of democracy in 1975, it felt like the country was missing its other half, for both great men of destiny as well as a colourful range of ordinary mortals were conspicuous by their absence.


Well, my friends, that is all she wrote! Forgive me if, in my haste, I have disregarded certain aspects of the war. All along the line, it has been a judgement call as to what to include and what to leave out, given that the information available on this subject is virtually inexhaustible. I do hope, at least, that we have all learned some small thing from our study. Many thanks for bearing with me right to the bitter end. I could have never hoped for a more patient and understanding readership.

This year I am going to take a long Christmas break with my family in the States, for which reason I will resume the history page in mid-January. I believe the 17th is the first Friday in January I will be back on line. Do rest assured that we will turn out attention to more cheerful topics in the New Year. And do have a happy, healthy holiday, one and all! Love,

Emily Kaufman