José Brocca
José Brocca 1891–1950, was a pacifist and humanitarian of the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, who allied himself with the Republicans but sought non-violent ways of resisting fascism.

His parents were Spanish and Italian. He was born in Almería
Almería is a city in Andalusia, Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the province of the same name.-Toponym:Tradition says that the name Almería stems from the Arabic المرية Al-Mariyya: "The Mirror", comparing it to "The Mirror of the Sea"...

, Andalucia in 1891. His father, originally from Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

, was stationed there as the Italian Consul.

A forgotten history

Many people's perception of the Spanish Civil War is one of two monolithic 'sides': a war of democracy against fascism. In fact it was by no means as simple as that, and although it was the Republican cause that was more seriously undermined by internal power struggles, there were many factions and sub-groups within both the main groupings. Almost completely overlooked by mainstream historians, there was also a vigorous element of pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

, and the work of the Spanish arm of the organisation War Resisters' International
War Resisters' International
War Resisters' International is an international anti-war organization with members and affiliates in over thirty countries. Its headquarters are in London, UK.-History:...

 (WRI) is almost totally forgotten in popular history and neglected by academics. Similarly, and perhaps inevitably, the history of military assistance, particularly through the International Brigades
International Brigades
The International Brigades were military units made up of volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939....

, is far better documented than the role of people dedicated to non-violence, civilian initiatives and what today we would call non-governmental organisations.


As with many families, civil war meant uncertainty, movement and separation; but José Brocca's children regarded their formative years as having been spent in the small town of Viator
-External links: - Sistema de Información Multiterritorial de Andalucía - Diputación Provincial de Almería...

, near Almería, and it is to Viator that family members have returned in order to visit the area with which they feel Brocca is most closely associated. Brocca was the school director at Viator in the early 1930s, and he earned a reputation as a respected community leader. For example, he was instrumental in defying local commercial interests who wanted to prevent a project to bring water to a public fountain in the village. There was once a plaque at the water fountain in Viator commemorating this event, but it has since disappeared. A lifelong internationalist and political activist, Brocca was involved in setting up Escuelas Laicas (secular schools), an initiative which became part of the Republican policy programme.

Andalucia was quickly caught up in the violence and confusion of the Civil War, and one infamous incident was the shelling of the port of Almería by Hitler's navy. As is both metaphorically and literally the way with civil war, brother fought against brother. Brocca's five children were: Arnulfo, Helio, Irma Leticia, Olga Teresa and Humberto. Arnulfo, the eldest, found himself on the rebel side, rose quickly through the ranks, and eventually had a distinguished post-war career as a senior officer in the regular Spanish army, mainly in La Coruňa
A Coruña
A Coruña or La Coruña is a city and municipality of Galicia, Spain. It is the second-largest city in the autonomous community and seventeenth overall in the country...

, before retiring to Huelva
Huelva is a city in southwestern Spain, the capital of the province of Huelva in the autonomous region of Andalusia. It is located along the Gulf of Cadiz coast, at the confluence of the Odiel and Tinto rivers. According to the 2010 census, the city has a population of 149,410 inhabitants. The...

 then Seville
Seville is the artistic, historic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Andalusia and of the province of Seville. It is situated on the plain of the River Guadalquivir, with an average elevation of above sea level...

 to live with his daughter and family. Humberto was drawn in on the Republican side, died of wounds and sickness contracted on the battlefields, and like thousands of others his grave has not yet been located.

In spite of the horrors of war and the divisive nature of this war in particular, the four surviving brothers and sisters held warm memories of their childhood in Viator, and kept in touch in the post-war years.

Throughout his life Arnulfo, the decorated war hero, veteran of some of the fiercest battles, and highly respected officer in the post-war army of the Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 dictatorship, spoke of his pacifist father as the 'greatest man who ever lived'. This is no paradox: it is testament to the courage and strength of character of both men, indicative of the complexities of civil war, and a victory for humanity over mere politics. It tells us that even in the most challenging circumstances the lasting strengths of the family can conquer the transient demands of the state. Helio died in 1968, Olga in 2004, Arnulfo in 2005 and Irma in 2009.

