On the 75th anniversary of the death of Flavio Ajuriaguerra, we’ve had the opportunity to publish some thoughts to share in Deia about this great Basque and his being almost completely forgotten. Today, on August 31, this Basque daily has published “Flavio Ajuriaguerra, un héroe vasco sin historia ni medallas” (Flavio Ajuriaguerra: A Basque Hero with No History and No Medals).
Flavio is yet another example of the many Basques who, in the worst of circumstances, in the hardest times, gave up everything they had, their safety, their freedom, and even their lives, for Freedom and the Basque Country. They do not deserve to be forgotten, nor to occupy just a dark, tiny corner in our History. Their hard work and sacrifice helped ensure that we would be freer than they were, and to keep up the struggle for the Cause of the Basque People.
They deserve a place of honor in the memory of our People, and if we don’t give it to them, we’ve failed them.
Deia – 31/8/2020 – Euskadi
Flavio Ajuriaguerra, un héroe vasco sin historia ni medallas
EL 31 de agosto de 1945 falleció Flavio Ajuriaguerra Ochandiano. Una persona con unos apellidos que dejaron una profunda huella en la historia vasca del siglo XX. La de su hermano Juan, el destacado líder político que dirigió al nacionalismo vasco en los duros años de la guerra y la dictadura. La de su hermano Julián, el destacado psiquiatra reconocido en el mundo científico por sus extraordinarias aportaciones, y el idealista que participó como médico en la lucha contra los rebeldes desde Catalunya, porque quería demostrar que su compromiso con la libertad no era solo con la de los vascos, sino con la de todos.
Flavio Ajuriaguerra, a Basque hero with no history and no medals
On August 31, 1945, Flavio Ajuraguerra Ochandiano passed away. He was a man who shared certain surnames with those who have left a lasting mark on the Basque history of the 20th century. His brother Juan was a noteworthy political leader who led Basque Nationalism through the dark years of the war and the dictatorship. His brother Julián was a renown psychiatrist known for his extraordinary contributions and for his idealism, which led him to take part, as a medic, in the Catalans’ struggle against the rebels, because he wanted to prove that his commitment to Freedom was not only for the Basques, but for all.
Flavio, however, did not stand out in the memory of his compatriots, or in that of the British, or the Allies, and this despite the fact that his contribution to the cause of Basque freedom and his struggle against totalitarianism was extraordinary.
We’re talking about a Basque nationalist who worked in the Basque Government’s Intelligence Service, which was founded in 1936. He managed to escape from the summary trials the insurgents subjected the Basque combatants who faced up to the rebels to, and as a member of the Basque Nationalist Party’s resistance network, “Servicios”, he devoted himself to stealing the files of those possibly sentenced by the Special Execution Court, created by the Francoists, thereby saving many people from being murdered.
We’re talking about a Basque who, in 1940, went to the British Consulate in Bilbao to offer the Allies the network the Basque Resistance had set up. The Consul General replied that the Basque Nationalists could not get involved in such tasks. Fortunately for the Allies, the leader of British Intelligence in the northern Iberia found out about the offer and took them up on it. That man was Arthur Pat Dyer, an Englishman born in Bilbao to the man who was the honorary consul of Great Britain and the United States in that city. This Bilbao-born Brit stood up for Flavio Ajuriaguerra until the day he died, as well as for so many men and women of the PNV who risked and sacrificed it all supporting the Allies in that fight against the Axis powers.
Following the orders Juan Ajuriaguerra gave from his jail cell in Burgos, several Basque resistance networks, set up by the PNV on both sides of the Pyrenees, under the direction of Flavio, set out to carry out all sorts of tasks, including espionage, support for, and collaboration with the Allies.
The Basque Resistance helped Allied pilots and agents cross the Pyrenees, getting them out of Nazi-occupied Europe, and helping them escape from the concentration camps where they were being held prisoner. They transported millions of counterfeit French francs which were used to finance the French Resistance; radio antennas; documents stolen from the Gestapo; information of all sorts, and were collaborators with the Allies in their victory over the fascist powers.
This work was of such great importance that his reports were regularly sent to Alan Francis Brook, Viscount Alambrook, the Allied and Imperial Chief of Staff. This Englishman had been born in an Occitan town bearing a Basque name, Bagnère-de-Bigorre.
