Fieldnotes: Spanish refugees in French concentration camps

Writing historical fantasy is all about the details, so I’m always a little amused when someone tells me they didn’t know about a particular fact, because frankly, until I started writing the Los Nefilim series, I didn’t know about it, either. I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate here: the Spanish Civil War and the role of exiled Spaniards during World War II wasn’t taught in American schools back in the seventies and eighties. At most, the Spanish Civil War was given a bare mention as an incident that happened between World War I and World War II, and the fate of the hundreds of thousands of Spanish exiles was never broached.

Likewise, the only mention of concentration camps in any form came in reference to the Nazis during the nineteen thirties and forties. Rarely, a teacher mentioned the American concentration camps, where we interred Japanese-Americans during World War II, but the instructors were very careful not to use the term concentration camps, although that is exactly what they were.*

Before I begin the discussion, it’s important to know the difference between a concentration camp and a prison. For the purpose of this post, I’m using Anne Applebaum’s definition of concentration camps as:

“… camps constructed to incarcerate people not for what they had done, but for who they were. Unlike criminal prison camps, or prisoner-of-war camps, concentration camps were built for a particular type of noncriminal civilian prisoner, the member of an ‘enemy’ group, or at any rate of a category of people who, for reasons of their race or their presumed politics, were judged to be dangerous or extraneous to society” (Applebaum, p. xxxiv).

These camps initially came into existence through colonialism.

The Spanish were the first to utilize the term, reconcentración, in colonial Cuba in 1895, where the colonists faced a series of local insurgencies. By removing Cuban peasants from their land in order to “reconcentrate” them in camps, they found a way to deprive local insurgents of food, shelter, and support.

Sometime around 1900, the term moved into the English lexicon, and the British used a similar project to contain the Boer insurgency during the Boer Wars. From there, the term kontslager appears in Russian, probably through Trotsky, who was familiar with the Boer Wars.

In 1904, the Germans colonized South-West Africa and followed the British example, except for one important twist: the Germans added forced labor as an integral part of their camps. Members of the Herero tribe who were interred in the German camps were forced to work for the colonists. In 1905, the term Konzentrationslager (often abbreviated as either K.Z or K.L.) first appears in the German language.

While Applebaum doesn’t go into French colonialism, it’s not hard to see how the French colonists would be aware of the Spanish, British, and German measures to restrict local populaces. Regardless, the French were certainly familiar with the concept and utilized it when overwhelmed with Spanish refugees at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

France had long been a haven for refugees fleeing political persecution from many European countries; however, by the end of the nineteen thirties, France was undergoing a poor economic outlook coupled with political divisions of its own, along with the increasing threat of war with Germany. France’s Prime Minister, Édouard Daladier, was a French Radical-Socialist politician, who sought to turn France from being a refuge toward being a place of transit for those fleeing persecution.

Albert Sarraut, the French Minister of the Interior, was responsible for dealing with the arrival of Spanish refugees in 1939. Sarraut distinguished between prison camps and concentration camps when he said, “Let us repeat that: the camp of Argelés-sur-Mer will not be a penitentiary centre but a concentration camp. It is not the same thing” (Soo, pp. 6-7).

The immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War left over half a million Spaniards crossing the Pyrenees during a brutal winter. As they fled, Nationalist, German, and Italian planes strafed civilians with the same intensity as the military targets. One French lorry driver suspected that the children he carried were targeted deliberately:

“My lorry was crowded with children. The plane swooped so low that they must have seen it. But that did not stop them. Seventeen of the children were killed” (Soo, p. 46).

Traumatized by the war and the long journey over the Pyrenees, the Spanish found themselves treated like prisoners. They arrived in France, not to find a welcome, but instead barricades, where they were forced to leave what few possessions they might have managed to carry into their exile.

French officials confiscated personal possessions and dumped them into a ditch filled with chloride and lime. The Spanish were only allowed to carry in only what was strictly necessary. With the loss of personal possessions came the loss of identity for many people, a loss that was might have been chipped away, but never totally disappeared.

The first camp was established at Argelès-sur-Mer on 1 February, where the refugees found nothing but barbed wire. Families were separated, with men in one section and women and children in another, until Argelès overflowed and more camps were established at St. Cyprien (7 February), Barcarès (9 February) to relieve the overcrowding (Kendall, 2018).

Taking a page from the German colonists, the French put the Spanish to work in constructing the camp. Remember, this was February and the Spanish had no shelter from the cold winds and the sand. It would be months before any type of shelter would actually be constructed.

Spanish refugee in the sand at Argelès-sur-Mer (copyright Robert Capa 1939)

Spanish refugee in the sand at Argelès-sur-Mer (copyright Robert Capa 1939)

A report from the UK’s International Commission for the Assistance of Child Refugees in Spain describes the initial camp conditions:

“Aregles [sic] camp is on a sandy expanse by the sea. There is no shelter of any sort from wind, sand or rain. A bitterly cold wind from the mountains has produced a raging sandstorm for the past few days. There is a great deal of ‘dysentery’ probably from lack of good water and absence of sanitary arrangements. The refugees scoop hollows in the sand for protection against the wind, but if they go more than a few inches down it is wet. A number of women living in the camp and nearly 80 children nearly all of whom suffering conjunctivitis from the sand [sic]” (Soo, p. 60).

The French government, for their part, hoped that the horrendous conditions would prompt the Spanish Republicans to return to Spain, and the Spanish knew it. The Manchester Guardian published an extract from an internee’s letter that read:

“Am now in a concentration camp where we are treated just like infected dogs and by the Senegalese blacks … Obviously, they were ordered to be rough with us, so as to make us tired and oblige us, more or less, to go with Franco, which is what the authorities want … The food ration consists of: 8 a.m. a tin of hot dirty water, meaning to be coffee [sic]; 3 p.m. half a pound of bad bread and a tin of small and very bad sardines to be shared between three people. And that’s all … We’ll die like flies soon. It would have been better to have been killed by bombs” (Soo, p. 61).

