Durruti’s secretary was a priest

Starting in July 1936, the totalitarian left began a systematic campaign to exterminate the clergy, and some 2,500 (this number is off the top of my head) were murdered in Catalonia alone. Buenaventura Durruti is the leader most closely identified with this slaughter, but he had his weaker moments. Here’s a précis of a piece by José Luis Melero Rivas in the Heraldo de Aragón:

The 70s and 80s books saw the beginning of publication of books written by Republicans dealing with the civil war in Aragon. The most interesting of these is without doubt Por qué fui secretario de Durruti, written by the Candasnos priest, Jesús Arnal, and published in Tárrega in 1972 and then again in a poor edition in 1995. Arnal dedicated his book to Durruti out of affection and in thanks for having taken him under his wing:

For me he was neither legendary, mythological, nor bloody; he was nothing more than a man, given over to an ideal. During my time at his side, I saw in him a normal man, without vices or great passions; he was not a drinker or a womaniser; I never saw him rancorous or vengeful, nor bloody, as many have claimed. I saw him more as a good companion to those who surrounded him, and his attitude to me was always completely correct.

Father Jesús Arnal took holy orders in 1927 and worked as church steward in various villages in Teruel province until, at the end of 1935, he was sent to Aguinalíu, Graus. There he was caught unawares by the beginning of the war, but not by the militia group which came for him a few days later. Seeing armed men approach, he fled the village, walked through the forests with a priest from the nearby village of Olvena, pretended to be a militiaman to get through Barbastro, and finally hid in Candasnos, his native village (total distance covered: ca 100km).

There Timoteo Callén, president of the local committee (local committees were inter alia responsible for social cleansing), an FAI man of the Durruti-Ascaso group and a childhood friend of the latter, protected him, preventing militiamen from Barcelona (responsible for some of the worst terror in Aragón) from endangering him. He went as far as taking him out onto the balcony of the town hall–in the style of “popular” trials–enabling residents to demand unanimously that his life be spared and giving Callén a powerful card with which to confront visiting death squads. Arnal believed that the fact that no one in Candasnos was murdered during the war was traceable to this moment.

When the situation became unsustainable, Callén decided to ask Durruti (Ascaso had been killed in the initial fighting in Barcelona) to take charge of Arnal. He drove him to Bujaraloz, where Durruti made him his secretary, a position which he maintained until Durruti’s death in November 1936. Durruti had complete confidence in Arnal and entrusted him with delicate missions, including that of taking all women in the his Column to Sariñena and putting them on the train to Barcelona–venereal diseases were causing more losses than enemy bullets (urban legend has it that most of these women were ex-prostitutes–sin had been forbidden in the name of freedom–and that they caught the next train back). Durruti also sent his secretary to Lleida/Lérida to stop fraudulent requisitioning in the name of the Column (this assumes that some of the requisitioning was legitimate…).

Arnal says that witnesses confirmed to him that–contrary to widespread conspiracy theories–Durruti shot himself accidentally while getting out of a car without the safety catch on his gun. Following Durruti’s death, Arnal remained secretary of the column, even when it was militarised and converted into the 26th Division.

After the war, and following a brief stay in France and in a Pamploa internment camp, support from the new authorities in Candasnos and from within the Franquista Movement led to his rehabilitation by the Bishopric of Lleida/Lérida. From 1947 until his death in 1971 he was parish priest of Ballobar, where he is buried. The icing on the cake is that he was able to return the favour done him by Timoteo Callén, who, with the priest’s personal and pecuniary aid, was the only CNT committee boss and prominent FAI-er able to come and go as he pleased in Franco’s Spain.

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