Spain! What does that name mean to you? Bullfights? Flamenco dancing? The paintings of El Greco and Goya?
It would be natural for such things to come to mind when Spain is mentioned. This is a land of great variety. The appearance of its people betrays the ethnic evidences of the Celtic and Moorish invasions of past centuries. Four languages as well as several dialects are spoken. The languages are Spanish (Castilian), Basque, Catalan and Galician, which latter one is closely related to Portuguese. Often, without realizing it, a lot of Arabic is thrown in, for much of the Spanish vocabulary includes Arabic words left behind after the eight centuries of Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula.
Spain is almost an island, with the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Mediterranean Sea on the east. This land is separated from France and the rest of Europe by the high-ranging Pyrenees that rise to over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). The central part of Spain consists of a high plateau, or meseta, that is bordered on the north by the mountain range that includes the impressive Picos de Europa, and on the south by the famous snowcapped Sierra Nevada. A curious fact is that, after Switzerland, Spain has the highest average altitude in Europe. Incidentally, the rains in Spain fall mainly in the north, although this land has the least rainfall of any European country. With good reason it is called “the land of sunshine,” and northern European tourists flock to it every year.
One thing that impresses a Bible student living in Spain is how closely it resembles Palestine in its climate, geography and food. Spain has its own ‘mounts of olives,’ and still continues to use the ox and the ass. As a person travels through the country, often he comes across a shepherd with his dog, as they lead a flock of sheep and goats in search of pasture. At harvesttime, one can still find farmers working on threshing floors exposed to the wind, and winnowing the wheat to separate it from the chaff. In some of the southern cities date-palm trees grow, and orange and lemon trees are found in the gardens and public plazas.
RELIGION IN SPAIN
The Spanish people basically are religious. Most of them believe in God, even if the majority have lost confidence in the priests. The Civil War that lasted from July 1936 to April 1939 cost more than a million Spanish lives. This huge death toll exposed all the bad fruitage of religion and politics, as both sides participated in acts of murder and vengeance. The Republican (Communist-Socialist-Liberal) side went about killing priests, nuns and officials loyal to the Church, whereas the National side (Army-backed Catholic Fascism) swept through the country killing those who were not loyal to the Roman Catholic Church.
That Civil War left a scar that still is evident in the way the older generation reacts to the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The traditional Catholic who participated in the Civil War, or the “Crusade,” believes that “error” should not have freedom to propagate itself, and much less so in a country that has a concordat with the Vatican. The main supporters of the Church in all its divided facets (conservatives, progressives, Opus Dei, and so forth) are from the middle and upper classes, whose material interests and prosperity have been bound up in the maintenance of the status quo. However, the people in general, especially in the cities, are indifferent to the Church, making use of it mainly for their baptisms, weddings and funerals, and an occasional visit to Mass.
Without a doubt, the religious atmosphere has changed in this Catholic land since the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965. As the Spanish Archbishop of Madrid-Alcalá wrote on December 8, 1965: “the Vatican Council II has terminated today, leaving to the Church and to the Christian world a new spirit, a new humanism, a new hope and a new vision, historic and transcendent at the same time, of the world in which we live.” That “new spirit” and “new vision” have obligated the religious and political leaders to accept changes that many of them really have not desired, including the Religious Liberty Law of 1967. That law completely changed the situation for the preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses and introduced a more tolerant attitude on the part of the majority.
FIRST SEEDS SOWN
With this brief review of Spain and its people, geography, modern history and religion, let us see what true Christianity has done in this land. Of course, the first Christian witness of Jehovah to preach in Spain may well have been the apostle Paul, who so desired untouched territory that he planned to carry the good news of the Kingdom to Spain.—Rom. 15:22-29.
But what about the twentieth century? Well, in the July 1, 1919, issue of La Torre del Vigía (The Watch Tower in Spanish) there appeared a letter from the youngest daughter of a Christian woman living in Spain. In her letter, young María expressed her joy at the prospects of going to Paris with her mother to “fulfill the mission that God has given to me and to my mama.” We do not know the name of the sister, nor that of the person mentioned in a letter published one month later in the Spanish Watch Tower. That correspondence was from a sister in Madrid who had received an anonymous letter from one of her Catholic neighbors. In part, the letter said: “Take care señora, you are trapped. Someone is watching your operations, and do not doubt it. You deny obedience to God’s representative, the Pope, and his ministers, trampling with your conversations and bad example the sacred ministry that they represent. . . . Quit your crazy endeavor, because you will not accomplish anything. I suggest to you peacefully that you retire or that you go somewhere else, for if you do not, something worse could happen to you.” Obviously, someone was not very happy about the Kingdom message.
Nonetheless, seeds of truth were being sown in Spain. Brother J. F. Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s second president, was very conscious of the need to get the Kingdom work started on a proper footing in this country. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., at that time, there was a zealous Spanish brother named Juan Muñiz. Brother Rutherford asked him to go to Spain and, about the end of 1920 or the beginning of 1921, Brother Muñiz paid his own fare and set out for this land. He was an Asturian from the north of Spain and returned there to live with his sister. His witnessing territory? The mining communities in Asturias.
In a letter appearing in the Spanish Watch Tower of April-May 1923, Brother Muñiz explained that he had spent four days in a town witnessing to the menfolk who were mainly of socialist tendency. They advocated world change by means of socialism, and he by means of God’s kingdom. One of his listeners concluded: “The difference between him and us is that he has God and we do not.”
In another letter, nearly a year later, Brother Muñiz wrote: “Now, with the new government [the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera], which is completely addicted to the clergy and ‘with sword in hand,’ it inspires fear, unless we remember the words of the Lord: ‘Look! I am with you.’ . . . Anyone who speaks or writes anything that is not to the liking of the government or the clergy, . . . such a one goes to prison without justifiable cause.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
Brother Muñiz already had endured three years of solitude, without contact with any mature Christians, and was obviously somewhat depressed. Since he needed a boost, Brother Rutherford wrote, asking him to see if he could obtain permission for the Society’s president to give a talk in Madrid. Brother Muñiz was unsuccessful, however, and so Brother Rutherford’s proposed visit was postponed. Nevertheless, in May 1924 the two brothers met in a Paris hotel, and after considering the circumstances in Spain, Brother Rutherford decided that it would be better to give Brother Muñiz another assignment. Not long afterward, he received a letter asking him to move to Argentina.
Did that mean that Brother Rutherford had ‘written off’ the work in Spain? By no means! Only a few months later, Brother George Young, who had been having good success in South America, was assigned to Spain. Before long, steps were taken to start giving a witness on a national scale.
A NOTABLE VISIT
Shortly after his arrival in Spain in 1925, Brother Young again sought permission for a visit by Brother Rutherford—this time with success. Arrangements were made for public talks to be given in Barcelona and Madrid, and afterward in Lisbon, Portugal. The success of this venture was due to the fact that Brother Young sought the help of the British ambassador, who introduced him to government officials. After a delay of a few days, the government issued the order permitting the meetings.
Since Brother Young knew that it would not be permissible to advertise the talks by distributing leaflets, he placed advertisements in the newspapers. Eleven o’clock Sunday morning was the hour fixed for the Barcelona meeting. When Brother Rutherford’s party approached the theater where he was to speak, they noted that several mounted police, as well as a special government guard, were present. Upon entering the private room near the stage, Brother Rutherford was met by the deputy governor of Barcelona, who greeted him cordially. This official remained on the platform throughout the talk. An expert interpreter had been hired and, to ensure accuracy, the talk was translated in advance and both parties read, Brother Rutherford in English and the translator in Spanish. There was no disturbance, and at the conclusion of the meeting the audience was asked to sign address cards. The number of addresses handed in totaled 702 and the attendance was over 2,000. Those who had turned in their names and addresses could be visited to stimulate their interest in the Scriptures.
By means of advertisements in the press, notice had also been given of Brother Rutherford’s talk in Madrid. The arrangements there followed the same pattern as those in Barcelona—a military guard outside the theater and the deputy governor of Madrid inside. He also remained on the platform throughout the talk. In one of the boxes was the British ambassador. Other men of importance, including Spanish officials, also attended the meeting. The attendance in Madrid was about 1,200, of whom some 400 handed in their addresses.
Brother Rutherford wanted to have his discourse printed in the newspapers, but at that time nothing of that nature could be published in Spain without a permit from the government. However, thanks to Jehovah, a way was opened up for such publication of the truth. Following the talk in Madrid, the deputy governor and Brother Rutherford were in conversation in a private room when the proprietor of a large newspaper entered and was introduced to the speaker. Brother Rutherford seized the opportunity to say to the interpreter: “Ask the governor if he does not think it would be good for the people of Spain to have this lecture published in the press.” The governor immediately responded: “I see no objection to it and see no reason why it should not be published. I think it’s a good idea.” The newspaper proprietor took advantage of the opportunity for this scoop, and without difficulty it was arranged for the discourse to be published in Informaciones of May 12, 1925. In fact, this same article later was printed in tract form and distributed by mail throughout Spain, thus enabling the witness to be given in isolated places.
In May 1925, when Brother Rutherford gave his talk in Lisbon, an Argentinean named Juan Andrés Berecochea had his first contact with the truth. From that time onward he took up the cause of the truth with enthusiasm and communicated his interest to his two young sons, Juan Carlos and Alvaro. Although this family eventually had to leave Spain because of the Civil War, it renewed its contact and influence through Alvaro, who became a missionary graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and, with his wife, was assigned in 1953 to serve in Spain.
BRANCH OFFICE OPENED
The success of Brother Rutherford’s visit persuaded him to establish a branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Spain, under the guidance of George Young. Its official address was the home of Brother Eduardo Alvarez Montero, in Madrid. Starting in August 1925, the new branch began to distribute a four-page reduced version of the Spanish Watch Tower, printed by an outside firm.
The year 1925 was one of intensive activity for the Society’s Madrid office, as they published 5,000 Spanish copies of The Harp of God and 10,000 copies of Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Additionally, 247,000 tracts were distributed, including Brother Rutherford’s talk and the tract Where Are the Dead? The year-end report stated that the Kingdom message “has been distributed throughout every city and town in Spain, also throughout the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and the principal towns in the Spanish Zone in Morocco.”
About this, time (1925-1926), Brother Young was showing the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” the Society’s slide, sound and motion picture production outlining God’s purpose for earth and man. Also, in June 1926 theocratic expansion came to include the use of radio. Two of the largest radio stations in Madrid and Barcelona broadcast two of Brother Rutherford’s lectures. This witness reached all corners of Spain, as well as nearby countries.
In May 1926, during a notable assembly in London, England, God’s people adopted a resolution entitled “A Testimony to the Rulers of the World.” Brother Young sought to get it published in the Spanish press and his efforts finally were crowned with success when the full text was printed in the paper La Libertad on October 3, 1926. As well as the normal printing of 75,000, the branch had an extra thousand copies run off and mailed them to all the government officials, mayors, bishops and cardinals.
CLERICAL OPPOSITION UNAVAILING
Of course, all this activity was not going unnoticed by the clergy, and they began to make their influence felt. Several brothers were arrested and their literature was confiscated. Some were thrown out of work, and others had to leave their villages because of persecution. Through the press and from the pulpit the people were warned not to read The Watch Tower. In fact, in an edict of the Bishop of Pamplona the publications of God’s people were classed as “heretical, scandalous and strictly prohibited.” At Alcoy, in the province of Alicante, Brothers Francisco Corzo and Máximo, two colporteurs or full-time preachers, were arrested and taken before the authorities. After several days of being under surveillance, they were ordered to leave the town at once. However, the police chief who interrogated them obtained a Bible and a copy of The Harp of God and subscribed for The Watch Tower. In confidence, he said to Brother Corzo, “You people are the only ones in Spain who are telling the people the truth.”
During October 1926 a small but active band of Kingdom proclaimers distributed 22,000 copies of The Watch Tower in Valencia, the third largest city of Spain. There the clergy reacted by falsely accusing the brothers of being Freemasons and of belonging to the Mano Negra (Mafia). In November, when 6,000 copies were distributed in Tarragona, an ancient city of Iberian and Roman origin, eighty-eight kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Barcelona, persecution reached a climax. By underhanded means, young boys sent from the Catholic schools collected our literature and it was burned in a convent yard in the presence of the chief priests, while the city made a holiday of the occasion. Nevertheless, many of the citizens were very indignant and the civil authorities were liberal, so that a great number of persons subscribed for The Watch Tower.
What would be the reaction in Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia? Brother Saturnino Fernández, a colporteur, was working with the group there. They were able to distribute 80,000 copies of The Watch Tower before it was banned in December 1926 and January 1927. Two brothers had worked hard to prepare a little meeting place for the Barcelona group, but permission to open it was refused. Who was behind this opposition? Why, none other than the virtual ruler of the city, the bishop of Barcelona! In spite of this, Brother Fernández continued to hold Bible meetings every night in a friend’s home, with an average of ten persons in attendance.
The opposition was unavailing, however, and our work went on with Jehovah’s blessing. In 1927 the Society’s branch office was moved to the home of Brother Francisco Corzo in Madrid. At that time the cost of producing literature in Spain was very low, and the previous four-page Watch Tower in Spanish had become an eight-page edition. Also then available in Spain was the sixteen-page edition of The Watch Tower in Spanish that was being printed in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
SEED SOWN IN GOOD SOIL
During the 1920’s, Kingdom-preaching work was concentrated in Madrid and Barcelona, the two largest cities of Spain. Sometimes witnessing methods were somewhat unusual. In Barcelona the colporteur, Saturnino Fernández, would set up a display of the Society’s books in a public place, lay out a big chart of the Divine Plan of the Ages on the sidewalk, and then join in conversation with anyone interested. It was precisely in that way that Juan Periago got to learn of the truth back in 1927. He was attracted by a heated discussion Brother Fernández was having with another person regarding the hell fire doctrine. Juan obtained literature, the seed of truth was planted, and thus began his interest in God’s truth and his years of service to Jehovah.
Consider, too, the case of Carmen Tierraseca Martín, a seamstress. She received some of our literature from her brother-in-law in Madrid, but forgot about it. In October 1927, however, she was employed at the home of a foreign lady named Mary O’Neill, the wife of Francisco Corzo. Incidentally, the name “Tierraseca” means “dry earth.” But Carmen did not prove to be “dry earth” as far as the seed of truth was concerned.
Regarding her employment at that time, Carmen Tierraseca commented: “I passed the morning sewing in a small room, and after lunch I continued with my work. Sometime after four o’clock I noticed that several people were arriving. I assumed that it was a visiting day for the Señor and Señora and they were probably having a party, to judge by the noise of the conversations. Then, suddenly, there was silence, followed by the smooth and harmonious sound of a piano that was soon joined by voices singing, like the singing of a beautiful hymn. I had never heard anything like it before.”
Well, as you can guess, the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses then were known) were having a Christian meeting. Quite by “accident,” Carmen Tierraseca had accepted work in the very house where The Watch Tower was prepared in Spanish. By then George Young had left Spain and our work was in the hands of Eduardo Alvarez and Francisco Corzo, and the Society’s office operated in the Corzo home until December 1930.
During the decade of the 1920’s some baptisms were held in different parts of the country. For example, in 1927 Manuel Oliver Rosado, in Málaga, wrote to the Madrid office and asked for someone to come and baptize him. In actual fact, he was not visited and baptized until 1929, when Francisco Corzo immersed him at a local public bathhouse on April 14.
Another baptism of which we have record took place in June 1928 when a group of brothers in Madrid went out for the day to the Manzanares River. There, in an atmosphere of great joy and simplicity, Carmen Tierraseca, along with a brother, was baptized. Incidentally, this was no emotional decision, for two days before the baptism took place the candidates met with Eduardo Alvarez and Francisco Corzo and discussed the importance of the step they were about to take.
OUR WORK GATHERS MOMENTUM
With small groups in Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, Huesca and in scattered towns, plus some ten workers in the field, the Kingdom-preaching work was beginning to gather momentum in 1929. So, the Society appropriately began its own printing operations in Madrid with a Miehle vertical press sent from its headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. This served to produce magazines and booklets until 1936.
One facet of our activities in those days was presenting the good news from the public platform. In some cases, Protestant ministers loaned their halls for that purpose. After a talk given by a brother to members of four different denominations in Málaga, an Episcopal minister said: “I have never heard the Bible so wonderfully explained as tonight, and what this man says is true. We are all asleep and what we need is more men like this amongst us.” Of course, not all the Protestants reacted so favorably. The Baptists had a special meeting to agree on the extermination of the Bible Students, who were “robbing sheep from our folds and filling the land with dangerous literature.”
Since 1927 the Society’s branch office in Madrid had been managed by Eduardo Alvarez Montero. However, in the spring of 1930 Herbert F. Gabler was transferred from an assignment in Lithuania and was appointed as branch overseer in Spain. Shortly thereafter our meetings were organized more in accordance with the general practice in other lands. Also, whereas our witnessing had previously been informal, house-to-house preaching activity soon got off to a good start.
Recalling the first time she engaged in door-to-door preaching activity, Carmen Tierraseca remarks, “I prayed to Jehovah, putting myself in his hands to do his work.” Since there had been no special training for this activity, you may wonder how it went. Well, at the first door a woman accepted the booklet offered by Sister Tierraseca, who adds: “So did the next, and then another and another until I had placed all eight booklets that I had brought with me . . . Gone was my insecurity, timidity and nervousness. Now I had a feeling of boundless joy, and from the bottom of my heart I gave thanks to Jehovah for his kindness and help.”
Needless to say, our Kingdom-preaching work from door to door was now under way. In the years ahead, it was to result in many blessings.
POLITICAL BACKGROUND PRIOR TO THE CIVIL WAR
Prior to 1931 Spain was a monarchy, ruled by King Alfonso XIII. In 1930 the country’s military dictator, General Primo de Rivera, had to resign and he was replaced by General Berenguer, whose tenure in office terminated in February 1931, when the king called upon Admiral Aznar to form a new government in an attempt to save his throne. This government arranged for municipal elections, which were won in the major cities by the left-wing parties that favored a republic. Realizing that all was lost and in order to avoid a bloodbath, Alfonso XIII fled the country. Thus in April 1931 Spain became a republic. This was a dire blow for the Catholic Church, which soon began to feel the effects of the new regime. In the same year, 1931, Cardinal Segura y Saenz, Archbishop Primate of Toledo, was expelled from the country. During 1932 the Jesuits were banned and expelled from Spain, although, in fact, the expulsion really did not take place, as they remained in hiding or in disguise.
The divided state of the country became manifest in 1933 when a center-right-wing government came into power. This coalition government suspended the anti-clerical laws and held the reins of power until January 1936, when the Spanish Parliament was dissolved. Elections were held and once again the left-wing Republicans, the Popular Front of Socialists and Communists, won as the pendulum swung in their direction.
How did these political developments affect our work? Well, in towns where the Republican factions were strongest, the brothers would be run out of town as Fascist agents of the Church, because they were distributing religious literature. And, of course, in the Fascist-Catholic Action strongholds the brothers were viewed as Protestants or Freemasons, distributing the forbidden book, the Bible.
As a result of the political developments, the power of the clergy was broken and the people sensed greater religious freedom. Although this favored our work to an extent, a large portion of the people, with their eyes now opened to the former religious deceptions, turned completely against every form of religion and even against God. Nevertheless, our Christian activity went on apace.
PERIOD OF TRANSITION
Brother Gabler’s presence in Madrid did not seem to please Francisco Corzo. By 1931 he had separated himself from the truth and eventually abandoned his wife. Hence, it became necessary to move the branch office and printery out of the Corzo house. They were established in new premises in January 1931.
That year was notable as the one in which God’s people adopted the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” In contrast with the 15,000 that adopted it by resolution in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A., only fifteen persons met together for that purpose in Madrid.
Other changes also took place during that period. For instance, with its issue of September 1931, the “Madrid” edition of The Watch Tower ceased to be published. Nevertheless the one from Brooklyn continued to arrive, with its front cover illustration of a tower punctuated by three cross-shaped windows. Above the title, La Torre del Vigía, there was the cross and crown symbol, long used by the Bible Students. But the January 1932 issue arrived with a completely new cover design from which the cross and crown had disappeared.
This wind of change blew strongly in Madrid. For the Lord’s Evening Meal in 1932, an embroidered tablecloth with the cross and crown design also vanished from the scene. As Brother Gabler said: “Brothers, this has got to go. Out with it! Out with it!” Similarly, out went the cross and crown lapel badges we used to wear. And what about those pictures of presidents of the Watch Tower Society, C. T. Russell and J. F. Rutherford? They, too, disappeared from the wall of the Witnesses’ meeting place in Madrid.
ENGLISH PIONEERS GIVE US A HAND
During 1931 the Society had held a series of assemblies in different cities, including London and Paris. Brother Gabler spoke at these two assemblies and explained the great need for volunteers to help in the almost virgin Spanish field. As a result, three pioneers came forward to accept the challenge—Ernest Eden, Frank Taylor and John Cooke.
By July of 1932 these three English pioneers had begun their preaching work in the industrial city of Bilbao, the provincial capital of Vizcaya. This province is part of the region known as the Basque provinces, where the Basque language is spoken. Incidentally, no one really knows the exact origin of this intriguing tongue that has absolutely no relationship to the Spanish language.
Using a Spanish testimony card that explained their mission, the pioneers gave a witness in Bilbao and placed much literature. If a door happened to be open, they might just step inside. With that positive approach, one day Ernest Eden placed thirty books at just one door. How did he do that? Well, he saw a door ajar, pushed it open, went down a passage and found himself on a theater stage interrupting a rehearsal! He took advantage of that opportunity to give a good witness—more in English than in Spanish—and left all the books he had, later returning with more literature.
Brother Eden also had a rather shocking experience. One smartly dressed lady invited him into a well-furnished and dimly lit apartment. “She invited me into a lovely room,” he says, “where there were about twelve girls, all nude. It was a high-class brothel. Ignoring the situation, I told them why I had come and I offered the literature. The matron took a book and several girls took booklets.” Brother Eden wonders how many Christians have witnessed to people under such unusual circumstances.
During the three months of preaching in Bilbao, the pioneers placed a total of 459 books, 1,032 booklets and 509 copies of Luz y Verdad (Light and Truth), the equivalent of the magazine The Golden Age (now Awake!). This was accomplished despite the fact that the people were very religious. Much of the territory was made up of apartments, and most of the doors were adorned with a picture of the so-called “sacred heart.” Often Jesus and Mary were shown holding their own bleeding hearts in their hands and offering a certain number of days of remission from purgatory to those exhibiting this ghastly spectacle.
EN ROUTE TO MADRID
After completing their work in Bilbao, the pioneers started to witness along the northern coast of Spain. How did they obtain more literature as they traveled from place to place? They arranged with the Madrid office of the Society to have boxes sent ahead to various railway stations. As they traveled, they would call at the depots and pick up the literature awaiting them.
Our intrepid pioneers left the rainy mountainous area of the north and began working their way south through the cities of León, Palencia, Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca, Segovia and Madrid. When they came onto the meseta, the high inland plateau of Castile, they were delighted with the picturesque scenery and intrigued with the life-style, so reminiscent of Bible lands. Skins were used for storing and carrying wine, and women could be seen with earthenware pots of water atop their heads. Little olive oil lamps still served as lights, and in many places cars and buses rarely were seen, the means of transport being donkey and mule. Grapes still were pressed for wine by barefoot men, and oxen dragged a flail around the threshing floor to separate the grain from the chaff. Many people were living in caves. In fact, that is still true in some regions, but these caves are clean and nicely arranged. During the summer they are cool and in winter they are cozy.
When the English pioneers were in Madrid, they had an unusual addition to their ranks, a young shepherd named Domingo. He had come from a remote village in Navarra. What had drawn him to Madrid? Well, one day, while tending sheep, he found a copy of Luz y Verdad in a ditch by the roadside. He enjoyed it so much that he sent away for the books it mentioned, and all during the winter he read them avidly. However, his discovery of this new “way” brought opposition and lying attacks against the truth. (Acts 9:2) So, he headed for Madrid to learn something about the people responsible for these publications. The distance from his town of Pamplona to Madrid is more than four hundred kilometers (250 miles), but Domingo walked it! For the first time in his life he had left his native village. Once in Madrid, he found the Society’s office and started studying the Bible with the English pioneers. Satisfied that this was the truth, he unconditionally offered himself for the preaching work and became a pioneer.
TRUTH SPREADS IN THREE DIRECTIONS
The summer of 1933 marked the parting of the ways for pioneers John, Ernest and Frank. Ernest Eden took Domingo and struck out for the northwest. In time, Frank was assigned the whole of southern Spain, an area almost as big as Portugal. This fascinating territory included all of Andalusia and covered the southern coast from Huelva to Alicante. Meanwhile, John Cooke went some sixty-four kilometers (40 miles) south of Madrid to the ancient city of Toledo. With its Roman and Visigothic walls, Moorish mosques and gateways, and Jewish synagogues, it was like a museum that told the history of Spain in stone.
Suppose we take a glance at pioneer activity in the early 1930’s. In those days, public transport meant using buses, trains, horse-drawn cabs, and mules, as well as putting up with whatever everyone else had brought along—hens, ducks, goats, and, on one occasion, a large swordfish. Once an earthquake caused the train to leave the tracks. With all of that in mind, Frank Taylor turned to the bicycle. Fitted with strong carriers fore and aft, also a case that fitted between the frame, plus a rear bag to carry the phonograph records that were used in the preaching work in those days, it was quite a contraption. Later, slings over the handlebars were loaded with selected stones to ward off the marauding packs of starving dogs that would attack this strange moving object as it passed through the ghost towns and old mining areas in the province of Almería. On one occasion, Frank was attacked from the rear and his trousers were torn, the only pair he had. Fortunately, some sympathetic women loaned him a needle and thread. Without further ado, he sat down in the middle of the road and took care of the damage. Upon returning the needle, Frank preached to the local inhabitants and was able to place various publications with them, perhaps more because of their sympathy than their genuine interest.
In his preaching activity, Frank Taylor followed the tactic of never retracing his steps in a town or down a street if he could avoid it. This was one way of shunning irate left-wing Republicans who often took him for a Fascist agent circulating Catholic propaganda. In the town of Villamanrique, Ciudad Real, the word spread that Frank Taylor was a Fascist because the books he carried had the name of God in them, and, as he says, “God meant Catholic, which meant Fascist” to those people. At any rate, an angry crowd of some fifty communists surrounded him in the market square and shouted: “Down with him! Down with him!” Escape seemed impossible. But, following a suggestion he had received from a Catholic landlady, Frank began reading a strongly worded paragraph in the Society’s booklet Crisis. He read at the top of his voice, and then thrust the booklet into the hands of the ringleader, saying, “Read it for yourself.” The effect? Really amazing, as the crowd just about came to blows among themselves, some shouting in his favor and others against him. Amid the confusion our pioneer brother was able to slip away unharmed.
Frank Taylor thanked Jehovah for this deliverance. But that was not the end of the story. While cycling away at 6:30 in the morning he was surprised to see the plaza almost packed with about 200 people waiting to see him leave by bus. How grateful he was for that bike! Then up went the cry, “There he is!” “Believe me,” recalls Frank, “I never before put so much pressure on those pedals, and I did not stop until I was clear of that town and on my way to the next village.”
AMID SCENES LIKE THESE
Fortunately, the situation was not always so perilous. There were many opportunities to preach the good news, and quite a few ears willing to listen. When the work of preaching with the phonograph began in the mid-1930’s, Frank Taylor made good use of this instrument. In fact, he had a small pocket-size gramophone that he used to play in some of the cafés. He would hold it in his hand and walk up and down between the tables. At the close of the recorded talk, with a few words of introduction, he offered Christian publications. Quite a novel way of witnessing! But it required caution and discretion, as often a notice would be posted saying, “It is prohibited to talk about religion or politics.”
Getting to some of the mountain villages was really a job, especially when the road had deteriorated to the point that it was just a mud track for pack mules. Imagine having to carry the bicycle on one’s shoulder instead of riding it! Giving us a better picture, Brother Taylor writes: “Entering a village was quite an experience at first. Wares, vegetables and meat usually were spread around on the dusty roads and in the dry riverbed. Someone would be getting a haircut, just sitting on a stool at the roadside. Sometimes a dentist was extracting teeth in exactly the same setup. Conspicuous among all others were corpulent priests who were lounging around. In bars and casinos it was not uncommon to find five or six of them sitting around a table smoking cigars, and wearing their typical clerical garb, all dusty and dirty. When Bible literature was placed, it did not take long for these priests to begin pawing through the pages. You could see them looking for the Roman Catholic censor’s mark, and, failing to find it, they quickly informed the police, usually raising the charge of ‘Communism.’ This resulted in immediate arrest, if they could find me. Since this happened so many times, I grew wise, and it was not so difficult to dodge in and out of the narrow streets. I used to call it ‘fox and hounds.’”
The problem was that if they did not catch Brother Taylor in the town, they were sure to get him as he was leaving, since many towns had a kind of Customs control on the outskirts, and that is where the police waited to pounce on him. Then there would be wasted hours with interrogations and frustrating delays in releasing him. Usually Brother Taylor would ask to get in touch with the British Consul, since he was a British citizen. Finally, he would be released, since no genuine charge could be brought against him.