At Argelès, French officials stated that families would only be reunited if they agreed to return to Spain. Men were given the option of joining the Foreign Legion or returning to Spain, which very few actually accepted. In the Gurs camp, only 473 Spaniards signed a repatriation agreement (Soo, p. 81).

Others did risk returning to Spain over the summer. Approximately 250,000 refugees returned, but this number might have been higher, since many could have returned clandestinely in order to avoid possible imprisonment and repression under Franco.

Those who remained in the camps, and especially any Republican soldiers who stayed in France, were instrumental in fighting for France against Germany: first in the army and then in the Resistance. But that is another story …

__________

*Nor have we learned from the past. Immigrants seeking asylum, which is perfectly legal, are currently being housed in concentration camps in the United States.

Applebaum, Anne. Gulag: a history. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.

Kendall, Meaghan. “Internment of the Spanish Exiles in France.” August 11, 2018.

Soo, Scott. The routes to exile: France and the Spanish Civil War refugees, 1939-2009. Manchester, MI: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Fieldnotes: pink lists and the pink triangle

A few short notes on why I chose to use male protagonists and antagonists in my Los Nefilim series, and maybe a few historical facts that not many people know. There are women in the novel, as well, and I adore writing them, because they’re all so vicious (Carme, Sofia, and the Corvo twins to name a few).

The thing is, though, the books originally started with Guillermo as the protagonist. As I became more involved with different people online, I realized that my novel with Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel followed every terrible trope out there. In my case, multiple rejections became a second chance.

I considered flipping the genders and making them all women. Then I spent some time studying the various time periods. As I did, I found that laws against homosexuality were generally written against men, going back to the Visigothic Code, which specifically addressed sodomy and no other form of same-sex love. The code itself states that anyone accused of sodomy “not only suffer emasculation, but also the penalty prescribed by ecclesiastical decree for such offences.” [1] Ecclesiastical decrees during the 13th century dictated the death penalty for sodomy. [2]

Women, on the other hand, were (and quite often still are) seen under the false assumptions that they are either: a) naturally affectionate or b) not in control of their own desires. There is the added perspective that, seen through the male gaze, f/f copulation can be arousing to males, and therefore less likely to be seen as a punishable offence.

Regardless of the reasoning, as time moved on, the persecution against gay men remained in place. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that both psychologists and physicians began to study sex and gender associations more openly. One of the most renowned was Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician who founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, which pioneered “the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights.” [3]

Hirschfeld believed that "homosexuality was part of the plan of nature and creation" like other forms of love and affection. In 1919, he co-wrote and acted in the film Anders als die Andern ("Different From the Others"). Conrad Veidt, a prominent German actor who makes a cameo in Where Oblivion Lives, played one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema in this film. Because of this, he is Rudi Grier’s hero.

Hirschfeld, for his part, uses his role to play himself and makes an attempt to educate his audience. A portion of the film is devoted to Hirschfeld testifying in court that “the persecution of homosexuals belongs to the same sad chapter of history in which the persecutions of witches and heretics is inscribed."

Unfortunately, Hirschfeld became a Nazi target in the early 1930s. He escaped arrest only because he was on a book tour when the library at Hirschfeld's Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sexology) was raided on 10 May 1933. The Nazis burned thousands of books.

In Spain, France, and Germany (where the majority of the Los Nefilim series takes place), police kept lists of known homosexuals. Pierre Seel, a young Frenchman, frequented Steinbach Square in Alsace, which was a place where men went to meet for sexual encounters. Unfortunately for him, he one day lost a treasured watch to a thief. He went to a police station to report the theft and found himself on the receiving end of a lecture from the detective. Seel didn’t know for certain, but based on later action by the Gestapo, he realized the detective must have placed his name on a list of known homosexuals. [4]

In Germany, these were known as "Pink Lists." When the Nazis seized power, they rounded up these men and told them to report to Gestapo headquarters. Seventeen year old Pierre Seel was likewise summoned by the Gestapo to be interred in a concentration camp.

After the murder of Ernst Röhm, the laws against homosexuality (women were still exempt) became stricter. The obsessively homophobic Heinrich Himmler had the Gestapo step up their raids. In 1937, he told SS leaders that “it was regrettable that gay men could not be killed, but at least they could be detained.” [5]

According to Richard Plant, in his book, The Pink Triangle, between the years 1933-1944 between 50,000 to 63,000 men, 4,000 of whom were juveniles, were convicted of homosexuality under Germany’s infamous Paragraph 175. [6] Forced to wear a pink triangle, these men were detained in the concentration camps and suffered harsh treatment from both the guards and the inmates.

While German law required consent for castration, several gay men were castrated against their will. In order to “cure” the men of their homosexuality, men wearing the pink triangle were forced into particularly hard labor. They were often isolated in separate barracks, where they were forced to sleep with the lights on and their hands above the blankets at all times.

At the end of World War II, gay men were prohibited from seeking reparations for their time in the concentration camps, because homosexuality was still against the law. The laws in most countries didn't change until the mid- to late-60s. Even then many men were too ashamed to come forward. Where the Nazis failed to kill them, society turned them into pariahs. Some, such as Pierre Seel, married and forced themselves into heterosexual marriages. (Seel's ended in divorce.)

In spite of numerous books and studies of the holocaust, I was able to find only three or four books devoted entirely to the men who wore the pink triangle (these are just the ones that I’ve read):

  • Herger, Heinz [trans. by David Fernbach]. The men with the pink triangle: the true, life-and-death story of homosexuals in the Nazi death camps. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 1980.

  • Plant, Richard. The pink triangle: the Nazi war against homosexuals. New York: Henry Holt, 1988.

  • Seel, Pierre. I, Pierre Seel, deported homosexual. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

So what does all of this have to do with Los Nefilim?

Well, it all sort of goes back to my decision to do things differently with the original story. You see, Guillermo started as the protagonist for the Los Nefilim world, but the more I wrote, the more I realized this was Diago’s story. If I changed his gender, then I cheated him of his story, one that has been little more than a footnote in most history books.

