José Aparicio León 1920 - 1942

Born 24.5.1920 in Alicante/Alacant
Died 1.1.1942 in Gusen


My name is María Aparicio Cabral and I am the niece of José Aparicio León, who died on 1 January 1941 in the Gusen concentration camp. Unfortunately I was never able to meet him, and can only recount what my father has told me of his short life.

José was the eldest of four siblings – Gregorio, Teresa and Francisco. He was born on 24 March 1920 into a working-class family from Alicante. His parents, José and Teresa, separated during the period of the Spanish Republic, and this fact formed the tragic turning point of his life. My grandfather took them with him when they were still children. He told my grandmother that they were going to visit relatives in a nearby village; but in fact he took them with him to Barcelona and away from their mother forever. He built a kind of 'chabola' (shack) on the beach at Bogatell. There they lived in terrible poverty.

My grandmother Teresa searched desperately for her children – but without success. At the same time, civil war broke out in Spain, and Barcelona was one of the cities that suffered the most from bombing raids.

Because José was the oldest brother, he was the only one who was able to try to ensure the survival of his siblings. But even this was not enough – their poverty was so severe and their living conditions so bad that the two middle siblings (Gregorio and Teresa) caught tuberculosis and died at twelve and thirteen respectively.

José and Francisco stayed with their father, under pitiful circumstances and suffering from terrible poverty, until José was called up at the age of 17 to join the ranks of the Republican army. This was the so-called Quinta del Biberón[1]: once there were no more adults to serve in the army, children were called up to fight.

My father always told me that José never used a weapon; he only helped to dig trenches. When the war was over, José crossed the border to France, like so many other Spaniards on the run from the Francoist army. As everyone knows, they were ‘accommodated’ there in refugee camps under shameful conditions. During the war my father was one of what were known as ‘children of the war’ and was taken in by a French family. He told me that he visited José several times, together with the family, to bring him food and winter clothing – until visits were forbidden. My father remembered with tears in his eyes the last time that he saw his brother alive: José stood on the path, my father sat in the car – both waved goodbye.

When Hitler marched into France, he asked Franco what he should do with all the Spaniards in the camps. Franco answered that he should do as he pleased with them, because he did not regard these people as Spaniards. And so José ended up in Gusen, and died at the age of just 21.

This is my small homage to José and his three siblings, as well as to so many other boys and girls who should never have had to endure the hell of war.

María Aparicio Cabral


Translation into English: Joanna White

[1] Translator’s note: the Quinta del Biberón was a unit of young combatants aged 17 to 19. Between 27,000 and 35,000 young people are estimated to have fought in the Quinta del Biberón during the Spanish Civil War. 

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