Life and death in Barcelona
Annmarie Dagerman is one of the last persons who has a living memory of the anarchist revolution in Barcelona. We are republishing an interview with her done in 2016 for the Swedish syndicalist news paper Arbetaren on March 4th, 2016.
Annmarie Dagermans depictions from the so called “May events” in year 1937 are today unique and contains a perspective that often has been overlooked or suppressed in the Swedish historiography.
We meet Annemarie Dagerman in her home in Sundbyberg. She was one the many war children who during the 1930s was forced to grow up far too early. Her upbringing was characterized by the political movements of the time, by exile, war, revolution and counter revolution.
Annemarie Dagerman was 10 years old when she first arrived to Barcelona.
- I was tall and skinny like a fence post, during the whole civil war people thought I was much older than I really was. I have always got along well with people and had it easy to make contact. I don’t want to brag, but I have always been popular, she says and laughs. Maybe that is why I have experienced so much.
Annemarie Dagerman was born in Leipzig in Germany with the surname Götze. In her family the grandmother Anna Götze was the central figure. Anna Götze had done a long political journey from the Social Democrats via Spartakis Leauge to the Communist Party only to finally end up in the anarcho-syndicalist FAU, Freie Arbeiter Union Deutschlands.
Anna Götze had three children. The oldest son Ferdinand and the daughter Irma were anarchists while the youngest brother Waldemar was a communist. In the anarchist’s youth organisation Ferdinand met his girlfriend Elly. In the autumn of 1924 their daughter Annemarie was born. They all lived together at the home of the grandmother. Within the familiy the political discussions were many and often heated.
But before the Nazi threat they all stuck together.
After the Nazi’s transition of power, Ferdinand became one of the leading activists in FAUD’s underground organisation. He was hunted by the Nazis and had to leave Germany.
Life became harder and harder. In the beginning of 1934 Annemarie Götzes mother Elly fled to Barcelona. She left her nine year old daughter with the grandmother. In Leipzig the two of them helped the uncle Waldemar and his Communist comrades to smuggle documents and propaganda material. Annemarie Götze used to hide the Communist’s flyers in her school bag.
- Because my uncle was a Communist we helped them. I had hidden their papers in my bag and delivered it to a place. This was just before I went to Spain.
In the autumn of 1934 Annemarie Götze's mother Elly had got herself installed in Barcelona and sent for her daughter. Annemarie, now ten years old, went together with Karl Brauner, a young Anarchist who was the fiancé of aunt Irma.
When Annemarie Götze and Karl Braunder arrived to the french boarder town Port Bou the boarder was closed. A big workers inserruction had broken out in Asturia. The Spanish republic was boiling with social unrest. They had to sleep in a tent before being let in over the boarder.
In Barcelona, Annemaries Götzes mother had rented a small house on Carre de la Costa in the district of San Gervasio north of the city center. Through contacts Elly arranged for Annemarie Götze to start in the German school. In the city there were also a lot of german Nazis and one of the classmates happened to be the daughter of the Nazi Germany’s Consul General. Annemarie Götze had to be quiet about her parents political home.
Many german political refugees who had escaped the Nazism now arrived in Barcelona. In Germany the Communists had been a large majority among the political left-wing activists while the Anarchists had been few in comparison. In Barcelona, the political map was different, the Anarchists and Syndicalists were in majority. They were organized in the CNT, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, that was a broad union based mass movement with deep popular roots and in the Anarchist federation FAI, Federación Anarquista Ibérica. In Barcelona the Anarchists were so dominating that Communism never managed to get a foothold within the workers movement.
This led to tensions between the Germans. Even though the Communists were the majority among the german refugees, their political role in Barcelona was insignificant. The situation for the german Anarchists was the total opposite, they got a big influence thanks to their close relations with the CNT.