Brocca aligned himself with the socialist segment of the complex political spectrum in Spain, and represented Spanish pacifists at international meetings of the peace movement (the Orden del Olivo and War Resisters' International
War Resisters' International
War Resisters' International is an international anti-war organization with members and affiliates in over thirty countries. Its headquarters are in London, UK.-History:...

). He was a colleague of feminist doctor Amparo Poch y Gascón
Amparo Poch y Gascón
Amparo Poch y Gascón was a Spanish anarchist, doctor, and activist in the years leading up to and during the Spanish Civil War, was one of the founding members of the Mujeres Libres and was appointed director of social assistance at the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance by Federica Montseny...

. He believed that pacifists had to support the Republican cause, but he was first and foremost a humanitarian. There is a local story in Viator which suggests that he helped a Catholic priest escape assassination by giving him his car. From 1933 to 1937 Professor Brocca was in Madrid, where his work included being a school inspector and teaching at the university, while the family home continued to be in Viator. It is believed that at one stage Brocca also spent some time in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is the capital and largest city of Argentina, and the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after São Paulo. It is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast of the South American continent...

, Argentina, where his brother was living.

A challenge to pacifism

Many active pacifists in Europe and the USA found it difficult or impossible to take a neutral view of the fascist uprising in Spain (Prasad, 2005). Some prominent members of pacifist organisations, like Dr. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

, had already renounced pacifism altogether, as a reaction to Hitler's rise to power in Germany. Fenner Brockway resigned from WRI in the early days of the Spanish Civil War (although after World War II with the onset of the Cold War and the nuclear threat he re-affirmed a commitment to pacifism). José Brocca's opinion of the position in Spain was that:

'...the people have had no alternative but to meet violence with violence. It is regrettable, but the entire responsibility for the tragic and bloody days we are enduring lies with those who...have let loose destruction and slaughter to defend, not ideals, but out-of-date and hateful privileges, tending to a set-back to medieval barbarism' (quoted in Brown, 1937).

Brocca's activism in response to the armed insurrection in Spain was widely quoted by pacifists in the UK and elsewhere as representing a role model. Herbert Runham Brown, Hon. Secretary of the WRI, asked 'What should I do if I were in Spain?' and in answer reproduced parts of a letter from Brocca in which he stated:

'In Barcelona, in Valencia, in the province of Cáceres and in Madrid I have acted, and continue to act, in such interesting tasks as stimulating, directing and organising the peasants so that instead of abandoning their agricultural work, even in those areas abandoned by the fascists in their flight, they work to avoid interruption in production and provision of supplies for the towns; in establishing and organising schools and homes for the children of those citizens who have fallen or who are fighting on the various fronts, and in general taking advantage of all opportunities to spread among the combatants our humanitarian ideals and our repugnance to oppression and cruelty' (Brown, 1937).

Brocca relinquished his government post in Madrid in order to dedicate himself to organising activities such as the purchase and distribution of food and clothing, which was imported through a dock at Valencia financed by the WRI for this purpose; and in Madrid he organised a women's committee to distribute food and collect information on people who were not able to reach relief centres (Bennett, 2003).

War children

During the war the French Catalan town of Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste
Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste is a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France, near the border with Spain and the Autonomous Community of Catalonia. The name Prats-de-Mollo comes from Catalan "meadows of Molló". Molló is a town just across the border and the Col d'Ares...

 (near Perpignan
-Sport:Perpignan is a rugby stronghold: their rugby union side, USA Perpignan, is a regular competitor in the Heineken Cup and seven times champion of the Top 14 , while their rugby league side plays in the engage Super League under the name Catalans Dragons.-Culture:Since 2004, every year in the...

) in the Pyrenees was the location of a refuge financed by the War Resisters' International and run by Professor Brocca and his wife. Helio, Irma and Olga were also there for a time, but were then sent, in the care of Brocca's sister-in-law, to stay with sympathisers in Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

, until the fall of France to the Nazis necessitated their escape from Normandy back to the south.

The Prats-de-Mollo refuge housed children separated from their families, orphans and widows who had escaped from Spain; according to Hunter (1939), at any one time approximately forty people were in residence, and the care of an extra person would always take priority over the purchase of any little 'luxuries'. During his time there Professor Brocca became expert in finding pathways through the Pyrenees and crossed the border many times on various missions which took him in both directions. In effect, the refuge became part of an 'underground railroad' (Agirre, April 1996).

