Spain 1936-1939
Memòries d’una guerra / Memories of a war
A project in progress about individual memory

Teresa Alonso, the girl of the two wars

At the moment (2020) I am following a Phd programme about Society and Culture: History, Anthropology, Arts, Heritage and Cultural Management  at the UB / Universitat de Barcelona. My proposal of PHD Thesis,  directed by Phd Xavier Roigé,  is about heritage commemorating Spanish Civil War in Catalunya.
In parallel, I am  working in a project about individual memory related to the Spanish Civil War collecting video interviews of the last witnesses to the Civil War: ex-combatants, exiles and victims.
In October  2019 I had the great fortune to contact Teresa Alonso, a woman who after witnessing Gernika bombing in 1937 was sent with other Basque children   to Soviet Union where she had to suffer the siege  of Leningrad from 1941 to 1944.
The interview through a video recording with the assistance of the cameraman Eloi Clemente Casamitjana was made on 31st October 2019 at the headquarters of the Associació Catalana d’expressos polítics del Franquime in Barcelona.
This interview is for me an excellent way to know first hand her experience as a direct protagonist of the Spanish Civil War and World War II and a way to keep her memory alive forever.

Teresa Alonso  was born in San Sebastián / Donostia in 1925. When the war broke out she took refuge in Bilbao with her mother and her sister. On Monday 26th April 1937 her mother asked her to go to Gernika market, 30 km away.  But the truck didn’t get Gernika. During the trip Teresa and the other passangers saw Condor Legion planes in the sky. They got out and climbed a hill: Gernika was on fire.
When she come back her mother, horrified because of the bombing, asked a cousin who worked as a “gudari” (member of the Basc Army) to point her to the list of children willing to be evacuated.
Teresa went to Bordeaus on the ship "Havana". And upon arrival, the children going to the USSR made a transfer to the French steamer "Sontay". When they had to pass Germany, they were all thrown into the cellar. A terrible storm unleashed. On deck Teresa saw a girl crying because she had lost her cousin. While comforting her, he met Ignacio Aguirregoicoa, a boy from Eibar, and they immediatedly fell in love.
They went to the same orphanage in Kiev. Three years later, Teresa went to Leningrad, where she studied to work as an electrician expert and worked in a factory of ammeters and voltmeters while Ignacio was trained at the Chkalov Aviation Academy in Borisoglebsk. They wrote to each other and when Teresa turned 15 Ignacio  came to ask her in marriage, but the educator told him to wait a year because she was too young.

But that year everything went wrong. The siege of Leningrad began. Hitler, who wanted a Leningrad without people, bombed the food stores. They were at 40 degrees below zero. There was no food, no water, no light. People were walking corpses.
Teresa and  Vicenta Sacristán – a girl who become her friend in  the "Havana" - belonged to the Komsomol (the Communist youth organization). They enrolled to go to the front. They built trenches, but after three days the bullets started whistling and they were ordered to go from house to house to bring out the dead. They dragged them down the stairs to the street, where they were being picked up by sledges.
During the siege they also helped the firemen to put out the fires and remove snow and took care of sick people in the hospitals.
The siege of Leningrad started on 8 September 1941 and the Red Army  did not lift the siege until 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began. It was one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, and possibly the costliest  in casualties suffered.
Teresa weighed 37 kilos. A howitzer made her bounce against a wall and caused a back injury. She was sore and weak. She had to eat shoe soles soup and also burgers, she didn’t know what meat they were made of  but she remembers that in the streets she could see bodies that lacked a breast or a buttock…
When the siege broke, Teresa and Vicenta crossed the Caucasus, and were taken to Makharadze, Georgia, where there was a spinning mill. Teresa was sent to work at the hydroelectric station, but the boss tried to rape her and she fled. She was adopted by an Armenian shoemaker and his wonderful family. As she always remember they saved her. She called them Dad and Mom, but she still knew nothing about Ignacio and she went to Moscow to look for him.
In the end  she learned that on 9th March 1944, Ignacio had taken off from Gdov Airfield, covering some bomber planes attacking Tallinn. He was shot down and survived, but Latvian collaborators pursued him and he shot himself in the temple.  Teresa went crazy. She wanted to kill herself. She was admitted to a sanatorium and spent a month in a straitjacket. Every day a Spanish friend who was  the youngest lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army, came to visit her. They got married and she became pregnant. But she wasn't in love and he was looking for others. She returned to Spain with her daughter in 1956. But things didn’t go as she expected.
Her father, who was a trainman from RENFE, had been sent to Monistrol, and later, to Sant Vicenç de Castellet. The police kept an eye on her at all hours and that would stir her parents.
A niece told her not to visit her parents anymore and from then on she didn’t.She  didn't know anyone. She paid the boarding school for her daughter working at the Arycasa Hotel in Barcelona and slept under a staircase. Only one good neighbour accompanied her to her back operation. Then she worked during 20 years as a Pepsi telephone operator and she married the neighbour's husband when she died.
Teresa Alonso has always been  very grateful to the Russian people. She even says that she feels Russian herself . She was recently awarded in Barcelona with the Medal for the Defence of Leningrad.
In 2018 she visited  the Mustvee Cemetery in eastern Estonia where Ignacio Aguirregoicoa was buried. She was joined by her friend Antonia Jover, an other victim of Francoist Repression.
Gernika after bombing on 26th April 1937
The Ship Havana
Basque children in Leningrade
Citizens of Leningrad cleaning rubble from a street by Vsevolod Tarasevich, Russia, 8 March 1942
Ignacio Aguirregoicoa, 
Teresa Alonso  at the headquarters of the Associació Catalana d’expressos polítics del Franquime. Barcelona, 31st October 2019
Teresa Alonso with the major of Barcelona Ada Colau on the day of tribute to the International Brigades. Barcelona, 26th October 2019.
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