The german Anarchists in exile had created the exile organisation DAS, Deutsche Anarcho-Syndikalisten im Ausland, who at the time had about fifty members. Elly Götze was the chairman of the organisation. The function as a chairman for DAS gave prestige and important contacts but it was also a hard role. The city was swarmed by Nazi spies while the german Communists did what they could in order to conspire against the Anarchists.
In Germany the situation had become impossible for those who fought underground against the Nazis. Because of this Annmaries father Ferdinand and his sister Irma also arrived in Barcelona in the beginning of 1935.
There the social tension were in the open. CNT proclaimed big strikes which often led to pure attempts of insurrection. Many workers were imprisoned.
- Our neighbor's husband sat in prison and I was allowed to follow her and visit him. But he was not a Syndicalist ...he was not a Communist either, he belonged to another party I can’t remember what it was called anymore. But he sat together with Durrutti so I have met him in the prison.
Annemarie Götze helped to deliver food packages to the prisoners. The prison guards were not as strenuous if you had a child with you.
On the Sunday 19th of July 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out. The military went out in the streets in order to stage a coup d’etat. The people started to build barricades and hard battles were fought in Barcelona. Annemarie Götze who was about to turn 12 that year remembers it well.
- We had some friends visiting us at home. Shortly after they had left our house they came back. They told us it it was not possible to get down to Barcelona. “They are building barricades in San Gervasio”. And then everyone in the house had to get down there and watch while the barricades were being builded. But then I was not allowed to follow them.
I had to stay at home and watch the house.
After the military and the fascists had been defeated there was a predominate lush of victory in the streets of Barcelona. During the first days many churches were destroyed. One of these churches was the one that were closest to Annemaries Götze's home.
- On the night when the revolution started, people from CNT and FAI threw the first bombs into the church by Plaza Lesseps. It was a big church. From the churches they then carried the coffins with the nuns and all the saints which they put out in the street. They also went in and got those….garrote isn’t that what they are called? ….torture instruments which they had in the monastery. The Anarchists put them out in the street to show what cruelties the church had been doing.
After the attempt to stage a coup de etat had been crushed the few military- and policemen who had been loyal to the republic were without command. The political leadership was powerless and the old society was in dissolution. The only functioning structure available was the CNT which took over all the important social functions. The Anarchist revolution had won in Barcelona.
But the Anarchists was faced with a hard dilemma. They were a big majority in Barcelona, in Catalonia and many other places. But not in the entire Spain. If CNT would formally take over the power, it would not be seen with soft eyes by those countries they were hoping would come to aid the Republic. Already on the same day as the battles were over, the CNT initiated negotiations with the politicians in the Generalitat - the local government of Catalonia.
The result of the political game that was happening behind the scene was a kind of compromise were the CNT abstained from introducing a “Anarchist dictatorship”. Instead the Committee of the fighting militias was created as a new controlling organ in Catalonia. Here, unions and all republican parties collaborated. The local Catalan government was also left intact with symbolic functions in order to calm down the central government in Madrid, among other things.
It was CNT:s union committees who in effect took care of industries, factories, transports, schools, health care and so on. During the early period there was no-one who could imagine that the hegemony of the CNT would be threatened over a lucid time.
The civil war was by now in full action and the military and Fascists had taken power in many cities, Zaragoza among others, which was the Spanish anarchism’s stronghold next to Barcelona.
On the 24th of July the first militia column headed for Zaragoza. It was the Durruti Column, with the famous anarchist Buenaventura Durruti as commander, or head delegate as the anarchists called it. The column consisted of Barcelonas most dedicated anarchists, the first who had signed up voluntary. Irma Götze’s fiancé Karl Brauner, who had arrived together with Annemarie Götze to Barcelona was one of them. After the Durruti Column more would soon follow.
Members of the german syndicalist organisation in exile FAUD.first guy is Karl Brauner.
Members of the german syndicalist organisation in exile FAUD.first guy is Karl Brauner.