According to Bennett (2003) Brocca disliked traditional orphanages and children's institutions, which to him resembled prisons. Before the war he and Amparo Poch presented the Republican government's Ministry of Health with a plan for 'homes' that would be designed to shelter twenty-five children in the care of a surrogate mother and father. Under wartime conditions, the number of twenty-five was often exceeded, but Bennett records that as well as establishing several children's colonies in southern France, with WRI support Brocca settled five hundred children in Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

. While the majority of the children came from Republican families, there is evidence in the Sayre Papers (Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College is a private, independent, liberal arts college in the United States with an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The college is located in the borough of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia....

) that Brocca did not turn away orphans or lost children whose parents were Nationalists.

Escape and exile

After the Civil War had officially ended Professor Brocca refused to leave Prats-de-Mollo until all the children in his care had been returned to safety with their families in Spain. By this time his own life was seriously threatened by the occupying Nazis and their collaborators in Vichy France
Vichy France
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...


The Prats-de-Mollo refuge was near the route of one of the four main frontier crossings now being used by hundreds of thousands of Spanish refugees as the Republican collapse became inevitable. It was not an easy journey, involving mountain tracks impassable to motor transport. Amparo Poch y Gascón
Amparo Poch y Gascón
Amparo Poch y Gascón was a Spanish anarchist, doctor, and activist in the years leading up to and during the Spanish Civil War, was one of the founding members of the Mujeres Libres and was appointed director of social assistance at the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance by Federica Montseny...

 was one who used this route (Rodrigo 2002). She stayed at Prats-de-Mollo for some time before finally reaching Toulouse
Toulouse is a city in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern FranceIt lies on the banks of the River Garonne, 590 km away from Paris and half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea...

, where she was to live the rest of her life in exile, and it is reasonable to assume that she was given shelter at the WRI's refuge.

Since Prats-de-Mollo was also the location of one of the large concentration camps set up by the Nazis in this part of occupied France, and since Brocca had been crossing the frontier repeatedly to contact and make possible the flight of anti-militarists and other threatened people out of Spain (Agirre, April 1996), it was clear that his life was now in even greater danger than ever before, and an offer of asylum in the UK was made at the instigation of prominent British pacifists such as Runham Brown, George Lansbury
George Lansbury
George Lansbury was a British politician, socialist, Christian pacifist and newspaper editor. He was a Member of Parliament from 1910 to 1912 and from 1922 to 1940, and leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935....

, Grace Beaton, Ruth Fry
Ruth Fry
Anna Ruth Fry, usually known as Ruth Fry was a British Quaker writer, pacifist and peace activist.-Life:...

, and Lord Ponsonby
Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Arthur Augustus William Harry Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede was a British politician, writer, and social activist. He was the third son of Sir Henry Ponsonby, Private Secretary to Queen Victoria, and the great-grandson of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough...

. Brown and Lansbury had initiated a unique arrangement with the British Home Secretary whereby the WRI as a body could act as sponsor for refugees it wished to bring over from Spain and other continental countries where there was a risk of persecution, the WRI itself being underwritten by a panel of guarantors whose names and standing were accepted by the Home Office (Prasad, 2005). However, before Brocca could respond to this offer he was arrested and imprisoned.

Eventually, thanks to the influence of WRI, and with the active help of the French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

, Brocca escaped from the concentration camp and left France, finally arriving in Mexico on 17 October 1942 aboard the Portuguese vessel SS Nyassa, a ship well known to many refugees of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Evidence in the written archives is sketchy about the period between Brocca's escape from arrest and his arrival in Mexico, but family testimony suggests that for some considerable time neither he nor his wife knew whether the other had survived. The Nazi occupation meant that making enquiries was extremely difficult, despite the best efforts of WRI to establish contact via agencies such as the Red Cross. After many further severe difficulties his wife and one of his sons (Helio) later joined him, having been separated from him for some years. They settled in San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí, commonly called SLP or simply San Luis, is the capital of, and most populous city in the Mexican state of the same name. The city lies at an elevation of 1,850 meters...

 and Mexico City
Mexico City
Mexico City is the Federal District , capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. It is a federal entity within Mexico which is not part of any one of the 31 Mexican states but belongs to the federation as a whole...

 where members of Helio's family still live. Funds towards their airline and boat fares were raised by supporters in the UK, and there was also considerable support from the USA coordinated by John Nevin Sayre
John Nevin Sayre
The Reverend John Nevin Sayre, , brother of US State Department offiicial Francis B. Sayre, was an Episcopal minister, peace activist, and author...

 of the Fellowship of Reconciliation
Fellowship of Reconciliation
The Fellowship of Reconciliation is the name used by a number of religious nonviolent organizations, particularly in English-speaking countries...

 in New York State. Brocca's other children settled in Wales (Olga), Sweden (Irma) and Spain (Arnulfo).

