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The coronavirus has ended the life of Rafael Gómez Nieto , the last survivor of a group of legendary Spaniards, the members of La Nueve , the first to enter the Nazi-occupied Paris in August 1944. Then, History forgot them. His memory was recovered from the 90s, when, elderly, few expected the recognition of France and democratic Spain.
Gómez Nieto died this morning at the Strasbourg nursing home where he lived, as reported by La Vanguardia .
Born in Roquetas de Mar on January 29, 1921, he settled in Badalona with his family who had lived in Cádiz and Madrid. His father and other family members were part of the customs corps, so when he was mobilized, he was assigned to the police carabinieri. He was 15 years old, belonged to the Quinta del Biberón.
He took part in the battle of the Ebro and when he crossed the border, France interned him like almost all republican fighters in a refugee camp. Four months later, he and his father left for Algeria with false documentation. In the then French colony, he enlisted in the army of Free France led by General de Gaulle from London who always sought to legitimize his leadership with his own troops. That is why there were few French integrated into the allied armies.
In French colonial Africa, General Philippe Leclerc organized a division with what he could: Spaniards, veterans of the colonies, Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, etc. The blacks who had accompanied him from Chad were either licensed or transferred to the First Division, which landed in Italy and southern France. The Second Division, which received instruction in Morocco and Scotland, landed in France in August 1944, liberated Paris, and reached the Fuehrer's lair in Austria . Rafael Gómez Nieto came to fight there. For years he kept a silver tea set and a seized camera in the Eagle's Nest.
Gómez Nieto was part of La Nuev e, a Second Division company known by its name in Castilian as it is made up mostly of Spaniards. To command this group of compatriots, Leclerc personally chose Captain Dronne. Official of the Colonial Administration stationed in Cameroon at the beginning of the war, he spoke German and understood Spanish and Spaniards well.
His widow told me in 1994, in impeccable Spanish, that her husband, whom she met in Burgos in 1928 during some summer courses, was "imbued with the Spanish soul" . Profoundly anti-Nazi, he won over his men by speaking of the Republic in his first harangue.
There are doubts about whether Leclerc was looking for him or found him by chance on the afternoon of August 24, 1944 on the outskirts of Paris. They were both very angry. The bearded captain by the succession of contradictory orders, the last of which forced him to retreat. Leclerc because he wanted to get to Paris before the Germans received reinforcements and crushed the Resistance and also to prevent Paris from falling into the hands of the Communists.
The fact is that the general got his subordinate out of doubt without discussion: «You should never execute idiotic orders. Go straight towards Paris . Enter Paris. With whatever. Quick. Wherever you want. Say the Division is coming tomorrow.
And so he did with Gómez Nieto and 129 other men , mounted on semi-armored trucks and with the support of three battle tanks. With almost no resistance, they entered Paris from the southeast. At 20:45 they arrived at the Plaza de Italia, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd that, at first, took them for Americans because of their uniforms supplied by the US Army. Then to the Austerlitz station, bluntly.
After crossing the Seine over the bridge of the same name, the group climbed up the right bank of the river. The clock at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) read 21:22 but it was not yet dark because the Germans had imposed Berlin time. Mission accomplished. The leaders of the Resistance in Paris, meeting at the Hotel de Ville, know from the mouth of the French captain that the Leclerc Division will enter the following day. The commander of the "Gross Paris" (Greater Paris), Dietrich von Choltitz, had one night in command at the Hotel Meurice, a cannon shot from the Town Hall square. He will go down in history for failing to comply with the Führer's order to destroy Paris.
While Captain Dronne was entertained with what he most wanted, a bath, down in the square, their vehicles took up positions. These names were painted: Guadalajara, Madrid, Don Quixote, Belchite, Gernika, Los Olvídos, Ebro, Brunete, Santander and Almirante Bruiza.
The now deceased Rafael was driving the Gernika . La Vanguardia recalls that they put up a republican flag that they carried on a balcony of the city hall of the capital. Later they hung "the tricolor flag at the Francoist embassy in Paris and sang" Ay Carmela "throughout the night."
Then History forgot them . In Franco's Spain for obvious reasons. In France because they distorted the official account of the liberation of Paris, in which the heroes were the Resistance, controlled by the communists, the Gendamerie in revolt after years of collaborating with the Nazi invader and the Army commanded by De Gaulle who entered Paris imposed its independence to the Allies.
In 1994, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Liberation, I was able to speak with four of those soldiers, although not with Gómez Nieto. They told me of their hazardous lives and their bitterness for so many years of forgetfulness. A French sergeant, Marc de Possesse, who was in charge of Guadalajara in 1944, lent me his typed memories.
Rafael Gómez Nieto, after being demobilized, returned to Oran (Algeria). There he married, had four children and worked as a shoemaker. He settled in Strasbourg in 1955 where he lived and ended his days yesterday, a victim of covid-19. He was awarded in 2012! With the Legion of Honor. His story was collected in the book "The Nine. The Spanish who liberated Paris" by Evelyn Mesquida.
The Paris City Council paid tribute to them already in this century. It renamed the Jardin des Combattants de la Nueve a 1,600-square-meter green space adjacent to its imposing headquarters, on the Seine side. It was opened in 2015 by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, in the presence of the Kings of Spain, Felipe VI and Letizia, and two Spanish survivors.
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