In Barcelona the anarchists moved big parts of their activity into the employers’ association's giant house which had been abandoned by it’s owner. The house on Via Layetana in the middle of the city center was now known as the CNT-FAI house. Here, CNT had it’s regional committee head office. FAI and the other foreign anarchist groups who belonged to the anarcho-syndicalist international IAA was also there.
In the CNT-FAI house the German DAS-group operated German speaking radio broadcastings and newspapers. Here, Elly Götze made sure that the German volunteers who arrived to Barcelona was provided with documents and weapons if they were going to the front. Swedes from SAC who worked with Swedish propaganda were also there.
Annamarie Götze got to know all of them when she visited her parents in the house.
- The house was divided into different sections. IAA had a whole floor with different languages. There they made radio broadcasts and other things. Both Rudolf Berner and Axel Österberg from Sweden were there, Annemarie Dagerman tells us.
Annemarie Götze’s parents Ferdinand and Elly were now living their dream. They devoted all of their time to the anarchist revolution. Their daughter was often left alone.
- My parents got absorbed in all that so I had to take care of myself. I had to go and eat in the churches, by that I mean in those churches that were left and had not been burned or bombed. There the anarchists opened up canteens for the people. And then the bread was overspend, instead of cleaning the plates, they cleansed it with the bread. But sadly, only during a very short period. It’s like they say: “To win a revolution you have to be able to give the people bread the day after. If you can not do that you can never win.”, says Annemarie Dagerman.
All the while, the columns who had been sent out from Barcelona had succeed to liberate all of Catalonia and half of Aragonia from fascism. But outside Zaragoza they got stuck. They lacked weapons, ammunition and the necessary equipment to invade the city. In other parts of Spain the war went even worse for the republicans. In the south the fascists had taken many big cities and were slowly but steady getting closer to the capital, Madrid.
Hitler and Mussolini sent troops and weapons. The German and Italian airforce started to bomb the republican cities.
- Barcelona was bombed by both the German and Italian air force and from the boats in the sea. So we could have bombardments both from above and below at the same time. But I never went down in the air-raid shelters which were located in the metro underground. I sneaked along the house walls, except when I happened to be in the metro underground during the bomb raids. Then they wouldn’t let you out, tells Annemarie Dagerman.
In the autumn of 1936 France, England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden, among others, entered into a non-intervention pact - an agreement which meant that no weapons was allowed to be sent to either side in Spain. Germany and Italy belonged to the signing countries even though it was generally known they sent big amount of weapons and troops.
The only country who helped the Spanish Republic was the Soviet Union. But the Soviet communists sold their weapons to the Spanish Republic at a high price. The Russians succeeded in making the Spanish government send their gold reserve to Soviet, both as a pay in advance and as a deposit. But the price for weapon also became political as a big number of Russian military advisers, political commissaries and propagandists was sent from Soviet to Spain.
Just as the Russian weapons started to arrive the Communist influences increased drastically and they quickly got themselves a great influence over the government of the Spanish republic and it’s military leadership.
In november 1936 the fascists stood outside Madrid. If the capital would fall the war would be lost. In Barcelona, the CNT decided to send 1500 men from the Durutti column to participate in the defense of Madrid. The battles in Madrid became the hardest that were fought during the war. Madrid’s defenders managed to save the city in the end, but the popular Buenaventuri Durutti fell under mysterious circumstances. Many were convinced that it was the Communists who had murdered him.
Duruttis body was transported from Madrid to Barcelona and was put on lit d’parade in the foyer of the CNT-FAI house on Via Layetana. The funeral on 23rd of november 1936 is one of the big milestones in the history of Barcelona. Over a half million people were out in the streets to celebrate Durruti.
Annemarie Götze was present on the first road. On a photography of the CNT-house she points at the balcony where they stood.
- It was mom and me, and we stood together with Emma Goldman.
When the funeral procession started they were asked if they wanted to join in one o the cars who would drive in the procession. Annemarie and Elly really wanted to join.