Professor Brocca never saw Spain again, but died suddenly in June 1950 at the age of 59. He is buried in Mexico City.

Democracy and optimism

In the early 1970s, with the gradual liberalisation that preceded the death of Franco in 1975, and Spain's subsequent transition to democracy, Brocca's widow Rosa García López was able to return to Spain, living for part of that time with relatives in Madrid and with her sister Maria García López who ran a small newspaper and magazine shop in Calle Ecuador, in the 'Casablanca' district of the port city of Vigo
Vigo is a city and municipality in north-west Spain, in Galicia, situated on the ria of the same name on the Atlantic Ocean.-Population:...

, Galicia. Rosa was also able to spend some time reunited with her daughter Olga Brocca Smith and her family in the village of Pyle
Pyle is a village and community in Bridgend county borough, Wales. Pyle railway station is on the Cardiff - Swansea section of the London - South Wales main line....

, near Bridgend
Bridgend is a town in the Bridgend County Borough in Wales, west of the capital, Cardiff. The river crossed by the original bridge, which gave the town its name, is the River Ogmore but the River Ewenny also passes to the south of the town...

, Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

. Olga and her husband were peace activists to the end of their lives.

In his book White Corpuscles in Europe (1939) the American writer Allan A. Hunter views the close of the Spanish Civil War and the opening of World War II from across the Atlantic, and despite the desolate outlook in Europe sees some grounds for optimism in the work of humanitarians including Philippe Vernier (France), Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze
Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze
Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze was a German academic working in theology, social pedagogy and social ethics, as well as a pioneer of peace movements.-Life:...

 (Germany), Pierre Ceresole
Pierre Cérésole
Pierre Cérésole was a Swiss engineer, known primarily as the founder of the Service Civil International , or International Voluntary Service for Peace , in 1920, an organisation that helped in reconstruction after the First World War with the goal of achieving an atmosphere of brotherhood...

 (Switzerland), Muriel Lester
Muriel Lester
Muriel Lester was born in Leytonstone in east London and grew up at Loughton, where she was a member of the Union Church. She was a social reformer, pacifist and nonconformist. As a Baptist, she was baptized in 1898, at 15...

 (England), George Lansbury
George Lansbury
George Lansbury was a British politician, socialist, Christian pacifist and newspaper editor. He was a Member of Parliament from 1910 to 1912 and from 1922 to 1940, and leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935....

 MP (former leader of the UK Labour Party) - and José Brocca, Spain. On page 76, Hunter states:

'Professor Brocca seems to recognise that to fight fascism with the weapons fascists use is self-defeating. If we do as the fascists do then we only endorse fascism. To prevent fascism we have to prevent the desperation, the poverty, the chaos and the ignorance out of which fascism is produced'.

Scott H. Bennett writes of him:

'Brocca's story demonstrates that pacifist courage is no less heroic than the military kind'.


  • Bennett, Scott H. (2003) Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963, Syracuse NY, Syracuse University Press, ISBN 0-8156-3028-X, pp. 67–68.
  • Brown, Herbert Runham (1937) Spain: A Challenge to Pacifism, London, War Resisters' International/ The Finsbury Press, pp. 5–6.
  • Hunter, Allan A. (1939) White Corpuscles in Europe (foreword by Aldous Huxley
    Aldous Huxley
    Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and a wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel...

    ), Chicago and New York, Willett, Clarke and Company, pp. 71–82.
  • Prasad, Devi (2005) War is a Crime Against Humanity (foreword by George Willoughby
    George Willoughby
    George Willoughby was a Quaker activist who advocated for world peace, and conducted nonviolent protests against war and preparations for war.-Biography:...