Upon entering the province of Almería, Brother Taylor came face-to-face with a parched, inhospitable desert, without a blade of grass. Not a bird could be seen, and, except for a dreary line of donkeys that stirred the dust twice a day, there was little movement anywhere. However, Almería had its compensations, for there he discovered a small group of Bible Students. Despite his limited Spanish, he was able to rejoice in fellowship with these humble brothers for some two or three months. During that time the political situation was getting worse and there was shooting in the streets of Almería. After attending his last meeting there, Brother Taylor had to pass through lines of fire and wave a white handkerchief over his head to cycle back to his lodgings.
After witnessing in coastal towns, during the summer of 1935 Brother Taylor reached Murcia, then a city of about 160,000 inhabitants. There he acquired accommodations in a cellar below ground level, a place with a narrow slit in the ceiling for light. At least it was cool during the searing heat of the sirocco winds that blew up from the Sahara and across the Mediterranean. Preaching in that heat was a real trial for Frank Taylor, and it sometimes even caused delirium.
HELP FROM AND FOR GERMANY
During the early 1930’s, the situation in politically disturbed Germany was getting progressively worse for Jehovah’s people. As a result, eventually twelve German pioneers came to serve in Spain. One group got a really hot reception, as their train arrived at the Barcelona station right in the middle of a revolt against the government. While going to meet them, Ernest Eden found that the whole area had been converted into a battlefield. For cover he dived into the Post Office building and had to wait there for two hours until the shooting died down. Eventually he got to the station, where the German brothers were waiting stoically. Then the real trouble started. They did not speak English or Spanish and he did not speak German! Despite this, however, with three months of training these German pioneers were prepared for preaching in Spanish.
The small groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Madrid and Barcelona were conscious of the plight of their brothers in Germany. Hence, like fellow believers elsewhere, they protested the Nazi treatment of the Witnesses by sending telegrams to Adolf Hitler, warning him of what would happen to him and his Nazi party if he did not leave the Witnesses alone.
Our increased activity during this period brought pronounced reactions by Jesuit-inspired elements. In one town the pioneers were accused of “distributing literature of a ‘Jewish-Freemason tendency.’” Two sisters in another town were imprisoned and charged with distributing “booklets of Hitleristic character.” In yet other places, the brothers were branded as Protestants, which was like saying that they were the worst kind of infidels or heretics, as far as the uninformed Catholic majority was concerned.
PIONEERS CONTINUE THEIR MISSION
Toward the end of 1934 or the beginning of 1935, pioneers John and Eric Cooke left Barcelona to work south along the coast. On the other hand, Ernest Eden continued to preach in the towns of Barcelona province.
John and Eric Cooke first went down the Mediterranean coast to the famous Roman city of Tarragona and its adjoining town, Reus. Working their way northward to the province of Lérida and the village of Pradell, the Cookes located Salvador Sirera, a subscriber who had learned the truth and allowed Christian meetings to be held in his pension in Barcelona.
After some days of preaching along with Salvador in nearby towns and villages, John and Eric accompanied by Salvador cycled the 145 kilometers (90 miles) to Huesca. Was the journey worth while? Indeed it was! There, subscriber Nemesio Orús gave them a warm welcome and just “drank in” the truth. However, in his zeal and desire to associate with these brothers, he acted rather indiscreetly and caused his wife to become jealous, so that she secretly laid false charges with the police against the brothers. The Guardia Civil or rural police came to the apartment and arrested John and Eric, but at the Civil Guard headquarters the matter was resolved.
The Cookes visited Nemesio on various occasions and thought it would be good to observe the Memorial in Huesca on April 17, 1935, inviting Salvador Sirera to attend as well. So, John wrote to Nemesio with this suggestion. Imagine his surprise upon receiving Nemesio’s answer to the effect that he was thrilled with the idea and that he had already bought the lamb in readiness for the occasion! Obviously, his understanding of the Memorial was still a little deficient, even though his zeal was commendable. Can you imagine what it must have been like to keep a live young lamb for days in a small fourth-floor flat? Nevertheless, the Memorial was celebrated and it was a great occasion for the small group of Jesus Christ’s followers. In fact, it was about the nearest they ever came to an assembly in Spain in those days.
When John Cooke thought that the province of Huesca had been covered adequately, he and Eric headed for Zaragoza, the capital of the region of Aragón, and the focal point of Spanish Mariolatry, the veneration or worship of Mary. At that time, in 1936, the city had about 170,000 inhabitants. The river Ebro cuts through the northern part of Zaragoza, and on the southern bank is the Temple of the Pillar, a massive, multisteepled church that contains a notable marble column. There, according to Catholic legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to the apostle James in the year 40 C.E., while it was said that she was still alive in Palestine! Though this legend has no historical or Biblical basis, over the centuries a blind faith has developed in La Pilarica (Our Lady of the Pillar).
Baptisms were few and far between in those days. Even so, John Cooke was not prepared to baptize anyone without good reason. In fact, on three occasions Nemesio Orús cycled the seventy-two kilometers (45 miles) from Huesca to Zaragoza, but John kept telling him to wait a little longer and be sure he was making a stable decision about baptism. Finally, in May of 1936, arrangements were made to baptize Nemesio, Antonio Gargallo and José Romanos in the river Ebro, close to Zaragoza.
The pioneers needed to be flexible in those days. If a person wanted our literature but did not have money, they would barter the publications for food, such as eggs, figs and homemade bread. John Cooke comments: I got used to making a snack of a raw egg, a chunk of bread and a glass of wine. . . . So it was a rough, simple life, but a very happy one. How thrilled we were to do real pioneer work in a Catholic stronghold like Spain and to be finding a few real sheep!”
MISTAKEN FOR FASCISTS
While Eric Cooke and Antonio Gargallo were witnessing in the village of Mediana, a woman falsely accused them of being Fascist agents and against the existing Spanish Republic. All the evidence she had was that a booklet placed with her spoke of God and of Christ! The village was practically 100 percent Communist, according to Brother Cooke, and to the villagers anything that spoke of God or Jesus Christ was Roman Catholic and therefore was Fascist. It was impossible to persuade them otherwise.
First, quite a crowd of women gathered. Then the town crier told Brother Cooke to clear out of the village or else he would notify the Civil Guard. The brothers did not leave and the police later arrived. At the headquarters the sergeant carefully examined the booklets and questioned Brothers Cooke and Gargallo. Finally, he said he could see nothing wrong at all, but would have to look into matters further since a complaint had been filed by the villagers. He then told Brother Cooke to take a letter to the lieutenant at the nearest town, feeling that he could better decide on the legality of our work.
As Eric and Antonio made their way down the rutted cart track, several coatless youths were running alongside them in the fields. Soon, a man and some boys came up behind the brothers. Over twenty of them converged at one point, reported Brother Cooke, who added: “Two seized our arms, accusing us of being Fascist propagandists. One bold youth stuck a pitchfork in my stomach in case I should try to escape. Another picked up the book Vindication in English, which I was carrying to read. ‘Look!’ he said, ‘Italian! These must be Fascist agents.’ Antonio attempted an explanation, but they were past being reasonable.”
Antonio’s book bag was pulled off the bike and the literature was thrown to the ground. Another assailant tried to tear the book bag off Eric’s back. Meanwhile, others were gathering sticks for a fire and some were trying to tear the volumes, preparing for a book-burning.
“Just at that point, when things looked hopeless,” reports Eric, “we saw their attitude change. The girls present started to run away. The grip on our wrists slackened. I looked behind, and coming round the bend were four members of the Guardia Civil. What a welcome sight! As Antonio said, Jehovah permitted matters to reach a certain point and then he intervened.”
Later, the brothers appeared before the civil governor, who was surprised that any doubt should have arisen about our work. He called attention to the unsettled political situation then existing. And that it was! This experience clearly illustrates the slippery political path that was being trodden by the Spanish people, one that was soon to plunge them into a terrible bloodbath.
In February of 1936 a general election had taken place and the left-wing Popular Front had been returned to power after two years of center-right-wing rule. Under this final Popular Front government, the tendency was toward disintegration, and events moved rapidly. On July 13, José Calvo Sotelo, a prominent right-wing monarchist, was assassinated, and this action served to precipitate the National Uprising, or Insurrection (depending on the political viewpoint of the Spaniard). This had its start in Africa on July 17 and was explained by General Francisco Franco by radio on July 18. The Spanish Civil War had started. Of the fifty provinces, twenty-one supported the Republic and twenty-nine the National Uprising, while the major cities, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao, remained faithful to the Republic.
The Civil War took more than a million Spanish lives. It was a war of religious and political vengeance. During the three years of its duration the people lived in fear of cold-blooded murder, either at the hands of los rojos (the reds, or communists), or at the hands of Catholic executioners, convinced that they were serving God in a Holy Crusade. Old debts were settled by the pernicious system of the anonymous denunciation, with the victim ending up before a firing squad in a lonely field.
CHRISTIAN ACTIVITY AFFECTED
How did these developments affect our work in Spain? Perhaps we can best discern the feelings of our brothers at that time by seeing those events through the eyes of one who lived through the experience, Sister Carmen Tierraseca. She wrote:
“In Madrid a wave of terror, confusion and anguish unleashed itself. The people, for so many years oppressed by the clergy, went overboard in their fury against the churches, burning some, smashing the images and dragging them through the streets. However, in spite of the chaos that had broken out, we were respected and left alone.
“The Montaña barracks were near our little meeting hall. These became the scene of bloody battles, and all that zone was occupied by the military. Immediately, the foreign brothers had to leave the country, and we were left alone. Shortly afterward, all the Society’s belongings were taken from Calle de Cadarso [the location to which the branch office had earlier been moved] and we never knew to where. The thousands of books and booklets that were stocked there were either taken away or burned. The paper intended for the printed truth, the machines that had been employed in printing praise, the chairs on which we used to sit to study the Bible, the office from which the work was organized—all were lost, sorrowfully lost! . . . The work in Spain had sunk into a sea of silence. All of this caused me infinite sadness, and we found ourselves alone, terribly alone, each one fending for himself, ‘skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.’”—Matt. 9:36.
Just before the Civil War erupted, John and Eric Cooke had departed for a vacation in England. By 1936, Frank Taylor had completed his witnessing activity in the provinces of Sevilla (Seville) and Cádiz and was determined that his next objective would be the Balearic Islands, which he hoped to reach by ship via Gibraltar. He found himself in the frontier town of La Línea as the once sleepy place was pillaged and burned and then fell to the Fascists and their white-turbaned Moorish troops. As Brother Taylor was crossing an open space to the Customs house he was caught in a veritable hail of lead belching from the barrels of machine guns, rifles and pistols. But he made it, and after darkness fell he bolted across ‘no man’s land’ to the Gibraltar frontier. “A few shots streaked past me,” he recalls, “but I was free and sang for joy.”
Ernest Eden, on the other hand, was expelled from Spain, but not before he had spent some time in a subterranean prison that was quite like a tunnel blocked at both ends. There he and a German brother subsisted on a bread roll, a bowl of coffee and about a pint of cooked beans each day. “We were there two months,” recalls Brother Eden, “and I can recommend that food as a slimming diet.” Expulsion from the country was completed with a rigorous climb into the mountains and a walking, stumbling, falling, bruising descent down the French side. Once in France, the two brothers parted company and Ernest Eden eventually reached England.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Brother O. E. Rosselli, an American citizen, was preaching in the Canary Islands, Spanish territory off the west coast of Africa. While he was witnessing among scattered houses on a rough road, two soldiers rushed out of ambush and took him into custody. He spent twelve days as a prisoner and was then deported from Spain. What was his “crime”? He had been distributing the leaflet “What Is Fascism?” which states that Christians are neither Fascists nor Communists, but are witnessing about the Lord’s incoming kingdom.
So it was that our activities in Spain were affected disastrously by the Civil War. July 1936 started a period of eleven years of complete isolation and solitude. Each one of the Spanish Witnesses became like a flickering candle, trying to keep alight his flame of integrity amid suffocating spiritual gloom. A few succumbed, but the story of the majority is evidence of the insuperable power of Jehovah’s spirit that sustained them through those bleak years.
FACING TESTS DURING ISOLATION
All those seeking to please Jehovah were put through various tests, both during and after the Civil War, but the men especially were tested. If the start of the war found them living in territory controlled by the Republicans, they were expected to fight with them. However, if they were in “rebel” territory, they were expected to fight for the right-wing Catholic forces. Let us not forget that this issue arose in 1936, and although the brothers had a basic understanding of Christian neutrality, they did not have the benefit of The Watchtower dealing with that subject, which did not appear in English until November 1939. So, each brother knew that he had to maintain integrity one way or another, but lacked the clear vision that came later, as well as contact with the visible organization so as to resolve any doubts he had.
To illustrate the problems of those days, let us consider the case of Nemesio Orús, a married man with three small children living in Huesca. A few days after the war started, he was visited as a suspected Communist or Freemason, and his visitors tried to obligate him to applaud the soldiers as they were going off to war. Pressure also was applied to get him to join the local Fascist group. When he refused to do these things, he ended up on the “blacklist” for future reprisals.
One night in August 1936, Nemesio was arrested, interrogated by the police inspector, and jailed. Eventually he found himself in the Zaragoza jail, where he spent twelve days in a cell without a mattress, sleeping on just a blanket doubled on the floor. For witnessing to the other prisoners, Nemesio was put in solitary confinement for thirteen days. Finally, on December 16, 1936, he was released from prison.
This, however, did not end matters. The Orús family moved to Ansó where, in the winter of 1937, Nemesio received a notice from the Town Hall that he should present himself for military service. Desiring to maintain Christian neutrality, he did not comply, was jailed once again and finally freed as being medically unfit for military service. Thereafter, the Orús family moved to Barbastro, another town in the province of Huesca, where Nemesio again established his watch-repair business. He then lost all contact with God’s people for some ten years.
The postwar period was a time of great suffering for the Spanish people, including our few brothers and interested persons. In many places there were dire shortages of food and fuel. Under these circumstances, some of the brothers were able to manifest their Christian love. (John 13:34, 35) For instance, Salvador Sirera, who lived in the village of Pradell in Lérida, was able to cultivate a plot of ground and have his food supply guaranteed. Such was not the case for the brothers in Barcelona, where five carob beans were being sold for one peseta when an average daily wage was twelve to fourteen pesetas, and the basic commodities, such as bread and olive oil, were scarce. Hence, one can imagine Brother Juan Periago’s gratitude when Salvador came to Barcelona carrying foodstuffs for the needy brothers in that city.
The new rulers were determined to eliminate all vestiges of the previous republican rule, and so there was strict censorship of the mail and the press. Accordingly, when Sisters Natividad Bargueño and Clara Buendía decided to write to the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn to obtain literature, their correspondence was mailed in vain. Their letters never left Spain, but were intercepted by the censor. A few days later the police called at the homes of these sisters and, after questioning them, and in one case searching the house, they warned them to drop their interest in these “lies.”
At that time it was required that all letters sent should have patriotic phrases written on the envelope. Otherwise, the mail would not be delivered. Therefore, in order to preserve their neutrality, God’s people did not write to the Society.
Another requirement was that on every occasion that the national anthem was heard, even by radio, everyone should stand and give the Fascist salute, no matter where he might be. The same patriotic procedure was required if a person was passing a military barracks at the raising or lowering of the flag, or if troops were passing by with the flag. So it was that one day Antonio Brunet Fradera and Luis Medina were walking along a Barcelona street when a battalion of soldiers came marching by with the flag. Everybody stood at attention and saluted the flag, except Antonio and Luis. At that, the officer in charge brought the battalion to a halt and threateningly ordered these young men to salute. When they refused, the officer grabbed their right hands and raised them in salute. But one of the brothers remarked: “We are not saluting. You are by raising our arms.” Furious, the officer let their arms fall and then pulled out his pistol and pointed it at them, saying: “Now you will salute, won’t you?” Again the brothers refused. “But can’t you see that I am going to shoot you if you don’t?” The reply? “You will only kill us if God allows it.” With that, the frustrated officer stuck the pistol back in its holster and led these young men away under arrest. But they had kept their integrity. Interestingly, Antonio Brunet had not even been baptized, for he was not immersed until some years later, in June 1951.
With the Catholic Church back in power, complications also arose for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially with regard to schooling. To receive an education at a State school it was necessary to produce a baptism certificate proving that the child was a baptized Catholic. Natividad Bargueño had not baptized her daughters in the Church, and when they became of school age she really had to search before finding a school that did not insist on the baptism certificate.
Even then there was a problem because the local parish priest insisted that all the pupils should attend his church on Sunday morning. To make sure that they did so, each one was given a blue card that was marked as they entered the church. Then every Monday morning these cards were checked at school to see if anyone had failed to attend. Recalling this, one of Nati’s daughters remarks: “Of course, my card never was marked, and every Monday I had to face up to this situation with the teacher. Finally, on one of these Mondays the teacher said: ‘This situation cannot go on like this. Either you will go to Mass or I will present the case to my superiors.’” Nati’s daughter went home and explained the problem to her mother, who took the simple step of teaching her daughter Acts 17:24 where it says that God does not dwell in handmade temples. The young girl repeated that scripture to the teacher in explaining why she did not attend the Mass. This succeeded, for the teacher no longer bothered her with the Monday interrogation. In fact, when the priest came on Mondays to check the blue cards the teacher deliberately held back the card of Nati’s daughter in order to avoid complications.
SEEDS GERMINATING IN TORRALBA
Although the Civil War and its aftermath certainly put God’s people to the test and brought them face-to-face with many problems, the seed of truth that had been planted continued to produce. For instance, in Torralba de Calatrava there was some fruitage with the passing of the years. Actually, the first seed had been sown there back in 1931 when José Vicente Arenas first heard the truth. As time passed, informal witnessing was done and little by little different individuals were affected. Along with those reading the publications of the Watch Tower Society were some Protestants who were mixing the two sets of ideas. In fact, one of them was acting as a colporteur for the British and Foreign Bible Society in Madrid, although he was selling our literature at the same time. During the time of unrest, meetings were held in a clandestine manner, and they were being directed by men who were more Protestants than Jehovah’s Witnesses.
By 1946 the group of Bible students in the small rural town of Torralba was the largest in Spain that was still studying the Bible with the Society’s publications in hand. From their study, they realized that they should get baptized, and so arranged to hold a baptism on September 2, 1946, in the nearby river Guadiana. On that day nine persons were baptized with great simplicity and sincerity. Without a baptism talk, nine men entered the river and were baptized. Then, each one offered up a prayer to God as they all kneeled on the riverbank. Two weeks later they performed another baptism and three more brothers were immersed. Strangely, no women were baptized, although some were associating with the group. Another interesting detail is that the “Protestant” elements did not participate in any way in this baptism, even though they were trying to maintain control of the group.
On September 26, 1946, Brother Gregorio Fuentes married Brother Pedro García’s sister. Among the guests was a Protestant almost considered a patriarch because of his Bible knowledge. He entertained the hope of becoming the pastor of this flourishing group of Bible students in Torralba. When the wedding was over, he suggested that they all celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He gave a talk in which he emphasized the need to partake of the Supper regularly. All of those present partook of the emblems under the guidance of this Protestant “shepherd,” and he indicated that he would return in November to celebrate the Supper again.
However, some of the brothers were not convinced by what had taken place. So, before he returned they made a thorough search of the Bible and the Society’s publications, finding the proofs needed to rebut this would-be “pastor.” Upon his return, he was disappointed to find that no one in the group was prepared to celebrate his “Supper” and that these individuals no longer were under his control. Needless to say, he never returned.
NEWS REPORT LEADS TO RENEWED CONTACT
A notable event of 1946 was the Glad Nations Theocratic Assembly held in Cleveland, Ohio, with a peak attendance of 80,000. Of course, Spain was one of the nations that was not represented. There still was no contact between Spanish Christians and God’s organization in the rest of the world—and this was ten years after the outbreak of the Civil War! However, that noteworthy assembly made international news, and reports were printed even in Spanish newspapers. Those reports, although twisted and full of lies, served to reestablish contact between the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses and the small groups of God’s devoted people functioning in Spain.
The press reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses were expecting the end of the world by an atomic explosion between 1946 and 1948. This “news” was noticed in the Spanish newspapers by three brothers independently of one another. Brother Manuel Alexiades read it in a Madrid paper and immediately wrote to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn to ask about this “prophecy.” Meanwhile, Ramón Serrano read the same news in another paper and informed Ramón Forné, who also wrote to the Society. At the same time, the brothers in Torralba had seen this report and likewise communicated with the Society’s Brooklyn office. Who would have thought that the 1946 convention would have been the means of bringing the Spanish brothers back in contact with Jehovah’s visible organization earth wide? Actually, the lies that must have pleased the Devil boomeranged on him.
What joy for the brothers in Spain! Christian literature started to trickle through again—such books as Children, The New World, “The Truth Shall Make You Free” and “The Kingdom Is at Hand.” These books were sent as gifts to the brothers here, and what gifts! After some ten years of wandering through a desert of spiritual drought, they had again found the oasis of truth.
GOVERNING BODY REESTABLISHES CONTACT
As a result of these contacts, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses made arrangements for the Spanish groups to be visited in May 1947. Arriving in Madrid on May 7, F. W. Franz and H. C. Covington from the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, had their first meeting with a group of eleven Spanish friends assembled that night in the dining room of the home of Brother Manuel Alexiades. Everyone present wanted to be a regular subscriber for The Watchtower and to obtain all the latest Christian publications. However, it was noticed that practically all the men smoked, though no immediate comment was made about their use of tobacco. The next day a second meeting was held with a group of sixteen.
These two meetings built up the confidence of Pedro García and Gregorio Fuentes who had come there from Torralba de Calatrava. The group back in Torralba was divided on whether or not to invite the brothers from Brooklyn to come and see them, and so they sent Pedro and Gregorio to Madrid to size up the situation. Well, somewhat like the faithful spies of Moses’ time, they were favorably impressed and sent a telegram advising the group that they would be coming to Torralba with the two American visitors.
First, this meant a train trip to Ciudad Real. Next, the two visitors rode to Torralba in a somewhat rickety, decrepit, ancient taxi. A number of brothers were on hand to greet them upon arrival at 1:35 a.m.
That morning the visitors went to the Civil Guard headquarters to register their presence. That evening twenty-four persons gathered for a meeting and were greatly refreshed in a spiritual way. But the visit also had an impact on the general populace of that small agricultural town. For instance, Bienvenido González recalls: “Their stay was spectacular, especially for the local citizens. Brother Franz, although of normal stature by local standards, wore a sombrero, or hat, that was by no means normal. Besides being high, it also was wide, something never seen in these parts, so that his presence was obvious.”
On Sunday the final meeting was held with the Torralba group, and thirty-eight persons jammed into one room to enjoy the gathering. Congregation organization was explained, and two brothers were assigned to care for the work of the group. They were José Vicente Arenas and Juan Félix Sánchez. The matter of smoking arose at this meeting, since nearly all in the group were smokers and they had noticed that their visitors were not. After their inquiry Brother Covington related his own experience of how he once smoked about fifty cigarettes a day, but the knowledge of Kingdom truth had shown him that the habit was incompatible with Christian living. Even after this talk the issue of smoking continued to be a problem in that group, as some were not willing to make the change.
After the meeting the Civil Guard headquarters was notified of the visitors’ imminent departure. But how were they to cover the sixteen kilometers (10 miles) to Ciudad Real to get the train to Madrid, since the only taxi in town had a flat tire? Well, Brother Franz later reported:
“At midnight we hit out for the home of a carter and roused him. He hitched a tartana, a two-wheeled covered wagon, to a tired horse with jingle bells below his neck. Bidding some of the friends there good-bye, four of us got up into the cart with the driver. Then through the dark hours we bumped and jingled along, westward. . . . At 3 a.m. we reached the railroad station in Ciudad Real.”
The visitors got the train and made it back to Madrid in safety. Later that day they had a farewell meeting with the Madrid group, and a temporary presiding overseer and Watchtower study conductor was appointed from among the twelve persons present:
The next day the visitors flew on to Barcelona. During the visit there, a service committee was assigned temporarily to get the Barcelona Congregation going organizationally. Those appointed were Ramón Forné, and Ramón and Francisco Serrano.
On May 15 the visitors were on their way by train to Barbastro. The journey took ten hours, during which the train passed the famous mountain of Montserrat, with its peculiar formation of pinnacles that look like monolithic fingers pointing to the heavens. High on this mountain is a monastery with the image of “Our Lady of Montserrat,” otherwise known as the “Black Virgin,” so called because it is said that the image has turned black from the candles that have been burned beneath it for centuries.
At Barbastro the visitors were greeted by Nemesio Orús and his family, as well as interested persons. Two meetings were held there on succeeding evenings, and Nemesio was assigned to serve as temporary presiding overseer.
Later, back in Barcelona the visitors spoke to some twenty persons on May 18, 1947. Before leaving that city, Ramón Forné was assigned as temporary servant over all the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their congregations in Spain.
A NEW CHAPTER OF KINGDOM SERVICE
In December 1947 other members of the Governing Body visited Christians in Spain. At that time, Brothers N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel were able to assist Spanish fellow believers spiritually. Along with the visitors came John Cooke, by then a graduate of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Yes, this was the same brother who had left Spain in 1936 just before the Civil War started. Now he was assigned to the Iberian peninsula to get our work organized in Spain and Portugal.
One place needing assistance was Barcelona, where two distinct groups functioned as a result of division based on personal differences. When Brother Cooke arrived at the airport there, two small groups of brothers greeted him, but were unwilling to greet each other. For the first week or so the situation was very difficult. The brothers were disorganized, doing no real field service. However, within a short while Brother Cooke was able to organize a combined Watchtower study, and from then on the atmosphere slowly improved, although the wounded feelings were a long time in being healed.
The first vital step in the reactivation of our work in Spain was to get the house-to-house activity going again. That suggestion met with protest: “But, Brother Cooke, this is not London or New York. This is Franco’s Spain. You can’t do house-to-house work here!” John thought otherwise. So, he started on his own, doing an odd house here and there so that he could never be located by the police or be effectively denounced. With his example before them, the other brothers began to follow suit. They soon realized that with tact and prudence, and by using the Catholic Bible, they really could preach from house to house. So it was that Spain had thirty-four Kingdom publishers reporting in 1948, their first year of postwar organized door-to-door preaching activity.
The group in Madrid was weaker than the one in Barcelona. There was no capable brother to take the lead there, although sisters like Carmen Tierraseca and Natividad Bargueño quietly were following the lead of the organization, in spite of some Protestant “poison” in their midst. The meetings were being held on the outskirts of Madrid, in the district of Vallecas, in the home of the Protestant who had tried to ‘rule the roost’ much earlier in Torralba de Calatrava. Before John Cooke arrived, this Protestant used to direct the Watchtower study, which sometimes lasted for almost three hours, the comments of this individual at times being thirty minutes long. John really was unable to improve the situation at that time, as there were no capable brothers then available in Madrid.
From Madrid, John took the train to Ciudad Real, where he was met by the brothers from Torralba de Calatrava. For the first few days, all went well and he was able to hold some fine meetings with the brothers, in spite of the close vigilance of the Civil Guard. About the fourth day, however, John fell ill and had to stay in bed. He had a fever and a strange feeling in the lungs. Though he required plenty of liquid, the water in that town definitely was bad. To worsen the situation, there was no suitable doctor in the town. As each day passed, the situation got worse, not only for John, but also for the brothers who had on their hands this “embarrassing” foreigner who was arousing the suspicions of the Civil Guard. Finally, John made a big effort and journeyed back to Barcelona, where Ramón and Francisco Serrano met him and saw to it that he received necessary care in their home. For a while the doctor was visiting him three times a day, and even the brothers thought that he was dying. However, Brother Cooke pulled through the ordeal, thanks to the care of the Serrano family.
The doctor recommended that John Cooke spend a few weeks in the mountains to recuperate. So, Nemesio Orús invited him to pass the time with his family in Barbastro, but problems were to develop there also.
ARRESTED AS MEMBERS OF THE MAQUIS
While in Barbastro, John and Nemesio had an unusual, though typical, experience. Nemesio had written ahead to an interested person named Vicente to tell him of the visit. Well, when the dilapidated bus pulled up to let off the visitors there was a sinister-looking reception committee awaiting them—a priest and four of the Civil Guard heavily armed. Nearby was Vicente in his simple peasant garb, with a donkey to carry the bags, and a worried look on his face. After greetings, they loaded the donkey and started the climb up the path that led to the village. But, two of the guards moved on ahead of them and the other two followed behind, along with the priest. The brothers had landed in a trap! As they approached the village, one of the guards from behind shouted: “Halt! Hands up!” “We did not argue about this,” remarked John. “They searched us for weapons and then ordered us to proceed to the brother’s home. Meanwhile, the priest slipped away, his little plan having worked very nicely.”
What had occurred? Well, Nemesio’s letter had been read by Vicente to his family, but the servant girl had heard it and, being a Catholic, had told the priest. He, in turn, tipped off the Civil Guard that dangerous characters would be coming to visit Vicente. In that area at the time, the Maquis, Spanish political refugees with their headquarters in France, often were making nuisance raids across the border, and the local Civil Guard was in a state of alert. Thus, they trumped up the charge that John and Nemesio were Maquis agents.