- Emma Goldman did not want to go because she was already very old. She was living in England at the time but she happened to be in Barcelona when Durutti was buried.
Annemarie and Elly was crowding their way down through the street and made it to the waiting car. The hustles was terrible and everyone was on edge. Suddenly it all turned into a pure horror experience for Annemarie Götze.
- When I was going to get into the car someone shut the door closed so my finger got crushed, says Annemarie Götze, who shows us her finger that is, over 75 years later, still crooked after the accident.
- It bleed and it bleed….It was horrible to have your finger crushed in the door of the car. And at a funeral. Then you can cry but you cannot visit the doctor. It was only to suffer it through, she says.
Nobody knew it then, but Buenaventura Durutti's funeral was the last really big Anarchist manifestation during the civil war. The Communists now had the central government and the leadership of the republican army in it’s grip. In Barcelona CNT had been forced to make several of concessions in order to keep the antifascist unity. After pressure from Madrid the Committee for the antifascist militias was dissolved and CNT had instead joined the local government, the Generalitat. But even there, the CNT had started to loose its influence. In the autumn of 1936 the final laps from the principles was enforced: the Anarchists joined the central government where CNT got four ministerial posts.
In the spring of 1937, the Communists felt confident enough to attack the revolutionary construction of society in Barcelona. On the third of May they attacked Barcelona’s central telephone exchange by Plaza Cataluña which was controlled by personal from CNT. They manage to seize the ground floor but they were stopped by machine gun fire from the Anarchists on the upper floors
In the city, the rumor of the Communist’s attack spread like wildfire. The workers did what they always done when they had been attacked. They defended themselves. Barricade was erected in all of the city.
Many Anarchists had long been waiting to set the score with the Communists and it was a critical state. But the CNT:s leadership stood by it’s collaboration line. Without the soviet weapon shipments the war would be lost. CNT sent many known names to Barcelona in order to induce the city’s workers to drop their weapons. The CNT leadership took its responsibility before the republic, but at the price of the Anarchists having to give up many of it’s socially important functions.
After the battles had ceased a wave of terror started. The Communist settled their disputes with their enemies. But they did not dare to go on a frontal attack on CNT. Instead they attacked the small Moscow critical Communist party Partido Obrero de Unifica, who’s members got persecuted, arrested and murdered. The Communist also concentrated themselves on the foreign Anarchists who were in Barcelona. They had often come to Barcelona with false passports and documents and was therefore grateful targets.
The German Communists had from the start of the war established lists of the German Anarchists in the city and with the help of these lists the purge started. Annemarie Götze's father Ferdinand Götze knew he was wanted and therefore kept himself away from the home.
One day somebody was a knocking on the door of the family Götze. In the house was Annemarie and Elly Götze and also Elly’s sister Irma who was there on a visit.
- It was the German Communists. They searched the whole house. They found nothing. But I had been given a signal gun. If anything happen I was suppose to shoot with it in order to forewarn my parents...They took it with them. It was the only thing they found. And they also took a lot of private papers which was valuable for us but not them, she tells us.
- When they left they took my mom. She was known for being political. They knew she was against Communism. Unfortunately my aunt had just arrived to our home. Then they took her too.
A police man stayed in the house in case the father would come home. But after a few days the police left the house. Annemarie Götze was now alone. The father had gone underground and the mother was imprisoned.
We had a few ducks and hens. Back in the days in Spain they went around and sold those small chickens, and my dad had bought four or five chickens and a few ducks. They went around pecking in our back yard and had now become big. I had to get food so I sold them to the greengrocer who was a close friend of ours.
Annmarie Götze was worried about her mother and she started to wonder about what she could do. She remembered how she earlier had follow one of neighbor's wife to the prison.
- So through her I knew that you went and gave the prisoners food.
Annamarie Dagerman arranged a food package and then found enough courage and went to the “Communist's secret prison”.
