Wednesday, April 26, 2017

In Memory Of Aurora Picornell

The Council of Mallorca held a ceremony on Monday. Awards were made in the name of the institution. One was posthumous. It was for a favourite daughter of Mallorca. She died eighty years ago. She was Aurora Picornell.

Can Sales in Palma is nowadays a library; it was opened in 2004. Before the Civil War, there was an asylum run by the Hermanitas de los Pobres (sisters of the poor). During the war this became a women's prison. On 5 January 1937, the boss of this makeshift jail read out the names of five women - Catalina Flaquer Pascual and her daughters Antonia and Maria, Belarmina González Rodríguez and Aurora Picornell Femenías. They were taken to Porreres.

The village of Porreres was a conveniently out of the way place, a quiet place. It was a village that nevertheless rang with noise. The women, as with so many others, were shot at the cemetery. In the evening of 5 January, so the story is told, a fascist went into a bar in El Molinar in Palma. He brandished a bra stained with blood. It was Aurora Picornell's bra.

Born in El Molinar in 1912, her parents were communists. She became an activist at a young age. When she was 19, she founded the union for seamstresses. By then, the Second Republic was a reality. Mallorca and Spain were no longer under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. The king was in exile. A new direction was being plotted. It was, but it was one that descended into chaos and anarchy and ultimately into carnage. The dreams for and ambitions of a different Spain were shattered amidst the fighting and the murders. History should perhaps have told them that this would be how it would end. Over the course of the previous 100 or so years there had been attempts at refashioning the politics of the country and its society. The Liberal Triennium lasted, as its title says, three years. The First Republic survived for less than two years.

Aurora Picornell followed her parents into communism. She was one of the leaders of the Mallorcan branch of the Spanish Communist Party. But she is remembered as much for her feminism and for that union. They were to become known as Las Rojas del Molinar, the red women of El Molinar.

Catalina Flaquer Pascual was tortured. Her interrogators wanted to know the whereabouts of her two daughters. They were in hiding. Maria was eventually given away not by her mother but by her three-year-old daughter. The Francoist investigators gained the small girl's trust by giving her sweets. She told them where her mother was.

Although there were five of them, Aurora Picornell stood out. She was the leader. Her activism was such that she had acquired fame (or possibly notoriety) before the war. She was dubbed La Pasionaria de Mallorca (the passion flower). It seems that when she was being taken away from the prison, she and the other women were mocked by the nuns; one presumes the sisters of the poor. It is said that she told the other women that if she was alive in the morning, wherever she might be, she would return for revenge.

That anecdote serves as something of a reminder of how divisions were. The church was seen to be (and not just seen to be) on the side of the Nationalists and the fascists. It shouldn't be forgotten that the Republicans were not whiter than white. They committed atrocities against members of the church. The Balearic government's law on historical memory and graves was, after some considerable debate, reworded in order to take account of victims from both sides.

But it is the name of the Republic which dominates. Hence there have been the exhumations in Porreres. Hence why there will be more and why there is a call for exhumations in Manacor as well. The numbers of dead there, spread over a longer period, vastly exceed the bodies in Porreres.

So much attention is currently being given to this historical memory because there is a government (and a Council of Mallorca) which does not want the memory to go away and which wants some closure for descendants. The memory was allowed to go in the past. It is largely because of the one-time amnesia, the absence of any reconciliation, that events of the 1930s are haunting us now. There is also the symmetry of anniversary. Last year was the eightieth anniversary of the start of the war. This year is the eightieth anniversary of the murders of Las Rojas del Molinar and of the Republican mayors, Emili Darder of Palma and Antoni Mateu of Inca, among others.

The grandson of Aurora Picornell accepted the honour on Monday. President Miquel Ensenyat concluded that he hoped that society could recover its dignity and that the deceased could be returned to their families.

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