Writing Los Nefilim from a woman's point of view would have drastically changed the characters' perception of the rapidly changing world. By keeping the male point of view in these books, I can balance Miquel’s hope for a more tolerant world with Diago’s pragmatism. Later, in Where Oblivion Lives, Diago's actions with a young German man take on more poignancy because both must remain hidden from the other for different reasons.

More than anything, I want to show you what Hirschfeld wanted to show his audience with Anders als die Andern ("Different From the Others"). That is why my cast is predominantly male.

If you're looking for kick-ass women, I can direct you to a ton of good books, but I'm keeping my boys, because they have a story to tell, too. It begins in 1931 in Barcelona, in a novella called In Midnight’s Silence …
__________
[1] FLAVIUS EGICA, KING. Book III, Title V, Section VI. Concerning Sodomy, and the Manner in which the Law should be Enforced.

[2] Michael Goodrich Ph.D. (1976) Sodomy in Medieval Secular Law, Journal of Homosexuality, 1:3, 295-302.

[3] Goltz, Dustin. "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Movements", In Lind, Amy; Brzuzy, Stephanie (eds.). Battleground: Women, Gender, and Sexuality: Volume 2. Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport, CT, 2008.

[4] Seel, Pierre. I, Pierre Seel, deported homosexual. New York: Basic Books, 1995.

[5] Wachsmann, Nikolaus. KL: a history of the Nazi concentration camps. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

[6] Plant also notes that six lesbians were arrested, which is considered a "bewildering statistic, since sex between women was not against the law."

Fieldnotes: Fascism, women, and the Spanish Civil War

WARNING: If you’re upset by violence, you might want to skip this post, because this one is ugly.

In order to simplify the opposing forces in the Spanish Civil War for my American readers:

The elected Republican government was roughly the equivalent to today’s Democratic Party. Franco’s fascists referred to the Republicans as “leftists,” or as “reds” even though most Republicans did not consider themselves to be communists.

The rebels (Franco and his military junta) were backed by the Church, industrialists, the rich, and fascists, which can be likened to today’s evangelicals, the one percent, and Trump’s fascist party, the GOP. They consisted of members of the hard-right and fascists.

Before anyone accuses me of misrepresenting the GOP’s fascist mentality, their current philosophy was initially made clear in a speech by one of Franco’s more flamboyant generals, Juan Yagüe y Blanco (more commonly known as the Butcher of Badajoz):

“… We have decided to redeem you and we will redeem you whether you want to be redeemed or not. Do we need you for anything? No, there will never again be any elections, so why would we need your vote? The first thing to do is to redeem the enemy. We are going to impose our civilization on them and if they don’t accept it willingly, we will impose it by force …”

That attitude, expressed by Yagüe in October of 1937, exemplified the rhetoric behind Franco’s war of annihilation, which was especially brutal on women. Republicans, who weren’t able to flee Franco’s advancing forces, were shot or taken into custody, not as prisoners of war but as common criminals. If the men couldn’t be found, their mothers, wives, and daughters were imprisoned in their stead. In Huesca, seventy-four women were executed for the crime of being the wives of men who had either fled or been shot.

Falangists (fascists) raped Republican women at will. They were also known to brand their victims’ breasts with the Falangist symbol of yoke and arrows. In one case, Falangists raped two women and when they were done, they placed hand grenades between the women’s legs and pulled the pins.

Spanish.jpg

Executions were commonplace and had no regard to either gender or age. In Madrid on 5 August 1939, “fifty-six prisoners were executed including a fourteen-year-old boy and thirteen women, seven of whom were under the age of twenty-one. They came to be known as the Trece Rosas, thirteen roses whose fate symbolized the cruelty of the Franco regime. They were members of the United Socialist Youth, the JSU. Their capture in the spring of 1939 had been facilitated because the Casado Junta had seized JSU membership lists then left them for the Francoists. The excuse for the executions was a non-existent plot to murder Franco.”

The repression in Jaca was exceptionally brutal and was quite often led, not by the military, but by the priests. One in particular, Father de Fustiñana, who was the Chaplain to the local Requetés and liked to walk the streets carrying a gun, was especially feared. Called a ‘bird of ill omen,’ the prisoners knew that when he entered the prison, death followed. On 6 August 1936, Fustiñana, an army captain, and two Falangists “seized two women from the Jaca prison, took them out into the countryside and shot them.” The women were Pilar Vizcarra, who was twenty-eight-years old and pregnant, and Desideria Giménez, a member of the Socialist Youth. Giménez was sixteen.

Fustiñana enjoyed these executions. “He offered confession and the last rites to those about to be shot. Then, his shoes caked with blood, he would visit the families of the few that accepted.” Fustiñana maintained lists of those executed and whether or not the condemned decided to make confession at the end. Over four hundred people from Jaca and its surrounding villages were murdered during this purge.

Those arrested were often members of the Republican middle class, especially doctors and schoolteachers. Women weren’t allowed to take children older than three into prison with them. Since family members were also either imprisoned, executed, or in exile, the women had no one to care for their children. In other cases, babies were taken away (often by force) from their mothers immediately after birth in prison.

The Republican children were placed orphanages, often while the parents still lived.

The justification for removing children from their parents was precipitated by Major Antonio Vallejo Nágera, who was appointed by Franco to oversee the Psychiatric Services of the rebel army. Vallejo spent his time searching for the “‘red gene’ and the links between Marxism and mental deficiency on Republican prisoners.” He justified “the sequestration of Republican children in a book entitled The Eugenics of Spanishness and the Regeneration of the Race.” Vallejo’s theory was that race “was constituted by a series of cultural values” such as hierarchical, military, and patriotic.

Of course Vallejo noted that the values of “the left” were inimical to the fascist idea of Spanishness, and therefore had to be eradicated. “Obsessed with what he called ‘the transcendent task of cleansing of our race’, his model was the Inquisition, which had protected Spain from poisonous doctrines in the past.” To his way of thinking, the “health of the race required that children be separated from their ‘red’ mothers.”

His work eventually led to the 1941 law that “legalized the changing of the names of Republican orphans.”