At Vicente’s house our true position was explained, and the guards left. While the three were relaxing over a cup of coffee the guards returned and arrested them. Why? Because they were supposedly holding an illegal meeting. Franco’s decrees had prohibited unauthorized meetings of three or more persons. This led to their being interrogated from about midnight until 5 a.m. at the nearest Civil Guard headquarters. Thereafter, the three were put in a cell in an unused convent building, with a guard of four soldiers and a corporal. They spent a few days in that place sleeping on dirty mattresses on the floor and paying someone to bring the meals from the inn at the town of Graus. And this was supposed to be a period of convalescence for John!
The three were interrogated once again by officers who were quite polite and respectful. The third day a telegram came from the governor of the province instructing that all three should be released. Eventually, they got back to Vicente’s house and there continued the visit as planned.
After about three weeks with Nemesio, John Cooke returned to Barcelona, where the work was progressing nicely, with some forty Kingdom publishers taking part. During the Memorial celebration held in Spain at that time ninety-six were present and eighteen partook of the emblems. The number of partakers was inflated by the influence of the Protestant “brother” in Madrid. But that situation was only to continue until 1950, when judicial action finally was taken against him. With better understanding, the number of partakers dwindled to three by 1956.
With things progressing slowly but surely in Spain, it was decided that John Cooke should go to Portugal. This he did in August 1948, not returning to Spain until July 1951. However, the eight months of association before his departure had served to get matters on an even keel in Spain. Theocratic order was being established and the fruits were bound to come, in spite of all Satan’s efforts to the contrary.
PROBLEMS ARISE IN TORRALBA
On March 18, 1948, José Vicente Arenas and Pedro García were called before the town mayor and the local Civil Guard chief in Torralba de Calatrava. The purpose of the interview was to stop the brothers from having their meetings and to prevent them from preaching to others. Pedro replied that they would respect the authorities, but it would be impossible to stop the meetings and the preaching work. (Acts 5:29) However, that did not end the matter.
On April 10 the Civil Guard intercepted and confiscated the packets of literature that had been sent by the Society from Brooklyn, New York, and the brothers receiving them were fined by the civil governor of the province. Some paid the fine, but others refused to do so because they had not committed an offense. Later the Society sent the literature to Barcelona and the brothers there took steps to have it sent to Torralba. Yet, it was evident that the group there needed to place greater confidence in Jehovah. So, new appointments were made to positions of responsibility and this improved the spirit of the Torralba group.
A major problem in Torralba was the smoking habit. Nearly all the men that associated there were heavy smokers, but they avoided smoking when John Cooke was around. One day, however, Bienvenido González deliberately brought the matter to a head by smoking in John’s presence. As a result, the matter was clarified once more and, as Bienvenido puts it, John’s “counsel was a new incentive for some to drop the dirty vice.”
FIRST POSTWAR SEEDS SOWN IN THE BALEARIC ISLANDS
Was the Kingdom-preaching work making any progress elsewhere in Spain? Yes, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) to the east of the Spanish Mediterranean coast lie the Balearic Islands, consisting mainly of Mallorca (Majorca), Menorca (Minorca), Ibiza (Iviza) and Formentera. Up until the 1940’s the Catholic monopoly in these islands had been undisturbed, but this was to change, thanks to Brother Manuel Alexiades, the Greek businessman who lived in Madrid but who also had property in Mallorca.
One day at the telegraph office, Manuel started to witness to one of the employees. This man listened to the message, not because he was particularly interested, but because his wife was a fanatical Catholic and he hoped that this was his chance to break her away from her fanaticism. In this way Manuel Alexiades was able to witness to Prudencia Font de Bordoy, president of the Catholic Action group in Puerto de Pollensa, a small town on the northeast coast of Mallorca. She accepted some of our literature.
Prudencia later visited a friend and gave her a tract. So impressed was this friend that she passed it on to her daughter, Margarita. Well, both Margarita and her mother showed interest in the truth, acquired more literature and began studying the Bible with Prudencia. And what studies they were—lasting from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.! In fact, Margarita once hid in her room when faced with the prospect of another five-hour-long study. But then, she had five hours in which to reflect on her stratagem, and during that time she became ashamed of what she had done. She prayed to Jehovah, expressing her desire to study the Bible, but not for five hours with that woman!
In 1949, Margarita and her mother established their own study schedule and, during two years, they followed this while witnessing informally to their neighbors and friends. Matters began to take a turn for the better in 1953, when John Cooke visited them for three days and was surprised to have an audience of twenty-six present for a meeting in Palma de Mallorca.
Since Margarita now was twenty-six years old and capable of teaching others, John Cooke took the initiative at the close of the talk and made arrangements for ten Bible studies to be started with the interested persons present at that meeting. Three days of training instilled in Margarita a great appreciation for Jehovah’s organization and also aroused her curiosity about pioneering or serving as a full-time preacher of the good news. In 1953 when John Cooke was attending the Christian assembly in New York, he sent Margarita a pioneer application, which she gladly filled out. As matters developed Margarita Comas became a special pioneer in August of that year.
By that time Paul Baker, a missionary graduate of Gilead School’s fifteenth class had already been in Mallorca for over a year. Not long after his arrival on March 25, 1952, Paul started Bible studies with two families and soon combined them to form the first Watchtower study. Two weeks after his arrival it was Memorial time, and twenty-one persons were present for the celebration, with no partakers of the emblems. By the end of that month, five publishers were reporting field service activity for the first time and they were conducting four Bible studies. Brother Baker continued as the mainstay of the Palma de Mallorca Congregation until 1957, when he was expelled from the country.
NOTABLE DEVELOPMENTS IN BARCELONA AND MADRID
During the years now under review supervision of the Kingdom-preaching work in Spain underwent some changes. Shortly after Brother John Cooke’s arrival, Ramón Forné was replaced by Luis Buj, who shortly thereafter had to return to Argentina. Then, in 1950, Brother Pedro Pérez was assigned this responsibility. However, he had once been an anarchist and during the unrest that existed at that time he came under increased police surveillance. Naturally, he had abandoned all political activities and explained this to the police. However, in view of these problems, Pedro wrote to the Society and suggested that another brother be appointed to care for the work. Consequently, Jorge Miralles, who had come from Argentina, was given this privilege.
At this point, it seems appropriate to take another brief look at the situation in Madrid. In that area the previously mentioned man with a Protestant viewpoint was conducting the Watchtower study and mixing in his own Protestant ideas with what the magazine said. As a matter of fact, it was reported that after the meeting the men present took out their tobacco and smoked, while chatting about things in general. Think of that!
After learning about the situation in the Vallecas district of Madrid, Pedro García, the brother from Torralba de Calatrava, went to Madrid and, on December 16, 1949, met with the brothers there, excluding the Protestant. As a result of this discussion and correspondence with the Society, Luis Feito and Eulogio González were appointed to positions of responsibility in the congregation.
Dramatic indeed were the developments in Madrid at the celebration of the Memorial on April 1, 1950. On March 31, Pedro García arrived in Madrid and first went to discuss the matter of the Memorial with the Protestant. It was impossible to reach an agreement with regard to the date or just who should partake of the emblems, and yet this Protestant was going to give the talk! The next day, Pedro went to the meeting place with his elderly “brother” and found about twenty persons there, many of them completely unknown to him. Asking who they were, he was informed that they were Protestants and Adventists that this “brother” had invited to the meeting. He had craftily padded the attendance by inviting persons of his own ilk.
Pedro García acted quickly and advised Eulogio González to address the group before the Memorial talk started. He was to clarify matters regarding the date and the participants, in agreement with a letter received from the Watch Tower Society. Well, this was a bombshell that the Protestant “brother” had not expected. The meeting broke up in confusion. The Protestant and his followers walked out, and Pedro García ended up giving the Memorial discourse.
With these events, the influence of the Protestant was broken. He refused to accept the direction of the “faithful and discreet slave” and did not respect the appointments of responsible brothers in the congregation. (Matt. 24:45-47) As a consequence, the meetings were discontinued in his home and were held in that of Eulogio González in the Ventas neighborhood of Madrid.
FIRST PIONEERS APPOINTED IN SPAIN
With the advent of Gilead-trained missionaries, such as John Cooke, Ken Williams, Bernard Backhouse and Paul Baker, the spirit of pioneering began to develop among some in the small group of Spanish Kingdom proclaimers. In 1949 there were only fifty-three publishers in the country associating with six groups. From these came the first Spanish pioneer, Maria Gómez of Barcelona.
In 1950 a new peak of 93 publishers was achieved. The following year this grew to 121, and then to 145 in 1952. This latter year marked a turning point for the Spanish field, with the appointment of four special pioneers, three of whom were Spanish—Máximo Murcia from Torralba de Calatrava, Luis Feito and Maruja Puñal from Madrid, and Raimundo Avoletta, who was a Brazilian. In 1977 the figure stood at 591 special pioneers working under the Spanish branch.
STRENGTHENING THE ORGANIZATION
Upbuilding visits by members of the Governing Body continued during the 1950’s. For instance, Brother F. W. Franz again came to Spain in July 1951. A memorable event during that visit was an open-air gathering outside Madrid. On that occasion, several brothers from Torralba who had been baptized in 1946, but not by a baptized person, decided to get rebaptized. Brother Franz gave the baptism talk in Spanish and John Cooke did the baptizing in the Jarama River. This direct personal contact in Spanish with a member of the Governing Body was a great encouragement to the twenty-eight brothers present.
In Granada precautions had to be taken, so the brothers held their meetings in a hotel room. Granada, in the heart of the Andalusia region, is rich in Arabic associations and reminders. Brothers F. W. Franz and John Cooke visited the Alhambra palace, constructed chiefly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by the Arabs, or Moors, as they are more commonly known here. Interestingly, all the mosaic, tile and stuccowork at the Alhambra reflect the Moslem abhorrence of anything that smacks of idolatry. How is that so? Well, all the artistic designs are based on geometrical, arabesque and calligraphic patterns.
Incidentally, in 1950 a brother from Argentina visited his native Granada and introduced the truth to several men there. Soon four subscribed for The Watchtower and were holding private “meetings,” actually debates, at the Alhambra palace, which is open to the public. Later, these meetings were moved to a cave dwelling in Sacromonte, on the outskirts of Granada. Interestingly, this small group took note of the Memorial yearly by going to an isolated spot on Sacromonte hill and there reading a Watchtower article as the sun was setting. In time, a Christian congregation was established in Granada.
Brothers N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel again visited Spain in February 1952. At that time five Watchtower studies were organized in Barcelona and guidelines were established for future meetings and preaching in Spain. Since great caution was necessary in order to avoid unnecessary problems with the authorities, it then was suggested that meeting attendances be kept down to eight or twelve persons. At that time, Brother Bernard Backhouse was assigned to do circuit work among the congregations.
Due to the shortage of our literature, a novel arrangement then was introduced for Spain. If a genuinely interested person was met in house-to-house work, the brothers would lend the person a book and start a Bible study. They then sent the person’s address to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, from where a copy of the book was mailed to the individual. The publisher then received the contribution for the book sent and recovered his loaned copy. This arrangement later was discontinued, but it did serve a useful purpose for some time.
Brothers Knorr and Henschel returned to Spain in January 1953, and this turned out to be the last visit in which John Cooke would be able to participate. Meetings were held in Barcelona and Madrid, with good attendances. In Madrid the visiting brothers had a conference with Brothers Cooke and Backhouse, and it was decided that Spain and Portugal should then become one branch of the Society, with John Cooke’ as the branch overseer.
During that visit, Brother Knorr suggested caution, especially in the organizing of assemblies. He felt it would be better to keep them down to picnic size, of thirty to forty persons, rather than trying to have attendances of a hundred or more. These “picnic” assemblies were held in the mountains and woods throughout Spain until our work was legalized in 1970. Only on a few occasions did the police intervene.
In July 1953, John Cooke was invited to attend the international assembly of Jehovah’s people in New York city. After that convention he went back to Portugal and held a “picnic” assembly near Lisbon in order to repeat the highlights of the New York gathering. Then, he boarded the train for Madrid, but when he got to the Spanish frontier he was stopped and not allowed to enter the country. In May 1954, he again tried to cross the Spanish frontier, but without success. His name was on the “blacklist.” John Cooke never did get back to Spain to carry on missionary work, but the Kingdom preaching was on solid footing and moved ahead under the influence of Jehovah’s holy spirit. Nevertheless, John Cooke continued his missionary service in Africa and still serves in the South Africa Bethel.
With the start of organized preaching work in Spain, there also came to be organized persecution. By remaining virtually in hiding, the Protestant sects had not provoked any reaction from the Catholic clergy, even though there were supposed to be over 30,000 Protestants in Spain. But the activity of a mere handful of Jehovah’s Witnesses soon raised the ire of the Catholic clergy. Their monopoly was at last being challenged. So, what did they do? The same as in the time of the Inquisition, they did the denouncing, but left it to the arm of the State to do the dirty work.
We can illustrate this persecution by citing the experience of Natividad Puñal, the daughter of Nati Bargueño. One day in 1953 this seventeen-year-old was engaging in field service with a special pioneer. At one of the return visits a man appeared and started asking questions aggressively. This individual raised his voice, and more members of the family appeared on the scene. Finally, the man identified himself as a policeman. He took the two Witnesses to a place where there was a Catholic chapel, and led them before an individual who, although not dressed as a priest, talked like one. From there they were taken to a police station where their briefcases were searched and their booklets and Bibles were taken. The two were interrogated for quite some time and, after a second interrogation, were taken to the Chief of the Social Brigade of the secret police. Upon arrival, they were immediately taken to a dungeonlike jail. Soon, Nati found herself in a cell among thieves, prostitutes and lesbians. But even in these circumstances, she took advantage of opportunities to give a witness.
That night, when others were in bed, Nati was taken to a room and interrogated once again. The initial “friendly” questions soon developed into more specific ones as the interrogating chief wanted to know who was directing the work, how many were doing it, where they lived, and so forth. He even produced a photo of a group of Witnesses, including Nati, as well as letters from the Society and other items taken from the room of the special pioneer.
Nati succeeded in replying in a way that protected her fellow believers. In fact, she was very happy that she did not know the addresses of foreign brothers. At last the interrogation ended and Nati was taken back to the communal cell. The next day she was placed in a small individual cell, the type used for solitary confinement. There she spent two days until she had completed the maximum of seventy-two hours that she could be held without official accusation.
However, this did not end matters. Some weeks later, Nati had to present herself before the police court, and was denounced for the scandal she had caused. Her accuser was the very policeman who had started the trouble. Surprisingly, though, there was a sudden about-face! The policeman said, “There hasn’t been any scandal.” Pressed by the judge, he merely answered, “I was scandalized to find that they did not believe in the Virgin Mary.” Ultimately the case was dismissed. But as they left the court, the policeman-accuser came over to Nati and her associate and said: “I thought you were a different kind of people, and I ask you to forgive me.”
This was not Nati’s only prison experience. Two years later she ended up in the same prison for the same reason—preaching the Word of God. Her sister, Maruja, likewise suffered imprisonment because of declaring the good news. She had to contend with imprisoned lesbians and was compelled to fight off rats during her incarceration. Despite their prison experiences, however, these girls continued in Jehovah’s service and he blessed their earnest efforts.
THE BIBLE IN SPAIN
It must be remembered that Spain had for centuries been kept in ignorance of the Bible, so much so that even in the 1950’s it was considered to be a dangerous Protestant book, not to be read by Catholics unless they were well educated. This ignorance is epitomized by an experience that Vicente Páramo had while preaching to a cobbler in Madrid. His presentation was interrupted by the cobbler’s exclamation: “But you have come here to speak to me about the Bible as if I did not already know the Bible! I’ll tell you that I have read Don Quixote seven times!” Don Quixote is, of course, the famous novel by the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes.
On another occasion, a sister was giving a witness to a lady and kept mentioning the Holy Bible, which in Spanish is the Santa Biblia. Finally, the lady exclaimed: “I know practically all the saints in the church calendar, but I have never heard of this Santa Biblia!” She was confusing Santa Biblia, the Holy Bible, with her saints, such as Santa María and Santa Lucía.
Now please consider the experience of Sinforiano Barquín from the Begoña district of Bilbao. After his cousin from Venezuela introduced him to God’s truth, he approached a priest, asking for permission to take a copy of the Bible from a library and consider it with the Catholic Action group with which Sinfo was associated. The response? “There are plenty more books to consider without it having to be the Bible!” Not satisfied, Sinfo took his Valera (Protestant) Bible to another priest who spent nearly half an hour just finding Isaiah 7:14. Undeterred, Sinfo thereafter asked a famous radio priest why the Church did not teach that the meek would inherit the earth, as Psalm 37 says. (Vs. 11; compare Matthew 5:5.) “Well,” said the cleric, “it just means that the meek will live longer on the earth. . . . and that Bible—will you leave it with me, or will you burn it yourself?” Some time later, in a public confrontation Sinfo Barquín handled his Bible with such dexterity that this radio priest blurted out: “How well they have trained you in so short a space of time!”
Use of the Bible in the Kingdom-preaching work was not without its problems. For instance, one day a boy came to the home of Sister Engracia Puñal in Toledo bearing a letter that invited her to return to a certain house to explain more about the Bible. She had visited there twice and had spoken to a woman, but now the husband wanted to speak to her. As things turned out, Engracia’s son, Manolo, went there, along with Vicente Páramo. A lady appeared at the door and said that she would call her husband. He came out and asked Manolo to show him the book he had. It was the Nácar-Colunga Bible. The man took it and said, “Since you are making wrong use of this book, if you want it back, you will have to go to the parish priest to get it tomorrow!” The man then resorted to crude language and struck Manolo, ordering the two Witnesses to leave.
The next day, Manolo went to the parish church to reclaim his Bible. There the priest attacked him in front of other persons, striking him several times. Then the cleric called the police and had him taken away. They also detained Manolo’s mother, Engracia, and both of them were kept in prison for five days. While they were there, the police went to Engracia’s house to search it, and Paz, her teen-age daughter, told them that her mother was in prison. Even they were taken aback to learn that she still was in prison, and they immediately telephoned to have her released. She had been held for five days, whereas the law permitted only a maximum of three without charges.
INTENSIFIED CLERGY AND POLICE ACTIVITY
Our increased house-to-house preaching work brought a reaction from the clergy, and especially from the Archbishop of Barcelona. He published a pastoral letter in the Official Bulletin of his diocese, but it was printed verbatim in three issues of the city’s newspaper La Vanguardia Española, on March 19 to 21, 1954. The terms of the letter painted two classes as enemies of the Catholic Church—Protestants, who were seeking converts among the poor by offering them economic help, and others who were going from house to house offering books, booklets, magazines and tracts. Obviously, the latter reference was to Jehovah’s Witnesses, although we were mentioned by name only once in this long pastoral letter.
The letter called upon the authorities to carry out the law and not permit public propaganda and proselytism by the Protestant sects. It went on to say: “We prudently tolerate the tares . . . but we cannot tolerate the sowing of the tares.” In conclusion, five recommendations were made to the Catholic faithful, the last of which was: “Make use of the law. It is the last resort to be used, but which we must not and cannot renounce if the case arises, in order to impede the sowing of errors and heresies among the Catholics . . . At times the simple threat of this step will be sufficient to stop their efforts.” The letter was accompanied by a circular describing the fight as a real crusade, with the archbishop himself “at the head of that Crusade for Catholic unity.”
The radio, the schools, the churches and Catholic Action all took up the call against the Witnesses and advised the people to invite them into their homes—and then call the police. How the religious monopolists were trembling, and this at the activity of only some 130 publishers in all Barcelona! Missionaries Alvaro and Marina Berecochea both had ‘close shaves’ with priests and the police. On one occasion, Alvaro was visiting the Paralelo Congregation as circuit overseer and was witnessing with two publishers, Joaquín Vivancos and Eduardo Palau. At one point, these two publishers were making a return visit, but the lady became antagonistic and slammed the door in their faces. Then it appears that she phoned the police.
Meanwhile, Alvaro was keeping watch at the doorway of the building and saw two men running toward him. They shoved him inside, pushed him against the wall and searched him roughly, taking away his briefcase. Of course, they were secret police. One stayed with Alvaro while the other went upstairs and brought down Brothers Vivancos and Palau at gunpoint. All three were taken to the police station, but on the way Brother Palau surreptitiously tore up some notes and threw them away, just in case they contained names that could incriminate others. This time the brothers got away with a warning and the matter was not referred to the central police headquarters in the Via Layetana. Yes, it was a ‘close shave’!
In Madrid the police also were stirred to more intensive activity against the Witnesses. During the period from 1953 to 1958 special pioneer Máximo Murcia was imprisoned on eleven different occasions for periods ranging from one night to one month. In that way he got to know several of the cold and dirty cells in the different police stations of the city.
Police vigilance also led to the expulsion of one of the Gilead missionaries in 1954. Because of exposure to the elements during the very bad winter weather that year while serving in Bilbao, Bernard Backhouse journeyed to Barcelona and stayed with the Miralles family. Then it was found that he had typhoid fever, which meant that he would have to remain with them for a fairly long time.
As in many apartments in Spain, water at the Miralles’ home was heated by means of a small gas heater that had a pilot light. One night while everyone was in bed the pilot light blew out, and slowly the apartment filled with gas. Somehow the daughter realized that something had happened and staggered to the door to call for help. An ambulance came and oxygen was administered to Sister Miralles and Brother Backhouse. Of course, this event caused a minor sensation in the neighborhood and also was reported in the newspapers, along with the names of those involved, which included Bernard Backhouse.
The following day an inspector of the secret police visited and made it clear to Brother Backhouse that he was persona non grata because of his known religious activities. Because of his state of health, he was not expelled at once, but upon recovery he had to leave Spain. His departure for Portugal left just four missionaries in Spain—Paul Baker in Palma de Mallorca, and Ken Williams and the Berecocheas in Barcelona.
It might be mentioned that even the rented post office box that the Society’s branch office used did not remain inviolate at that time. It was broken into and the correspondence opened. As a consequence, when the police interrogated one of the special pioneers they were able to prove that she had communicated with the branch office by showing her photocopies of her own letters. So much for the law that said that all correspondence was inviolate!
FALANGE PRESS ATTACK
The 200 Kingdom publishers preaching in Spain in 1954 caused a panic reaction on the part of the Barcelona branch of the Falange political movement. Their monthly magazine for October of that year carried the front-page headline, “Red Light to Heresy! Jehovah’s witnesses ring our doorbells in a diabolical attempt at subversion.” The article on pages 8 and 9 included copies of pages from Awake! in Spanish, along with pages from two of our booklets. These certainly gave a more objective view of the Witnesses than the scurrilous article that accompanied them. The article even mentioned the names of Bernard Backhouse and John Cooke as the first important Witnesses sent to Spain to “sow the seeds of the sect in our Fatherland.”
The two hundred witnesses of Jehovah were painted as pseudo-Spaniards because of having abandoned the Catholic Church. They were also depicted as Communist half-wits and sexual perverts! Other critical articles appeared in the magazine Diez Minutos and the paper Heraldo de Aragón. However, such attacks in no way served to diminish the zeal of the brothers.
A CONVENIENT BREAKDOWN
It was in August and September 1955 that Brother F. W. Franz came to Spain once again. One of the places he, along with Alvaro and Marina Berecochea, visited was Torralba de Calatrava. Since the visitors did not want to arouse suspicion, when they drew near Brother Pedro García’s workshop in that small town, Alvaro switched off the motor and stopped the car as if there had been a breakdown. He got out, lifted the hood, and acted as though something was wrong, then went over to a local resident and asked if there was any garage or workshop nearby. Of course, this led to Brother García’s house and workshop. Pedro came out to look at the engine and said it would be necessary to take the car into his garage, since the problem seemed to be a complicated one. Accordingly, the auto was taken into the workshop, the doors were closed . . . and then, what joy! There were embraces as the brothers who had been waiting in Pedro’s house gathered around to greet their visitors.
When night had fallen, the visitors had to cross part of the town to get to where the meeting was to be held. In order not to draw attention to themselves, Alvaro and Brother Franz put on the berets typical of that area and also sheepskin coats. In the dark, they followed one of the sisters who led them to a granary where the congregation was waiting. In fact, they had been waiting for three hours, and yet they stayed for two or three hours more in order to listen to the talks and have fellowship with these visiting brothers. Finally, after supper, the three visitors drove their “repaired” car out of the garage and headed away under cover of darkness.
During this visit, Brother F. W. Franz also went to Palma de Mallorca. This visit took place on August 30, and seventy-five persons attended the meetings held there. That was an excellent total, since there were then only thirty-two publishers in Palma de Mallorca.
The following weekend was set aside for the assembly at Barcelona, actually a gathering to be held in a secret spot in the woods on Tibidabo mountain. Since the number attending was growing into the hundreds, Alvaro Berecochea began to get worried about the success and secrecy of the arrangement. His worries increased when a brother from Manresa told him that the police had searched his house that week and had taken away the Informant (now Our Kingdom Service) supplement that had announced this assembly arrangement. Alvaro was more alarmed when one of the sisters told him that she had recognized a police inspector among those going to the assembly site. Furthermore, the man was dressed as if for a picnic. Brother Berecochea decided to consult with Brother Franz about what should be done. The reply? “Let’s go ahead and trust to what Jehovah allows.”
Among others, Brother Franz was on the program that morning. After he spoke there was an experience session directed by Antonio Brunet, Jr. He was interviewing elderly Brother Mariano Montori from Zaragoza when serious problems started. Paul Baker recalls: “He was just concluding his experience when I noticed a jeep pull up behind another vehicle in a clearing way down at the bottom of the slope behind the platform . . . Four men in picnic attire got out of the jeep and began to walk smartly up the slope toward the assembly point. Very soon, they broke into a run, with a little man in blue jeans and an open-necked shirt taking the lead. A number of the brothers had noticed this group by now and were wondering what this next demonstration was going to be all about. As the group got within earshot, the little man in front shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Let nobody move or I’ll fire!’ He was waving a pistol . . . This was indeed a new demonstration. . . . The little man placed his companions at strategic points and gave instructions that all cameras were to be surrendered. Another confederate appeared who had been sitting among us and, by this time, everyone realized that this was a roundup by the secret police.”
The men among us were taken in trucks to the police headquarters in Barcelona. While some brothers patiently waited for the trucks to return, since all could not go at once, they witnessed and, from the conversations, gathered that the police had thought they were raiding a political group! As it was, most of the men, including the foreigners, Brothers Franz, Berecochea, Williams and Baker, ended up at the police headquarters. The police obtained details regarding everybody, as well as their fingerprints. At the assembly site, the first thing they had done was to confiscate all the cameras, which were returned that night without any film in them. Thus they obtained a photographic record of many of the brothers, and they also made sure that no incriminating photographs would appear later on in the foreign press.
During the interrogations, the brothers began to notice that something abnormal was occurring among the police. What had happened? Well, Alvaro Berecochea’s mother and sister-in-law had escaped from the assembly site and had gone to the American Consulate to report the arrest of F. W. Franz, an American citizen. The consul had got in touch with the police, and, of course, this kind of publicity was the last thing they wanted. Hence, all the foreigners were set free except Alvaro.
Brother Berecochea was taken to his lodgings where a search was undertaken. However, nothing was found because of a set of circumstances. Brother Francisco Serrano had managed to evade the police and was back at his house early that afternoon. At the same time, Sister Teresa Royo, on her way to the assembly for the afternoon session, called at Francisco’s home and learned of the police raid. Since she lived in the apartment in front of the lodging place of Alvaro and Marina, Francisco told her to rush back and get the files out of there and hide them. This she did with the help of Teresa Carbonell. So it was that the police went away virtually empty-handed. They were dealing with “doves” that proved to be as cautious as serpents.—Matt. 10:16.
What effect did this police attack have on the brothers and interested persons? Well, no further action was taken against the brothers, although a tiny minority became victims of fear of man. Perhaps also fearing some economic repercussions, they broke off association with Jehovah’s people. The remainder, however, were strengthened, invigorated and united more firmly by the experience.
Thus the work did not slow down. During 1955 we enjoyed a peak of 366 publishers, whereas 1956 saw a new peak of 514, an increase of 35 percent over the previous year. Special pioneers rose in number from 12 to 21, and the number of Gilead School missionaries from four to nine. The spirit was one of increased activity in every respect.
During the period from 1955 to 1957 the work at the branch office was being attended to by Alvaro Berecochea, helped by Ken Williams and Domenick Piccone. After the Tibidabo assembly raid, Alvaro continued to do the office work from his lodgings, and then, about September 1956, the office was moved to the home of Francisco and Antonia Rodríguez. On the other hand, the work of sending out packets of literature was handled from a small room that Brother Brunet had made available in his radio shop.
ON THE ROAD AS A TRAVELING OVERSEER
During the mid-1950’s, Alvaro Berecochea served as a circuit overseer for a time. He sought to upbuild the brothers spiritually, but he also encountered some problems.
For instance, the Barbastro “congregation” had disappeared! How was that possible? Well, it existed only on paper. Lack of organization and experience had resulted in counting as publishers people who were not even associating with Jehovah’s organization, much less preaching the good news. Nevertheless, Nemesio Orús and his boys certainly were making an effort to give a witness, especially in an informal way while engaging in business as traveling watch repairers.
