A few days ago, in one of the many groups of Basques in Argentina to be found on Facebook, in this case bringing together the descendants of those from the Northern Basque Country (or French-Basques, as they call themselves), one person commented, with a certain degree of sadness, that no one in Argentina, much less in the Basque Country, ever spoke of Iñaki de Azpiazu.
When we read this message, we needed a few seconds to recall that name, which rang a bell, but which we couldn’t place because of what they’d done. What came to mind was the memory of having read something about him and his participation in the Gernika Battalion. That was all.
But, as we like to say, in many things, there’s only one thing that can beat out our ignorance, and that is our curiosity. So we started searching, and fortunately we came across people who had decided to keep the memory of this extraordinary Basque and extraordinary human very much alive.
And we do mean an extraordinary Basque, a man who was committed to his people, and to all people. We couldn’t help asking ourselves how it was possible that so little is known of and spoken about this man? What is happening to us Basques that we so quickly forget those among us who are the best?
So, as on other occasions, and perhaps as a way to make up for our prior lack of knowledge, we decided we needed to include his profile and work on our blog.
Iñaki de Azpiazu was a priest born in Azpeitia, Basque, labor unionist (part of a labor union known at the time as Solidarity of Basque Workers (Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos, or “La Soli”), Basque nationalist, pacifist, committed democrat, and enemy to all dictatorships.
His commitment landed him in jail, into hiding, to the Gurs camp, to collaborating with the French resistance, to helping those being sought by the Gestapo (including Roger Sermont, a young Jewish violin player who he hid for quite a long time in different locations; Sermont would later go on to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra), to being the Chaplain for the Gernika Battalion, and, finally, to exile in Argentina.
What he left behind in Argentina
He reached Argentina in 1947, and did so as so many thousands of Basques before him had done, by abandoning their homeland to flee from the monster of Francoist totalitarianism. Aside from being a priest (paying special attention to the Basque community), he was a journalist (and correspondent for the Buenos Aires El Correo de la Tarde in Israel, during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and at the Second Vatican Council); defender of democracy, of the Social Doctrine of the Church, of the persecuted; and in addition to all that, as if all that weren’t enough, his legacy is still felt in Argentina.
His experience as a chaplain at one of the prisons in Buenos Aires, and then as the Chaplain of Penal Institutions of the Nation, led him to found the Home of the Freedman, created to help ex-convicts re-enter society, and to found the Secretariat for Christian Aid in Jails (in the patio of which one sapling of the Tree of Guernica is planted) which continues his work to this day. Moreover, he was a fierce opponent of the death penalty.
A book to understand what Francoism was
In his facet as a writer, two of his works stand out for narrating the tragedy Basque democrats had to live through during the Francoist insurrection and the hard times and persecution the Basque Church, priests, and faithful who refused to join in on the military coup went through. It must never be forgotten, as much as many would wish it would be, that 16 Basque priests were assassinated by Franco’s troops or were sentenced by “military tribunals”.
To explain his experiences and the times he got to live, or survive, through under that régime of terror (and terrorists), he wrote the book “7 meses y 7 días en la España de Franco” (7 Months and 7 Days in Franco’s Spain); to defend and explain to the world the position the Basque Catholic Church took as it strove to distance itself from Francoism, in 1938, he wrote “El caso de los católicos vascos” (The Case of the Basque Catholics) which was published in Spanish, English, and French, signed under the nom de plume J. Hiriartia.
We’ve asked Iñaki Anasagasti, a member of the EGI in Venezuela during the 1960s, to give us an idea of what this priest was like. As he said in his text, “F. Azpiazu was very well known in Caracas, and his pastoral, journalistic, and political work being set forth from Buenos Aires was closely followed.” In 1964, those young people at EGI, via the Ediciones Gudari publishing house, published a book that brought together both works. We thank him for being so kind as to share his memories with our readers.
We managed to find a copy of the book and scan it so we can share it here, so that this work, and his message, may not be lost.
We’ll leave you with this profile of Iñaki de Azpiazu, written by Anasagasti. We’ll also leave you with the article “Iñaki de Azpiazu: un pastor de almas y de cuerpos” written by Gonzalo Javier Auza and published in 2003 on the EuskoNews website at Eusko Ikaskuntza (and also to be found on the website of the Secretariat of Christian Aid in Jails in Argentina).
DON IÑAKI AZPIAZU
Under the Franco dictatorship, in Venezuela, there was a group of people centered around the EGI body who carried out clandestine activity, usually aimed at information and training. With the boosting of the Vice President of the Basque Government in Exile, Joseba Rezola, and having seen the clandestine Radio Euzkadi out of Bayonne closed due to the pressure of the Franco régime on the French authorities in 1951, it was possible to organize, in Venezuela, a short-wave broadcaster that would be able to broadcast a half-hour program three times a day: the Radio Euzkadi of the Basque Resistance. It was on air for thirteen years, until 1977, when it was closed as there was now freedom of the press in the Basque Country.
This group also maintained a clandestine journal, Gudari, which was published every so often to be clandestinely distributed in the Basque Country. That’s how George Steer’s book “The Tree of Guernica”, as well as Javier Landaburu’s “The Cause of the Basque People” and Pantaleón Ramírez Olano’s “The Basques are not Spanish” and Father Iñaki Azpiazu’s “Seven Months and Seven Days in Franco’s Spain” were able to be distributed there.