After the war, roughly twelve thousand children were placed in state or religious orphanages. These orphanages brainwashed the children by telling them that their parents were criminals. One woman recounts how her husband was shot before her and her small daughter. She was arrested and the child was given to a Catholic orphanage. “The mother wrote regularly until one day her daughter replied saying, ‘Don’t write to me any more about papa. I know he was a criminal. I am taking the veil.’”

Likewise, other children were brainwashed into denouncing their fathers as assassins. They were “forced to sing the songs of the murderers of their father; to wear the uniform of those who have executed him, and to curse the dead and to blaspheme his memory.”

When women were allowed to take their small children with them into prison, it usually resulted in a death sentence for the child. In Ventas, Paz Azatí recounted that each day “on the floor of the Ventas infirmary you would see the corpses of fifteen to twenty children dead from meningitis.” The notorious prison in Saturrarán prison in the Basque Country murdered more than one hundred women and fifty children with disease alone.

Rather than outcry, the Francoists applauded his atrocities at every turn. Propagandists “presented the executions, the overflowing prisons and camps, the slave-labour battalions and the fate of the exiles as the scrupulous yet compassionate justice of a benevolent Caudillo. In 1964, they launched a highly choreographed, nationwide celebration of the ‘Twenty-Five Years of Peace’ since the end of the war. Every town in Spain was bedecked with posters rejoicing in the purging of the atheistic hordes of the left.”

In an interview with ABC, Franco “made it clear that the celebrations were not for peace but for victory … The unspoken message of the elaborate celebrations was that the return on Franco’s investment in terror could not have been more successful.”

For the sake of ourselves and our children, we should take care the past does not become the present.

________
All quotes taken from The Spanish Holocaust: inquisition and extermination in twentieth-century Spain by Paul Preston.

Fieldnotes: the Great War in Where Oblivion Lives

It's been a while since I've given you some Fieldnotes, so I thought I'd show you a quick one. Some of the most dramatic moments in Where Oblivion Lives come from Diago's flashbacks to battles of the Great War, which was how World War I was known during the 1930s.

During my early research, I came across the following account by Private Wilf Wallworth from the South Lancashire Regiment:

There was a little tramway up the back of the bank leading up to the Bluff trenches. You couldn't be seen by the Germans there, but they had it taped. For a while it was my job to take up ammunition, water, supplies, food and that, to a place just behind the trenches where it would be unloaded. This was at night of course.

For the return trip they put bodies on the trolley -- men who had gone west that day I suppose. I hated the homeward journey. I don't know why because I must have seen thousands of dead men, dead horses, mules, by then, and I was properly hardened to it. But pushing the tram back . . . well, I wasn't comfortable.

You had shells and mortars and starshells going off regular, and in the flashes, especially the starshells which burned for a bit, I couldn't stop myself looking at my load. I didn't want to, but I was drawn to it. The track was uneven and wobbly, and it looked like they were moving, coming back to life. It made my skin creep, but I just couldn't keep my eyes off them when the lights went up.

Everything in that war was down to luck. Although Minnies landed pretty close a few times -- a hell of a crash, they made -- and shook us about a bit, they never got me, and I never had anyone [a body] tumble off; I think I would have left him there for someone else if I did. I had been told of other blokes and their load just disappearing; just a smoking hole there in the morning.

Funny what your mind does. If I hadn't been alone it wouldn't have been so bad, I suppose. It probably sounds ridiculous [to you], but my obsession with looking at those lads -- who couldn't do me no harm, could they -- took away the fear of the shelling.

--The Battlefields of the First World War by Peter Barton

That image--of a soldier wheeling bodies away from the battlefield--remained with me as I worked on the early drafts of Where Oblivion Lives. The scenes took several forms until the final draft, where it's been trimmed and polished to be seen in Diago's first nightmare scene.

In this excerpt, Guillermo's wife, Juanita, who is an angel and Los Nefilim's doctor, has persuaded Diago to let her hypnotize him. They dream his dream together:

“This is similar to hypnosis,” Juanita murmured. “I will take you down into sleep by adjusting my voice until I find the vibrations that best affect your brainwaves.” Her timbre changed as she elucidated through one set of vocalizations and then another. Diago could tell by the subtle variations that she utilized all three sets of her vocal cords. “When I find the correct pitch, you will begin to dream, and then I will follow you into your subconscious. Now close your eyes.”

It wasn’t hard to obey her.

“Think about the music you hear when you sleep. Try and conjure the song.”

Engulfed by darkness, he listened. Silence met him, as deep and impregnable as the void. Then, from faraway, he caught the first isolated notes of the violin. It was his Stradivarius.

Louder now, as if sensing his presence, the music drew near. The bow attacked the strings (Diago recalled making those quick jabs: strike, strike, strike, followed by a smooth pull) before slurring the chords into decay. The intro descended into pallid notes, gray and soft like fog (no, the smell of cordite is strong in the air . . . it is not fog but smoke) drifting over the muddy ground.

The dream solidified, taking him deeper into his subconscious. The faint outline of a château appeared behind broken (burned) trees, shrouded in fog . . .

“Smoke,” Juanita whispered.

Smoke.

The song’s tempo slowed to become a dirge. Diago walked the scorched field. Lumps of clay (bodies) littered the ground. In the distance came the steady percussion of drums (bombs), shaking the earth with furious thunder.

Squinting through the smoke, he perceived a shadowy figure pushing a tram filled with corpses. The arms and legs trembled as the wheels jittered along on the hastily laid tracks of war. One hand opened to release a silver disc that sank into the mud.

Then the bow resumed its attack and punch against the strings (quick jabs: strike, strike, strike) and the night came down and the world went black and silence descended quick and hard, like the stillness that follows the falling of a bomb.

Diago opened his eyes. His heart pounded and for one wild moment, he thought of Guillermo’s Creed Model 7, churning out messages in staccato beats. He became aware of Juanita’s strong hands, pinning his shoulders to the cushions.

This is the first foray into what Juanita refers to as Diago's "prolonged battle stress," because during the 1930s it wasn't called PTSD, but rather battle fatigue or shell-shock. In the original draft, Diago never spoke of his experiences in the trenches, and probably wouldn't have, but my editor placed a sentence in Diago's mouth that ignited my imagination.