A rather memorable circuit visit was the first one Alvaro Berecochea ever made to Torralba de Calatrava. He traveled to Daimiel by train from Madrid, arriving about 10 p.m. Three brothers were on hand at the station, but he could see no means of transport to cover the fifteen kilometers (9 miles) to Torralba. But then he saw three bicycles. Yes, three bikes for four persons! They had it all figured out. Each of them would take turns giving the circuit overseer a ride on the crossbar that connects the handlebars to the seat. It was a cold, moonless winter night, and as they traveled, the silence was punctuated by grunts and groans and occasional breathless stops to change over the “load” as the shadowy figures made their way across the countryside.
Despite the hardships of the journey, the visit turned out to be a spiritual blessing to the small congregation in Torralba. And it seems fitting to add that over the years the influence of the small group of Christians in that little town of 5,000 inhabitants has spread into many parts of Spain as once-illiterate shepherds learned to read and write and moved to areas where they could expand their service to Jehovah.
THE 1950’S—A DECADE OF PIONEER EXPANSION
Many Kingdom proclaimers were reaching out for greater service privileges during the 1950’s. So it was that the number of full-time publishers rose from one in 1950 to 102 in 1960. During the same period the number of special pioneers rose from none to 40. Both Barcelona and Madrid were notable in producing full-time proclaimers of the good news during this period.
What was being accomplished by the pioneers? Well, consider what took place in the province of Málaga. Late in 1957, Carmen Novaes and Anita Berdún began serving there, as the first pioneers in that vicinity since 1936, when Frank Taylor had visited Manuel Oliver Rosado. Of course, Brother Oliver had lost contact with the organization and the sisters knew nothing about him. He was not “rediscovered” until some years later, about 1964. However, Carmen and Anita worked hard, and within eight months fifteen persons were attending the Watchtower study, and six Kingdom publishers were participating with them in field service.
Was there a great need for pioneer activity in those days? Indeed there was! To illustrate: In 1956 there were 514 publishers active in declaring the good news, but they were found chiefly in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Palma de Mallorca. Thus, only four of the fifty provincial capitals were receiving an organized witness. Therefore, one can appreciate that Jehovah’s hand has not been short in the Spanish field, because twenty-one years later, in 1977, there were over 482 Kingdom Halls spread throughout Spain’s fifty provinces. This speaks well for the industrious activity of congregation publishers, pioneers and special pioneers in Spain!
UPBUILT BY FURTHER VISITS
Certainly Jehovah’s hand was not short with reference to the interest shown regarding Spain by members of the Governing Body. Their visits were a regular uplift to the brothers who were now experiencing constant harassment at their meetings and in the field service. The favorite weapon of the Church was to have the “faithful” call the police and denounce the brothers. This amounted to an admission that their average churchgoer was not equipped to defend his beliefs from the Bible.
In November 1956, Brother F. W. Franz visited Spain once again. He divided his stay of five days between Madrid and Barcelona, speaking to several groups in both cities. In contrast with the events of 1955, everything went smoothly and the meetings were not interrupted. This visit was held in strict secrecy, so that even the brothers did not know of it until he was there. In this way, problems with the authorities were avoided.
During January 1957, Brother N. H. Knorr spent five days in Spain as part of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. His report on that visit said, in part:
“Persons who represent the Society in Barcelona are very energetic and have organized the brothers into small groups or congregations, appointing servants over all of these groups. It was my good pleasure to speak to all the groups in Barcelona. Some evenings I talked from five o’clock until eleven, giving five one-hour discourses in different homes, meeting with small groups. It was a joy to see the happiness of the faces of these brothers and their delight in hearing the truth and to associate with one another. . . .
“After a very pleasant time with our brothers in Barcelona I went on to Madrid, spending one day with our brothers there. I spoke to various small congregations, four of them in one evening . . . a work is now started in Spain that will never die out, for the brothers there are zealous. They want to preach, and God is blessing them.”
MORE POLICE HARASSMENT
For one to be found just carrying Bible literature was enough to bring arrest during the years of harassment. For instance, in Madrid four pioneers coming out of a sister’s house were picked up by the Guardia Civil and were taken to the local police station. The pioneers had not preached in that neighborhood that day, but someone had seen them enter that house and had denounced them for distributing anti-Catholic propaganda. The police sergeant said that the fact that they were carrying this literature in his district meant that he had to report the case to the General Security Bureau.
In another instance, a pioneer who went to the railway station to inquire about train schedules was asked by a policeman to present his identity card. When he could not produce it, his briefcase was searched and Bible literature was found. For this “offense” he was fined 500 pesetas or a month in prison. He chose the month in prison.
On other occasions the persecution clearly was from religious enemies, as was the case with Carlos Rubiño, an eighteen-year-old pioneer who was seriously ill with a heart ailment. In the hospital the nuns were constantly pestering him to confess and take Communion. The priest brought along an image and said: “You are dying. Your only hope is to kiss it, confess to me and receive the last rites.” Although he could speak only in a whisper, Carlos refused and asked the priest to show him where this procedure was commanded in the Bible. Angrily, the priest turned to Carlos’ mother and asked: “What kind of religion is this?” She, although not a Witness, quickly answered: “The Bible religion.” At that, the priest stalked out, instructing the nuns to burn the Bible that Carlos had, which happened to be a Catholic Nácar-Colunga Version! Instead, the mother hid it and took it home. She had seen enough of false religion’s fruitage!
Yes, Carlos died, but he had been faithful to his convictions. The next problem arose when his parents arranged for a civil burial. As a result the father was obliged to give up his job as a government employee and was also put out of his house. In later years, both the mother and the father accepted the truth, and their other two sons have continued serving Jehovah faithfully. The younger one, Ricardo Rubiño, spent six years in prison for maintaining his Christian integrity.
Harassment of the brothers and sisters included such things as their not being granted passports, needed so that they could attend Christian assemblies in France or Morocco. Literally scores of Witnesses were not able to travel to such assemblies because they were listed in the police records as Jehovah’s Witnesses. To this day, young unmarried sisters over sixteen years of age cannot get a passport unless they attend social service courses for three months. These courses require nightly attendance and have included political and religious instruction, as well as social service activities in hospitals and similar institutions.
MISSIONARIES ORDERED TO LEAVE
Ever since the events of September 1955 and the abortive Tibidabo assembly of hundreds, Alvaro Berecochea had feared that the police would take action to expel him and his wife, Marina, from the country. A test of the situation occurred in the summer of 1956 when Marina was invited to London for a two-week vacation. Because she had residence in Spain, she had to request an exit visa from the police headquarters in Barcelona.
After a two-hour wait, a plainclothes policeman came up to her and asked why she wanted to go to London. She explained. Then came a barrage of questions, as he said: “Do you believe in that religion of your husband? You know what happened in Tibidabo . . . Are you of that religion? Do you believe in those Bible fables? Do you believe that Elijah made fire come down from heaven?” She answered, “Yes.” “Look,” he replied, “what really happened was that Elijah was a wise guy, and all he did was slyly fill the trench with petrol and then set it alight. Only idiots believe that it was a miracle.” And so the conversation continued. At the end, the policeman pointed to a file and said: “In there we have information about your husband that goes against you as well.” In spite of all of this, however, Marina was granted permission to go to London.
In January 1957 the Berecocheas had to present themselves at police headquarters to request the renewal of their two-year residence permit. After a long wait, they were called into an office and told that they had forty-eight hours to arrange their affairs and get out of the country. Alvaro protested vigorously, but all to no avail. They obtained one concession—they would have ten days instead of two.
Faced with this emergency, Alvaro left the branch office matters in the hands of Ken Williams. Then, the Berecocheas set off for Madrid by train. Hundreds of brothers were at the station to see them off, and for all it was a sad occasion. Once in Madrid, Alvaro went to the Argentine Embassy (for he was an Argentinean) and explained his situation. Due to the Embassy’s intervention, the Spanish authorities granted him a month’s extension and the deadline then was February 18. Having obtained a visa to go to Portugal, he made arrangements to take one of the Society’s motion pictures around the north of Spain.
Upon arriving back in Madrid, Brother Berecochea found a letter assigning him to go to Morocco instead of Portugal. This meant that he would have to go back to the police and request a different exit visa. Instead of going to the person in charge of exit visas, with whom he had spoken at length on a previous occasion, Brother Berecochea went to the normal dispatch counter, explained his need and was told to return the next day. Upon returning, he found that his visa had been extended by another month. The police office organization certainly was not infallible! Now the deadline for leaving the country was March 18. Not one to waste time, Brother Berecochea made arrangements to show the Society’s film in the south and then work his way back to Barcelona.
TRAPPED AND EXPELLED
Upon arrival in Barcelona, Alvaro and Marina booked into a pension and then decided to visit their old lodgings at the home of Teresa Carbonell. They had the key to the door, but before entering they asked Christian sisters who were neighbors if the police had been around lately. “No,” they said. “Things have been quiet.” With that, the Berecocheas went across the hallway to their old apartment, opened the door, and, to their disagreeable surprise, found the police there!
The police wanted to clap handcuffs on the Berecocheas, but they promised not to escape. They were taken to the police headquarters in the Via Layetana and were confronted by a furious police chief. “We gave you forty-eight hours to get out of here,” he thundered, “and two months later you are still here!” Alvaro’s explanations were to no avail.
A call was put through to Madrid and instructions came back that the Berecocheas were to be expelled immediately. Alvaro insisted that it had to be via the Algeciras frontier in order to get to Morocco. So, they were escorted by a secret policeman all the way from Barcelona to Algeciras, a distance of 1,450 kilometers (900 miles). When they were aboard the ship, he gave them back their passports. That was on March 11, 1957.
BACK TO SPAIN!
In Morocco, Alvaro Berecochea served as branch overseer. Some months later he was asked to make a trip to Portugal and Spain. In order to obtain an entry visa, he went to the Spanish Consulate in Vienna, Austria, where it was granted. Now in order to pass through the border, he went by car with his parents through France and entered by Irún. The border police raised no questions, and once again he was in Spain.
Stops were made in Madrid and Barcelona. By December 5, 1957, Alvaro was in Valencia and showed the Society’s film “The Happiness of the New World Society” to a group of twenty-three persons. The following evening, he attended another Christian meeting, and halfway through it there was a violent knocking at the door. When the door was opened, in stepped three members of the secret police with their pistols drawn. After a quick check of their identity cards, the seven brothers were arrested. However, Margarita Comas was allowed to leave with the other sisters, and she immediately went off to hide the film equipment.
The seven brothers were taken to the police station where they were interrogated. When it came to Alvaro’s turn, he was asked if he knew Cooke and Backhouse and others. Since his answers did not satisfy the interrogators, they got angry and threatened to punch him. It was evident, however, that they did not know that he had been expelled previously, and they were taking him for a tourist. At about 3 a.m. the Argentine consul turned up at the police station, and this infuriated the police, although they were careful not to manifest their feelings in front of him. Alvaro was released, with orders to come back the next day to pick up his passport.
When Brother Berecochea returned the following day the situation was grave. They had discovered that he had been expelled in March and they were furious. He was arrested and put in solitary confinement where the bed was of stone and there was only a small barred opening in the door. After a few hours, the guard came, opened the door and took him to a place where there were some packets and blankets on the table. “Your brothers have sent you this,” he was told. Food, blankets and other items had been provided by the Valencia Congregation as a display of its Christian love and concern.
Some time later, Brother Berecochea was subjected to another interrogation. It had been determined that he would be sent out of the country through France, but he asked to go to Portugal. There was agreement on this, but he was told that he would have to wait in prison until they had a pair of civil guards available to accompany him. That idea did not appeal to Alvaro at all. The consul had warned him about persons that went to prison and never were heard of again. So, Brother Berecochea asked to speak to the Argentine consul and was allowed to contact him by phone. Alarmed by the new turn of events, the consul said that he would intervene immediately.
Alvaro was taken back to his cell. But late that night he was advised that he would be getting a plane from Valencia airport the next day. He was released, but was told that he would have to return the next day to pick up his passport.
Immediately, Brother Berecochea went to the brothers and found that they had been fined 1,500 pesetas or thirty days in jail. They had all agreed not to pay the fine, for they had committed no crime.
On the following day, December 9, 1957, Alvaro Berecochea flew to Madrid, and from there to Lisbon, Portugal. Thus ended his Spanish missionary service that had spanned four joyful and blessed years. Now others would have to carry on in directing the work.
PERSECUTION IN PALMA DE MALLORCA
Our activities were being carried on under adverse circumstances, with opposition and religious persecution besetting us on all sides. For instance, in 1954 Brother Paul Baker, who was serving as a missionary in Palma de Mallorca, had his first warning about his religious activities at the school where he was teaching English. One day he was called into the office of the principal, who told him confidentially that the police had been around inquiring about him. They wanted to know if he had been teaching religion in school. The principal had been able to give a good report, since Paul had been tactful and deliberately had not used school hours to bring up the subject of religion. However, Paul was grateful for the warning.
One day in April 1957 Francisco Córdoba, a special pioneer assigned to Palma de Mallorca, failed to appear at the meeting for field service. The brothers thought little of this until he did not show up at the meeting that night. The following day the brothers checked at his lodgings and found that he had not returned the night before. When all other possibilities had been eliminated, it was decided that a sister should go to the police and inquire about him. Sure enough, he had been arrested along with the brother who was preaching with him. Food could be left for them, but they could not be visited.
The time was approaching for the celebration of the Memorial, and the arrangements made for the various groups took into account the possibility that Paul Baker also might not be available, since police action seemed imminent. Well, a day or so later a plainclothes policeman appeared at the pension where Brother Baker was living and escorted him to the police station. There, on more than one occasion, Paul was interrogated and then presented with a typed version of his answers. He was asked to verify the contents and then sign the document of several pages. Having done this, Brother Baker was taken down to the cells and at last found himself with Brother Córdoba and his field service companion. The brothers had to spend the night in the “calaboose,” and the next day they were sent before a judge. Interestingly, however, they were assigned a police guard who took keen interest in the case and asked them many questions.
The hearing did not take place in a courtroom, but rather in the judge’s office, and the brothers were alone with him and the guard. Tactfully, they explained how they carried on their preaching work. The judge found their teachings harmless, but said they had transgressed by participating in proselytism. However, the time already spent in prison had served as an adequate warning to them, he thought, and he would not pass any further sentence, advising them to be more discreet in the future.
The police guard was delighted with the result, but he had to take the brothers back to the prison so that they could pick up their belongings. The guard took them to the officer in charge of the cells and announced their release. However, the other officer muttered that there was something else pending, and they again were put under lock and key.
Some hours later, Paul was taken from the cell to the interrogation room. There he found out what the “something else” was. A parcel had arrived for Paul from Barcelona and it was marked “radio,” but actually contained fifty copies of the latest Watchtower and Awake! magazines in Spanish. So, in addition to the other false charges, Brother Baker now was accused of smuggling!
Paul appealed to reason, asking how this could be contraband if it came from the Spanish mainland and not from another country. Furthermore, he said that there was no law forbidding subscribers to receive their copies, and these were not for public distribution, but for subscribers. Nonetheless, all was in vain. The outcome was another night in prison. As matters turned out, the three Kingdom proclaimers were sent to the Provincial Prison of Palma de Mallorca for fifteen days.
In this prison a new territory was opened up to them. They could mix freely with the other prisoners and thus give a witness. When the Memorial date arrived, their thoughts were with the brothers on the outside. And, when they came out of prison on April 26 there was a little group of brothers and sisters to greet them. These Witnesses had held the Memorial in three groups in spite of the absence of the two qualified brothers, Paul Baker and Francisco Córdoba.
MORE “INVITATIONS TO LEAVE”
Upon returning to the pension, Brother Baker found that all his Spanish, French and English magazines had been taken by the police. The next morning, when he went to breakfast, he noticed a conspicuous stranger drinking coffee nearby. He was a secret policeman sent to watch him.
What happened to the special pioneer, Francisco Córdoba? He was banished from the island and had to return to the Spanish mainland.
On Friday, May 3, 1957, Paul Baker married Jean Smith in the British Consulate in Palma. For their honeymoon, they traveled across the island to Alcudia and then got a boat to Menorca. Wherever they went they always had somebody “shadowing” them. Not the ideal circumstances for a honeymoon!
Toward the end of May, Paul applied for a renewal of his residence permit. After several visits to the police headquarters, he was told that his permit was not going to be renewed and that he should inform them of the date he intended to leave. He booked passage on a boat leaving Barcelona for Gibraltar on June 12.
Even after arriving in Barcelona, Brother and Sister Baker still were being “shadowed” by secret policemen in obvious disguises. For example, they had booked into a hotel on a back street, and the next morning a “sailor” sporting a shirt bearing the name of their ship happened to be lounging across the road. It was obvious that Paul was considered a highly dangerous character. Of course, these events took place shortly after the Berecocheas’ first expulsion, and the police thought they were getting rid of the “leaders.”
When the Bakers got to the dock on their last day in Spain, some brothers from the Barcelona congregations were waiting to say good-bye. On hand, too, were four missionaries who remained in Barcelona—Brother and Sister Ken Williams and Domenick and Elsa Piccone. Even then, their own days in Spain were numbered and they, too, soon were to be expelled from the country.
By the end of the 1957 service year the number of Gilead School graduates still in Spain had dropped from nine to four. It was considered wise to transfer the “office” from Barcelona to Madrid.
The clergy continued to goad their flocks into denouncing to the police any witnesses of Jehovah presenting themselves at their doors. As a result, during the 1957 service year thirteen pioneers and six publishers were arrested and spent from two to thirty-six days in prison for preaching and for associating in their Bible study meetings.
Pioneers were imprisoned in Sevilla, for example. In March 1957, Margarita Comas and Maruja Puñal were assigned to Sevilla, where special pioneers José Rubiño and Manolo Sierra already were working. The informal Andalusian character was hard to get accustomed to, since one would make arrangements for a Bible study or a return visit only to find that the person had made other plans later and was not home. Then, too, it was necessary to deal with the fanatical element. Sevilla is a city given to the worship of “Our Lady,” in the form of two famous “Virgins” or images, la Macarena and the Virgen de la Esperanza. These two images have their followers and believers, like a pair of rival football teams. The zealots of each “Virgin” sing her praises in competition with each other, especially during the procession times when these jewel-laden images are paraded through the streets. In this city, the largest church is the cathedral, which is built on the site of a former Moslem mosque. The tower of the cathedral is called La Giralda (The Weathercock or Vane), and one can clearly see that the first two thirds of the tower was a Moslem minaret, while the top third is of Renaissance style and obviously of Catholic respiration.
The four pioneers in Sevilla followed the routine of meeting each morning in the plaza in front of the famous Torre del Oro (Golden Tower). One day the girls turned up, but the brothers did not make an appearance. The sisters thought this was rather strange, but decided to wait until the afternoon meeting time and then, from a distance, watch to see if the brothers would arrive. But there still was no sign of them. The next day, Margarita and Maruja went to the brothers’ lodgings and discreetly inquired about them. The lady of the house explained how the police had been there two days earlier and had taken the brothers away.
Their suspicions now confirmed, the sisters knew that the police would show up at their lodgings at any moment. So, that day they took the precautionary step of destroying any confidential notes or papers. That night the sisters went back to their lodgings with heavy hearts, and when the landlady opened the door they could tell by her face that they had visitors. Two policemen were waiting for them.
Even though it was night, the sisters were taken to the police station to be interrogated. The brothers already were there and had undergone interrogation for two days. These interrogations were made more difficult by the fact that the Sevilla police had received information from the police in Granada, where José Rubiño formerly had served. The police had photographs taken from the Witnesses in Granada, as well as papers found at the lodgings of the pioneer brothers. During the interrogations, which alternated between the two brothers, the police tried to learn the identity of the responsible brothers and where they were located. José and Manolo were kept in separate cold cells, with a stone bench for a bed, but at first they were not even allowed to sleep, as the interrogations dragged on hour after hour.
Likewise, the sisters had a difficult time during the interrogations. They had to be careful with their responses, since the police tried to put answers into their mouths. For example, when the sisters declared that they were preaching the kingdom or government of God, the interrogator said: “Then you are against all established human government. That is what you mean.” The sisters denied this interpretation of their beliefs, for it was an attempt to put a political slant on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
After being interrogated, the sisters were put in a very small cell with a drunken woman who was vomiting all the time. The stench was terrible, and it appeared they would have to spend the rest of the night there. But when the hour was quite late, a policeman came along and took them out, saying that he was not going to allow them to spend the night that way. He took them to his office and told them to sleep in the armchairs there until the next morning. The sisters silently gave thanks to Jehovah for this kind jailer and for their release from that awful cell.
The sisters were held for thirty-six hours without food, with one questioning after another, as if they were criminals of the lowest sort. However, another policeman had pity on them and brought them coffee. Finally, both the brothers and the sisters were taken to the provincial prison, there to face new trials.
Upon arriving at the prison, the two pioneer brothers had their heads shaved before being taken to their cell. Then, each day there was the test of integrity during the raising and lowering of the flag.
NUNS AS JAILERS!
The sisters received quite a surprise when they arrived in prison, for the jailers were nuns! At the reception desk, a nun asked them what they had stolen. That was the last straw for Margarita! She exclaimed: “We are not here as prostitutes or thieves! We are here for being witnesses of the true God!” At that, the nun let out a scream of astonishment and quickly withdrew as if the plague had struck.
At this prison, the nuns led the inmates in daily recitals of the ‘Our Father,’ ‘Hail Mary,’ and so forth. During the exercise period, the nuns would tell stories to the prisoners, dance with them and recite the rosary. Margarita and Maruja set about giving a witness, but this soon was cut short by the nuns, who prohibited their speaking to other prisoners.
After their case had been considered, it was decided that the sisters could be freed by paying a bail of 1,000 pesetas each. Since they did not have the money, and there was no one in Sevilla to help them, they spent the month in prison. It was not a pleasant experience, for they were assigned to a large hall with all the other prisoners—mainly thieves, prostitutes and lesbians. When Maruja and Margarita refused to undress and take a shower in front of the others, they were compelled to pass their time in a punishment cell that was just two meters (6.5 feet) square. It had a hole in the corner that served as a toilet, and a small window in the ceiling. There was no furniture, no bed or chair, and no mattress. Out of sympathy, one of the guards brought them a quart of water with which the two of them could wash.
What about food? It was unpalatable, to say the least. Twice a day the sisters were given garbanzo beans with so much bicarbonate of soda that it made them ill. And each of them was given only one piece of bread a day.
By the end of a month in prison, the four pioneers were able to pay the 1,000 pesetas bail each. Thus they were released, but with the accusations still pending. In actual fact, their case never came to court, and they were able to recover the money they had deposited.
It might be mentioned that the special pioneers got used to being hounded by the police and having to move from one city to another as a consequence. If a special pioneer could not explain his source of income or prove that he had a secular job, the vagrancy law was invoked and he was sent back to his city of origin.
SEEDS OF TRUTH ARE SOWN IN GALICIA
Despite the persecution being experienced by God’s people in Spain, the Kingdom-preaching work was making advancement. One area where this was true was the province of Galicia in northwestern Spain. How were the seeds of truth planted there?
True Christianity got a foothold in Galicia because of the efforts of Jesús Pose Varela and his wife. They had learned the truth through a relative while living in Montevideo, Uruguay. As time went by and their knowledge increased, Jesús began to feel a responsibility toward his sister and her husband, and his own son, José, living back in Spain. So in 1957 Jesús and his wife returned to their native Galicia determined to share God’s truth with their relatives. At first they were received joyfully, but the situation changed drastically when it was realized that they had come back with a new religion. Jesús’ mother even said that it would have been better if the boat that brought them back had sunk. His mother and sister avoided all contact with him, although they were all living in the same house.
Jesús persisted, however, and slowly broke down the barrier of blind prejudice, eventually being able to start a Bible study. All of this was not easy because they were living in a small isolated village dominated by the local priest. Because of priestly influence, many of the people did not even want to touch a Bible for fear of being contaminated. Nevertheless, Jesús’ patience paid off with his own family, and with long-term effects that even he could not have foreseen.
As these individuals made progress in the truth, they came to realize that living in that isolated rural area was not the best way to give a witness. When they accepted the truth they converted a dance hall they had maintained into a chicken barn. Thus their economic support came from their small farm and animals, as well as from a general store that was in the same building. Jesús and his brother-in-law, Ramón Barca, looked after the farm and kept the store going.
In order to get to any sizable territory, however, they had to travel to the city of La Coruña, thirty-one kilometers (19 miles) away. This did not facilitate matters when Ramón’s wife became a regular pioneer and Jesús’ son, José, became a special pioneer. Finally, both families sold the farm and the store and moved to the provincial capital, where they could be of greater use to the growing congregation.
Looking back now, it seems remarkable that the present three congregations in La Coruña, with some 300 publishers and pioneers, got their start some twenty years ago due to the earnest efforts of a Spanish couple who had come back from Uruguay with the intention of spreading the good news.
SOME COME TO SERVE WHERE THE NEED IS GREAT
In July 1957, at a district assembly in Kiel, Germany, one of the talks was on the theme of serving where the need is great. That talk greatly affected two young German regular pioneers—Horst Mieling and Heinrich Nissen. They decided to come to Spain. And that they did, arriving in Barcelona by train on October 19, 1957.
It was quite a contrast, coming from a country with nearly 57,000 Witnesses to one with only 780. Moreover, just using the word “Bible” in Spain was enough to end a conversation. But one advantage these brothers had was that, in general, the Spanish were quite interested in Germany and Germans.
As it is, these brothers were virtually the first of a long line of Witnesses who have come mainly from Germany, Britain and the United States to serve in Spain, where the need for Kingdom proclaimers has been so great, especially in past years.
A feature that made our work more of a strain for the foreigners was the need for constant vigilance when working from house to house. If a foreigner was caught, it meant almost certain expulsion from the country. This imposed an extra tension, that of carefully watching the reactions of the householder during a discussion and after giving a witness. When the door was closed, the Witness had to determine whether the phone was used by the householder. Was the door slammed or closed politely? Also, it was necessary to be on the lookout for any neighbors leaving the building in a hurry, possibly going to call the police. Of course, it also was quite important to make sure that there were no police in the neighborhood where a person was preaching. The Bible and our literature had to be carried unobtrusively, perhaps under a raincoat or overcoat in the winter months. In summertime, however, it was not so easy to conceal the publications. So, some publishers even broke up the books into signatures or sections and would only carry the section that was going to be studied at a meeting or during a Bible study.
In 1959 Brother and Sister Taylor, who had moved from England to Spain to serve where the need was great, were assigned as special pioneers to Vigo, a port in northwest Spain. It was thought that since this was an international port, he would not be so noticeable as a foreigner. But it did not take long for the priests to get stirred up and warn their parishioners over the radio about this couple going from door to door. They were easy to identify—she was Spanish and did most of the talking, and he was a foreigner.
Before long the police made an appearance and arrested the Taylors. They were taken to the police station and interrogated all day long, while being deprived of food. When they were released, their passports were withheld and they were told to report to the police every Tuesday and Saturday. When Ron reported his case to the British Consul, his passport was returned and he was given fifteen days to leave the country.
As matters turned out, Ron and his wife Rafaela served in Gibraltar for two years. There they were able to lay the foundation for a congregation that had twenty-five publishers when they left. Finally, pressure from the Anglican clergy got results and, in December 1961, they were asked to leave Gibraltar, along with Ray and Pat Kirkup, an English couple who had also moved there to serve where the need was great.
The Taylors and Kirkups were assigned to Sevilla in January 1962. There already were four special pioneers there, but there were only twenty-one publishers for a population of nearly half a million. So, there was much work to do. In 1963 Ron Taylor was assigned to the circuit work in Barcelona, and some time later Ray Kirkup received a similar assignment. All through the years there had been a shortage of qualified Spanish brothers for the circuit and district work in Spain, and therefore many foreigners were used for this work.
MORE HELP ARRIVES FROM GILEAD SCHOOL
During the 1958 service year the missionary couple Bob and Cleo Clay left Spain for Morocco, so that for a month or two there were only two Gilead missionaries left here. Reinforcements came in March 1958, however, with the arrival of René and Elsie Vázquez and two single brothers who came with the purpose of establishing regular circuit visits to the congregations for the first time.
The 1958 service year saw an increase of 33 percent here in Spain. For the first time we passed the 1,000-publisher mark. That was in August 1958, when 1,006 publishers reported field service. It had taken eleven years (since the revitalizing of the work in 1947) to reach that figure. But only three years thereafter we reached 2,000 publishers, and in another two years we passed the 3,000-publisher mark. By 1969 the total number of active Witnesses was almost 9,000. From that time onward the increase has snowballed to some 40,000 Kingdom proclaimers in the territories under the Spanish branch.
CANARY ISLANDS BEGIN TO SING JEHOVAH’S PRAISE
Off the west coast of Africa lies a group of thirteen islands that are Spanish territory. Of these, seven are the principal isles of the Canary Islands—Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, Hierro, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. In 1958 the total population was about 940,000.
When did the truth first reach these islands after the Civil War? In 1958 when an interested person moved there from Barcelona. In September of that year Carl Warner went there as a circuit overseer and gave the first Bible talk to be presented by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The attendance was six—a small beginning, but at least a beginning. This took place in the provincial capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Carl recommended that special pioneers be sent there. That was not immediately possible, but help did come from another source.
At the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly in New York city, Brother Knorr gave a talk on serving where the need is great. His remarks were heard and heeded by a Danish family, the Gjedes. They decided to leave Denmark and settle in the Canary Islands, together with their twenty-one-year-old son, John. He went to the islands first in February 1959 to look over the situation for his parents, and certainly was delighted to find that Irvin People, an American brother, already was there for the same reason. At first they both stayed with an interested family that had moved there.
