The last hours of Anarchist Salvador Puig Antich

On 02 March 1974 the Catalan anarchist Salvador Puig Antich was executed with the garrotte. Together with the Polish Heinz Chez1Actually Georg Michael Wels (born in Cottbus). As a refugee from the GDR he pretended to be Heinz Chez when he was arrested. He also claimed to have been born in 1939 in Stettin (today’s Poland). he is among the last executed in Spain. Until the end, Puig Antich hoped for a suspension of the death penalty, because the international protests against the sentence were massive.

Graffiti in memory of Puig Antich on a wall in Errekaleor.
Txo/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

In late 1977, a member of a Catalan theatre group received a phone call. A nameless gentleman answered, who only revealed that he was a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish Army. He advised the theatre group to cancel the performance of the play “La Torna”, which was scheduled for today. In the play of the theatre group “Els Julgars” the trial against Heinz Chez was presented in mime. Chez was executed with the garrotte in March 1974 together with the Catalan anarchist Salvador Puig Antich – one of the last executions in Spain.

What the director of the theatre group, Albert Boadella, could not have suspected: Two months later he himself is court-martialed – like Chez and Puig Antich four years before him. The charge against the director is “insulting the armed forces”. Prosecutor is none other than the Captain General of Catalonia: Coloma Gallegos. The Minister of the Army in the Franco dictatorship had also signed the death sentences against Chez and Puig Antich.2Der Spiegel, 04/1978, p. 96

The judgments were final in January 1974: a court martial had sentenced Salvador Puig Antich to thirty years in prison for various robberies of banks, as well as to death for the murder of a policeman. The money from the robberies – several million pesetas – was to finance further actions of the anarchist movement Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación (MIL), which operated underground against the Franco dictatorship.

His comrade-in-arms José Luis Pons, who like Puig Antich was also a member of the MIL, was sentenced to thirty years in prison. The lawyers appealed against the sentence. So the verdict was reviewed again in February 3ABC, 12.02.1974, p. 40

Between protest and terror

Meanwhile, students and human rights organizations around the world showed solidarity with the convicted. Also, the lawyers of Puig Antich left no stone unturned: they established contacts with bishops and even the pope, which were to soften Franco’s tone. After all, the international protest in the Burgos trial against 16 ETA members had still ensured that the death sentences were commuted to long prison sentences, and thus presented a clear sign of the weakness of the government and of the greatly aged Franco.

In 1969, he announced that the then prince and foster son Juan Carlos I. would succeed him; the official duties were finally taken over by Luis Carrero Blanco, who later became Prime Minister and confidant of Franco.

However, the Basque terrorist organization ETA had murdered him in an attack on 20 December 1973. There was unrest among the population: strikes occurred again and again, students protested at the universities. In 1973 and 1974, a total of over 2,000 strikes were counted. 4Bernecker, Walther L.: Die geheime Dynamik autoritärer Diktaturen. München 1982, p. 131

With violence the aged government tried to restore order. After the turbulent past months, Franco wanted to demonstrate once again a sign of strength.

Sleepless nights

Nevertheless, the new government under Carlos Arias Navarro was ready to push through necessary reforms. However, the execution of Chez and Puig Antich, one month after the announcement of reforms, did not cast a good light on the new government, as historian Stanley G. Payne noted.5Payne, Stanley G.: The Franco Regime 1936 – 1975. London 1987, p. 596 On March 1, Oriol Aura, one of the lawyers of the convicted anarchist, was called to the “Modelo” prison in Barcelona – the appeal was rejected by the highest court of the court martial.

At 9:40 p.m. Puig Antich was informed in the presence of his lawyer that he would be executed the next morning around 10:00 a.m. at the Garrotte. According to Aura’s later statements, the condemned man received the news with clear nervousness, but he carried it with composure and dignity. While Puig Antich wrote a total of three farewell letters to his older brother Joaquin, his girlfriend, and his beloved uncles, Aura tried once again to put all his forces in motion to increase international pressure on Franco and his regime.

Puig Antich’s sisters accompanied him through his last night and did not leave him again until around half past seven the next morning. On the advice of the lawyer, they told their seriously ill father the news of the execution of his son, so that he would not have to find out from the press the next day.

The condemned anarchist did not want to receive a priest. Nevertheless, his former university professor, a Salesian priest, asked to speak with him. Puig Antich agreed. At three o’clock in the morning the two of them met. At this time, the anarchist already made a distinctly nervous impression. His lawyer, Aura, kept leaving the cell to obtain news about possible mitigations of the sentence, but he returned empty-handed each time.

Puig Antich’s hope to be saved from certain death at the last moment vanished every minute. The lawyer could only manage to stay with his client until 9:15 am. After sisters and priests had disappeared from the cell, the last discussions between lawyer and client about current political events revolved. Waiting for the execution, Aura later said, he did not even wish this on his worst enemy.

The moment of farewell came closer. Aura and Puig Antich hugged each other for three minutes before the lawyer left the cell. The Anarchist sensed that it was now too late to suspend the sentence. A few moments later he was executed with the garrotte. About the same time Heinz Chez was also murdered in Tarragona. Aura saw the body of his client a few hours after the execution. He, like so many others, could not attend the funeral two days later at the Southeast Cemetery in Barcelona, because he was denied access.6El Ciervo, Volume 23, No. 241, 1974, p. 10 Heinz Chez was buried in Tarragona on the same day.7ABC, 05.03.1974, p. 18

From the garotte to celluloid

In the days following the execution of Puig Antich and Chez, there were renewed protests at Spanish universities. Especially in Catalonia, where the sentence was considered a special attack on the Catalans, student groups called for a strike. “The work of the lecturers today was zero, even though classes began as usual,” writes ABC about the incidents in Barcelona. In the medical faculty the students blocked the entrance. The police made sure that the protesters disappeared without incident. Students also went on strike at the universities in Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza and Bilbao, making it almost impossible to teach. In Granada, two students were arrested during a student meeting.8ABC, 05.03.1974, p. 18

32 years after Puig Antich’s death, the last years of his life have been immortalized on film: In the film “Salvador” (2006), Barcelona-born actor Daniel Brühl stars as the anarchist. The film was originally shot in both Spanish and Catalan, which made it impossible to receive funding from the Generalitat, as director Manuel Huerga revealed. According to Huerga, the bilingual version corresponds to the reality of the time. For the rest of Spain, the Catalan part was dubbed in Spanish. A circumstance that makes little sense in some scenes, similar to the dubbing of American war films in which both Americans and Germans speak the same language.

Moreover, Huerga denies in his film any connection of Puig Antich to Catalan nationalism. Rather, the independence movement would have tried to use Puig Antich for their propaganda. The director notes: “If there is anything that is against nationalism, it is anarchism”9Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, Volume 11, 2007, p. 194f