In that first draft, Diago didn't have the second flashback. Juanita asked him if anything else noteworthy happened, and Diago blew off her question. Then my editor had Diago answer her by inserting a single sentence into Diago's mouth: "You mean other than all the killing?"

And I realized I'd missed a huge opportunity with both the scene and the novel. So I went a little deeper into my character's psyche and the result was a much stronger scene that set the stage for everything that follows:

Juanita touched his shoulder. “It’s not unusual to be tormented by past engagements. Nefilim suffer from prolonged battle stress just as mortals do. Did anything noteworthy happen during that fight?”

“Noteworthy,” he repeated dully while rubbing his forehead. He found it hard to keep venom from seeping into his words as he answered her question. “Aside from the sheer magnitude of the death toll?” A sudden image flashed through his mind: huddling in a trench as shells exploded around them. Cold and wet and eaten alive by lice, he’d shut his eyes against the mud falling like rain and when he opened them again, someone’s scalp landed at his feet . . .

“Diago?”

He jerked himself free of the memory, uncomfortably aware of his clammy palms. “I don’t know what you want from me, Juanita. After so many days of battle, they all seemed the same.” A never-ending misery.

And that, my friends, is the story of how a tram full of corpses and Diago's PTSD became a huge part of Where Oblivion Lives.

(Obligatory book plug: you can preorder it here: Amazon | B&N | Books-A-Million | HarperCollins | IndieBound or add it to your Goodreads list)

Fieldnotes: Juan Pujol Garcia, code name GARBO

This week's Fieldnotes pays tribute to an unsung Catalan hero of World War II, who does not feature in any of the Los Nefilim novels, but his whole story is so weird and unusual that I absolutely cannot forgo bringing him to your attention. My original search was for Spanish spies who were famous for their work either during the Spanish Civil War or World War II. While I found many worthy spies, the one who snagged my attention was Juan Pujol García (14 February 1912 - 10 October 1988).

Be forewarned that all of my information in this post comes from Wikipedia, which I always advocate as a cool starting point, but I usually caution people to back that information with other sources. Since neither Pujol nor his adventures feature in my novel, and since my research is already clogged with things I must know, I haven't taken the time to delve deeper into Pujol's history.

Also, I am leaving out a lot with this post. If you want to read more about his adventures and life, I do recommend the Wikipedia article (linked above) because there is a brief bibliography at the end.

With those caveats in mind, we begin:

Pujol came from a wealthy family, his father owned a dye factory and he endeavored to send his son to school in Barcelona. Unfortunately, by the age sixteen, Pujol got into an argument with one of his teachers, decided to leave school, and took up an apprenticeship in a hardware store.

But he didn't stay there.

Juan hated the military.

Juan hated the military.

With retail not being in his blood, he decided to study animal husbandry at the Royal Poultry School in Arenys de Mar. His father died in 1931 but left the family well-provided for through the income generated by the family's dye factory. Also in 1931, Pujol was conscripted into service. He served in the 7th Regiment of Light Artillery in the cavalry unit in order to fulfill his six month compulsory service to the Republic.

Don't let that happy face fool you. Pujol hated horseback riding and claimed that he lacked the "essential qualities of loyalty, generosity, and honor" to be a good soldier. So as soon as his very brief stint in the cavalry ended, he turned to poultry farming, and if wars had not set the world on fire, most likely Pujol's story might have ended here.

But it didn't.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. The family dye factory was taken over by the workers. At one point, Pujol's immediate family members, including his mother, were taken by Republican forces and charged with being counter-revolutionaries. Another of their relatives, who happened to be in a trade union, arranged the family's release; however, by this point the damage was done.

Because the Republicans treated his family so shabbily, Pujol wasn't eager to fight for them when they called him into service for the war. So he hid at his girlfriend's house rather than enlist. Of course, the police found him, because we all know the first place they look for you is at your girlfriend's house, and Pujol spent a week in jail. He was eventually freed by members in the Traditionalist resistance group Socorro Blanco. They hid him and helped him produce fake identity papers, which showed him as being too old for service.

Pujol learned to be sneaky.

Although at this time, he wasn't interested in spycraft. Instead he managed a poultry farm. He soon found that farming by committee was not economically feasible, and this in turn soured him on communism, which led him to produce MORE false papers so he could re-join the Republican army.

Because now he had a plan.

He intended to join the Republican army and desert as soon as possible. In an effort to reach the Nationalist side, he volunteered to lay telegraph cables near the front lines. During the Battle of the Ebro, Pujol managed to sneak across the lines and join the Nationalists.

This worked spectacularly UNTIL ...

One day Pujol expressed sympathy for the monarchy. This attitude didn't sit well with a colonel, who struck Pujol, and then to add insult to injury, he had Pujol imprisoned. By the time his service with the Nationalists ended, Pujol decided that fascism was as repugnant to him as communism.

However, he did learn valuable skills in subterfuge, which would eventually help him in his career as a spy. This being the part I'm sure you're all here for.

So now we'll talk about how Pujol became Garbo.

During the early days of World War II, Germany's main adversary was Britain. Since Franco supported Germany, and Pujol hated Franco, Pujol offered to spy for Britain. He offered on three different occasions.

But alas, M-15 did not want Pujol as a spy.

Being something of a self-starter, Pujol took it upon himself to start spying on his own. He created the character of a Spanish official, who was fervently pro-Nazi, and who could travel to London on official business. Using the skills he learned during the Spanish Civil War, he procured documentation for this new identity, and contacted Friedrich Knappe-Ratey, an Abwehr agent in Madrid.

Unlike the British, the Nazis were thrilled to have Pujol on board. They gave him the code name Alaric Arabel and a crash course in espionage, cryptology, and (I'm not making this up) "a bottle of invisible ink, a codebook, and £600 for expenses." The Nazis wanted him to move to London and recruit a network of British spies.

Pujol was finally in the spy business.

So he moved to Lisbon.