To start off, these brothers had the same problem—the language. This was solved by an unusual coincidence. One day, while looking for an address in order to make a return visit, they stopped a man in the street to ask him the way. It turned out that he was a teacher and also the owner of a school. They struck up a conversation and found that he needed someone to teach English at his school. Well, they needed someone to teach them Spanish. So, they made a deal. He would teach them Spanish if they would teach English at his school. At the same time, this opened up a new field of contacts for Irvin and John that eventually resulted in a family of Kingdom publishers, the Suárez family, whose daughter, Angelines, later became a special pioneer.
Another development occurred that was to be decisive in the later history of our work in the Canary Islands. In Madrid, José Orzáez married Pilar (Pili) Benito in April 1959, and by the following May they were in the islands serving as special pioneers.
Upon arriving in Las Palmas, José Orzáez found that the group was dominated by a crippled man who had first received a witness in Barcelona and now was teaching his own ideas, based loosely on the Society’s literature. When José began directing the meetings in accordance with normal procedures, this man and his wife fell away from the truth. Here was a classic example, repeated so many times, of an individual who wanted to be important and desired to exalt himself by his teaching. As in so many cases, when he found that his self-importance was not appreciated, he dropped the truth and went to the things behind, in spite of attempts to held him.
In the meantime, John Gjede’s parents had arrived from Denmark. Now the group activity thrived with the example of the special pioneers, and by April 1960 the six publishers had grown to twenty-one. By December they had reached a new peak of twenty-nine. Of course, all this activity was not going unnoticed by opposers, who made their presence felt in December 1960.
BIBLE STUDY GROUP RAIDED
On the night of December 24, 1960, seventeen brothers and interested persons were gathered together for Bible study in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Among them were José Orzáez, his wife Pili, their three-month-old daughter, and the circuit overseer, Salvador Adriá. At 8:30 p.m. five policemen burst into the apartment, holding pistols concealed in their pockets. One snarled at José Orzáez, the lessee of the apartment, that it was his custom to enter such meetings with his gun blazing.
Not only did the police break in; the place also was surrounded by them. Why, it was as if they were raiding a meeting of anarchists or clandestine communists, instead of a peaceful Bible study group!
As any policeman knows, the first thing to do when dealing with criminals is to disarm them. That is what was done in this raid. They confiscated all the Bibles! Then they took the names of the children and sent them home. The fourteen adults and José’s baby daughter all were herded to police headquarters. They were given no food that night or the next morning in spite of the infant’s cries of hunger. Repeated pleas for the release of the mother and baby were ignored.
Another vital step when apprehending criminals is to take their fingerprints. Thus all fourteen were fingerprinted, but, mercifully, not the baby. After eighteen hours without sleep or food, the Witnesses were released, with the exception of José Orzáez and Salvador Adriá, the circuit overseer. They were thrown into a dark, dirty cell where there was nothing but a stone bench. The two brothers then prayed together. At eight o’clock that night they were taken to the court, still without having had any food. They had been without anything to eat for twenty-four hours. Finally, at 11 p.m., they were subjected to interrogation, a questioning that lasted three hours. The interrogators consisted of the judge, his secretary and the prosecutor. Their questions revolved around an attempt to establish that José had been sent to the Canary Islands as a leader and founder of the “sect” in the islands. Moreover, it was insinuated that the activities of the Witnesses were subversive.
The interrogation over, the brothers were taken to that small, bedless cell where three men already were sleeping on the floor. The next morning they were moved to the provincial prison and put in solitary confinement in parasite-ridden cells. Request for a Bible was refused, and, alone in his cell, José Orzáez had time to meditate. He wondered how this small group of twenty-nine publishers would react after this attack upon them.
What could have motivated this police action that affected not only the Canary Islands but also many other parts of Spain? Normally, the police would not act on their own volition in such cases, since they have plenty to do with more important matters. With our case the cycle of action starts with the clergy, who notify their bishops of the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They, in turn, inform the civil governor, who activates the police. The Hierarchy also informs the Ministry of the Interior and this Ministry advises all the police headquarters around the country. There is actual official evidence to the effect that such factors were behind the police raid on the peaceful Bible study group in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as well as actions against God’s people elsewhere in Spain.
OUTCOME OF THE ORZAEZ CASE
After being detained during the days of his interrogation, José Orzáez was released. He was relieved to find that the Bible study group was in good spirits and that his wife and baby daughter had been cared for during his absence. Brother Orzáez had been released without paying bail, since he had no financial resources, and he had to wait until October 1961 for his trial to take place.
In the meantime, the Awake! article entitled “Totalitarian Inquisition Revived in Spain” was published simultaneously in English and Spanish in the issue of September 8, 1961. Toward the end of September, José was called to police headquarters again, and wondered what the reason was this time. He soon found out, for the police started to read to him the Awake! article just mentioned. They were furious to find themselves so openly exposed to world opinion, and they started to call him a liar. José began to wish that the earth would open up and swallow him. He wondered whether he would get out alive, for there were six angry policemen around him. However, as the interrogation progressed, he suddenly realized that the article was serving as his protection. They were afraid to lay a hand on him because their actions might be published in another issue of Awake!
At one point, the policemen said that the article’s reference to a three-month-old baby was a lie. José calmly answered that he knew it was the truth because he was the father! Well, he came out of that ordeal alive and rejoicing, for now he saw that they were obligated to treat Jehovah’s organization with more respect.
José’s trial came up in October 1961 before a tribunal of three judges, with one of them serving as the chairman. Although the case had not been announced in the press, the court waiting room was packed with brothers, interested persons, lawyers, doctors and others. Over sixty persons attended the trial.
The prosecution tried to prove that Brother Orzáez was the “leader” of the Bible study group in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. But witnesses for the defense would not acknowledge him as their leader. Moreover, in his concluding summary, counsel for the defense quoted the Spanish Bill of Rights and also showed that up to twenty persons could meet together without prior permission. As for the charge of proselytism, which had been brought against Brother Orzáez, again the Bill of Rights was cited, showing that it allowed freedom of speech in Article 12, which was read with appropriate emphasis.
In spite of the lengthy and reasoned defense, as well as the general opinion that the defense had won an acquittal, the verdict was “Guilty,” and a three-month prison sentence was imposed. However, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Two years and four months later the case of José Orzáez finally came up before the Supreme Court. In the meantime, our cases were piling up on appeal due to the ferocious wave of persecution that swept across Spain from 1960 onward, and that did not wane until 1966.
A HEARTENING DECISION
On March 2, 1964, the Supreme Court held a public hearing before a packed courtroom of some two hundred persons from various nations. Many other individuals were outside the building waiting to hear the decision.
Among other things, in his summary, the defense attorney pointed out that the Meetings Law of June 15, 1880, was still in effect. Article 2 declares that public meetings are gatherings of more than twenty persons, and only when this figure is surpassed would one have to ask for government permission to gather together for licit purposes. The attorney showed that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Las Palmas were making every effort to conform to this law. He further reasoned that “illegal associations” are understood to be those whose purpose it is to commit crimes that would endanger the security of the State. But, he made clear, the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses are based on reading and commenting on the Bible. It was also shown that Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that one who commits crimes against the security of any State is rebelling against God, and such an individual would never be allowed to be a witness of Jehovah.
Summing up, the defense pointed out that Article 6 of the Spanish Bill of Rights was openly violated in the case in question, for the State guarantees that “no one will be harassed for his religious beliefs, nor in the private exercise of his worship.” Brother Orzáez not only was “harassed” by the police, but was tried and condemned for having been found teaching the Bible at a meeting of seventeen persons.
Now it was the prosecutor’s turn to present his arguments. After giving a brief résumé of the defense presented, the prosecutor caused a stir by declaring: “I join myself with the defense in petitioning the absolution of the accused.”
What was the decision of the Court? It declared: “We do absolve the defendant, José Orzáez Ramírez, of the crime of illegal association of which he was accused in the present case, with the declaration of the costs being annulled.”
Coming as it did in 1964, this decision was heartening to the Spanish brothers and sisters. Especially was this so in the case of the faithful body of special pioneers who had been taking the brunt of the attack during the previous four years. The decision struck out at the religious intolerance that had been practiced in many Spanish provinces where Jehovah’s Witnesses had been arrested, jailed and fined when apprehended while engaging in group Bible study. The ruling was a precedent-setting step toward upholding the right to meet together privately for the purpose of studying the Bible.
The Ministry of the Interior, however, did not relent in its desire to extirpate Jehovah’s Witnesses from Spanish territory, and on February 24, 1966, yet another circular went out to all civil governors. Since the policy of imposing fines of at least 2,500 pesetas was not having the desired effect, the Ministry of the Interior had consulted with the Ministry of Justice and had come up with the following recommendation:
“As a result, I urge Your Excellency on orders from His Excellency the Minister of the Interior, that you denounce to the Tribunals for Vagrants and Criminals such members of the said sect that should be caught carrying out such activities, so that these Tribunals in their case can find motives for taking action. This without detriment to the prosecution and punishment of the crimes that may be committed as a result of the proselytism, and to the security measures that the Criminal Tribunals might take in the condemnatory sentences.” This was a last-ditch effort to stifle the preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses and bring a halt to their work by means of intimidation. Truly, it was a matter of “framing trouble by decree.”—Ps. 94:20.
MAINTAINING CHRISTIAN NEUTRALITY
Besides facing religious and other opposition, Jehovah’s Witnesses under the regime that existed then in Spain had to cope with problems associated with Christian neutrality. (John 15:19) Through their individual study of the Bible, a number of young Witnesses at that time concluded that Isaiah 2:4 and other scriptures required their taking a firm neutral stand with regard to the affairs of the nations. When one talked with them about it, they said that it was their own conscientious decision, based on what they had personally studied in God’s Word. Each made his own individual choice. For a time the authorities in Spain did not understand this neutral position, and some of these brothers were subjected to harsh treatment. However, in recent years the authorities have taken a more tolerant view of these conscientious Christians, treating them with greater understanding. Over the years, the faithfulness of these young Witnesses under trying circumstances has been a source of encouragement to others. We are pleased now to tell of some of their experiences as they followed the course of integrity.
In February 1958, Jesús Martín, from Madrid, was assigned to do military service in Melilla, the Spanish enclave in Morocco. Because he took a stand as a Christian neutral, Jesús was severely beaten and ended up in a military prison known as Rostrogordo (Fat face). There he received cruel treatment at the instigation of the lieutenant general then holding the chief military and civil authority at the Melilla garrison. Another “unforgettable” character was the chief of the military prison, a brutal, despotic man.
After eight days at this prison, Jesús Martín was horsewhipped for about twenty minutes without a halt, besides being insulted and kicked until he finally fell to the ground semiconscious. Still not satisfied, with his boot the captain pressed Jesús’ head to the ground, desisting only when blood began to flow from his head. Helped back to the captain’s office, Jesús was told that he would get a similar beating every day, and the brutal captain also threatened him with physical mutilation.
Later, in his underground cell, Jesús prayed to Jehovah for strength and aid. Down there, the young man could speak to no one else, except the rats. Each day Jesús was taken out at rifle point to work for eight hours breaking stones with a pick—purposeless labor intended as demoralizing punishment.
But what about that threat of daily beatings? Well, the next day Jesús was given olive oil for his wounds and his head was bandaged. In that state he was taken out for his second thrashing, this time at the hands of a corporal assigned to do the job while the captain looked on to make certain that it was done properly. This barbarous treatment even caused indignation among the guards and other soldiers. His resolution beginning to waver, Jesús wondered if he really could stand this treatment daily.
On the third day, Jesús was called out for his stone-breaking stint. Halfway through the morning, however, he was again summoned to the captain’s office. To his relief, there he found a military judge, who had arrived to investigate his case and start proceedings against him. When the judge saw the bandages and the evident signs of a beating, he asked what had happened. Jesús was almost afraid to tell him, for afterward there might be reprisals. Nevertheless, he told the judge the truth. At that the judge assured him that he would not be beaten again. Here was the answer to his prayers of the day before! During the remaining six years of that incarceration, Jesús never was manhandled again. And he was sure that Jehovah answers the prayers of the faithful.—Prov. 15:29.
After fifteen months in Africa, Jesús Martín was transferred to Ocaña prison in Spain. Interestingly, Jesús was condemned to fifteen years in prison for disobedience and four years for sedition, since it was held that his example could have influenced others. That meant nineteen years in prison for refusing eighteen months of military service! Later, he was given another sentence of three years for his disobedience in the Rostrogordo prison, making a total of twenty-two years. Incidentally, his fifteen-year sentence is the longest one yet handed down in a neutrality case in Spain.
PRESERVING SPIRITUAL HEALTH IN PRISON
While imprisoned at Ocaña, Jesús Martín enjoyed certain advantages. At first, the prison officials there concluded, after reading his prison history, that he was a very rebellious type of inmate. In time, however, they realized that he was a model prisoner. So much was this so that he became the prison bookkeeper, in charge of paying all the inmates in accordance with the work they did in the prison workshops. Some months Jesús would have to pay out half a million pesetas in wages (about $10,000 at that time).
One advantage at Ocaña was that Jesús could receive visits from his parents, even though they were only allowed to converse with him for fifteen minutes at a time. And how did he maintain his spiritual health? Well, he was not permitted to have any publications of the Watch Tower Society, but he did have the Nácar-Colunga Bible. And just imagine! He once read it through completely—apocryphal books and comments and all—in just twenty days!
Jesús knew that other Christian neutrals had also taken their stand and earnestly prayed that one of these brothers might be assigned to his prison. After four years of virtual isolation, his prayers were answered, for Alberto Contijoch was sent there. The two of them studied together and also preached more openly in the prison. In fact, they prepared their own “third” edition of the Bible textbook “Let God Be True.” The new arrival did the writing, as he could better remember the book’s contents, whereas Jesús did the correcting and adapting of the material.
Later, in 1961, a third Christian neutral, Francisco Díaz Moreno, was assigned to Ocaña prison. The three young men managed to acquire a copy of the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom,” and Jesús was able to prepare additional copies, using the typewriter in the office where he worked. At one time, they were conducting fifteen Bible studies with fellow inmates.
These Christian neutrals had such a yearning for new Bible literature that risks were taken to obtain it. For example, consider what happened on September 24, 1963—the festival of “Our Lady of Mercy,” the Catholic intermediary for prisoners and captives. This was a special holiday and extra visitors were allowed at the prison. So, on that day José and Pili Orzáez visited the prison with their two-year-old daughter, Ester Lidia. She was permitted to enter as Jesús’ “niece,” and gave him a box of clothing that also contained two of the Society’s hardbound publications. On another occasion, Jesús’ parents sent him the book “Make Sure of All Things,” in English, but the prison official would not let him have it, saying that letting such a book fall into his hands would be like giving a submachine gun to a bank robber.
In 1963 the group of Christian neutrals at Ocaña prison grew from three to four, with the arrival of Antonio Sánchez Medina. He already had undergone prison hardships elsewhere, and before he could associate with the other three Witnesses, he had to complete a thirty-day probation. In spite of being held incommunicado, however, Antonio figured out a way of witnessing without talking. When another prisoner showed interest in the truth, Antonio drew up a Bible crossword puzzle for that inmate to fill out. By means of various crossword puzzles, Antonio got the prisoner to search his Bible.
When Antonio’s initial thirty-day period was about to end, he received a setback. While previously imprisoned at Zaragoza he had written a letter to the brothers, telling them about an interested prisoner. Antonio had hidden this letter in his mattress, awaiting an opportunity to get it out of the prison. But the letter had been discovered in a search of his cell. Now he was to pay the consequences at Ocaña—twenty days in the punishment cells for having written the letter and for proselytism.
Antonio was taken down to the “tube”—a tunnel with cold, dark cells. There was no furniture in his cell, just a washbasin, a toilet, an aluminum plate and a spoon. At night he was brought a mattress and two dirty blankets. But he had no reading or writing material. So, how was he going to endure those twenty days of boredom? The crossword puzzle idea was the answer. However, Antonio did not have paper and pencil. So, he broke off one of the handles of his plate and used it to write on the tiles of his cell floor. He turned the floor into a gigantic Bible crossword puzzle! Why, Antonio was so engrossed in recalling Bible personages and passages that those days passed quickly!
Unquestionably, there were various ways to maintain spiritual health. The four Christian neutrals now in Ocaña prison had some magazines and other literature. However, all their reading had to be done secretly and the literature had to be hidden. For that purpose, they had a chess set and used to hide the literature in the false bottom of the chessboard.
MEETINGS HELD WITH CAUTION
The four Christian neutrals at Ocaña prison were fully aware of the need to meet together for Bible study. (Heb. 10:24, 25) Finally, therefore, they arranged to have meetings every week, although they held them with extreme caution.
In Ocaña prison the beds were two-tier bunks arranged in parallel rows, with about eighty prisoners to each hall. The four Witnesses occupied two sets, side by side. So, while one of them was lying on top, listening and keeping an eye open for the guards, the other three sat below on the bottom beds, doing their best to present their parts on the program. With all the noise from the other prisoners, as well as the music or football match emanating from the loudspeaker above their heads, it was no easy task to discuss Scriptural matters. But these young men succeeded in doing so, even celebrating the Memorial of Jesus Christ’s death under such circumstances during 1962.
FREEDOM AT LAST—FOR ONE
By the summer of 1964, Jesús Martín once again was alone in Ocaña, as the other three Christian neutrals had left in 1963. Francisco Díaz Moreno had finished one sentence and now had to present himself again, this time at El Aaiún, in the Spanish Sahara. Antonio Sánchez and Alberto Contijoch had similar experiences. However, before going their separate ways, they had decided on a new tactic. All four would request conditional liberty. In cases of good conduct, this allowed three months of freedom for each year served in prison.
The result of this effort was that three requests were rejected. But the petition of Jesús Martín was approved. He would be granted twenty-five months of provisional liberty and then would have to present himself again to the military authorities. So it was that in August 1964 Jesús stepped out of prison after having completed six years and six months of his sentence. For some reason he never was called up again.
After a year in Ocaña, Francisco Díaz Moreno had terminated his second sentence, and in January 1964 he was temporarily free for two months, awaiting his third court-martial. He used that time to build himself up spiritually, before going on to the Sahara. By April 1964, Francisco had been transported to a punishment camp called La Sagia, deeper in the desert. Alberto Contijoch and Juan Rodríguez already were there. Interestingly, Juan by then had spent three years in prison as a neutral and still was not a baptized witness of Jehovah. He had taken a stand for Bible truth before having an opportunity to be immersed in symbol of his dedication to God.
In one of Juan’s earlier places of incarceration, among other things, trickery was employed in an effort to make him violate his neutrality. The prison chaplain —naturally a Catholic priest—told Juan that another Witness was going to visit him and bring the latest instructions from the Society.
Sure enough, a young fellow in a sailor’s uniform presented himself as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Juan, the sailor and the priest had just started their conversation when the “Jehovah’s Witness” sailor pulled out a pack of cigarettes and invited Juan to take one! When Juan asked the “brother” which books he had read, the sailor mentioned Green Leaves and some other titles Juan had never heard of. Well, the next time Juan saw the priest alone he told him that on future occasions he should make sure that the Witness he brought to see him was genuine.
While Francisco, Alberto and Juan were at La Sagia awaiting their transfer to El Aaiún, they decided that they would baptize Juan in one of the wells outside the camp. Then, all permission to leave the camp was refused. So how were they going to perform the baptism in this drought-ridden desert? Well, in the camp there was a big covered water deposit, with two apertures for filling it and taking water out by bucket. But it had only fifteen centimeters (6 inches) of water in it.
On the night of April 19, 1964, however, the three young men already were in their tents when they heard the water relief truck arrive. Yes, the water tank was being filled—with enough water to drown a person. You guessed it! After a brief Scriptural discussion the three slipped silently across the sand to the water tank and Juan Rodríguez was baptized.
ENDURING IN EL AAIUN
Eventually, after varied experiences such as a period of incarceration at Hausa, an even more remote outpost in the desert, four Christian neutrals—Alberto Contijoch, Francisco Díaz Moreno, Antonio Sánchez Medina and Juan Rodríguez—found themselves imprisoned in El Aaiún. There conditions were quite restrictive, for the prison was a rectangular building with the cell doors facing outward toward the prison wall that was covered with barbed wire and glass fragments. At each corner of the wall there was a platform for the guards, who were on duty with automatic rifles. The cells were small, two by three meters (6.5 by 10 feet), and each one had two or three occupants. Exercise periods lasted only one hour each morning and each afternoon. But the heat was easier to bear than at other desert locations because this prison was situated only about twenty-five kilometers (15 miles) from the sea and that helped to ameliorate the climate.
At first, the four Christian neutrals were able to preach and conduct Bible studies, as well as hold meetings. Francisco, for instance, was able to speak with a young man who had been sentenced to death on the charge of instigating a murder, although his sentence had been commuted to thirty years. One day he sought a conversation with Francisco to tell him that his mother had sent him a Bible. Both his mother and aunt were Evangelical Protestants. Francisco tactfully used his Bible to give a witness regarding God’s name, and the interest flourished, so that a Bible study was started using the book “Let God Be True.” After just a few weeks, the young man was transferred to the Santa Catalina prison in Cádiz in southwest Spain, but the truth already was at work in his heart. He continued to progress and eventually was baptized. His mother and aunt now are baptized Witnesses also. So it was that while in captivity Marcelino Martínez had found true freedom.
The situation at El Aaiún got to the point that fifteen Bible studies were being conducted with other inmates. Finally, the prison authorities clamped down and separated the Witnesses from the rest of the prisoners. Even their exercise hour was changed so that it would not coincide with that of the others. No room was going to be left for their “proselytism.”
NEW TACTICS ADOPTED
After four or five years in prison, and with nothing happening in official circles, the imprisoned Christian neutrals began to study the Code of Military Justice in order to defend their position better. As part of their tactics, they wrote letters to all the government ministers to draw their predicament to the attention of those in official quarters. These neutral Witnesses virtually were condemned to life imprisonment, whereas a convicted murderer could be back on the streets after only seven years.
One of the legal problems was that in the courts-martial the Witnesses were not permitted to make adequate statements that could be included in the record of the trial. Francisco Díaz Moreno decided to try to change all of that. He had read in the Code of Military Justice that the prisoner’s final declarations should be included in the record. Thus, when his case came up before the El Aaiún court-martial, he waited until the prosecutor and the defense had nervously presented their respective cases. Then he was called upon to stand up and was asked if he had anything to state.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Francisco replied. He then started reading off his prepared declaration. Several times the presiding officer of the court tried to interrupt and break off the reading. However, when he saw the resolute attitude that Francisco manifested, he called him up to the bench. “What is it that you want, young man?” Francisco answered that he only wanted his declarations to be officially included in the court record. “Well, we’ll look into that and study the matter . . . ,” was the reply.
“Excuse me, Your Honor,” said Francisco. “It is not a matter of looking into it or studying it, but rather that my declarations should be included. Otherwise, the trial is not valid.”
When the presiding officer saw that there was no way around this argument, he relented, and Francisco’s written statement was attached to the court record. Thereafter, it was possible for Christian neutrals to make such declarations during each court-martial in El Aaiún.
RISCO MILITARY PRISON—AND ITS COMMANDANT
One of the worst places of incarceration for Christian neutrals was the San Francisco del Risco military prison in the Canary Islands. The commandant there was an infamous officer nicknamed “Pisamondongos,” crudely translated as “Guts Treader.” He delighted in sadistic violence. Francisco Díaz Moreno spent some time there. When he arrived, he found that Fernando Marín and Juan Rodríguez already had spent a number of months there.
Soon Francisco was face-to-face with the commandant. “Are you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” asked the commandant. “Yes, sir,” was the reply. “Another traitor to the Fatherland!” thundered the commandant, also using unrepeatable expressions and ordering that Francisco be searched. Well, he happened to have one of our magazines in his pocket and had to give it up. As the sergeant continued his search, the commandant left and then returned. Impatient with the slowness of the search, the commandant himself hurriedly finished it. But he failed to find the magazines that Francisco had hidden under a body belt he was wearing. Thus copies of The Watchtower containing new information on the resurrection got inside that prison.
The three Witnesses were kept in a cell apart from other inmates and were not allowed to speak to the other prisoners. In the yard outside, a white line had been painted. Other prisoners were not allowed to cross it, so that they could not communicate with the brothers through the cell window. Some who had attempted to speak to Fernando Marín during his previous nine months there had been beaten severely. Ostensibly this separation was so that the Witnesses would not be contaminated by the rest! Fortunately, however, their stay at San Francisco del Risco was not to last much longer.
CADIZ PRISON CONGREGATION GROWS
From the Canary Islands, Francisco was sent to the Santa Catalina prison in Cádiz in October 1965. Down through the years this prison had become famous among Jehovah’s people, for it had reached the point of having as many as a hundred Witnesses there. Moreover, it has been visited by hundreds of brothers who have gone there to encourage their captive fellow believers. In May 1972 this prison was even visited by Grant Suiter, and later by Leo Greenlees, members of the Governing Body who were privileged to speak to this large congregation. In fact, the prison congregation was larger than the one outside in that same city.
Interestingly, with the passing of the years, the brothers incarcerated at Santa Catalina prison in Cádiz repeated the programs of all the circuit and district assemblies. On at least one occasion they even had representatives of the foreign press on hand for the wedding of one of the Witness inmates. The publicity given to that case drew worldwide attention to the lamentable situation of Spanish law with regard to conscientious objectors. Several weddings have taken place in that prison, but the first was that of Francisco Díaz Moreno to Margarita Mestre, in November 1967, in the presence of an officiating civil judge.
However, it should not be concluded that problems at the Santa Catalina prison in Cádiz were minimal. Often, for instance, the meals included blood sausage, which Witness inmates could not eat because they were determined to adhere to God’s law on blood. (Gen. 9:3, 4) However, with the development of a good prison organization among the Witnesses certain work groups were organized so that the brothers could earn money with which to buy acceptable food. Also, schedules were established for meetings, language studies and other activities. Arrangements were made for witnessing by mail, so that each month a certain number could be “vacation pioneers,” as they then were called. All these arrangements helped to make the time pass more quickly in circumstances wherein rays of hope occasionally flickered and then died. The uncertainty of their situation in those years did not help the morale of the brothers, although they became used to disappointments.
For example, in March 1970 the news media announced that the government was preparing a draft law to deal with the problem of the conscientious objectors, and to regulate the situation by means of new legal measures. This raised the hopes of many brothers in prison at that time. In September of that year the draft law was debated in a committee of the Spanish Parliament. Its members took the most unprecedented step of sending the law back to the government without approval, requesting further revision. When that news broke in the prisons, it came like a shower of cold water that dampened the spirits of the brothers. Again in 1971 the government tried to present a stiffer law that would satisfy the extremist elements of the Defense Commission in Parliament. When the government saw how drastically the original intent of the bill had been changed, they withdrew the draft law from further consideration.
FIRST NEUTRALITY CASE IN THE BASQUE REGION
Our record about those earlier years spent by Christian neutrals in prison would not be complete if we did not refer to the integrity-keeping course of Adolfo Peñacorada from Bilbao in the Basque region and Emilio Bayo from Logroño. Their passage through Spanish prisons coincided for several years.
On March 16, 1963, Adolfo Peñacorada presented himself at the Burgos barracks, where his father had served as a soldier thirty-five years earlier. For four days no uniforms were given out. Then, on the fifth day, Adolfo had a long discussion with the colonel about his conscientious objection. Finally, when the colonel realized that he was not getting anywhere, he changed his tactics and shouted at Adolfo, giving orders that he be taken to the “calaboose.” Adolfo’s conscientious objection became the talking point in military circles at Burgos, a city proud of its military and ecclesiastical history. The unthinkable had occurred—a man had refused to wear the military uniform in Burgos!
Under threat of punishment, all the troops were forbidden to speak to Adolfo. Different officers used to come to his cell to try to change his opinion, but they always went away with something to think about because of the witness that he gave them. He had a Bible text on view in his cell that mentioned Jehovah and included the words: “Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.” (Isa. 41:10, 13) The name Jehovah prompted many a conversation. And in Jehovah Adolfo did indeed put his trust and confidence.
Varied were the expressions that Adolfo heard from different officers down through the years. For example, one lieutenant, the colonel’s adjutant, stated: “Adolfo, I have to tell you that the majority think as I do. We are amazed at you. We have been making life impossible for you, and the worse we made it, the more you smiled and had a kind word . . . you have made me think of the early Christians.”
In time, Adolfo was completely trusted, to the point that his cell door was left open and different soldiers used to come to him to ask about the Bible. One said: “I would like to study the Bible. I have seen that you have the true religion.”
One of the guards had such a desire to read the Bible that he would go into Adolfo’s cell to read. At the same time he had Adolfo do “guard” duty outside the cell, just in case someone should come along and surprise them. So the prisoner guarded the sentry!
A CHRISTIAN NEUTRAL FROM LOGROÑO
In September 1963, Adolfo was taken to the Military Tribunal for his court-martial. There he got to see Emilio Bayo, who was being tried at the same time. They already knew each other, because two years earlier they had been among Witnesses who had experienced a raid by the police in Logroño.