- There, the young drafted boys sat outside as guards, but the Communists could not speak with them themselves. I could do that because I spoke both Catalan and Spanish. And I persisted that I had to get in and see my mother to give her food. And they let me in!
Mother Elly and aunt Irma had been taken to the infamous so called “checka” the Communist had established on Calle Puerta del Ángel in the center of Barcelona. It lay close to Plaza Cataluña, the same spot where the telephone exchange was and the May events had started. Here, the Communists, locked up dissidents and torture was a common interrogation method. Not everyone got away from there alive.
- They said my mother was being interrogated. Then a man came who said he was Spaniard. “You can try to fool someone else about that”, I said.
Annamarie Götze immediately recognized the German Communist who was a commander of the Checka. He happen to be one of the Communists who Annemarie and her grandmother many years earlier helped with smuggle flyers in Germany.
- He first did not recognize me, it had been some years that had past. He starred. And thanks to that, he let my mother go, she tells us.
- It was really just a coincidence. So my mother was freed, but my aunt was left in the prison. She wasn’t really political but her man belonged to the guys around Durruti.
Later, Annemarie Götze found out that the German Communist’s venture had cost him his life.
- Him, they sent to Madrid and shoot. He was shoot by his own.
After the may events it became risky to contact the Anarchist comrades.
- Then it was me who had to keep our family's connections with CNT and IAA. The CNT-house was under surveillance so you could not enter through the main entrance, instead you had to sneak through another door further down the street. I was well settled in the house so I knew where to go. And I had been part of this since a long time, because I had been around in Germany during the illegality already before I came to Spain. So I knew how the psalms goes, as you say.
In Barcelona the bombardments continued. Annamarie Götze says that many got bombed out as their houses got destroyed and that refugees streamed into Barcelona from other parts of Spain. The Götze family often let people stay in their home.
- You couldn’t be too picky back then. You had to share bed with children sometimes and sometimes you had to give up the bed and sleep on the floor.
- We had a wife of a Fascist and her children with us in the house where we lived for a period. You had to help each other as much as you could, you know. It was a question of compassion. We had to prove that we weren’t as bad people as the Fascists tried to make us, says Annemarie Dagerman.
One house in Annemarie Götze’s block suffered a direct hit.
- It got totally bombed away. 40 persons went with it. It was just a big hole left. It smelled of corpses in the whole of Barcelona, she says.
The city had become too dangerous for Annemarie Götze. Her mom decided to send her to Paris where she was to live with some Russian Anarchists who were friends of the family.
Annemarie Götze took the train to the French border. But at the border there was a problem. As a lone child Annemarie was not allowed to leave the country, and had to return to Barcelona.
- On the way back I met three Bulgarian Anarchists who was going to Spain to fight so I took them to Barcelona. As we drew closer they changed and dressed in those black shirts with high pluck like the Russian Anarchists used to have. The problem was that the Fascist also used to wear those. I tried to warn them, but they did not listen on that ear. I know that they joined the Durruti troops. But I do not know what happen to them, says Annemarie Dagerman.
Mother Elly was surprised to say the least when Annemarie Götze all of sudden showed up back in Barcelona again. But she was not allowed to stay.
The Austrian author Etta Federn had been living on the same street as the family Götze. She was engaged in the Anarchist women organisation Mujeres Libres and had worked as a teacher at one of their schools. Annemarie Götze had been visiting it often. Because of the bombings, Etta Federn had moved to the small town of Blanes north of Barcelona. It was now decided that Annemarie was to live with her.
Before the war the costal town of Blanes had been some kind of health spa for the upper class. CNT had arranged it so that the bombed out refugees from Barcelona could settle down in the many rich man houses and estates which now stood empty and abandoned. In Blanes Etta Federn was responsible for four schools established by the Mujeres Libres. Here children and adults were educated in agreement with the libertarian pedagogy which had been developed by the Catalan Anarchist Francisco Ferrer. Annemarie Götze became one of the students, but she also became Etta Federns right hand and often had to help out with the education.