Which is not in Britain.

Lisbon is in Portugal.

In order to make the Nazis think he was in London, Pujol used a tourist's guide to Britain, reference books and magazines from the Lisbon Public Library, and newsreel reports from the cinemas to create credible reports for the Germans. He also created an extensive network of "sub-agents," who "lived" in different parts of the UK. By the time it was all over, Pujol had created a total of 27 fictitious identities, or sub-agents (there is a great chart over at Wikipedia that lists them all).

Then, using these various identities or "sub-agents", Pujol began feeding the Germans misinformation.

Pujol reached M-15's attention when he reported a non-existent convoy to the Kriegsmarine (Nazi Germany's navy), which resulted in the Germans wasting considerable resources hunting down something that didn't exist. Someone in M-15 finally decided that Pujol had some serious potential here, so they brought him to London, gave him a security check, and turned him over to Tomás (Tommy) Harris, an M-15 agent who spoke fluent Spanish.

Because Pujol was such a marvelous actor, his code name was Garbo. Pujol, along with his handler Harris, worked together and produced 315 letters, which were essentially a mix of complete fiction, genuine information of little military value, and valuable military intelligence artificially delayed. For example:

Garbo's agent on the River Clyde reported that a convoy of troopships and warships had left port, painted in Mediterranean camouflage. The letter was postmarked before the landings and sent via airmail, but was artificially delayed by British Intelligence in order to arrive too late to be useful. Pujol received a reply stating "we are sorry they arrived too late but your last reports were magnificent."

Pujol's "spy network" was so efficient and expansive that the Germans didn't bother recruiting anymore British spies. Which made Operation Fortitude South much easier for the British to handle.

What was Operation Fortitude?

Operation Fortitude South* was the military misinformation campaign utilized to distract the Germans from the actual location of Operation Overlord, which was the code name for the Battle of Normandy. Operation Overlord was launched by Operation Neptune, which is more commonly known as D-Day.

I think you can see where this is going.

Here Pujol played a major role in deception. His job was to convince the Germans that Allied forces would be landing at Pas de Calais, rather than on the beaches of Normandy. They couldn't blow Garbo's credibility with the Germans, so they decided to forewarn the Germans with some of the actual details of the Normandy invasion. The key was to send the information too late for the Germans to act on it.

Pujol told German radio operators that sometime during the night of June 5 or the early hours of June 6, 1944, a sub-agent was about to arrive with important information. The Germans were supposed to be standing by. Garbo made the call at 3:00 a.m., but no reply was received from the German operators until 8:00 a.m.

Turning this piece of bad luck on its head, GARBO was able to add more operational details to the message when finally sent and thus increase his standing with the Germans. GARBO told his German contacts that he was disgusted that his first message was missed, saying "I cannot accept excuses or negligence. Were it not for my ideals I would abandon the work."
This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

This is an inflatable Sherman tank. great fun at the beach but a bit large for the local pool.

On 9 June (three days after D-day), Garbo sent missives that were passed to Hitler and his High Command. Garbo convinced the Germans of a fictitious order of battle. The Allies supported the deception with "fake planes, inflatable tanks, and vans travelling about the area transmitting bogus radio chatter."

Garbo told the Germans that the first landing at Normandy should be considered a diversion and that the Allies would be pushing the main body of their forces through the Strait of Dover toward Pas de Calais. The German High Command accepted Garbo's reports so completely that they kept armored and infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais and waited for a second invasion throughout July and August 1944. The German Commander-in-Chief in the west refused to allow General Rommel to move these divisions to Normandy, where the actual invasion was taking place.

Pujol's career as Garbo came to an end in late June 1944. The Germans wanted him to report on V-1 flying bombs. Unable to give them false information without blowing his cover, and unwilling to give them correct information that would endanger the operations, Garbo's handler, Tommy Harris, arranged for him to be "arrested."

A few days later, Pujol notified the Germans of the arrest and claimed he had to leave London.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pujol received two awards as the result of his service:

  • The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire from King George VI for his service as Garbo.
  • An Iron Cross Second Class for his service as Alaric Arabel (his German code name)

Fearing Nazi reprisals, M-15 helped Pujol travel to Angola, where he faked his death from malaria in 1949. After he "died," he moved to Venezuela, where he ran a bookstore and gift shop.

And that, my dear readers, is the story of Juan Pujol García.

_______
*Operation Fortitude was divided into two sub-plans with Operation Fortitude South creating a diversion at the Strait of Dover and Operation Fortitude North directed its phantom army toward Norway.

Fieldnotes: angels drinking from rivers of fire

Today's Fieldnotes will be brief, because I'm working on several things at the moment: beta reading a manuscript for a friend, reading another friend's series in order to blurb her book, and working on the next Los Nefilim novel due in February 2019. That's all in addition to life as we know it and all of the weird little things that happen on a day-to-day basis.

What I'm trying to do with this series is show you all the things that go into writing a novel. Some of it will bore you, other posts might enlighten you, and if you're an author too, a few might inspire you in your own creative endeavors. Today's post is in the latter category.

OTNotes.jpg

I'm not even sure where I was going with all of that, but you can rest assured that none of this appears in Where Oblivion Lives. I seem to recall the line about angels drinking from rivers of fire comes from 1 Enoch but don't quote me on it. I just thought that angels drinking from rivers of fire was kind of badass:

The archangels Gabriel and Michael sidle up to the River of Fire for a drink.

Careful, Mike, last time we were here, you got drunk and wiped out Pompeii.

Shh, Michael says as he licks flames from his fingertips. I thought we agreed to blame the volcano for that.

Uh-huh. Gabriel sips sparks. And let's not forget Rome ...

Nero was a bastard. Michael belches. Fire and brimstone roll past his lips.

Chicago burns.

Gabriel stares in horror. Oh shit, not again.

Michael points at a cow. Kicked over a lantern, she did!

So now you know the intellectual thoughts that roll through my head while I'm conducting research.

Most of the time I'm looking for specific facts, but there are other times that I just read along and jot down points of interest. This seems to be one of those times.

