Historyline 21

Four letters

Valenti Portet Orriols was born in Roda de Ter. He was a member of the Republican Army and fought on the Madrid front. Once the war was lost, he was one of the thousands forced to join the Retreat. He crossed the border into Bourg-Madame in February 1939.
Once in France, he was interned like thousands of Republicans in the camps of Barcarès, Saint-Cyprien, and Rivesaltes and was forced to join the companies of foreign workers in semi-slavery. When France fell to the Germans, Orriols was transferred to Bordeaux and forced to work on the submarine base, already under Nazi control.

He lived with fellow Republican Rosa Camps: together they formed part of the resistance and were arrested by the Gestapo in February 1944. Imprisoned in Fort du Ha in Bordeaux, he was sentenced to death and subjected to the first tortures.
“The fortress is full and with a great deal of misery. There are 8 or 10 people in cells designed for two. The Red Cross intervenes to disinfect and clean us.”, he wrote in a letter to his fiance.

In May 1944, he was transferred to the camp in Compiègne, a town about 40 kilometers north of Paris. His convoy departed on 21 May with 2,004 people, mostly foreign prisoners, almost half of them dying on the way. The train went on for more than 3 days without ever opening the doors or providing water or food to the prisoners. It stopped near Buchenwald but the lack of space in this camp forced it to continue until Neuengamme, where they arrived on 24 May 1944.

First interned in the Neuengamme camp, he was later sent to Sachsenhausen and assigned to the Klinker Kommando. In April 1945, with Soviet troops drawing near, the Nazis decided to empty the Sachsenhausen camp. The march of death began. Prisoners were forced to walk day and night through the forest to an unknown destination. Valentí and the group of Spanish Republicans managed to escape, entering the forest until they found the Soviet troops. They were finally free. They all recovered together in the barracks of Schwerin (Germany) where they were transferred by the liberating troops.

“My satisfaction and joy are that of being able to send these four letters since for 18 months it had been impossible for me to write anything to you. I had never thought I could write again but luck and my health mean that today, 14 June, I can contact you again.”
Our #protagonist remained in exile for a further 10 years. He lived in Bordeaux, Paris, and Manheim (Germany). Exhausted from so many years of struggle and exile, although always committed to his ideals, he returned to Catalonia, to his village, Roda de Ter, in 1960. His fiancée, Antonia, had been waiting for him there for 20 years, and he married her the following summer.

From so far to so close.

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