When he had reached the age of twenty-one, Emilio had presented himself at the Tudela barracks, in the province of Navarra. It happened to be March 16, 1963, the very same day that Adolfo presented himself in Burgos. The following day Emilio refused to accept the military uniform and failed to attend Mass with the recruits. He was taken to the dungeon, where he was to pass his first ten weeks virtually without any natural light and almost without any outside exercise. His bed was taken away every morning and brought back at night, and he was not allowed to speak to anyone. Only because of the kindness of a certain captain was he given a seat on which he might sit during the day.
After those first ten weeks, Emilio was transferred to Burgos for his court-martial. During that day of travel, handcuffed to a civil guard, he made up for his ten weeks of silence. Emilio was witnessing on the train and using his Bible the best he could with one hand fastened. The guard tried to hide the handcuffed hand, but Emilio kept pulling it out so that people would know that he was in chains for his Christian belief.
The courts-martial of Adolfo and Emilio were held separately. But the results were the same—three years and one day in prison. In November they were transferred to the Burgos Civil Prison, where they had to mix with the normal run of civilian delinquents and criminals of all kinds.
Adolfo arrived first and the prison director sternly told him: “I know you people and I know your methods. If you attempt any proselytism here, you will rot in the punishment cells.” Fortunately, after a few days that director was replaced, and within a short time Emilio and Adolfo had the prison turned upside down with their preaching. Of course, the only literature they had was the Catholic Nácar-Colunga Bible, and that proved to be enough. Everything that they said during the week got to the ears of the prison chaplain in time for Sunday Mass. However, the brothers already had gained the respect and admiration of the new director, as well as that of the other prisoners. So, the chaplain was not able to stop them from preaching and could not do them any harm. The director was so impressed by them that he recommended that they be transferred to an open prison in Mirasierra, not far from Madrid.
Emilio and Adolfo started their journey to this new prison in January 1964. On the way, they had to pass through the prisons of Avila and Carabanchel. Eventually they arrived at the prison in Mirasierra.
LIFE AT MIRASIERRA OPEN PRISON
Mirasierra was a group of prison huts used for trusted inmates who worked for a construction company building chalets, mainly for foreigners. In effect, it was like being free, for the prisoners mixed with outsiders during their working hours. For Adolfo and Emilio this respite was short-lived—seven months to be exact. But, at least, it was a breathing space. The work was heavy and it was hard for these young men who had spent nearly a year in prison with very little physical activity.
Adolfo and Emilio took advantage of their opportunities to witness on every occasion, and they had good results. For instance, a Bible study was started with a person who later became a baptized Christian. Additionally, they soon had a Watchtower study organized, which was held in the entrance to a tunnel of an as yet unused railway line. Four persons would sit on the tracks and enjoy this interesting study.
After a while, Adolfo and Emilio were given lighter work inside the chalets. This enabled them to witness to some of the owners. Another fine witness was given by the group of brothers that visited them every Sunday, for the guards and the inmates recognized the love existing among Jehovah’s Witnesses.—John 13:34, 35.
ON TO AFRICA
Their sentence having expired at Mirasierra, Adolfo and Emilio were freed for a month, but with instructions to make their way to El Aaiún in the Spanish Sahara. That month of freedom was used to associate with fellow believers and build themselves up spiritually. Renewed physically and spiritually, they set off at the end of September, heading for their new prison in Africa.
When Adolfo and Emilio arrived at El Aaiún they learned that three Christian neutrals—Francisco, Alberto and Juan—were already in prison there, although there was no way to get to see them. Adolfo and Emilio were anxious to talk to these three fellow believers to find out what issues would be presented in this new setting, especially since there might be details about which they would have problems in making decisions.
From El Aaiún, Adolfo and Emilio were sent to Hausa, where they knew that Antonio Sánchez was located. At least they felt that it would be possible to get some information from him. When they arrived, however, he had already left—just a few hours earlier. All seemed lost. But they had to go to the camp barber, a certain Benito Egea, a person who had recently been studying the Bible with Antonio Sánchez. He was able to give some helpful information. They continued the Bible study with him until it was decided that they were going to be moved. To El Aaiún? No. They were going to Villa Cisneros, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) to the south—a military base where Jehovah’s Witnesses had not yet set foot. They were going to have to plow a new furrow. Incidentally, the camp barber later was baptized and even served for a number of years as a special pioneer.
In torrential rain, their convoy of trucks set out across the desert on December 21, 1964. That uncomfortable journey took several days to complete. On awakening after their first night in Villa Cisneros barracks, they were greeted with the news that one legionnaire had killed another in an act of jealousy over homosexual relations. That was the kind of world into which they had moved. Now they were completely isolated from the brothers and from Jehovah’s earthly organization, and could consult no one except Jehovah God. This they did intently, seeking guidance. Amid 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers, they were the only ones moving about in civilian clothing.
Emilio and Adolfo did not feel that they always made the right decision. But they were trying to please Jehovah and, in February 1965, their neutrality definitely was brought out into the open. The whole battalion was assigned to leave the barracks on maneuvers, but the two brothers would not comply. At that, the lieutenant got them out of the hut by shoving and kicking, and then had them put in the last line of the ranks. Then came the order, “Forward march!” The whole battalion moved off, leaving behind two immobile and solitary figures, Adolfo and Emilio. Fortunately, the captain treated them in a civil manner and had them handed over to the guard at the barracks.
Shortly thereafter, Adolfo and Emilio found themselves in the punishment platoon. The legionnaires in charge practically had a free hand to do what they liked to the prisoners, even to kill them, and no questions would be asked. When ordered to stand at attention, the brothers refused. The guard hurled abuse at them, and the corporal in charge started to punch and beat them. Adolfo ended up with a black eye, along with a collection of bruises.
Adolfo and Emilio were in the punishment platoon for a month. Inasmuch as they would not do any work in the barracks, they were taken out each day at sunrise to a place about three kilometers (2 miles) away. There they had to break stones and dig sand. Since the food was inadequate and often inedible as far as a Christian was concerned, they were hungry and exhausted. Occasionally, their state moved the guard to pity and he would allow them to seek shelter from the heat in a nearby cave where they could get some sleep. But the majority of the guards were tyrants and the prisoners were not allowed to speak or do anything without their permission.
In April of that year, Adolfo and Emilio came out of the punishment section and wondered just how much longer they would be able to stand the war of nerves in Villa Cisneros. The physical punishment was one thing, but the nervous tension was another. There was a constant fight to keep integrity to God, to remain neutral in this highly charged military atmosphere. Their prayers were answered when, in July, they were sent back to El Aaiún by plane, to face another court-martial for having refused the uniform in Hausa.
Their arrival in El Aaiún brought the number of Christian neutrals there to seven. Little did they know then, in 1965, that the first of the seven would not be released until 1970, and that four of them would still be in prison in 1973.
In January 1966, the group of seven was broken up. Four were sent to the Santa Catalina prison in Cádiz, and the other three were assigned to the military prison in Mahón, in the Balearic Islands. Thus Adolfo and Emilio, for instance, were separated after three years of shared imprisonment. Emilio Bayo and Antonio Sánchez Medina were sent to Mahón, arriving there in April 1966, and soon thereafter they were joined by Julio Beltrán. Their three-month journey included stops at Cádiz, Vicálvaro, Madrid and Zaragoza.
By the time the two brothers reached Zaragoza it was April 4, and the very next day was to be the Memorial of Jesus Christ’s death. They started to plan for its commemoration but were told to get ready to travel on to Barcelona. During the train journey, they asked permission of the guards to buy a little wine, which they hid, in case the next guards would prohibit it. Well, when it came around to six o’clock in the evening, Emilio and Antonio explained to the guards that it was the hour for them to have a special celebration by considering a Bible theme. The guards permitted it, and in this way the brothers celebrated the Memorial by means of a forty-five-minute talk, a discourse heard by the guards and two prisoners to whom the Witnesses were handcuffed. Though their train compartment was empty at first, toward the end of the talk four or five other persons were listening. That discourse ended just as the train drew into the station at Barcelona.
CONSCIENTIOUSLY HOLDING TO FAITH RESULTS IN GREAT WITNESS
At every turn, efforts were being made to break the integrity of those imprisoned Christian neutrals. For instance, when Emilio Bayo and Antonio Sánchez Medina arrived at Mahón they found that another brother, Francisco Díez Ferrer, had already been there for some time. Interestingly, he had been very friendly with Corporal Bernardo Linares, not realizing that this man had been assigned to develop a friendship with him and cause him to break integrity to God. Well, that did not happen. Instead, the final result was that, after a lengthy association with Francisco, and later with Emilio and Antonio, Bernardo Linares himself became a witness of Jehovah. In July 1967 he told the captain of the prison that he was taking off his uniform and joining with the conscientious objectors. Though an effort was made to convince him to do otherwise, all of that was to no avail. He was put under arrest to await a court-martial, but the captain general of the Mallorca region had Bernardo’s army contract annulled and the case went no farther. He was retired to civilian life and took up active service to Jehovah.
Despite difficulties that were encountered by these Christian neutrals, there was spiritual growth and development within Spanish prisons. To illustrate: As the group in Cádiz continued growing, so did their spirituality. Fine progress was made, and the brothers even inaugurated a Kingdom Hall in the prison on August 5, 1968, two years before official legalization of our work took place in Spain.
It might be mentioned that certain brothers we have named were released from prison in the early 1970’s. Alberto Contijoch was freed in 1970 after eleven years in prison, having been condemned four times to a total sentence of nineteen years’ imprisonment. Francisco Díaz Moreno was let out of prison in April 1972, after completing eleven years, six months and nineteen days of a total sentence of twenty-six years. Juan Rodríguez was released in May 1972, after having completed eleven years in prison, and a number of others were set free in February 1974. Among them were Antonio Sánchez Medina, after twelve years of imprisonment; Adolfo Peñacorada and Emilio Bayo, after eleven years; and Fernando Marín, after ten years behind prison walls.
Of course, many other brothers in Spain have suffered imprisonment as Christian neutrals. But this time was not wasted, for it served to give a witness to a large sector of the Spanish nation that otherwise would not have heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their beliefs and their integrity. The military and penal sectors have been given a great witness, a testimony that has affected all parts of the country, since these Christian neutrals have had to present themselves in countless barracks and military and civil prisons of Spain. Thus, a record of integrity and neutrality has been written into the military and judicial records of this country, and it stands as evidence of the fidelity of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the just and peace-loving principles of God’s Word, the Bible.
In the course of the years since 1958, 825 brothers have been sentenced to a total of 3,218 years of imprisonment, of which they have served 1,904 in Spain’s military and civil prisons. Perhaps the most appropriate comment on this record of integrity is that of the Catholic writer, Jesús González Malvar, who wrote under the subtitle “An Example for Catholics”:
“Such is that of the courageous Jehovah’s Witnesses, although it becomes humiliating for us to recognize it. In this they have certainly set for us the evangelical ideal. These brave men are not terrified by the loss of freedom, although prison be prolonged month after month and year after year, nor by the pharisaical scorn of a society still so remote from the spirit of the Beatitudes . . . To our great shame, for this our so-trail-blazing Catholicism, is the fact that the so ridiculed and persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone ahead of us in the manifestation of this Christian charisma, and that only by walking in their bloodstained tracks have our most determined ones dared to venture forth in the same course. We cannot deny, if we are honest and sincere, that they have understood in this, better than we, the spirit of the Master, who, not even in self-defense, allowed the use of arms.”
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING CHRISTIAN NEUTRALS
What have been the more recent developments for these Christian neutrals in Spain? Well, in 1973 a law was passed that limited the penalty for conscientious objection to a single term in prison that can be from three years and one day to a maximum of eight years. This has put an end to the previous procedure of a never-ending series of sentences for the repetition of the same offense, that of maintaining Christian neutrality by refusing to participate in military organizations.
The immediate benefits of this law were that all those having served more than three years in prison were released, which resulted in 114 brothers gaining their freedom. Later, on July 30, 1976, King Juan Carlos proclaimed a general amnesty, and as a result another 204 brothers were set free. What an unexpected joy it was for them to be able immediately to attend the “Sacred Service” District Assemblies and there build up the gathered throngs with their experiences of Christian integrity!
Are Christian neutrals still being imprisoned in Spain? During the autumn of 1976 there was a kind of moratorium on the conscription of declared conscientious objectors, and in December of 1976 a decree was published that allows those with religious objections to military service to “substitute” the present eighteen months of military training with three years of other services.
But what viewpoint have the youthful Witnesses taken on this question? Already more than 150 young brothers have demonstrated their belief that it would be hypocritical to refuse military service on grounds of conscience and then participate in activities that are recognized as a substitute for military duties. As a consequence, they are now in custody, the majority awaiting trial by court-martial, for having refused to perform the substitute service.
The reaction of the military authorities has been tough and unrelenting, and in June 1977 a number of our brothers were sentenced to the maximum penalty of eight years’ imprisonment. It remains to be seen whether the new government formed in July 1977 will take steps to reduce these harsh sentences and implement a more reasonable and equitable law.
BETTER ORGANIZED FOR THE WORK AHEAD
Having considered the experiences of these Christian neutrals, suppose we step back in time and pick up the thread of our story in the year 1959. At that time certain developments helped us to become better organized for the work ahead.
In April 1959, M. G. Henschel, from the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn headquarters, visited Spain as zone overseer. He gave good counsel to Ray Dusinberre, who then was in charge of the Society’s branch office in Spain. Brother Henschel recommended that the circuits be increased from one to four, and that the visits of circuit overseers take place every four months in order to build up the spirituality of the brothers and sisters.
At that time there were seven Gilead missionaries in Spain, including two sisters. Four of the missionaries were serving as circuit overseers. During that same service year, Sinforiano Barquín, the former fervent Catholic from Bilbao, became the first Spanish circuit overseer. By the end of that service year (1958-1959), 1,293 Kingdom publishers were associating with thirty congregations in five circuits.
In effect, each small group within a congregation was then functioning like a little congregation itself, with all the meetings being conducted in the group. This meant that the circuit overseer had to visit each group. If there were only two, the visit would last a week. But, with three or four groups, the visit lasted two weeks. In later years, when some congregations had up to ten groups, the circuit overseer would have to visit a single congregation for as long as five weeks in order to serve all the groups.
Brother Henschel’s 1959 zone visit was combined with a new and special treat for the Spanish brothers. A Spanish assembly was held in Perpignan, just across the border in southern France, and many of the brothers were aided financially so that they could attend. For those living in southern Spain, another assembly was held in Tangier, Morocco.
MAINTAINING A WORKING ORGANIZATION DURING DIFFICULT YEARS
During the years now under consideration, Jehovah’s people in Spain were experiencing hardship and persecution. Of course, they needed Bible literature in order to remain spiritually healthy and so as to share the Kingdom message with others. As it was, many packages of literature were being received at various addresses in Madrid. With relatively large stocks of our literature in Madrid, a lot of shipping was done from there, and one of the Gilead graduates was put in charge of that work when the branch “office” was moved from Madrid to Barcelona in 1960.
It might be mentioned that all branch matters were spoken of in code and, of course, the brothers and sisters never knew where the branch office was located. The place where the Gilead brother worked became known as the Cueva (Cave). Why was that? Because our cache of literature was hidden in the cellar of a stationery store. To get to the cellar—the “cave”—one had to raise a trapdoor and use a stepladder. However, the actual preparation of the packages of literature was cared for in a narrow back room behind the counter. In that small space, a little shipping department was set up, with a cupboard and a folding table. The brother would work there for hours, often in biting cold in the wintertime. Certainly, care had to be taken so that the customers did not learn that a foreigner was working there. Hence, he could not converse and could not afford to be seen when customers were around. He attended to this work until 1964, when he became a circuit overseer.
But suppose we tell you about branch moves during those difficult years. From 1948 to 1957 the work in Spain was directed mainly from different addresses in Barcelona. Just how long a certain address would be used was determined by the intensity of the police activity. The branch files were kept down to suitcase size, so that a rapid getaway could be made at any moment. This “fly-by-night” arrangement was made possible because different brothers allowed the office to be in their homes, at great risk to themselves.
When Ray Dusinberre assumed the responsibility of branch overseer in 1957, the center of operations was moved to Madrid. But in 1960, the branch was once again taken back to Barcelona because of police pressure in Madrid. At first it functioned in a brother’s house, then in a private apartment rented by the missionaries. In the spring of 1961, a detached torre (house with gardens) was located in San Justo Desvern, on the outskirts of Barcelona. Incidentally, while this house was in use, Ray’s wife, Jean, fell ill with tuberculosis and the Dusinberres reluctantly departed from Spain in 1963.
The house in San Justo Desvern served its purpose for two years. Then something happened that put the brothers on the alert. Two men who said they were from the electric company asked to inspect the electrical installations. They would have to check the lights in every room. While there was no proof that this was a police trick, it appeared to be, and so the branch was moved once again—this time to a separate villa on its own grounds in the town of San Cugat del Vallés, about sixteen kilometers (10 miles) from Barcelona. In 1967, however, that home was broken into by thieves who, apart from stealing money, also saw the office setup there. So, it was decided that a vast change of locale would be appropriate. In a matter of two days the branch had been discreetly transferred to an apartment in Barcelona—a place that served as a Bethel home and branch office until November 1971, when the Bethel staff of thirteen moved into a new branch building in Barcelona at Calle Pardo, No. 65, the present address of the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain.
For seven years the branch work was done in three different homes simultaneously, for not all the work was centered around the main branch home. How did the congregations keep in touch with the Society and vice versa? Well, several Barcelona addresses were used for the receipt of mail, and all of these had contact with a centrally located market where several brothers worked.
We also had to exercise care in printing and shipping literature. Some of our printing was done on a mimeograph machine. About 1960 the shipping department was transferred to a shed in the patio outside Francisco Serrano’s apartment in Barcelona. The shed came to be known as the Nevera (Ice Box) because of the frigid temperature during the winter. This name stuck for years as the name for the shipping department, even when it was later moved to a sister’s apartment in the old Gothic quarter of the city. The location of the main branch office was known as the Castillo (Castle) regardless of where this might be located.
“FOOD” SUPPLY GUARANTEED
“In those days it was not possible to import our Bible publications legally. So scarcity of literature was one of our big problems. But true to Jesus’ promise, the faithful were fed “at the proper time.” (Luke 12:42) Tourists from other countries were a valuable help in bringing literature into Spain. One of the most-used addresses was in Calle Menéndez y Pelayo in Barcelona, the missionary home-office, for which Eric Beveridge was responsible during the years 1965 to 1971. Many of the new missionaries spent their first few months in that home, learning Spanish, with Sister Hazel Beveridge as their teacher. Also two veteran Gilead School graduates, Timothy and Judith Dickmon, served there for some time before being transferred to a new missionary home in Valencia.
That Barcelona home was visited by many literature-carrying tourists from all over western Europe and the United States. Although the neighbors knew that foreigners lived in that apartment, they were inclined to wonder how the residents could have so many friends from so many different countries. The automobile license plates often gave away the nationality of the visitors.
Interestingly, on one occasion a brother from France presented himself, literally staggering with the weight of his suitcase. Of course, it was loaded with books. In order to avoid suspicion when he left, he walked up the street still struggling with that case—and it was empty!
At a later time, Spanish brothers would go to France to obtain literature. So, a weekly routine was arranged with different pickup addresses in Perpignan. Some brothers went by private car, whereas others traveled by train and bus. This activity was especially intense during the months of January to March, when they went to obtain the Yearbooks. The brothers were determined to have their spiritual food.
From 1966 to 1970 a variety of outside printers were used to produce some of our literature. Happily, however, in July 1970 our work was legalized and so, starting with January 1971 our journals were imported by normal means, license for importation being obtained. Thanks to this arrangement, it has been possible to obtain importations of large quantities of literature, including magazines—to the point that books now arrive in containers weighing from fifteen to twenty tons at a time!
Do you remember the Nevera (Ice Box)? It was the shipping department we moved from a shed to an apartment. For a long time it had been too small. Therefore, in 1970 a change of locale was possible. A two-story warehouse was rented in Barcelona. Downstairs there was room for perhaps twenty tons of literature, and upstairs we had room for a workbench and another ton of literature or magazines. This place received a strong dose of sunshine every day and was quite a contrast to the old Nevera. So, the new location was called el Solarium, a name that could mean “the Sunhouse.”
In 1972, when the new Bethel building was completed, the ground floor was assigned to the shipping department. Then we had space for at least a hundred tons of literature, as well as plenty of working space. When the first container of literature arrived in June 1972, it caused a sensation in the street, and even the neighbors were straining to see what was going on. For many it was the first time they had seen a roller ramp. This one is twenty-seven meters (89 feet) long, of sufficient length to take the boxes out of the container and down close to the far end of the shipping department. When a container arrived in those days, because the work force was quite limited, most members of the office staff joined in to get it unloaded, doing so in less than two hours.
This brief review makes it evident that Jehovah has always made ample provision in a spiritual way. True, for years it was difficult to obtain Christian literature in Spain. But Jehovah’s hand was not short and he continued to bless us abundantly with spiritual food at the proper time.
RISE OF THE INQUISITION SPIRIT
The spirit of religious intolerance that prevailed during the Spanish Inquisition arose again in connection with Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. Among other things, they were falsely accused of being Freemasons or of being financed by them, a serious charge in a Catholic country. During the period of 1958 to 1960, the police in Granada held such views. Moreover, they were unrelenting in hounding God’s people.
Consider, for example, what happened to Manuel Mula Giménez, a special pioneer assigned to Granada in October 1958. On October 5, 1960, Manuel had just finished conducting a Bible study and was standing on a street corner chatting with some fellow believers when a member of the secret police accosted him and asked him to open his book bag. Naturally, the policeman found Bible literature in it and accused him of breaking the police order against preaching. After taking the names of the other brothers, the policeman told Manuel to accompany him to the police station. Manuel recalls: “When I reminded him that the only ground he had for arresting me was that I was talking with some friends on the street and that I would like to know why I was being arrested, he became so infuriated that he said to me, ‘I arrest you because I have a badge like this and a pistol with which I can fill your head full of holes,’ and then he took out the pistol and pointed it at me. This was in the middle of one of the most central streets of Granada.”
Manuel was taken along to the Civil Government building and was charged with the crime of teaching others about the Bible, and of “distributing booklets and reading texts in such a way that he deliberately insulted the Catholic Religion, outraging the dogmas, rites and ceremonies, and openly advocating for the abolition of national traditions.”
Manuel was sentenced to provisional detention in prison until he could produce bail of 50,000 pesetas ($833). Because he was unable to pay such an exorbitant bail, Manuel was held in prison for forty-three days. For twenty days, he was in solitary confinement, and after that, under threat of punishment, was forbidden to speak to anyone about his religion.
The prison chaplain (a Catholic priest), who was supposed to give spiritual comfort to the prisoners, made sure that there would be none for Manuel. This priest had the only Bible removed from the prison library, and when another prisoner gave Manuel a copy of the Gospels, this was snatched away from him. The prison guards constantly shouted at Manuel and tried to make life unbearable with a form of treatment that was not meted out to any other prisoners. And who was the instigator of all of this? None other than the prison priest.
Such persecution did not bring our work to a halt in Granada, any more than it did elsewhere. On November 18, 1960, when Manuel was freed, he wrote to the Society’s branch office, saying in part: “It is a pleasure for me to tell you that, thanks to Jehovah, I am now free; also that on coming out I have found the congregation participating in good theocratic activity . . . Here a local study conductor has been able to direct everything in an organized way.” Interestingly, that group study conductor later became an overseer of the Granada Congregation.
In March 1960, a missionary made a circuit visit to the Usera Congregation in Madrid, and Brother Patricio Herrero asked him for help in working the isolated territory of Villaverde, just a few kilometers outside the city. While a foreigner might be conspicuous in such an area, the arrangement seemed safe enough because the work was that of starting Bible studies with persons who already had shown interest in Bible truth. However, trouble started as soon as the missionary set foot in Villaverde.
Although Patricio used caution and did not draw close to the bus stop when the circuit overseer arrived, later one of the priest’s local spies saw them walking together to make one of the return visits. The two brothers started a Bible study with a bedridden woman who had a heart condition. Then, just before they were about to leave, the missionary noticed from a window that a large group of women had formed around the entrance to that apartment house. But the brothers said nothing to the householder because they did not want to aggravate her physical condition.
The secret police started calling at every door to find the two Witnesses. Finally, there was a knock at the door of the apartment where, the return visit was in progress. The householder told her four-year-old daughter to answer the door. “Are there two men here carrying book bags?” the police asked gruffly. In all innocence, the four-year-old replied: “Here there are only some of my mother’s friends.” So the police left.
That return visit was prolonged until it seemed that it would be safe to leave. The brothers made plans to walk back to Madrid following the railroad tracks, for surely the police would be watching the bus line. But when they arrived at the rail line, the police were waiting for them. They knew that by controlling the highway and the railway, sooner or later they would catch their prey. Before the missionary had said a word, they asked: “You’re a foreigner, aren’t you?”—apparently judging from his stature, for he is over six feet tall.
As the brothers sat waiting at the police station, suddenly the doors swung open for a moment and a man was seen giving a positive nod of the head. It was the priest’s spy who had filed the complaint, and now the brothers were identified positively. Then began the game of trickery used by the police to get the information they desired. But the two brothers were determined not to reveal the name of the woman with whom they had been discussing the Bible.
POLICE INTERROGATION A VALUABLE EXPERIENCE
When the police did not receive the answers they wanted, another “tough” policeman was used to try to obtain the information by force or threats. He accused the brothers of having come to Villaverde to plant a bomb, and held that their silence as to where they had been only proved that they were guilty. They held their ground, with the missionary continually asking that he be allowed to get in touch with the American Embassy—permission that never was granted.
When the tough tactic failed to produce the desired results, the next tactic of the police game of deceit went into operation. Another secret policeman entered and started to attack the “tough” policeman because of his vile and base methods. Of course, all of this was part of the act, and so the “tough” policeman moved off center stage grumbling. Then the new one started with his ‘sweet talk.’ “There really have been some bomb threats around here lately,” said he, “and our only interest is in verifying your story, since we don’t know you; nor are we aware of any neighbor with a heart condition such as you describe. If it is true that you were only visiting a friend interested in the Bible, you will be released immediately. But you can’t blame us for being somewhat suspicious when you say that you were only doing something innocent that was not an offense, and yet you refuse to provide the information that will exonerate you of any suspicion.”
After a good deal of such smooth talk, it was agreed that only this “kind” policeman would accompany Patricio to the house that they had visited in order to verify the truth, and that he would say nothing to the householder. The policeman would only make sure that she really did have a heart condition.
As soon as those two left, the missionary was hurried off to the General Bureau of Security in downtown Madrid. To his protests that they should wait for Patricio’s return and confirmation of their story, the police cruelly retorted that he, too, soon would be brought along to downtown Madrid. The lies and deceit of the police had been effective, and the trusting brothers had fallen into their trap—a lesson that the missionary was never to forget. Later, it was learned that the lady they had visited was severely persecuted by the police, who charged her with knowingly harboring the brothers in her house during the police search. Because of fear, she rejected any additional return visits.
The principal information desired by the police at the General Bureau of Security was the missionary’s local address. No question was asked as to his religion; nor did they look in his book bag, which, in any case, contained only a Catholic Bible. Nevertheless, not long thereafter, he was ordered to report once again, and he was invited to leave the country. He responded that he did not want to accept the invitation, but was told that if he did not leave voluntarily his exit would be compulsory—“an experience that will be very disagreeable both for you and for us,” said the police commissioner.
When asked about the motive for the expulsion, the commissioner replied only in general terms, stating that one can be thrown out of a country for three reasons—political, social, “or religious.” “You know,” said the commissioner, “there are only two kinds of persons in Spain—Catholics and unbelievers—and we cannot tolerate anything else.” Consequently, on June 6, 1960, this missionary moved to Perpignan, France, but retained the hope of getting back into Spain someday since he had left “voluntarily.” As a matter of fact, within three months he was back in Spain, and he served as branch overseer for some years. The interrogation experience proved to be of great value, and it later served as the basis for a service meeting program that showed the brothers how to respond under police questioning. It prepared them for deceitful police tactics and helped them to avoid falling into the trap of betraying the Kingdom interests or their fellow believers. Now they could really apply Jesus Christ’s admonition: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.”—Matt. 10:16.
INVITATIONS TO GILEAD SCHOOL
Through the years a number of graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead have served in Spain, and we have been blessed by their fine activities. However, it was back in 1958 that pioneer José Cejudo turned out to be the first brother from Spain to attend Gilead School. Incidentally, he was assigned to serve in Argentina.
At the beginning of 1961, Salvador Adriá and his wife, Margarita Comas, were in the circuit work visiting the group at Torralba de Calatrava. The postman delivered a rather bulky letter, and Salvador went aside to read it alone. Well, the next thing that Margarita heard was a shout, “An invitation to Gilead!” For months they had been studying English, just hoping for this day. But then came a blow. Salvador alone had been invited to a special ten-month course. Immediately, Margarita thought of the Spanish refrain ‘Mi gozo en un pozo,’ that is, ‘My joy down the well.’
In the summer of that year, the Adriás attended the international assembly of God’s people in Paris. There they heard a talk on the great need existing in certain territories of Spain where our work had not yet started. Margarita decided to ask the branch office to assign her to one of these while her husband was in Gilead School. At the close of the assembly they spoke to M. G. Henschel, who told Margarita that she could go with her husband to London for three months to perfect her English, and that, if she did well, she would be invited to Gilead with Salvador. Well, Margarita nearly fainted with emotion and surprise.