See?

It's not all boring, boring, boring.

Fieldnotes: secret cults

Nothing is more fun than researching secret cults. Okay, seriously, there are a lot of things more fun than researching secret cults. However, a writer has to do what a writer must do, so in this second installment of Fieldnotes, I'm going to briefly talk about one aspect of secret cults that finally found it's way into Where Oblivion Lives.

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There are quite a few books on the Nazis and the occult, but the one most referenced is The occult roots of Nazism: secret Aryan cults and their influence on Nazi ideology by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. This book is simultaneously the most thorough and driest examination of the subject that you will find.

Dry.

Desert dry.

But thorough. Very thorough and very informative. Three pages of notes informative.

How much of this information made it into the novel? Probably a quarter of those notes actually landed in the story.

The practice of vehmgericht played a large role in the initial draft of Where Oblivion Lives. The idea of secret courts went hand-in-hand with my nefilim, who operate undercover within the mortal realm.

What is vehmgericht?

According to Goodrick-Clarke:

Nazism.jpg

The vehmgericht constituted the last of List's guilds and was supposed to have translated the holy Armanist gnosis into a 'kalic' form so that it might survive the Christian epoch. Since the vehmgericht really was a a secret institution, founded to administer law in the Holy Roman Empire between the early thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, it seemed a most effective agent for List's occult heritage. Vehmic law most probably originated in pre-Carolingian times, but it was not until the late twelfth century that it assumed historical significance. At this time the imperial jurisdiction was being usurped by the new territorial princes, who were striving to assume the political authority of the old feudal estates. To counter this modern tendency the Archbishop of Cologne placed himself at the head of a long-standing system of local courts, which were to pass capital sentences in the name of the Emperor. An old parochial institution thus assumed a new historical role. From their origin in Westphalia these vehmgerichts soon spread through the Empire wherever conservative men sought to hinder the power of princes.

That is the historical basis for vehmgericht. Due to the secretive nature of the proceedings, vehmgericht later slipped into the realm of Gothic novels written between 1780 and 1820, which redefined the vehmgericht to represent a powerful secret court that exercised justice against "local despots and their lackeys." Resurrecting this mysterious court for my own novel, I added a few twists, but maintained the name vehmgericht primarily due to the location of the novel's events, which are in Germany.

Like my Gothic predecessors, I kept the essential structure of vehmgericht, but reshaped other parts of the practice to meet my own story's needs. In the Los Nefilim series, vehmgericht are secret courts used by the nefilim to judge those members who betray the angels. The kings and queens of the nefilim's Inner Guards administer these courts, and they may pass capital sentences in the name of the Thrones, the angels who rule the celestial realms.

Vehmgericht.

Hold onto that word.

Fieldnotes: Spanish law and LGBTQ culture in the Los Nefilim series

I tried to think of where to begin this series, and as with all things, I suppose the best beginning place is at the beginning. In this case, the story begins with Diago, who is the protagonist of my Los Nefilim series. Diago is a bisexual man in Spain, married to his husband Miquel, who is gay.

Several years ago, when I first imagined Diago, he came across as a very stereotypical gay male and was meant to be a walk-on character, not the protagonist. At the time I wrote the first draft, there was a great deal of discussion in the SFF community about representation, and as I listened, or read as the case was, I realized I needed to write with better awareness. I got some feedback from friends, and one thing led to another until Diago became a whole person, rather than a caricature. At that point, his role shifted from walk-on to central character.

The shift allowed me to make my story more inclusive, which made me very happy. At the same time, I didn't feel confident portraying a gay man due to my own ignorance about gay culture in Spain. To further complicate the issue, I had to place Diago within the cultural framework of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century Spain. This is where I had to do the footwork necessary to flesh out both the historical aspects of the novel and the characterization.

In order to have a good understanding of Spanish cultural attitudes toward LGBT culture, I needed to go backward, at the very least a hundred years, preferably more. Beliefs and prejudices are not created in a vacuum or overnight. To give me an idea of how we got from there to here, and also how LGBT culture fit into the broader spectrum of Spanish literature and jurisprudence, Queer Iberia: sexualities, cultures, and crossing from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance [edited by Josiah Blackmore and Gregory S. Hutcheson] was invaluable.

Meanwhile, my own research of Germany in the early twentieth century gave me a basic understanding of Berlin in the 1920s. With magazines such as Der Eigene and Die Freundin, LGBT culture was making inroads to move into the mainstream during this period. However, that was Germany, and Germany isn't Spain, so I had to dig deeper.

Finding resources in English became a daunting prospect until I located a book entitled 'Los Invisibles': a history of male homosexuality in Spain, 1850-1940 by Richard Cleminson and Francisco Vazquez Garcia. Here I found that gay subcultures were prevalent in the larger cities during the late nineteenth century. This was by no means a cohesive sub-culture. Social class, which was still deeply entrenched in Spanish society during the late nineteenth century, is one factor that defined social discourse. Other issues such as "effeminacy, the level of open acknowledgement of homosexuality or its hidden nature" also dictated the composition  of these groups and how they functioned and interacted.

I was surprised to find that in Barcelona and Madrid homosexual balls and dances took place relatively openly. The authors cite the following:

"In 1879, for example, in the dance hall 'El Ramillete', in Alameda Street in Madrid, on the last day of Carnival, 'más de cien sodomitas con elegantes trajes y ricas joyas' [more than one hundred sodomites in elegant dress and sumptuous jewels] could be counted."

Unfortunately in both Madrid and Barcelona, this dance culture seems to have declined by the early twentieth century:

"'Yo no he podido encontrar en el homosexualismo barcelonés las apariencias que tenía muchos años atrás; las fiestas en que se celebraban los bautizos de un homosexual; los bailes escandalosísimos; las fiestas sardanapalicas, vergüenza de una ciudad' [I have not been able to find amongst Barcelona homosexuals the aspects that were found years ago--the parties in which the baptism of a homosexual was celebrated, the scandalous dances, the fiestas characteristic of Sardanapalus ...] This was possibly ... as a result of the public scandal laws, whose effect had been the withdrawal of homosexuals from the streets and the reliance on small groups of friends for socializing."