Father Azpiazu was very well known in Caracas, and his pastoral, journalistic, and political work being set forth from Buenos Aires was closely followed. His reports from Israel when Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was tried, and the creation of the Secretariat to help those in jail, gained him great notoriety.
After his death in 1988, back in the Basque Country, I took the book to the Basque Government, and there, the Director of Culture, Eusebio Larrañaga, republished it, though it was not widely distributed. That’s why I find it quite a good thing that the Euskadi Munduan Association, via its blog, aboutbasquecountry.com, is now reviving F. Azpiazu’s very-well written books, narrating in splendid fashion what that unholy dictatorship was like.
But first, let’s get to know Don Iñaki.
He was born in Azpeitia on February 1, 1910, and died on March 29, 1988. Fortunately, in Azpeitia, his hometown has dedicated a street to him.
At the age of 11, he entered in to the Jesuit Fathers’ School in Durango. He continued his studies at the seminaries in Elexabeitia and Vistoria (25–33) and was ordained in the latter, by Bishop Mateo Muxika, on January 24, 1933. A disciple of Aitzol and Poli Larrañaga, he was inclined towards Christian humanism in social matters, and studied Political and Social Science at the University of Lille, where he graduated.
Upon his return to the Basque Country, he was posted to Salinas de Añana, in Álava (in 1934), where he collaborated with the ELA-STV. When he was posted to Azpeitia the following year, he continued to be concerned about social matters: he wrote “Euzko-Lagille” (Basque Aid) under the pseudonym “Igazola”.
Francoist troops entered Azpeitia on September 20, and Don Iñaki stayed at the parish. This was quite a mistake, as he was arrested and jailed for “seven months and seven days”. When freed on April 23, 1937, he got word that he was again a wanted man, so without thinking, he left, traveling through Beasain, Oiartzun, and Irun until he was able to cross the “border” on April 26. He settled in Lille, where he got in touch with the Catholic Refugee Aid Committee. He moved to Labourd, and with the support of the Delegation of the Basque Government, he provided aid to the colonies of exiled children.
Then came the Second World War, the Gurs camp, the French defeat, his attempt to emark at Saint-Jean-de-Luz to try to go to Great Britain, the Vichy Government. He moved to the seminary at Air-sur-l’Adour, and soon after, he ended up with the Gernika Battalion, and joined the Society of Priests of the Holy Heart of Jesus of Betharram. In 1947, he reached Buenos Aires, and was posted to the popular parish of the Holy Heart in the Barracas neighborhood, where he carried out outstanding work that received the approval of the Cardinal Primate, Mons. Santiago Copello, who allowed him to leave the Holy Heart society and join the secular clergy of the Archbishopric.
Social matters, which took up a good chunk of the priest’s heart, led him to the Economic and Social Secretariat and the groups that would later (1954) make up the Christian Democrat Party. From 1952 on, he would be the mentor of Relación, a monthly journal for civic and social training, and of the Edición team. He was the leader of Spriritual Aid for Jails, where he met almost all the anti-Peronists of the time. When Perón was toppled, and a year later General Valle led an uprising which ended up putting Perón in front of a firing squad, was when Don Iñaki had his first heart attack.
His experiences with prisoners and jails led him to create the Secretariat of Christian Aid to Jails, unique for its day; it was his master work.
As a journalist and author, he penned “Sept mois et sept jours dans l’Espagne de Franco” in 1938 under the nom de plume Iñaki de Aberrigoyen; years later, it would be translated in Spanish by the EGI group in Caracas. He also wrote “Le cas de catholiques basques” in 1938 as J. Hiriartia, “Ideario de Conciencia Vasco” in 1945, “Mensajes Cívicos”, etc. He collaborated on “Anayak”, “Gure Erria”, “Euzko Deya” in Buenos Aires and Mexico City, at BIAEV of which he was a member; and from 1954–55, he founded and ran the monthly Euskaldunak, which published eleven issues. Another pseudonym he used was Mikel de Makazaga.
He created the “Misa Mensual de los Vascos”, and was a pleasant public speaker, having given speeches at almost every Basque center in Argentina, where for years he gave Basque masses. As a correspondent, he attended the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.
In his final years, he lived between Argentina and the Basque Country, where he continued leading the secretariat for aid to jails. On December 4, 1985, he was designated a Distinguished Member of the Juan de Garay Foundation.
Euskonews – 2003 – Euskadi
Iñaki de Azpiazu: un pastor de almas y de cuerpos
¿Qué mejor cuna para un sacerdote que Azpeitia, cerca del lugar de nacimiento de San Ignacio, uno de los santos con mayor transcendencia histórica? Allí nació un 1° de febrero de 1910 Iñaki de Azpiazu. Y, como no podía ser menos, a los 11 años ingresó al Colegio de los Padres Jesuitas, en Durango. Sin embargo, cuando descubrió su vocación sacerdotal se decidió por el clero diocesano; y, así, se formó en los seminarios de Elexabeitia y Gasteiz, donde se ordenó a los 23 años.
Also available on the website of the Secretariat of Christian Aid in Jails
The case of the Basque Catholics – Iñaki de Azpiazu (English)
«7 meses y 7 días en la España de Franco y El caso de los católicos vascos»
Last Updated on Mar 23, 2023 by About Basque Country