As matters turned out, therefore, instead of going back to Spain, the Adriás went to London Bethel for three months. There they completed their study of English, and in November 1961 they set off for New York city, where they attended Gilead School. Later, the Adriás returned to Spain as the first Spanish couple having received Gilead training.
Today there are sixty-nine graduates of Gilead School serving in various parts of Spain. Their work is greatly appreciated, and they are a source of encouragement to their Spanish brothers and sisters.
POLICE ATTACK IN GALICIA
Another region in which Jehovah’s Witnesses have experienced persecution through the years is Galicia. Toward the end of 1960, Francisco Córdoba and his wife, Margarita Roca, were each fined 1,000 pesetas (about $20) for the crime of having participated in proselytism as special pioneers in La Coruña (Galicia) since 1958. In actual fact, they had not been caught preaching from house to house, nor had they been denounced by any citizens of the area. The police simply took the initiative against them. Their appeals against the fines were rejected.
During this period, our meetings were being held at a farm in Joane, but extreme caution had to be exercised. Because there was a store attached to the farm, customers were coming and going at all hours of the day and night. So, our meetings were held outside in an hórreo, a narrow rectangular building typical of Galicia and one that serves as a granary. The meetings would start at 10 or 11 p.m. and would continue past midnight. Each time someone entered or departed, the lights were extinguished so that no one on a nearby farm could tell that people were coming and going. After working all day in the fields, to get to meetings some traveled by bicycle as far as twenty-two kilometers (14 miles). Special pioneers Francisco Córdoba and Jesús Arenas had to make a round trip of seventy-seven kilometers (48 miles) to visit the group and direct the meetings.
In December 1961, the police turned up at the farm, where Ramón Barca, his wife, Carmen, and her brother, Jesús Pose, were going about their daily chores. Without any legal warrant, the police searched the farmhouse and confiscated the literature they found, including a Nácar-Colunga Bible. The three Witnesses were taken into custody and were subjected to a ten-hour interrogation in the nearby town of Carballo. Two days later they appeared before the local judge who admitted that they could practice their religion privately at home. But he contended that they could not participate in anything that amounted to a public manifestation of their faith. Three weeks later the result came through—a fine of 500 pesetas each. The fines were not paid, as our policy was to appeal all fines rather than pay them, and thus try to get justice through the law.
In his reports to the Provincial Governor, the Chief of Police stated that the family’s conduct was “favorable in every respect, without any unfavorable background,” and that Ramón Barca was “classified by the Guardia Civil as an orderly person and in harmony with the Regime.” He added that while the three were Jehovah’s Witnesses, “it is very possible that acts of proselytism were not carried out in the hamlet, because of the difficulty that would be found in making members in our region where the Catholic religious belief is so rooted.” So, he said that the Witnesses were possibly “limiting themselves to the practice of privately reading commentaries on the Bible in their own home.” However, it was noted that the married couple frequently visited a Witness in the capital, La Coruña. So it was assumed that the crime of threatening the enigmatic “spiritual unity of Spain” had been committed.
In regard to the Bible study material that was confiscated, the police official opined that “it is to be supposed that they will distribute it among their friends or future members of the mentioned Sect.” Here supposed intention of an act was the basis for an accusation. During the police search, some addresses were found, which were “without doubt visited in their proselyting work,” although “it is not considered that these acts might have any great repercussion,” concluded the Chief of Police. (Italics ours.)
In spite of this relatively favorable report, the fines were imposed. The official notification gave a clue as to the reason why. The Provincial Governor justified his action in writing by saying: “Not only was the new report issued by the Superior Police Headquarters kept in mind, but also the contents of the confidential circular of the Ministry of the Interior . . . which warns against the activities of the sect ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ to which the three sanctioned ones belong.” This confidential circular was the one of March 1961, which instructed the governors to impose fines of at least 2,500 pesetas on Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, from the Provincial Governor’s point of view, he was letting the Witnesses off lightly with fines of only 500 pesetas.
The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which chose to consider it in private and in the absence of the accused and the lawyers. On June 27, 1964, the Court ruled that the three accused persons were guilty of committing the crime of threatening the “spiritual unity of Spain.” Although the Court admitted that the Spanish Bill of Rights permits the private exercise of non-Catholic religions, they decided that the evidence was sufficient to prove that the three Witnesses had participated in proselytism and had infringed upon the spiritual (Catholic) unity of the nation.
CORDOBA’S MIDDLE-AGES MENTALITY
Another focal point of persecution was Córdoba, a city of about 200,000 inhabitants at that time, in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. The city has a strong Moorish-Arabic tradition due to centuries of occupation by the Moors. One of its most famous buildings is the Mezquita (Mosque) that has been converted into a Catholic place of worship. This structure is one of the most extensive religious buildings in the world, being 180 meters long and 130 meters wide (about 590 by 425 feet). It consists of nineteen naves, and the building’s many arches are supported by 850 columns. In this same city a Jewish synagogue is preserved from the time when religious tolerance was practiced there. But how different the Córdoba of the 1960’s!
Among the Christian witnesses of Jehovah who suffered persecution in Córdoba during the early 1960’s were pioneers Manuel Mula and Antonio Moriana. They had been assigned to Córdoba in February 1961. One day two policemen came and took them to the police station, along with a small amount of our older literature. At the station, the brothers were interrogated, but the police could get no useful information out of them. So, they started to beat the brothers, first with the hand, and then with a rubber truncheon, beating them on the back and the legs. Manuel ended up with a black eye, but the police still did not get any revealing information.
From the police station, the pioneers were taken to prison, where they were held for four days. Then they were notified that Antonio would have to pay a fine of 2,000 pesetas and Manuel a fine of 5,000 pesetas within ten days. Manuel was ordered to leave the province, and within a short time was back in Barcelona, awaiting a new assignment. Despite this experience, however, Antonio Moriana was able to continue his activity in Córdoba until May 1962.
The experience just related is merely typical. Actually, a number of pioneers were compelled to leave Córdoba because of police pressure. But in actual fact, the police themselves were under pressure applied by the clergy, enemies of Jehovah’s faithful servants.
Because of the constant threat of being caught and expelled from the city of Córdoba, our work there, as in all other parts of Spain at that time, was carried on with extreme caution. None of our literature was offered or even carried from house to house. Publications were placed during return visits when individuals manifested genuine interest. Instead of working from door to door right down a street, isolated calls were made all over the territory, and no buildings were ever covered in a consecutive manner. In that way the police had great difficulty locating Witnesses as territory was being worked.
Also, only the Catholic Bible was used in the preaching work. Yet, even that was considered a dangerous weapon in the hands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The clergy applied pressure wherever they could and encouraged the authorities to track down anyone who studied with the Witnesses. Sometimes the police were their willing tools, but on other occasions they were just reluctant participants. Of course, that depended on the city or province. In Córdoba, they were willing tools.
A SHAMEFUL ATTACK
One of the most shameful attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses took place in mid-1962 at Los Lastres farm near Lucena, in the southern part of Córdoba province. The Montalbán family there had accepted the truth and had started preaching it to their neighbors on nearby farms. Soon, Christian meetings were organized, and from twenty to thirty persons were attending.
On May 28 a very uncouth sergeant of the Guardia Civil, together with another guard, came to the Montalbán farm. The sergeant asked for the head of the family and threatened to take him to jail if the Bible study at the farm was not stopped.
Just four days later, on June 1, a captain, a sergeant and two additional guards turned up at the farm. Gruffly, they mumbled something about an “anonymous complaint” about political activities. These men demanded the names of all those who visited the farm to study the Bible, most of whom were relatives of the family. Unwisely, and due to lack of experience, these names were supplied. The next step was to search the farm, even though the guards had no search warrant. They then went to another farm, and although the owner, who was studying the Bible, was not at home, they searched his house and took away some of our publications.
On that occasion the only member of the family that was baptized, Juan Montalbán Ortega, was openly insulted and accused of living in concubinage because he had been married in Gibraltar under British law, rather than accepting a Catholic rite in Spain. The captain wrote up a report of his visit and told those present that they all had to sign it. Once again lack of experience led them into a trap, and about twenty-eight of them signed the statement. Nevertheless, they insisted on adding the following words: “We study the Bible because it is the inspired Word of God, and in the Bible it states that one must preach it and make it known for the purpose of giving a witness of salvation to all the nations and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14.”
On June 15 the Civil Governor of Córdoba fined these humble country people a total of 40,000 pesetas ($666). Twelve persons were fined, with the fines ranging from the basic 2,500 pesetas recommended by the Ministry of the Interior circular to a maximum of 5,000 pesetas imposed on four of them. They were charged, in the words of the standard phrase, with “threatening the spiritual unity of Spain, by doing proselytism in favor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect.”
This group of interested persons wanted to appeal. So, the father, Antonio Montalbán, and his son Juan traveled to Córdoba, the capital city, to find a lawyer who would defend them. To the disgrace of the body of lawyers in that city, not one was willing to take on the defense or give them any assistance. Hence, they did their best according to limited knowledge of the law, deposited one third of the total value of the fines, and lodged an appeal on behalf of all twelve defendants. However, no one had told them that they needed legal authorization, signed by a notary, in order to appeal on behalf of the other ten persons. On this technicality, the Civil Governor rejected those ten appeals, but kept the money that had been deposited. So, the only valid appeals were those of the father and son who had journeyed to the city. These two appeals were rejected by the Civil Governor and by the Ministry of the Interior, but, since they were valid, they could be taken to the Supreme Court. However, the final result of the two appeals was a defeat for the brothers and for freedom of religious expression.
In spite of setbacks during those years of persecution, it is encouraging to know that there are now four thriving congregations in Córdoba with about 350 publishers, and another eight congregations in the province, including one in Lucena, not far from the Los Lastres farm.
COPING WITH CONTINUED PERSECUTION
This persistent persecution of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in Spain showed that the police authorities were taking to heart the circulars sent out from the Ministry of the Interior from 1959 to 1966. Arrests and arbitrary imprisonment, together with fines, involved pioneers in such places as Córdoba, San Sebastián, Jaén, Castellón de la Plana, and Murcia, as well as a group of five publishers in Ciudad Real. In most cases the minimum stipulated fine of 2,500 pesetas was exacted, although it never was paid voluntarily. This has to be clarified because, in cases taken to the Supreme Court, the fines had to be deposited beforehand, and, if the case was lost, the fine automatically was forfeited. On the other hand, if the case was won, the money could be reclaimed, although it usually took much longer to get it back than the minimum period required by law for depositing it.
Getting legal assistance was not easy. For instance, consider what happened to two young special pioneers, Francisca López and Francisca Almarza. While serving in the provincial capital of Palencia in the early 1960’s, on more than one occasion, they were fined heavily for their preaching work. In one instance, a lawyer was paid to appeal their case and then failed to do so. His negligence led to the two pioneer sisters having to spend thirty days in prison.
This problem with that particular lawyer illustrates a situation that was general throughout Spain—the lack of lawyers willing to defend Jehovah’s Witnesses. One or two started off with good intentions, but, when they were intimidated by being told that their defense of the Witnesses could hurt their career, their fighting spirit withered overnight. One refreshing exception to this has been the courageous defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses waged by lawyer Eduardo Ajuria, who, while not being a Witness, has shown himself to be truly dedicated to the cause of justice by the rule of law. He has represented Jehovah’s Witnesses on countless occasions, even as far as the Supreme Court.
SUPREME COURT VICTORIES
There have been times when Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain have been victorious in legal battles carried to the Supreme Court. So, let us tell you something about certain victories won there.
In 1963 police inspectors visited the “Monte Carlo” pension in Málaga, owned by Francisco Alonso Valle and his wife, Esperanza. They were accused of holding unauthorized meetings. The house was searched, and those fingerprinted included their two small children who were only eight and four years of age. One person who had attended the meetings, Brother Fernández, was so harassed at the barbershop where he worked that he finally lost his job. As a result of this police investigation, four of the accused were fined 500 pesetas each, and Brother Fernández, as a second offender, was fined 2,000 pesetas. He had been fined the year before for being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and had spent fifteen days in prison in lieu of the fine.
The case of these five persons was appealed to the Minister of the Interior. But the appeal was rejected on the grounds that it was deemed that, by their activities, the Witnesses had “threatened the spiritual unity of Spain.” So, the ease was appealed to the Supreme Court. On October 20, 1966, that Court annulled the decision of Málaga’s Civil Governor. It reasoned that obviously in private meetings the commentary given on the Bible would be in agreement with the doctrine professed in common and that, therefore, it could not be considered as proselytizing propaganda. Furthermore, it had not been proved that more than twenty persons had attended the meeting, so that it was not outside the law as an unauthorized meeting. With regard to the holding of our meetings this was a notable victory.
It is interesting to note that during the three years 1964 to 1967 the Supreme Court upheld thirty-eight of the more than fifty convictions that Jehovah’s Witnesses had appealed to that Court. Most of those lost cases had to do with the preaching activity, which constituted for the judges a public manifestation of non-Catholic religious beliefs that they considered to be a violation of the law as it then stood.
On June 10, 1964, two young sisters, Santiaga Sánchez and Encarnita García, were arrested while waiting in a bus they had boarded to go back to their hometown of Torralba de Calatrava. They were taken to the police station in Ciudad Real where they were interrogated from 8 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Both of them were fined 2,500 pesetas ($42) for “belonging to the sect ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’” and “for making trips to this Capital to carry on proselyting activities for the mentioned sect.” The same night that the sisters were interrogated, three more “suspects” were rounded up and questioned, ending up with their being fined the stipulated minimum of 2,500 pesetas. These fines were appealed to the Ministry of the Interior, which upheld them. The last step was to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The question before the Court was whether one’s admission during interrogation that he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was in itself basis for incrimination. The Court observed that, “apart from the individual interrogations,” the police affidavit “had been drawn up without any other activity or effort, neither documental nor by witnesses, either direct or referential, which could serve as a verifying element.” The judges perceived “not only imprecision” in regard to the police investigation, but a complete absence of proof, which evidence is necessary “in any case in order to consider as true the facts upon which the assumption is based.” Hence, the Court concluded that from the “interrogations, only a personal conviction is deduced.” As to the charge of public proselytism, the Court held that “not in any case is verification achieved nor does the affidavit even try to do so.” For these reasons the five accused persons were acquitted, although they never recovered the full amount deposited for the fines.
In comparison with the convictions that were upheld, the legal victories were few and far between. Yet, in spite of imprisonment, fines and expulsions from their assignments, the pioneers kept up their intensive preaching activity and faithfully followed the example of the apostles. (Acts 5:27-29) While congregation publishers often were affected by the persecution, it was the pioneers who bore the brunt of the attack, and frequently in isolated assignments where they did not even have the stimulus of association and meetings in a congregation.
THE TRUTH IN A NUTSHELL
We would like to punctuate our story at this point by telling you about an unusual way in which some brothers cared for the spiritual and physical needs of their imprisoned fellow believers. It all started on December 7, 1961, when Félix Llop was conducting a study with a small group in Oviedo. Without warning there was a raid by two carloads of police, the house was searched, and the Bibles and Bible literature were confiscated. Félix and Sergio Cruz, the latter a Cuban brother, were taken off to jail. The next day their wives were required to report to the police station. After being interrogated for two days they too were put in prison. All four were photographed and fingerprinted, and then held in jail for ten days before sentence was passed. The Civil Governor decreed a total of 17,000 pesetas ($283) in fines for the four of them, for “acts of clandestine proselytism in Oviedo for the sect called Jehovah’s Witnesses.” No provisional liberty was granted them.
Well, while the four Witnesses were in prison, the brothers outside were conscious of their physical and spiritual needs. So, one day a trusted prisoner delivered a package of food items to Félix. It included a bag of walnuts. Félix gave a handful to the prisoner and sent half the bag to Sergio. A little while later, the prisoner came back and said, “Look what we have found in the walnuts!” Inside there were pages from the book “Make Sure of All Things”! Félix quickly opened the nuts he had and found that every one of them contained pages from that publication. One of the brothers had carefully opened up all the nuts, taken out the nutmeat, folded up a page, put it inside, and sealed the shell with glue. Félix and Sergio hid the pages inside borrowed library books so that they could read them without getting caught.
Later that month Félix and his wife María were sent back to their province of origin, Barcelona, some 1,130 kilometers (700 miles) away. Their journey dragged out over eleven days and through six dirty, dingy prisons. During this time, Félix was continually handcuffed to common criminals. On arrival in Barcelona, their ordeal was not over, for there were more interrogations, and they were not finally released on provisional liberty until they had spent thirty-seven days in different prisons.
WITNESS CHILDREN ALSO SUFFER
During the many years of persecution, children of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain also endured opposition and other hardships. For instance, on October 20, 1961, all children were lined up to go to Mass in the junior school of Torralba de Calatrava (Ciudad Real). Juan García, the nine-year-old son of one of the local Witnesses, stepped aside and explained to the teacher, as he had done before, that he belonged to another religion and therefore could not attend the Mass. The teacher ordered him to take his books, leave the school, and not come back.
Juan’s father visited the school and tried to reason with the teacher. But the teacher maintained his position that he could not tolerate non-Catholic pupils in a Catholic school. The father pointed out to him that the town did not have any non-Catholic schools, and since the law guaranteed education for every child, it was not a just act to expel his son on a matter of religious principle. However, the teacher would not give way and refused to readmit the child.
The local mayor took the case to higher authorities, and in February 1962 the teacher was required to accept Juan García in the school once again. In the meantime, he had lost over three months of schooling due to this intolerant attitude.
A similar case occurred in another small town just a few miles away, Carrión de Calatrava, where the teacher beat ten-year-old Félix Angulo and took him by force to the Mass. He was then expelled from school, along with his brother and sister. This took place three months after the Torralba case had been resolved.
Another case arose in Manresa, Barcelona, with Juanito Belmonte, the eleven-year-old son of José Belmonte. The teacher had ordered all the children to stand and salute the national flag. Juanito stood up, but did not salute. The teacher started to strike him and tried to force his hand up in salute, but to no avail. The boy then was ordered to leave the school and not return.—Ex. 20:4-6; Ps. 3:8; 1 John 5:21.
Juanito’s father, José, tried to reason with the teacher, pointing out that saluting the flag was not a prerequisite for receiving an education in school. José also showed that his son had displayed more respect for what the flag represents than the teacher, who had committed assault and battery and had taken the high-handed action of expelling Juanito from the school. But the teacher refused to reason and slammed the door in the father’s face.
The matter did not end there. The teacher denounced the father and son to the police for alleged disrespect for the flag and for holding illegal Bible meetings in the home. Fulfilling their role, the police went to the brother’s place of work and arrested him for the purpose of obtaining a statement from him. The outcome was that José Belmonte was fined 5,000 pesetas by the Civil Governor of Barcelona for allegedly inciting his son to commit disrespectful acts toward the flag.
TEEN-AGERS SUFFER PERSECUTION
In October 1962, Jesús Laporta, a sixteen-year-old regular pioneer, moved to Castellón de la Plana, on the east Mediterranean coast of Spain. His pioneer partner was Florentino Castro. Their presence brought the group there to a total of five Kingdom proclaimers and gave impetus to the preaching activity. Naturally, this brought them to the attention of the clergy and the local police.
By July 1963 the preaching work in that area was producing small groups of believers, not only in Castellón, but also in nearby towns scattered throughout this rich orange-growing region. On July 5, Florentino was arrested, and three days later the police located Jesús Laporta at his pension. Both of them were charged with illegal propaganda and proselytism and were kept in prison for thirty days.
In December 1963, Jesús was made a special pioneer, and, in the meantime, his fourteen-year-old sister came to live with him in Castellón. On April 2, 1964, police forced their way into his home during his absence and, without an official search warrant, they ransacked the place and confiscated Bibles and Bible literature, as well as the keys to the house. When they raided the home, they found regular pioneer Florentino Castro there and arrested him. While they were searching, seventeen-year-old regular pioneer Juan Pedro Ruiz turned up at the house and he was arrested. Because there was not sufficient time to appeal the fines imposed on these two brothers, they had to spend twenty days in prison.
About a week after the raid on his home, Jesús was picked up by police, who had been looking for him. He was fined 5,000 pesetas ($83), but the decision was immediately appealed. Nevertheless, Jesús spent eight days in jail, and during this time his teen-age sister was left alone and without a guardian.
The authorities were pitiless in their persecution of this group of young people, returning to the attack in September 1964, when they again arrested Florentino Castro and Juan Pedro Ruiz. For “propagating ideas and proselyting activities” of the “Protestant sect Jehovah’s Witnesses,” they were fined 5,000 pesetas each. So it was that within fifteen months Florentino had been fined three times for the same offense.
The appeal against Jesús’ fine was heard in the Supreme Court on February 4, 1966, and the defense was based on the fact that no evidence or proof was presented against the accused. No complaint had been laid against him. The prosecution based their arguments on Jesús’ previous reputation and the statement of the police that he was known to participate in proselytism. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and established a dangerous precedent that would convict anyone known to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fortunately, however, this decision was counterbalanced in November of that same year by the favorable Ciudad Real decision mentioned earlier.
In 1966, Florentino was still working in Castellón, although not as a pioneer. At 12:15 p.m. on March 22, two policemen came to his place of work and arrested him. During the interrogation at police headquarters, he was struck twice as they tried to get information from him about other brothers in the group. Florentino was charged under the country’s vagrancy law, even though he had been taken away from his place of work, which obviously indicated that he was no vagrant. However, after six days in prison, orders came from Madrid for his release, since plainly there was no basis for a charge.
During those years of bitter persecution, progress was slow in Castellón. So, by March 1966—after four years of pioneer activity—there were still only thirteen Kingdom publishers in that area.
In spite of the Religious Liberty Law passed in 1967, the Castellón police still tried to harass Jehovah’s Witnesses, so that in April 1970, they raided a private home where sixteen adult persons and five children had met together to consider the Bible. The police produced a search warrant, but, when they saw that they had interrupted a Bible study, they left on the understanding that the brothers would present themselves at the police station. At the station they were accused of holding an illegal meeting, and the accusation was passed on to the local judge. Steps were taken to draw the matter to the attention of the newly established Commission for Religious Liberty. This was sufficient for no further action to be taken by the police, and was evidence that in certain respects the Commission was able to guarantee religious liberty.
By 1970 the Castellón Congregation had flourished in an amazing way. In April they reported 79 publishers, and by June the number had risen to 108. Shortly thereafter, separate groups were formed in the nearby towns of Burriana and Vall d’Uxó. Then, when the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses was legalized, Castellón became the first congregation to build its own Kingdom Hall. This hall, with a seating capacity of over 200, was inaugurated by the branch overseer in the spring of 1971. What a change of circumstances after nine years of harassment by the police! Here was yet another example of how the eight-year campaign by the Ministry of the Interior to stamp out Jehovah’s Witnesses had failed completely, despite zealous obedience to its orders and circulars on the part of the local police.
ARRESTS IN ALMERIA
In those days, police harassment occurred in place after place, including the city of Almería on Spain’s southern coast. Young special pioneers Ester Sillas Evangelio and Ana María Torregrosa were assigned to work there in March 1962. During April they were visited by the circuit overseer Enrique Roca and his wife, who were staying with them in their rented apartment.
One morning a knock came at the door and Ester asked who it was. The response? “¡La policía!” “¿La policía?” Ester repeated in a loud voice. That was a warning for the circuit overseer and his wife, although the police never realized it. Quick-witted Ester acted at once and asked the policemen if they had an official search warrant. No they did not, but she was to accompany them to the police station. Of course, while they were at the station, Enrique and his wife departed. In fact, Brother Roca left so fast that he forgot to arrange his bedroom, so that when the police walked in, there was one narrow single bed and, on the floor, the mattress on which he had slept—with his pajamas left behind in full view!
The policeman asked Ester who slept there. “I do,” she said “What? On both beds?” asked the policeman. Ester tried to treat it as a joke, replying: “The mattress is so comfortable that when I am tired of sleeping on the bed I use the mattress.” The policeman laughed at that and there were no more questions then.
The sisters were detained in the police station cells for four days and three nights. They were constantly interrogated, and generally this was done separately. The interrogation was no amateur affair. Ester was put under a strong light and surrounded by policemen who fired questions at her. She acted a bit silly so that her answers often had no logic to them. But when they triumphantly caught her in a contradiction, she queried: “A contradiction? Please let me see what I signed yesterday.” They gave it to her to read, and she read it all through very carefully so that she would not make the same mistake again. She was not as silly as she acted. When they asked her difficult questions, Ester requested a moment to concentrate—time she used well to pray to Jehovah for help.—Compare 1 Samuel 21:12-15.
A KIND JUDGE
The pioneers were next taken to court, where they were questioned by the judge and yet another statement had to be signed. According to Spanish court procedure, after declarations or statements are taken by the police, the accused is taken to court to be questioned by the judge, who then decides if there is a case. If so, he determines the penalty. By a different administrative procedure, the cases can be determined by the Civil Governor, who bases his decision on the evidence presented in the police report and the statements of the accused. Most of the cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses were decided by this latter method.
When the sisters had signed a statement for the judge, he started to ask them more questions, but in a kind manner. He told them there was nothing to fear; they had signed their statements and nothing further would be taken down against them. Ester took this opportunity to give a witness in the presence of some fourteen persons, including court officials and policemen. When she had finished speaking, what a surprise to hear the judge say that they were free to go and that they could pick up their belongings that the police had taken in the search!
When the sisters stepped outside into the corridor, however, the picture changed. Two uniformed policemen came forward and told the girls to accompany them to the police station to deal with the matter that was pending. When Ester and Ana María got there they were informed that the Civil Governor had fined them 2,000 pesetas each, and that, in default of payment, they would have to go to prison. So, off to prison they went.
In prison a new territory opened up for them, as they were able to preach to the inmates, officials and nuns located there. However, it was difficult to find ways of witnessing to the other prisoners, since the nuns did everything within their power to make such contacts impossible. When it was the recreation hour, all the prisoners were free to wander around except Ester and Ana María, who were kept in their cell. This was no obstacle, though, for the other prisoners who wanted to talk to the sisters climbed a fig tree outside their cell window and spoke to them. The sisters, in turn, put their bed against the cell wall and climbed up to continue witnessing. When the nuns came around and the sisters could not communicate, they would sing Kingdom songs, which amazed the other inmates. How could they be so happy when everyone else was so sad?
The month-long stay in prison was beneficial to Ester in an unexpected way. It gave her time and opportunity to read the Bible all the way through.
Miguel Gil, the special pioneer in Granada, was sent to Almería to seek a lawyer who might help the sisters. The lawyer spoke to the judge who had handled their case, and the judge reacted with such indignation at the treatment the girls were experiencing that he came to the prison to see them. However, he was not allowed in on the pretext that they were being held incommunicado, which was a lie. He insisted on seeing them and finally was able to do so. The judge offered the sisters every kind of help, even writing their families to reassure them. He also encouraged them to keep up their good work once they got out of prison, saying that he would be pleased to see them on their release. This kindly intervention was a great encouragement to Ester and Ana María.
Finally, when the girls stepped out of prison they had the joy of finding Miguel Gil there to greet them. Incidentally, all the evidence pointed to the fact that their month in prison was due to the activities of the priest in the Pescadería quarter of the city. He had aroused fear in the people and no doubt was the person who had denounced the sisters to the police.
Of course, this was not the only encounter with the police in Almería. But it was noteworthy because of the kindness expressed by a judge in that city. With the passing of the years the congregation in Almería has grown. In 1972, after some difficulties with the mayor’s office, the brothers there inaugurated their Kingdom Hall. Today the congregation in that city has 124 publishers, eight regular pioneers and two special pioneers.
CONTINUING FIGHT ON MALLORCA
Having reviewed some of the experiences of Jehovah’s people on the mainland, let us consider their activities on the island of Mallorca. In 1961 the position of the brothers in Mallorca worsened. All those receiving packages of literature were under surveillance, and Witnesses walking the streets with literature in their briefcases ran the risk of a week “inside” if they were stopped by the police. By June of that year, the brothers were being bothered even in their homes by constant visits of the police.
One never knew when trouble would arise. For instance, on one occasion Antonio Molina and Gabriel Vaquer were preaching in Palma de Mallorca when a householder invited them to enter and consider the booklet “This Good News of the Kingdom” with him. First of all, he had to fetch his glasses. Then his wife left to go and buy some milk. In a few minutes she came back with the “milk”—two plainclothes policemen who started to question the brothers. Antonio and Gabriel asked that they produce their identification. Well, one turned out to be a lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil and the other a brigadier. This “milk” was decidedly sour! Furthermore, the householder also was a member of the Guardia Civil. The brothers were interrogated and then led off to prison, where they were kept for fifteen days.
For Jehovah’s people in Palma the situation was atrocious. It seemed that there were spies and enemies everywhere, just waiting to trap Jehovah’s Witnesses as they spoke about the Word of God. For instance, on May 27, 1962, Félix Lumbreras, the father of three children, and Catalina Forteza de Mula, the wife of the much-arrested Manuel Mula, were chatting with a lady interested in the truth. As they did so, a policeman living across the hall came out of his home and went downstairs. When the Witnesses left the building, they found him waiting to arrest them. They were fined 1,000 pesetas each.