That last sentence is the primary example of how legislators in all countries marginalize specific groups by prohibiting their activities and/or gatherings under the law. The difference between Spain's Articles 69 and 616 and Germany's infamous Paragraph 175 is that while Germany's laws dealt specifically with gay men, Spain's laws dealt with same sex encounters regardless of gender.

Spain's 1928 Penal Code, which was enacted under the dictatorship of General Primo de Riveria, imposed "a punishment of two to twelve years in prison for anyone convicted of indecent offenses with a person of the same sex." Article 616 stipulated that "whosoever engages habitually or scandalously in indecent acts with a person of the same sex, will be fined 1,000 to 10,000 pesetas and will be declared unfit for public service for a period of six to twelve years." (The dictionary of homophobia: a global history of gay and lesbian experience, [edited] by Louis-Georges Tin, 2008)

Now that I know all of these things, how do I place this information into my story without it sounding like I'm giving the reader a lecture? That's where characterization comes in. I had to think about how these various things would affect Diago and Miquel. Would they go to the types of balls mentioned in 'Los Invisibles'? Probably not due to their association with Los Nefilim. They would keep a lower profile among the mortals; however, both would frequent cafes with other musicians and poets.

They would also stay abreast of the ways in which laws changed from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. I have a brief scene in Without Light or Guide between Diago, Miquel, and Guillermo:

Guillermo nodded. “Good. And remember, you won’t be alone. Garcia is going with you.”

Diago glanced across the street where Inspector Juan Garcia’s dark wiry frame was partially hidden in the shadows. Garcia was all edges and serrations, with a temper thin as a blade. He wasn’t as old as Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel, but he had a couple of centuries on the younger Nefilim. His age and loyal service had won him trusted positions from Guillermo. Now he served as a police inspector in Barcelona’s Urban Guard. He touched the brim of his hat when he caught Diago looking at him.

Diago returned the gesture with a nod, but that was as far as his courtesy went. “Anybody but him.”

Guillermo glanced over his shoulder at Garcia. “I know you two have had differences in the past—”

“He threatened to arrest me on deviancy charges.”

Miquel popped the knuckles of his right hand. “I had a talk with him about that.”

Guillermo frowned. “So I heard. You’re my second-in-command, and I won’t have you settling disputes with your fists.”

Miquel opened his mouth to protest.

Guillermo cut him off. “Control your temper. From now on, if you have a problem you can’t fix with diplomacy, you come to me.”

Miquel’s dark eyes slid away from Guillermo’s gaze in a maybe, maybe not look Diago knew too well.

There is no need for me to go into a great deal of detail about either Article 69 or 616 here, because this is a novella (read: word counts). I want my dialogue to pop, not devolve into a legal treatise. Yet with this short passage I've shown the reader that Garcia is homophobic and hates Diago enough to use his position as Inspector to make trouble for him. The reader also gets a better sense of Miquel, who sees himself as Diago's protector, as well as his relationship with Guillermo. All because of one law.

In the new novel Where Oblivion Lives, I have a couple of scenes where Diago has to take existing laws into consideration as he moves from one country to another. He realizes in one scene that he can't out himself to a younger man for fear of being stopped and convicted under the laws in Germany, where Guillermo's influence wouldn't be able to mitigate the court's decisions.

While I need a strong understanding of the laws and cultural attitudes of the time period, I don't necessarily need to bore my reader with them. Finding interesting ways in which to give my characters more depth is part of the fun of writing.

I hope you enjoyed the first episode of Fieldnotes. This one was a little longer than I intended to write, but I felt that was okay given this is the inaugural post. Stay tuned ... there will be more later; although most won't be quite this long.

Fieldnotes: a new series

Strangely enough, a lot of you (and by "a lot of you" I mean more than the usual ten or so) voted to read blog posts about both my research process and some of the facts I discover about the early twentieth century as I research information for my novels. Since I'll be able to give you a few excerpts here and there from my notes, I've decided to run with the Fieldnotes series. This will be much like my friend Beth Cato's Bready or Not blog, where she gives out recipes, only my posts won't make you fat and you'll have citations and a little bit of an explanation as to how the passage relates to the story.

If I decide to write longer posts with cites, those may roll through my newsletter, which you can sign up for in the sidebar. 

Wait. Scientists use fieldnotes.

Yeah, I know, but I needed something catchy, because nobody is going to read a blog series entitled HISTORIC FACTS, or NOTES, which is too vague, and NOTES FROM THE FIELD is ... well ... fieldnotes. I'm not good at this marketing bit, so do me a favor and just run with it.

Frankly, in a lot of ways, fieldnotes more accurately describes my process. I'm not exactly doing the same type of linear research that a historian might do, where the researcher sticks with a single subject and connects the dots along the way. My research is more sporadic and focuses on a variety of events or phenomena as it relates to my story and the world of Los Nefilim.

That doesn't mean we won't talk about historical events. As I bounced early drafts of the novel off a lot of readers, I realized how little some people knew about the early twentieth century and (for my American readers) the Spanish Civil War. For example: one reader questioned the indoor plumbing and electricity in the Spanish countryside during the early thirties. This is a perfectly valid question. The answer is that wealthy households would have these things, and that is one way in which I show the reader Guillermo's wealth and also a little bit about his personality: Guillermo loves being on the cutting edge of technology.

The Fieldnotes series will also encompass research in religion, history, Nazi cults (because we all want to know about Nazi cults, amirite?), cars (such as Guillermo's 1930 Hispano Suiza H6C or Jordi's Monastella Cabriolet), trains, planes, battles during the Spanish Civil War, politics, angelology, demonology--frankly, if I have to research it, I'll talk about it a little in Fieldnotes at some point. If enough people request more information, I'll expand on the topic in a newsletter essay.

As an added bonus, if you follow the Fieldnotes series, the posts will give the upcoming Los Nefilim novel a little more meaning for you. Who knows? You might learn something, too. I know I certainly did.

So look for Fieldnotes ... coming soon.