    ), London, War Resisters' International, ISBN 0-903517-20-5, pp. 167, 179, 198, 205, 207, 212, 217, 230, 260, 462, 463, 482, 504. Prof. Brocca is pictured seated, far left, in photographs 7 and 8 on pp. 522 and 523, and standing, far left, in photograph 27 on page 531.
  • Sanchez, Antonio Molina (1990) Cuevas del Almanzora y Garrucha, 1880–1890, Apuntes Para Su Historia, Almeria, Grafika Ediciones. The bibliography cites a report by Professor J. Brocca dated 1921.

Also of interest is the Spanish language biography of Amparo Poch y Gascón
Amparo Poch y Gascón
Amparo Poch y Gascón was a Spanish anarchist, doctor, and activist in the years leading up to and during the Spanish Civil War, was one of the founding members of the Mujeres Libres and was appointed director of social assistance at the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance by Federica Montseny...

, an anarchist and feminist doctor who worked with Professor Brocca. She was co-founder of the famous Mujeres Libres
Mujeres Libres
Mujeres Libres was an anarchist women's organization in Spain that aimed to empower working class women. It was founded in 1936 by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón and had approximately 30,000 members...

 organisation and sometime member of the Republican government:
  • Rodrigo, Antonina (2002) Una Mujer Libre: Amparo Poch y Gascón: Médica Anarquista (A Free Woman - Amparo Poch y Gascón : Anarchist Doctor), Barcelona, Flor del Viento Ediciones (see, in particular, pages 78, 79, and 105).

This book contains a reproduction of an advertisement from the journal Solidaridad Obrera
Solidaridad Obrera (periodical)
Solidaridad Obrera is a newspaper, published by the Catalonian/Balearic regional section of the anarchist labor union Confederación Nacional del Trabajo , and mouthpiece of the CNT in Spain....

 (17 July 1936) for a 'grand international meeting against war' on 18 July at the Plaza Monumental (bull ring), Barcelona, organised by Las Juventudes Libertarias
Federación Ibérica de Juventudes Libertarias
The Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth , sometimes abbreviated as Libertarian Youth , was a libertarian socialist organisation created in 1932 in Madrid. In February 1937 the FIJL organised a plenum of regional organisations...

 (The Libertarian Youth). The speakers were to be: Fidel Miro, for Libertarian Youth; Max Muller, for the Swedish Young Anarcho-Syndicalists; Professor Brocca, for the War Resisters' International; Dra. Amparo Poch, for the War Resisters' Feminine Section; Hem Day, for the International Committee for Anarchist Defence; Dr. Félix Martí Ibáñez, for the Practical Idealists
Practical idealism
Practical idealism is a term first used by Mahatma Gandhi . It describes a philosophy that holds it to be an ethical imperative to implement ideals of virtue or good. It further holds it to be equally immoral to either refuse to make the compromises necessary to realise high ideals, or to discard...

; Manuel Perez, for the Anarchists of Barcelona; Augustin Souchy
Augustin Souchy
Augustin Souchy was a German anarchist, antimilitarist, and journalist.- First World War :At the outbreak of the First World War he moved in Austria. From there he was deported to and forced to wear a sign around his neck that read "Beware: Anarchist!", which later became the title of his...

, for the International Anti-Militarist Bureau, and Federica Montseny
Federica Montseny
Federica Montseny i Mañé was a Spanish anarchist, intellectual and Minister of Health during the social revolution that occurred in Spain parallel to the Civil War...

 for the CNT
Confederación Nacional del Trabajo
The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions affiliated with the International Workers Association . When working with the latter group it is also known as CNT-AIT...

. Cuartillas (notes) were to be read from: Diego Abad de Santillán
Diego Abad de Santillán
Diego Abad de Santillán , born Sinesio Vaudilio García Fernández, was an author, economist and leading figure in the Spanish and Argentine anarchist movements.-Early years:...

, Georges Pioch and Bart de Ligt, with Delso de Miguel presiding, for the Libertarian Youth.

In the 1937 pamphlet by Runham Brown (see reference above), it is mentioned that this peace rally was cancelled because, in Professor Brocca's words, '...on the very night that it was to take place, there broke out the criminal militaro-fascist insurrection, the danger of which I had already notified to you.'

Articles and external links

  • Spanish language article on Wikipedia.Es
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