On November 14, 1963, Jaime Sastre and Antonia Galindo were arrested while preaching from house to house. Unknowingly they presented their Bible sermon to a civil guard. When Jaime’s wife went to the police to check on his whereabouts, they denied that he was in custody. But she went to the Civil Governor’s office and, through his secretary, determined that her husband was being held at the Guardia Civil headquarters. So, she went there to inquire about him and was told that the next time her husband was caught it would mean three months in prison. After that, he would be locked up and the key would be thrown away. She was not allowed to see him, but the outcome was that both she and her husband were fined, and their appeals were turned down by the Civil Governor.
On December 25, 1963, five brothers from the Inca Congregation were witnessing in the unassigned town of Petra. While waiting for the train back to Inca, the brothers noticed that a fanatical person they had met that morning put in a brief appearance at the station and then left. Shortly thereafter, a civil guard appeared, asking all the brothers to accompany him to the police station. They were searched and all their publications, including Bibles, were taken away. Each brother had to make a statement, and then they were released. Subsequently, four of them were fined.
SUPREME COURT RULING
On December 10, 1965, the Supreme Court decided to lump together several of the Mallorca cases. So they handed down their decision on the appeals of Félix Lumbreras and Catalina Forteza de Mula, Jaime Sastre and Antonia Galindo, as well as four brothers from Inca who were apprehended in Petra.
The single decision for all these cases was that the Witnesses had not restricted themselves to a private exercise of their religion. Rather, it was contended that they “preferred to manifest themselves openly as active and conscious agents of proselytism, publicly exercised by means of the diffusion of propaganda and abundant visits to homes, by which they obviously invaded the sphere of prohibition.” The appeals were rejected and all the cases were lost.
There was no doubt about where the authorities stood with regard to Jehovah’s people. They were determined to stamp God’s servants out of existence by means of fear and regular imprisonment. A brother in Inca went to visit a lieutenant of the Guardia Civil that he knew personally. During the conversation the lieutenant said: “Up till now we haven’t tried to do you any harm, but now our orders are to ‘exterminate’ you. Rather than lose my uniform, I will certainly see all of you dance. . . . We have received orders from the Governor to go from house to house in Inca to warn every householder that when you call they should advise us. Our orders are to take you handcuffed, from wherever we might find you, directly to jail.”
Of course, the Catholic Church was behind this persecution and the clergy rejoiced in the ill-treatment of the Witnesses. For instance, on September 18, 1962, the Bishop of Mallorca said in a radio broadcast: “We give thanks to God for helping us to see who in reality do good. We give thanks to God for helping us to see who in reality are falsifying the Word of the good God. Look at them! In prisons, prosecuted and punished. . . . Now let us take a look at the Catholic religion. Once again we give thanks to God that it still continues to be the true religion.” Rather than giving thanks to God, gratitude should have been expressed to the Civil Governor and the Guardia Civil for trying to preserve the Catholic monopoly.
A fanatical fighter against Jehovah’s Witnesses was the priest of the Cristo Rey parish in the town of Inca. He also was responsible for radio broadcasts against the Witnesses, and published defamatory articles against God’s people. Moreover, he went from house to house to collect literature left by Jehovah’s Witnesses so that he could burn it. Ten years later, there was a strange sequel to all of this. Luis Salazar was vacationing in Inca in 1971 and, by chance, called at the home of this priest. He was invited in and, after a brief discussion of Bible subjects, the priest said that he wanted to ask forgiveness for his past actions against Jehovah’s Witnesses. He now realized his mistake and was aware of his anti-Christian attitude. The priest showed Brother Salazar that he had the Society’s books on his shelves, and then went on to comment: “If there are any good men or saints in this world, they are among Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
STRENGTHENED BY PERSECUTION
Those years of difficulty in Mallorca only served to strengthen Jehovah’s people. In December 1972, there were 500 publishers in Mallorca, 26 on the island of Ibiza and 40 on the island of Menorca. Today Mallorca has 950 publishers, Ibiza 61, and Menorca 91. Interestingly, Palma has one Witness for every 385 persons, as compared with the national average of one for every 908.
Throughout Spain, by means of his visible organization, Jehovah helped his people in the especially difficult years of 1958 to 1967. During that period there was persecution of some kind in most of the major cities. This account includes only a few representative examples of the ill-treatment suffered by the pioneers and Jehovah’s Witnesses in general.
Among others, cases also arose in Huelva and Alicante. In Manresa (Barcelona) fourteen persons were arrested in 1962 for studying the Bible together, although the charges later were dropped. At Zaragoza, where special pioneer Máximo Murcia and his wife were imprisoned for fifteen days in 1960, an American family was harassed by the priest and the police for allowing Bible meetings in their private home. The list could go on to include the deportation of missionary Carl Warner in 1961. Yes, there were innumerable cases of persecution, and there was continual harassment throughout Spain during that ten-year period. But all the hardships strengthened the faith of the brothers and Jehovah helped them to carry on in doing the divine will, so that the increase continued by leaps and bounds.
The opposition of the clergy—both Catholic and Protestant—has never ceased. Of course, they had the active collaboration of the Ministry of the Interior for years. As clear evidence that there was no change of heart, even though the government was preparing the Religious Liberty Law, we quote from Circular No. 5 of 1966, from the General Director of the Interior in the Ministry of the Interior. Dated February 24, 1966, it stated, in part, as a directive to all Civil Governors:
“It is necessary to obtain a greater exemplariness in the repression of the illicit proselyting activities that members of the sect known as ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ are carrying out in all the national territory . . . The reason lies in the fact that the present measures of a monetary nature lack sufficient efficacy to stop such activities. . . . In consequence, I urge Your Excellency on orders from His Excellency the Minister of the Interior,” to denounce to courts handling vagrancy cases “all members of the said sect that may be caught carrying out such activities.” Eighteen months later the Religious Liberty Law was put into effect and the general attitude toward Jehovah’s Witnesses became more favorable. Also, the official attitude became more flexible as a consequence of the new law.
EMINENT JURIST ANALYZES THE LEGAL BATTLE
The battle waged by Jehovah’s Witnesses during those years of bitter persecution served as an outstanding witness in the legal circles of the nation. Many lawyers and judges had their first contact with God’s people because of our tenacity in appealing every possible case to the Supreme Court, in order to obtain justice and religious freedom. This fact was noted by a prominent Spanish jurist, Lorenzo Martín-Retortillo, formerly professor of law at the University of Salamanca and now at the University of Zaragoza. In 1970 he published a legal study on Religious Liberty and Public Order.
This study consists of a seventy-eight-page analysis of many cases that came before the Supreme Court and that obligated the Court to define the private exercise of religious expression in Spain, and to interpret the phrase “the spiritual unity of Spain.”
As a result of this jurist’s study of the accusations in the cases he considered, he wrote: “It is not difficult to arrive at a conclusion: the following types of conduct are sanctioned and prosecuted as contrary to public order: the holding of meetings to comment on the Bible or other religious texts; the possession of propagandistic literature of the religion; the making of visits to the homes of friends or unknown persons with the aim of propagating the religion; traveling and making contacts with the same end in view, etc. Therefore it is a matter of acts of religious celebration, as occurs with many of the meetings . . . or acts of religious evangelism.”
Although the cases of Jehovah’s Witnesses are cited on nearly every page, the third chapter of this study is specifically entitled “The special incidence of sanctions against ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.’” In part, it states: “As one studies ten years of Jurisprudence, and observes the governmental sanctions for reasons of public order that affect religious conduct, there is one fact that decidedly catches the attention: It is that in almost all cases considered, those who have intervened are members of only one religious group. Those who have appealed against the administrative decisions are, practically in all cases, members of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.’”
As a result of this conclusion, Señor Martín-Retortillo raises the following questions: “Are ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ the only group among the non-Catholics that carry out their activities, going beyond the tolerated limits? Does the Administration think that this group should be the object of special attention because of its special danger, significance, activity or any other circumstance? . . . As one can appreciate these are questions that I cannot resolve now, nor do endeavor to do so. . . . However, that is no obstacle to expressing the perplexity it produces to find that, in the period under study, and in relation to the subject of religion, the sanctions have centered unanimously on members of a determined confession.”
One of the basic conclusions that Señor Martín-Retortillo reached from his analysis was that the official persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses was the result of their active proselytism, their position as conscientious objectors and because some of their publications had been critical of the Spanish regime. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses actually are neutral as to politics. (John 17:16) Nevertheless, from this we can draw the conclusion that if the Protestant sects were not officially subject to persecution, they obviously were not engaged in public preaching activity and they were not maintaining Christian neutrality—two fundamental requirements for true followers of Jesus Christ.
BENEFITING FROM THE KINGDOM MINISTRY SCHOOL
During the years of intense persecution, every effort was made to provide spiritual aid and direction. Accordingly, in December 1961, the Society’s branch office in Spain organized the first classes of the Kingdom Ministry School. Of course, the school could not be held as it was in other countries—for a month or, later, for two weeks. Rather, it had to be held for two months and at night. The first two classes were held in Barcelona. And, in order not to attract attention, the classes were kept down to from twelve to fifteen students.
From 1962 to April of 1968, 347 servants and pioneers received training and instruction in the Kingdom Ministry School. When it was held in Barcelona, members of the branch office staff were able to get personally acquainted with the overseers and listen to their problems. Also, the lectures were given by five members of the Bethel family. To date, 1,342 individuals have attended the Kingdom Ministry School in Spain.
UPBUILT BY ASSEMBLIES
During all the years of our “underground” activity, we continued to receive spiritual food through special arrangements that were made for holding circuit assemblies. Since it was dangerous to bring all the brothers together at one time, a special procedure was adopted whereby the assembly program could be transmitted to all the congregations in each circuit. Overseers received copies of the program and then attended the assembly. In this way the attendance was kept down to around 100 to 200 persons. Moreover, assembly locations were wisely chosen, usually in the open air, such as the woods, the mountains or a beach. Then again, a private house served well, if it was some distance from the neighbors. At any rate, the attending overseers followed the program carefully, taking notes. Later, the assembly program was repeated in their own congregations.
Great precautions had to be taken to make sure that the assembly site was not found by the police. A problem did arise during a circuit assembly in 1969, when the Sevilla police learned of a big meeting in the patio of a private home and turned up with police cars and trucks. Some 250 brothers and interested persons were in attendance. All the men and the single sisters were carted off to police headquarters for interrogation, and all the books were confiscated and never returned. Ten brothers were kept in prison for four days. One of those arrested was a sister’s opposed husband who had attended out of curiosity. He was so impressed by the conduct of the brothers in prison that, on his release, he started to study and became a baptized brother. This police raid received worldwide publicity, and perhaps as a consequence, no legal proceedings were taken against the brothers.
ATTENDING DISTRICT ASSEMBLIES HELD ABROAD
What about district assemblies during this period of persecution? How did the brothers get the benefit of those programs? Well, special trains and buses were hired each year, and the brothers traveled to France, Italy or Switzerland to attend these gatherings.
For example, the Spanish brothers were delighted to attend an assembly in Rome during 1969. Since most of them were ex-Catholics, it thrilled them to think that they could hold a convention in the Pope’s “backyard.” Of course, the paradox of the situation was that they could not hold an assembly in “more papist than the Pope” Spain! Incidentally, while in Rome, some of the Spanish Witnesses visited the catacombs, once associated with early Christianity. These attracted much curiosity, as the Spanish brothers were still in their “catacomb” period of secret meetings hidden from their persecutors.
In July 1970 Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted legal recognition in Spain and could thus hold assemblies there. However, the contract already had been made for the 1971 district assembly to be held in Toulouse, France. Due to a cholera scare at the last minute in Spain, the French authorities refused permission for the Spanish assembly. Thus immediate steps were taken to find a suitable meeting place in Barcelona. After overcoming great difficulties, it was possible to rent the older and dirtier of the two Barcelona bullrings, the one called Las Arenas. Time was short, and the brothers really worked to clean the bullring. In fact, the caretaker said he had never seen it so clean in thirty years, and he was amazed at the spirit of the brothers.
But then a “bomb” fell. The Civil Governor of Barcelona was away and his substitute refused to allow the holding of the assembly on a technicality—the fact that permission had not been requested a full ten days before the event. This news was broken to the brothers working at the bullring just a day before the assembly was due to start. Many Witnesses from distant parts of the country already were on their way to the convention. When they arrived at Barcelona they were met with the sad news. However, with typical Spanish adaptability, they converted their trip into tourism and visited the local Kingdom Halls, as well as Bethel and other places of interest. So, they derived some spiritual benefit from their journey. Later, substitute assemblies were held in various places, with a total attendance of 20,176. During these gatherings 483 persons were baptized.
We encountered various difficulties in endeavoring to hold Christian assemblies during later years. However, with Jehovah’s help we have been able to cope with these problems in one way or another. So far, during the 1970’s we have had many splendid and spiritually upbuilding gatherings.
The last time the Spanish brothers had to go abroad for an assembly was in 1973, when it became impossible to hire an adequate site for an international assembly in Spain. Thus they once again took to their chartered planes, trains and buses, and private cars, with the result that over 19,000 flocked to the massive assembly facilities at Brussels World’s Fair Grounds in Belgium. This “Divine Victory” International Assembly was a joy to the Spanish Witnesses, as they mingled with their 31,000 French-, Flemish- and Portuguese-speaking brothers from many countries. What a thrill when 1,273 new Spanish Christians were baptized in symbol of their dedication!
Since then the district assemblies have been held in Spain in a variety of cities and locales, including soccer stadiums in Salamanca, Gijón, Sabadell, Almería and Estepona, and bullrings in Barcelona, Madrid and Marbella. With each assembly the Spanish brothers have gained valuable experience and are now eagerly awaiting the 1978 international assembly to be held in Barcelona, where they look forward to serving their fellow believers from many lands, especially those who served them so hospitably in past decades in France, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium.
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES LEGALIZED IN 1970!
For many years before the Religious Liberty Law was passed in 1967, Jehovah’s Witnesses had been endeavoring to get their organization legalized in Spain. The first attempt was made in 1956, when a petition and copy of the proposed statutes were presented to the Civil Governor of Barcelona for his approval. This attempt did not prosper. Another effort was made in 1965, when Brother Knorr directed a written appeal to the Spanish government, asking what procedure should be followed to get the Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses legalized. Again no practical result was obtained.
On June 28, 1967, after protracted debate in Las Cortes (the Spanish Parliament) and even longer preparation by legal and ecclesiastical experts, the Religious Liberty Law was accepted and passed. Although it was a law permitting religious liberty it also brought about religious control, for the provisions of the law obligate each religion, except the Roman Catholic, to lay itself open to scrutiny by the Ministry of Justice. The law provided for a strict control of members and also a yearly presentation of the accounts, with a clear definition of the source of income and the expenses.
The Protestant sects did not like the law and delayed their request for legalization, so that the government granted an extension for registration until May 1968. However, the Watch Tower Society was probably the first to request the registration and presented its petition on December 12, 1967. The Ministry of Justice directory dated May 31, 1969, revealed that the initial religion to be registered was the Reformed Presbyterian Church, with its one place of worship and one registered minister approved in May 1968. That issue of the directory listed 105 religious groups—among them Brethren, Christian Science, Mormons, Jews, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Baptists, Adventists, Assembly of God, Evangelical, Moslems—in fact, practically every religion except the one especially conspicuous by its absence, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their legalization had to wait until July 10, 1970. When that next list of approved religions came out, Jehovah’s Witnesses were No. 131. But at last their legalization had been achieved in Spain!
The latest listing was dated December 15, 1975, with 238 religious groups included. This latest booklet contains a total of 83 pages, in which each religious group is listed by cities and towns, and then also by places of worship. Jehovah’s Witnesses occupy fully 37 percent of all the pages of the directory, making them indisputably the largest religion in Spain after the Catholic Church.
With legalization, plans promptly went ahead to open Kingdom Halls and to obtain a suitable place for the Bethel home. The first Kingdom Hall was inaugurated on December 19, 1970, in the Barrio del Pilar, a new building project in a populous, working-class area of Madrid.
During February 1971, Brother Knorr visited Spain and spoke to public audiences in Madrid and Barcelona, with a total attendance of over 14,000. Even he found it hard to believe that he was actually speaking to such large numbers of Spanish brothers, and in Spain!
Brother Knorr made use of that visit to check over possible buildings for the branch office, and decided on a six-story edifice in Barcelona at Calle Pardo, No. 65, where the branch office and Bethel home are located today. Once the purchase was completed, the work of transforming the place was organized. Volunteers were invited from the Barcelona congregations, and specialist pioneers were called in for the carpentry work, bricklaying, plastering, painting, and so forth. The building was a new structure that had never been used, and, in fact, was originally designed for industrial use. So, there were no dividing walls on any floor and no facilities of any kind. Hence, starting from scratch, the Society’s architect was able to design each floor according to the suggestions that Brother Knorr had left behind. The brothers worked for thirteen months to complete the installations for the new office and home, which provided room for sixteen workers.
On June 2, 1972, Brother Knorr inaugurated the new Spanish branch building, and the following day he gave a special talk to 13,350 brothers in Barcelona’s principal bullring, La Monumental. This visit and the talk in the bullring got good publicity in the press, but also served to sharpen the opposition against Jehovah’s people. Certain elements in “high circles” were not pleased with the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been given this permission, and they increased their pressure on the Religious Liberty Commission to have this fledgling religion’s “wings clipped.” Thereafter, we had some problems in obtaining permission for the use of facilities for district and circuit assemblies.
Legalization meant the opening of Kingdom Halls, as already mentioned. From December 1970 through May 1977, 482 Kingdom Halls have been approved by the Ministry of Justice. In large cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia the rents are high, so that most halls are used by more than one congregation in order to share the financial burden. At present there are sixteen Kingdom Halls within the city limits of Barcelona, and these are being used by fifty congregations. Additionally, ninety-two congregations in the province of Barcelona hold their meetings in another seventy-five Kingdom Halls. In Madrid twenty-five halls are used by forty-six congregations. We are thankful to Jehovah for the freedom we now enjoy and for these excellent meeting places.
MESSIANIC KINGDOM PROCLAIMED IN ANDORRA
Now, let us tell you something about Andorra, a tiny mountain principality squeezed between the Spanish and French borders. On the Spanish side is the town of Seo de Urgel. Along with the president of France, its bishop is coregent of Andorra. This dual rulership was instituted in 1278 C.E. to bring an end to the blood-spilling battles that had taken place between the forces of the Catholic bishop of Seo de Urgel and the army of the French counts of Foix.
Today Andorra has a population of some 32,500, most of whom work in the shops and hotels that deal with the constant tourist trade. Prices of goods are much lower in Andorra than in Spain or France, so that commerce is the main activity. Some of the local people still devote themselves to sheepherding, agriculture and the cultivation of tobacco, but these are now the lesser occupations and the general atmosphere is one of materialism.
Although some sporadic witnessing had been done earlier, it was not until 1962 that a Spanish family decided to move from Barcelona to Andorra and begin preaching there systematically. The family was that of Manuel Escamilla. Despite economic and health problems, they stayed in Andorra for seven years, and, little by little, the small group of Christians prospered there.
The first person to show interest was Rosé Boronat, who had received a witness from her aunt in Barcelona and had also been encouraged by a French sister who used to visit Andorra. The Escamilla family started to hold meetings and, with Rosé present, they had an attendance of four. Problems developed quickly, for Rosé lost her job and her room at the pension. Then she had to face a decision with regard to her fiancé who was not favorable to the truth. She chose the truth and the engagement was broken off. However, a short time later brothers in Barcelona were able to witness to him, he accepted the truth, and in 1964 both he and Rosé were baptized. When Manuel Escamilla had to leave with his family in 1969, this brother, Miguel Barbé, became the one responsible for the group. In November 1971, he and his wife were appointed as special pioneers to care for the territory in Andorra and Seo de Urgel.
It is curious to note that although religious freedom exists in France and Spain, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not been able to get permission to open a Kingdom Hall in Andorra, where they now have a prospering congregation of eighty-four publishers. Why not? Because of the feudalistic influence of the bishop of Seo de Urgel who puts impediments in the way. Meanwhile, the brothers continue to hold their meetings in private homes, which, of course, lays a heavier burden on the two elders serving there.
SPANISH ENCLAVES IN MOROCCO
On the northern Mediterranean coast of Morocco, there are two Spanish enclaves—Ceuta, not too far from Tangier, and Melilla, farther to the east. The Spanish army maintains garrisons in these enclaves. Ricardo and Consuelo Gutiérrez, formerly of Barcelona, were assigned directly from the publisher ranks to the special pioneer work due to the need for Kingdom proclaimers in Ceuta. Ricardo had once been a military man there and already spoke French and some Arabic. These languages, along with Spanish, are the tongues used in Ceuta.
Brother and Sister Gutiérrez accepted this assignment in spite of having a seven-year-old son, and they began serving in Ceuta in January 1969. After six years of valuable service and faithful example, Consuelo died of cancer. They had helped to lay the foundation of the present Ceuta Congregation that now has thirty-one publishers and three special pioneers. The congregation also has a Kingdom Hall, which is the only legal meeting place of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the whole of northern Africa.
In Melilla there are Jewish and Moslem as well as Spanish communities, so that the pioneers assigned there in 1970 had an interesting territory to work. At first, they encountered problems with the police, who tried to stop their house-to-house preaching work. But after legal steps were taken by the Society’s branch office in Spain, they no longer were bothered and all their confiscated literature was returned to them.
So far, Melilla’s population of 53,000 has produced twenty Kingdom proclaimers, in spite of problems experienced in dealing with the military mentality that predominates in that garrison city.
The population is a mixture of Spaniards and Arabs, with the former decreasing in number and the latter increasing. The special pioneers are doing good work there, and several of their Bible studies are being held with Moslem women, at the time of this writing.
RELAXATION OF CENSORSHIP
One of the consequences of legalization of the Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1970 was that all our publications had to pass through the hands of the official government censor. While the majority were approved for circulation, some, such as Learn to Read and Write and, for a time, “Make Sure of All Things,” were put on the prohibited list. During one year, more than half of all issues of The Watchtower and Awake! were prohibited for distribution to the public. However, the Society legally appealed several cases and now we have gone for more than a year without any issue being refused. Without a doubt, the general relaxing of controls in many fields has also favored our situation here.
The monthly Our Kingdom Service, known here as Nuestro Servicio Teocrático (“Our Theocratic Service”), now has a circulation of over 60,000 copies.
VISITS BY MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNING BODY
The last few years have seen encouraging visits by various members of the Governing Body, and these visits have been appreciated greatly by the Spanish brothers. In 1974 Brothers N. H. Knorr and F. W. Franz visited Spain together, and were due to address a large crowd of brothers in a Barcelona bullring. However, permission was not granted by the authorities, as the date coincided with the religious holiday of December 25. Swiftly, plans were changed and all the pioneers and elders were invited to a special meeting that had to be held some twenty-one kilometers (13 miles) from Barcelona in an unused industrial building that was under consideration for purchase as an assembly hall. Over 5,000 packed in to listen to Brother Knorr talk about the worldwide expansion of the work, and then paid rapt attention to Brother Franz’ exposition of Psalm 91. Just over a year later, Brother Raymond Franz was invited to inaugurate that same building, which had been converted into a magnificent assembly hall with seating for 1,300, as well as an ample cafeteria dining room, and baptism pool.
Prior to that, in November 1975, an assembly hall was inaugurated in Madrid by F. W. Franz, in what had formerly been a cinema. Other visits were made by M. G. Henschel in May 1974, and L. K. Greenlees in 1976. Brother Henschel spoke to 22,417 brothers in a Barcelona bullring. The maximum attendance to date at any one meeting was for the visit of L. A. Swingle, when there was an audience of 27,215 in the Barcelona Las Arenas bullring on May 1, 1977. Brother Swingle also addressed meetings in Madrid and the Canary Islands, so that the total attendance at his four talks came to 45,617.
PUBLICITY BY PRESS AND RADIO
In many cases, the press has given fair and impartial coverage to the Witnesses and their assemblies. The Madrid daily El País devoted a whole page to the teachings and history of the Witnesses, based on an interview with a lawyer, Brother Julio Ricote. Various writers have come out in defense of the Witnesses, as in the case of the Catholic who wrote in Sur of November 12, 1976: “The Witnesses may be mistaken in their interpretation, but no one can doubt the immense faith that sustains them. In this religion, not sect, there is no room for lies, fornication or stealing, the three most abominable sins in God’s sight. How much the world has to learn in this respect from the Witnesses!” Another, writing in the Hoja del Lunes de Gijón (June 21, 1976), under the heading “The Bishop of Santander and Jehovah’s Witnesses,” stated: “It so happens that Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . have a much deeper and more careful knowledge of the Bible than the majority of Catholics.”
Because of the issues of conscientious objection to military service and refusal to accept blood transfusions, the Witnesses have often been in the news. A prominent Spanish surgeon, the son-in-law of the late General Franco, invited the Witnesses to participate in his radio program on medical matters, together with another doctor and a priest, to discuss the blood transfusion issue. Among the brothers taking part was a lawyer who was able to make a good defense of our position on that issue. On another occasion, a Barcelona radio station invited representatives of the Witnesses for an interview and to handle questions from listeners. These two broadcasts really served to stir up public interest.
As far as television is concerned, the Catholic Church has an almost complete monopoly of the government-controlled TV channels up to this writing. Some priests have used that advantage to attack the Witnesses.
THE QUEEN OF SPAIN IMPRESSED
During 1976 a fine witness was given in university circles. This came about when one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a student of medicine studying at Madrid University, gave a witness to some of his fellow students. Some of these were participating in other studies in the Interfaculty Department of Contemporary Humanities, organized for the benefit of students and graduates. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses were invited to present a lecture on the theme “New Man and His Future.” Two Witnesses developed the subject, bringing out the facets of the new personality and Jehovah’s purpose in relation to the earth. This talk resulted later in an invitation to present a series of nine lectures on the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of the students was Queen Sofia of Spain, who paid close attention to the arguments, took notes, and participated fully in the discussions that took place after each talk. After the lecture on the soul and hellfire, the queen declared that she had never known anyone who used the Bible with such knowledge and facility for answering any question that arose. “For every subject it appears you have an answer in your Bible,” she commented.
These lectures created quite a stir, and the final one, on “Blood, Medicine and the Law of God, was held because of the queen’s special interest in the subject, even though the study course had terminated. This last talk, presented by a brother who is a pathologist, was attended by several clergymen and doctors, and a good, clear witness was given.
It was known from the beginning that the original branch building at Calle Pardo, No. 65, would not be big enough for future expansion. But in view of the uncertainty in 1970 as to how religious liberty would be applied, it was felt best to start in a small way. Since then the Society has bought three additional apartments around the corner in the same block, and these are used as living quarters for fifteen Bethel family members. In 1975 the Society also acquired large warehouse facilities just two blocks away, and they have been a boon to the shipping department that already had severe problems with regard to literature storage. Now we can carry stock sufficient for about two years of preaching activity, thus obviating difficulties that might arise should there be strikes or conflicts.
To attend better to the needs of the congregations in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa, the Society bought a warehouse and small apartment in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Thus the twenty-five congregations located on the six major islands receive their literature and magazines from that depot.
A GREAT WORK AHEAD
It is recognized that there is yet a tremendous amount of work to be done in Spain. We calculate that about a million Spaniards still are not being reached with the good news on a regular basis. The special pioneer ranks are being expanded, and at present we have over 600 preaching mainly in the territories of greatest need in Extremadura, Andalusia, Galicia and Asturias.
In some cases, great endurance and courage are required to persevere in such places. For example, in June 1976, in the town of Yecla, a sister was murdered by her fanatical husband, after he had threatened her and the brothers and had even used physical violence against the special pioneers there. This murder took place just nine days after the inauguration of the Kingdom Hall. Later, a mob came around and smashed the Kingdom Hall windows, threw red paint over the facade, and then left a sign on the door falsely accusing the brothers of being “Sons of the Pasionaria” (a famous female Communist orator).
Shortly afterward, a young man began to attend the meetings, but he turned out to be a member of a gang of delinquents in the town. However, he accepted the truth, changed his way of life, and got baptized. This served to give a witness to many of his friends and relatives who are amazed at his change of heart. For example, one day another young man came to a meeting and said he wanted to know what the Witnesses had done to one of his friends (the now baptized former delinquent), who used to be a villain, but now was meeker than a lamb. Though now studying and attending the meetings, this second young man had been a member of the gang that had thrown the red paint at the Kingdom Hall.
Some 1,922 years have passed since Paul wrote to the Romans, “Whenever I am on my way to Spain, I hope, above all, . . . to get a look at you.” (Rom. 15:24) From Paul’s present heavenly position, undoubtedly he is delighted with the spiritual paradise that is so evident among his twentieth-century Christian brothers and sisters in this hospitable and delightful country. We do not know how much time is left for this system of things, but, Jehovah willing, here in Spain we are expecting further increase, and we are planning for even greater expansion. The Governing Body has approved the construction of a new Bethel home and factory complex near Barcelona. This will permit the printing of our magazines in Spain, and will equip us for future growth.
To Jehovah God go the praise and thanks, through Christ Jesus, for the wonderful results that have been achieved through the acts of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses in modern Spain.
[Map on page 136]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Seo de Urgel
Castellón de la Plana
Torralba de Calatrava