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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Seven

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the history page. This week we are going to deviate from our usual format in order to speak to one who lived through Bayo’s invasion and occupation of Ibiza. Although only a boy at the time, Rafael Sainz clearly remembers the unfolding of hostilities within island life, primarily because these events affected his family in a very direct way. Sixty-six years later, Sainz has written a book, the soon-to-be-published Vacaciones Truncadas: Ibiza 1936, based on his childhood experience of the Civil War. This lively but distinguished gentleman was good enough to meet with me last Tuesday to recount not only the period of wartime proper but also how his family, originally from Madrid, came to discover the unspoilt beauty of Ibiza in the early 1930s. Here is his story.

LiveIbiza: Tell us a bit about how your family came to be in Ibiza when the Civil War broke out.

Rafael Sainz: We were from Madrid, but my parents always took us to the seaside to spend the summer months. Usually we went to Biarritz in the south of France, but one year, in 1931, Rigoberto Soler, a painter from Valencia and an old friend of the family, invited my father to spend Easter Week with him in Ibiza. My father accepted his invitation and immediately fell in love with the island. So much so that before the week was out had bought a plot of land near Santa Eulàlia. Naturally, none of us had ever even heard of Ibiza, and my mother was more than a little upset to learn that she would now be spending her summers on a tiny island that was neither elegant nor sophisticated nor in any way adapted to tourism. There were no dances, no shows, none of the social events or international atmosphere that characterized the Bay of Biscay. In those days, there were only two boats a week between Ibiza and the mainland, one from Valencia and the other from Alicante, and of course, a few boats to Palma de Majorca. Needless to say, the rest of the family - my uncles and grandparents and so forth - thought my father was absolutely crazy and strongly advised him to reconsider, but there was no changing my father’s mind once he’d made it up.

LI: So how long had your family been coming to Ibiza when war broke out?

RS: We started coming that very summer, the summer of ’31, which means that the summer of ’36 was our fifth season on the island. I was eight at the time and I had four other brothers and sisters. Because of the marked insular nature of Ibicenco society in those days, our family was quite disconnected from island life. We were known and tolerated, but we did not participate in local affairs in any way. Therefore, when war broke out and we found ourselves directly in the line of fire, so to speak, it came as quite a shock. Intellectually, my father was very broad-minded, very much a lover of art and culture, a big patron and collector. Whenever he was on the island, he held a daily tertulia, a sort of meeting-of-the-minds for intellectuals and artists. Politically, however, he was a rightist, and did not hide the fact. He was a stockbroker for my grandfather’s bank and our finca was known locally as Ca’s Banquer (‘house of the banker’) even though its real name was Getsemaní.

LI: What do you mean by ‘in the line of fire’?

RS: Well, our finca was located exactly on the warpath of Bayo’s march to Ibiza town. Had we remained in it, there is scarcely any doubt that we would have been arrested - or worse - by the invaders. But, as fate would have it, my father was friendly with an American writer from Minneapolis who lived nearby (not Elliot Paul, incidentally). He and his wife alerted us to the danger we faced as known rightwing sympathizers and urged us to come and stay with them until the danger had passed. My father accepted their kindness and we took refuge at their finca during the five weeks of Bayo’s occupation, that is, from the 8th August until the 14th September. Bayo’s troops did, in fact, sack our house but, although they tried, they couldn’t burn it because it was built of stone. To make matters worse, my mother was in her eighth month of pregnancy with a new baby. The best course of action, in that sense, would have been to remain in Ibiza until she gave birth, but we had no means of survival as all the banks had been closed down and the accounts frozen - which meant that we were literally penniless. Also, life in Ibiza was precarious. There was no food, no transport, no money, no anything. Being non-islanders made our position even less secure so my father decided that we should try to leave the island.

LI: Were you able to do that?

RS: Yes, on 16th September, after the withdrawal of the Reds, my father managed to find a free passage for us on an Italian ship which dropped us off in Palma de Majorca, which by then was National territory. My mother gave birth shortly after our arrival in Palma, but the baby did not survive. We never knew if it was stillborn or if it died later of malnutrition or something like that because my parents would never talk to us about it. That was a closed book, never to be reopened. We stayed in Majorca for four or five months until we managed to get back to the mainland, but not Madrid because that remained Republican territory until the very end of the war. Instead we went to Fuenterrabia, a tiny fishing village right on the French/Spanish border, where we knew people from when we used to vacation in the Bay of Biscay. From there we went to Santander and, finally, when the war was over, back to Madrid.

LI: How soon did your family come back to Ibiza after the war?

RS: As soon as we could! The war was over in April of ’39 and that July we came back to spend the whole summer as had been our custom. After our experience in the summer of ’36 Ibiza held a special place in our hearts because of the many kindnesses we had received from the people here, both foreigners and native Ibicencos. During the 40s my father resumed collecting, adding a new dimension to his passion: archaeology. He came to own the largest private collection of Phoenicio-Punic artefacts ever assembled on the island. He was quite serious about it, and whenever some new piece was found, he would try to outbid whoever else was interested in purchasing it - always a foreigner or at least a non-Ibicenco - because he knew that if local farmers kept selling off these bits of antiquity, Ibiza would soon be left without its historical patrimony. When he died in 1961 he donated the entire collection to the Spanish state under the proviso that its contents should be housed in the local archaeology museum and never leave the island.

LI: He certainly held Ibiza’s cultural patrimony close to heart.

RS: Yes, he was possessed of great foresight and was way ahead of his day in that sense.

LI: Well, thank you for sharing your time and knowledge with us. It’s been fascinating.

RS: Thank you. The pleasure’s been mine.


Rafael Sainz is also the author of Tales of Mel (1998), a highly recommendable read which centres on the Ibicenco hound but touches on a wide range of ancillary subjects in the course of its fast-paced narrative. It is available at all good island book shops. Please join us next week when we will soldier on with our war chronicles and also consider some of the feedback that this series has provoked from the local population. Until then.

Emily Kaufman