- We taught the small children in the midmorning, the older children in the afternoons and those who were to become teachers in the evenings. You had to educate the teachers in the spirit of Ferrer as well!
During the civil wars final phase Annemarie Götze and Etta Federn returned to Barcelona. Etta Federn left Spain and travelled to Paris.
In Barcelona, Annemarie Götze's mother had start to work for the Swiss Red Cross, a service who to a certain point protected her from the Communists persecutions. Meanwhile. Ferdinand Götze had managed to get out of Spain. At the boarder he had pretended to be a Dutch student and been let into France. From France he made his way to Norway.
Annemarie Götze and her mom left Spain 1938. They went from Barcelona with one of the Swiss Red Cross’ cars. During the journey they often had to jump out of the car and walk along the roads.
- We had to walk as refugees because the Germans and Italians also bombed the Red Cross cars.
By the boarder a problem came up again
- At first they did not want to let me out because they though my mother smuggled out a Spanish child. Because I spoke almost only Catalan and Spanish, she says.
They made their way to Paris. From there they continued to Norway where the father Ferdinand waited for them. The family was reunited. But when the Germans invaded Norway in the spring of 1940 they had to escape to Sweden. During the escape, Annemarie got separated from her parents.
- In Barcelona I had been shoveling snow on our roof and my feet got frozen. I had been operated in Norway and I still had a hard time walking. Therefore I got to go with a Swedish man who was going to drive his Norwegian wife and their daughter to Sweden. My parents had to go with a Finish buss which drove behind us. But the bus got shoot at by the Germans and stopped because a child had been injured in the arm. And then me and my parents got separated, she tells us.
Annemarie Götze was left alone on the Swedish side of the boarder. She came to Karlstad where the family had decided that they would meet if they got separated. But the parents were lost.
- I did not know where they were the first time. And they did not know where I was either. And I had no papers so I could not prove who I was.
Annemarie Götze ended up in Stockholm at last where she sought up the Swedish syndicalists in SAC.
- There Rudolf Berner and Axel Österberg recognized me since we had met in Barcelona. SAC arranged it so that I could stay with a family who took care of me.
The first months in Sweden Annemarie Götze had to stay in the home of Einar Stråhle and his family on Lustigkullavägen in Gröndal just outside Stockholm. Einar Stråhle was a active Syndicalist who also was deeply engaged in the fight against Nazism. Meanwhile Annemaries Götzes parents had turned up in Sweden. They had been interned in public refugee camps. The SAC made big efforts to get them released. After Einar Stråhle had bailed them out as a “guarantor” for them at the social department they got released. At last Elly and Ferdinand Götze could make their way to Stockholm where their daughter was.
In the beginning they lived with Einar Stråhle, but soon they got to rent a room and pentry on Brännkyrkagatan in Södermalm, Stockholm.
News came from Germany about their relatives. Aunt Irma had left Spain and returned to Germany. There she and the grandmother had been arrested and put into the concentration camp Ravensbrück. Irmas husband Karl Brauner had been imprisoned by the Communists in Spain but he had managed to escape and made his way to France. Everyone had survived the war.
In Sweden the family quickly became active in SAC. At the Syndicalist youth organisation’s meetings Annemarie Götze met the young Swedish syndicalist Stig Dagerman. Stig Dagerman moved in with the Götze family on Brännkyrkagatan. The young couple got to stay in the family's pentry. After they had got married they got themselves an apartment in Sundbyberg. Here both their sons Rainer and René were born. But Annemarie Dagermans later history as the wife of the famous author is already well known and written about.
- Now you can write that the hag has been talking like a mill. Or like a rippling creek perhaps, that sounds a bit nicer, says Annemarie Dagerman and laughs.
This article was publsihed in Arbetaren in May 2012. Unfortunately Annemarie passed away in 2017.