This article was translated by John R. Bopp
Some time ago, we wrote about the amazing article in a 1968 issue of National Geographic on the Basques, and, out of curiosity, we looked up who the Francoist ambassador at the time was, and we said this:
An anecdote: we imagine the Francoist ambassador to the United States wouldn’t find this report at all funny, especially with a map of Basque lands represented as being distinct from Spanish. Let’s not forget that in 1968, if a Basque had this map in Francoist Spain and was caught, he’d be in big trouble with the Régime and its henchmen. And it just so happens that at that time, the Francoist ambassador to the US was Alfonso Merry del Val y de Alzola, born in Bilbao in 1902.
But that wasn’t the juiciest thing we found out in our research, as we wanted to save it for a special occasion, such as today. This Basque man, who belonged to the Francoist élite, was married twice. The first time was to another Basque, Carmen Gurtubay y Alzola, the daughter of Blanca de Alzola y González de Castejón, marchioness of Yurreta and Gamboa. This marriage between cousins was annulled by a papal bull.
It is true that the noble title her family had was created ten years after our protagonist was born, but that Alfonso XIII gave Blanca de Alzola y González de Castejón the title of Marchioness of Yurreta and Gamboa in 1920 indicates the economic, social, and political position of the family. This is reinforced by the fact that one of the cousins of Carmen Gurtubay was the mother of the former Duchess of Alba.
But Carmen Gurtubay y Alzola, that young woman born into opulence in a deeply classist society, turned out to be the black sheep of the family she’d been born into. Knowing the profound social inequalities people lived under back then, and aware of how the wealth of the social class she’d been born into came from the misery of the majority of society and their exploitation, she became a convinced militant socialist and republican.
Her commitment was so great that, at the start of the Spanish Civil War, she moved to Paris, where she began working furiously against fascism and for republicanism until the day she died. She continued fighting against totalitarianism throughout the Second World War, even in the hardest years when Paris was occupied by the Nazis. Even the US Congress recognized her work:
I just wanted to add that Carmen de Gurtubay was a very high placed Allied intelligence agent who risked her life both in Portugal and Spain during the war years. She was jailed several times at the behest of German agents, who basically had influenced the Portuguese and Spanish police to act on their behalf.
An extraordinary woman that extraordinary times needed. She died in exile at the age of 48, and her autobiography has still not been published. The original, assuming it hasn’t been destroyed, would be an amazing historical document to understand that period of European history.
An example of her work against fascism can be found in a 1946 letter about the support of Francoism among Western democracies and the UN written by Manuel de Irujo, when he was a minister for the Republic in exile. The letter can be found at the Fondo Irujo in the Eusko Ikaskuntza.
We know, this topic never came up in any international media and, unfortunately, she is not regularly mentioned in Basque media. We hope that this small reminder of an amazing woman will help revive the flame of her memory, or at least get her an entry in the Auñamendi Encyclopedia.
Wikipedia – 10/2012
Carmen de Gurtubay
María del Carmen Gurtubay y Alzola, Marquesa of Yurreta and Gamboa (4 June 1910 – January 1959) was a Spanish noblewoman. She was born in Madrid on 4 June 1910, the only child of Juan Gurtubay y González de Castejón and Blanca de Alzola, 1st Marquesa of Yurreta and Gamboa. Yurreta refers to a town in the Vizcaya province of the Basque Country in Northern Spain.