The threatened Galician mountains that guard a guerrilla “city” and a Nazi mine

Francisco Fernández stops the tanned cream-colored jeep abruptly and emits a sad moan. “They stole the date!” This resident of Casaio (Carballeda de Valdeorras, Ourense) cries indignantly, pointing to the top of a ruined fountain. “It put 1944 in Roman numerals,” he explains while searching through the weed that engulfs the looted spout. “They had to take him away these days.” That sign was important to everyone: it attested to a historical moment in which that enclave of the Serra do Eixe – the highest mountain range in Galicia – was, in a curious coincidence of names, under the control of one of the powers of the Shaft, the Nazi arms industry. The fountain is the first trace of urban planning at the end of a difficult dirt track traced by the Germans during World War II.

Right afterwards, the ruins of the Guardia barracks begin to emerge Civil, the administrative buildings of the Valborraz tungsten mine, the mineral laundries in which the women worked, the kitchens, the powder magazine, the distant house of the engineer who seemed not to want to mix life and work. What is most striking is the penal detachment, where the 463 Republican prisoners that the Franco regime sent to reinforce the workforce hired by the Germans. And at the foot of the address and the windows where wages were paid, near the stream that gave the mine its name, the walls of what the elders of Casaio continue to call “the Chinatown” remain half standing. .

El historiador Carlos Tejerizo, que dirige el proyecto Sputnik Labrego, recorre una de las viejas instalaciones de la mina.
The historian Carlos Tejerizo, who directs the Sputnik Labrego project, tour one of the old mine facilities. ÓSCAR CORRAL

Here, to this scenario that emerged from nowhere when the “black gold” fever broke out —the tungsten or tungsten that the Nazis coveted to reinforce their weapons— electricity came, which they produced with three dams on the river, long before the other towns of the area. It was a complete town, with a canteen, bakery, pig farm, herds of goats, Sunday dance, church and priest, as well as a school for a growing child population, the children of mining families.

The exploitation where the portraits of Hitler and Franco looked, with more than 30 mine mouths and nine floors of galleries that left the mountain empty, was controlled by the Nazis, through the Sofindus business conglomerate, until its defeat in 1945. Later it changed hands, but the Franco dictatorship, explains the historian expert in mining societies Laura Martínez Panizo, welcomed back to the same positions some of the German technicians who had served the Third Reich. The abandonment of Valborraz came definitively in 1963, after experiencing another boom during the Korean War (1950 – 40).

Although, right away, the imposing landscape of Carballeda de Valdeorras, where Galicia is confused in the peaks with León and Zamora, was the victim of another fever of deep black color, that of slate, which has brutally altered the area and threatens to erase from the map deposits still without catalog. And the quarries ended up cornering not only the old wolfram village, but also areas supposedly shielded by the Red Natura. In 2010, everyone remembered the Nazi mine again because the language of Rubble from the Manada Vieja slates collapsed down the slope, devouring several buildings and the central square of Valborraz in its wake. The disaster awakened in the Casaio neighborhood the collective conscience that the ruins had to be protected so that they did not end up disappearing.

La historiadora Laura Martínez Panizo muestra una foto antigua de Valborraz.
The historian Laura Martínez Panizo shows an old photo of Valborraz. ÓSCAR CORRAL

Faced with political passivity, it was the community of the neighboring mountains, owner of the land, that took the step forward. Since 2017 supports the research project Sputnik Labrego, embedded in the Incipit (Institute of Heritage Sciences, CSIC) and advised by a respected institution: the Consello da Cultura Galega. Today the Sputnik collective finalizes the reports to request from the Xunta, before the end of the year, the declaration of Asset of Cultural Interest of this territory as a landscape of memory.

Mineral contraband for the Allies

Because it also happened that Around it, during the investigations of a team led by historian Carlos Tejerizo, other silenced realities of an incalculable dimension were revealed. In the mountains that surround Casaio, not only unknown cave paintings appeared (Pala de Cabras, seven millennia old) but a whole parallel and clandestine mining industry: the tungsten black market stimulated by the Allies, who paid much more expensive for the sole purpose to prevent the material from leaving the port of Vigo bound for Germany. “It is often joked that the Vigo estuary is the largest seam on the planet,” says Tejerizo, “for all the mineral that ended up being thrown into the sea to prevent it from reaching the Nazis.” In the handwritten notes of the 38 interviews carried out with neighbors who were witnesses of those events, Martínez Panizo collects the confidences of some women who stole wolfram and took it down hidden in their underwear. Also the story of several people who point to some civil guards as advantageous smugglers.