Flavio’s modern anonymity has a twofold origin. On the one hand, spies are generally not well known, and their activities are not usually publicized. On the other, his premature death brought on by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which his own brother, Julián, diagnosed after being smuggled across the border.
And it seemed that he and all those who participated in the Basque networks that were fighting the Nazis would be condemned to oblivion, but thanks to the determination of Arthur Pat Dyer of MI6 to keep their memory alive, they have not disappeared. The determination of this English spy, and the work of a few who have strived to share it, such as Eusebio Zubillaga, Koldo San Sebastián, and Iñaki Anasagasti, have helped them keep their place in history.
But that is not enough, not by a long shot. Are our youth, when learning about the Second World War in school, taught about this part of our history? Are there any events with great reach which remember these Basques on both sides of the border who collaborated in Hitler’s defeat? The answer is no.
But we do have to admit as natural that Basque public money should be used to finance documentaries that insinuate that Basque nationalism, that of those Basque who fought against Francoism and Nazism, connived and tried to approach the Nazi regime. They do so by twisting history with the sad goal of staining the memory of those patriots who had to suffer repression, persecution, and death. We even have to devote ourselves to explaining the obvious: that our Lehendakari Aguirre did not go to Berlin to negotiate with Hitler’s government, but rather to flee from the Francoists and the Gestapo.
Another Basque, Captain Esteban Hernandorena Zubiaga, participated in transporting thousands of Jews to Israel after the end of World War II. He, and his all-Basque crew aboard the Pan York, did so under the instructions of the Basque Government in exile. This Basque man then remained in Israel so as to not have to return to the fascist-controlled Basque Country. In Israel, he is a hero, with an honorary plaque in Haifa Port. There’s another remembering him in Portugalete.
And what does Flavio Ajuraguerra have? Nothing. Nothing in Great Britain or in the Basque Country. Nothing for him or any of those who risked their lives to help the Allies. When the war in Europe ended, the MI6 man in Bilbao, the aforementioned Arthur Pat Dyer, pulled some strings to ensure Flavio Ajuriaguerra would be honored with the Order of the British Empire. The British Government agreed. Flavio, being close to death, only asked that this information appear in his obituary: “Flavio Ajuriaguerra. Order of the British Empire”. The British refused, undoubtedly to avoid upsetting the Franco regime. Flavio refused to receive the honor in secret.
To understand the Brits’ refusal, one must remember the statement made by Lord Palmerston: Great Britain has “no eternal allies, and…no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual”. Its Basque allies in the war were no longer in their interests. This was confirmed by Churchill’s position at the Potsdam Conference, one month before Flavio’s death. The Prime Minister replied thusly to Stalin’s request that the Allies broke off relations with Franco’s Spain: He was against the use of force. He was against interfering with countries which had a different regime unless we are molested by them. In the countries which we control, we have, of course, set up democratic governments. Insofar as the liberated areas are concerned, we cannot allow a Fascist regime to be set up. With respect to the countries which have not taken part in this war, however, … To interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries was very dangerous.
It goes without saying that the Basque Government in Exile, and the Basques who fought to defeat the Axis forces, would have expected such a position. But that was the feeling, from Great Britain, from the US, from France. Even the USSR allowed Franco’s Spain to enter in the UN, in exchange for some of “its own”. That’s what’s called realpolitik.
So today, August 31, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Flavio Ajuraguerra, a good man, a good Basque, a patriot, and a lover of Liberty. Let’s remember him and all those who, like him, “gave it all for their beloved freedom”, as stated in the poem by Lauaxeta, murdered by the Franco fascists for defending Freedom and the Basque Country. Let’s also remember Arthur Pat Dyer, George L. Steer, Leah Manning, and all those who were friends of the Basque when it was not easy, when there was a price to pay.
But let’s also swear an oath. Let’s swear to commit ourselves not only to preserving our history, the history of the Basque Nation, but also to sharing it and making it known.
As a final note, even on his deathbed, Flavio Ajuriaguerra had to reasons for great satisfaction. As his friend Eusebio Zubillaga told it, it was two dates. The first, May 8, 1945, the day Nazi Germany surrendered, and August 15, 1945, the day Japan surrendered. Zubillaga remembers Flavio on those days, in great pain, still smiling with joy. They’d won!
Let’s make History and the Memory of these people triumph!
Agur eta Ohore.