But above all, during the investigation, another contemporary ghost universe of the mine emerged out of nowhere: a society of camps of the anti-Franco guerrilla in the northwest known as Ciudad de la Selva. Sputnik Labrego was chasing that specter that only appeared in some historical documents long ago, but there was no treasure map to find it. In recent years, the team has already found 22 settlements, formed by various shale and quartzite “huts” built in the most hidden places. They were the opposite pole of the so-called City of the Germans, Valborraz, within the same territory. And in some incursions, the maquis helped several political prisoners escape from the mine.

Restos de un
Remains of a guerrilla “hut” in Teixadal de Casaio. ÓSCAR CORRAL

Some of these guerrilla shelters were built in an exceptional landscape, the Teixadal de Casaio, one of the few natural yew forests in Europe. Its inhabitants were associated with the Federation of Guerrillas of León-Galicia, and according to Tejerizo they were part of one of the most organized structures of the resistance to Franco. Inca , Dancer , Pilot or Glasses , who was the chief of its General Staff: all these aliases still move today, in the memory of the families of the area, along the border between reality and legend.

The neighbor Fermín Álvarez was a pastor of 10 years when he first encountered those almost mythological men who lived in the most remote places of the forests. One day, when the investigators went to interview him at his home, he ended up showing them the Orga typewriter that they entrusted to him and that they possibly used to produce their periodical: El Guerrillero .

In an article published in Cuadernos de Arqueología Militar , the members of Sputnik collect the story of another shepherd boy, Alfredo Real, who remembered how two women from one of the camps invited him one day to have breakfast with the escapees. Over time, he witnessed small parties with music and games of petanque, and even did business with the maquis: if he brought them wood to build huts, they would give the boy five pesetas. The children of Casaio learned to be silent: if the Civil Guard asked them, they denied having seen anyone.

Guided by these ancient shepherds, historians and archaeologists were able to identify those huts where during the dictatorship he waved the tricolor flag and they discovered vestiges that show that those men “were prepared to resist.” Weapons and ammunition, tin cans, fossilized legumes, tubes of toothpaste, bottles of alcohol, and hand cream were found in the cabins. A bottle of penicillin was even found, “an unthinkable luxury and modernity,” Tejerizo says, when it could hardly be found in Spain. What the historian regrets most is “having been late” to this race against the clock to save our memory: “Since we started, several of our interviewees have already died.”

Congreso fundacional de la Federación de Guerrillas de León-Galicia en los montes de Ferradillo (Priaranza del Bierzo, León).
Founding Congress of the León Guerrilla Federation -Galicia in the mountains of Ferradillo (Priaranza del Bierzo, León). Documentary collection of Sputnik Labrego

The guerrilla congress

The The first statutes of the Federation of Popular Guerrillas were signed precisely in La Selva in December of 1941. The following year the founding congress was held in the Ferradillo mountains (Priaranza del Bierzo, León) and it was renamed the León-Galicia Guerrilla Federation, the first to be born after the Civil War. The Ciudad de la Selva was its headquarters and the chief, Marcelino Fernández Villanueva, Glasses, resided there for long periods.

Over time, there were deaths among those resistant, at the hands of the enemy and also of a partner due to betrayals and misunderstandings. But only the remains of one were exhumed, Miguel Cardeñas (Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, 2003), in the village of Soutadoiro. He had arrived at the tungsten mine prison from Jaén. In 1944 he escaped and joined the maquis, but in 1947 was shot dead “in very dark circumstances,” historians write.

Francisco Fernández, who is now president of that mountain community that manages the 16. 000 hectares where so many vestiges accumulate, he is the nephew of another guerrilla killed at the hands of maquis. The uncle, who was also called Francisco Fernández, escaped badly wounded from his execution in 1943. The Civil Guard had shot him five times, but he was rescued by a guerrilla member and took refuge with the fled from the Ciudad de la Selva. After time he ended up distancing himself, with his partner and another guerrilla, and in 1947 the old comrades went to look for them in their hut. Since then, the place of the slaughter changed its name forever to that of Quello (narrow road) dos Mortos. Some neighbors still remember how the three corpses were lowered on a mule to be buried in the cemetery.

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