On Monday, my feeds blew up. A new discovery – a bronze relic dating back some 2100 years – shook the Basque world. This relic – of a hand, likely an amulet of good fortune – had words written on it in (an ancestor to) Basque in a unique runic script. This discovery – the Hand of Irulegi – upends our understanding about the history of Euskara, showing that the ancestors of the Basques were writing their language before the Romans came and introduced Latin.
The hand was discovered by the Aranzadi Zientzia Elkartea (Aranzadi Science Society) during excavations of an old house at the historical site of Irulegi, in Nafarroa near Pamplona/Iruña. Irulegi was originally settled between 1600 and 1400 BCE and peaked in size around the 1st century BCE. It was then burned to the ground during the Sertorian War by Pompey’s forces, freezing it in time and giving us a time capsule to this ancient Basque city. The Aranzadi Science Society has been excavating the region, led by Mattin Aiestaran, since 2017.
Strictly, the peoples who inhabited Irulegi back then were the Vascones, a pre-Roman tribe considered to be ancestors to our modern Basques.
The hand was discovered on June 18, 2021, by Leire Malkorra but it wasn’t until January 18, 2022, that Carmen Usúa, a restorer for the Government of Navarra, discovered the text inscribed upon its surface. Javier Velaza and Joaquín Gorrochategui then interpreted the text. Scientists at Uppsala University in Sweden dated the hand to the 1st century, BCE.
The hand itself is made of bronze and measures about 5.5 inches by 5 inches. It is only about 1 millimeter thick. It has a hole near the wrist, indicating it was likely nailed to a wall or something similar.
The hand has five words inscribed upon its surface. The first word is “sorioneku” which means “good fortune” and is very clearly related to the modern Euskara zorioneko. The meaning of the rest of the words – there are five in total – is less clear. The words were written into the bronze by both inscribing and by stippling (dotting), a unique combination not usually found.
The find pushes the historical record of written Basque back more than 1000 years. It shows that the Basque speakers were literate, with their own script, before the Romans reached the region. They adapted an Iberian runic script to their own needs, including adding the symbol ‘T.’
Before this, the oldest words in Euskara were names, not texts, that were written in the Latin script, dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The previous oldest text, with true words, was much younger: the Emilian Glosses dating back to about 950.
As Alistair Dodds emphasizes, this is a massive breakthrough in the history of Euskara. It rewrites our understanding of how Euskara was used more than 2000 years ago, showing that Basque speakers were literate and were writing their language before the Romans and Latin arrived in the region. They were using their own script! This upends the previous theory that the Basques never wrote their language until Latin was introduced to the region. How cool is this?!?
If you speak Euskara, this video provides more context and details about the discovery of the Hand of Irulegi.
“What…?” said de Lancre as he stared in disbelief at the empty black sphere floating in front of him. He looked up to Maite and Kepa, suspicion in his eyes, until he shook his head. “No, you don’t have it. The bubble would have burst if you somehow got it.”
“I have it,” said a voice that filled the room, that seemed to come out of every corner, every air molecule. The voice was flat, not quite robotic, but held no emotion.
De Lancre’s head spun around, as he tried to find the origin of the voice. Maite couldn’t help herself to look either, curiousity getting the better of her. That was until she noticed Latxe trembling, tears flowing down her cheeks, her eyes wide with panic. Kepa had rushed to her side to keep her from collapsing.
“Garuna,” she whispered.
“Yes,” said the voice. “I am Garuna.”
“Garuna?” snarled de Lancre. “The stupid machine? What the hell do you think you are doing?”
“Protecting this time, this place,” responded the cold voice.
De Lancre began screaming at the disembodied voice that surrounded them. “Protecting it? It shouldn’t even exist!”
“And yet it does. And it is my duty to protect it, to keep it whole.”
Maite could only watch as de Lancre rushed to one of the walls. He pushed a button and series of holographic displays popped up in front of him. One showed the fusion reactor that powered the AI. “Time to unplug you,” he muttered to himself.
But, before he could touch what appeared to be a big red X on the display, he collapsed to his knees, screaming. Maite watched in horror as his hand simply disappeared and blood gushed forth from the stump, staining the floor around him.
“You will do nothing,” said the AI, its metalic voice grating on Maite’s nerves.
De Lancre, his eyes bulging in pain as his voice grew hoarse from screaming, looked at Maite, his face pleading for help. But, before she could even think of doing anything, she saw de Lancre’s body quickly dissolve in front of her, until there was nothing left except his echoing screams that continued to reverberate in her skull.
The voice filled the room again. “Go. This is over.”
“How?” stuttered Maite as she made her way to Kepa and Latxe.
“The nanobots,” replied Latxe, terror filling her eyes. “The AI controls the nanobots and has been freed of all restrictions. It can do whatever it wants.”
“What does it want?” asked Kepa.
Latxe stared at him. “Didn’t you hear?” she yelled at him, tears running down her cheeks as she hit his chest. “It wants all of this to continue! It wants all of us to continue to suffer!”
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Baiona, or Bayonne as it is known in French and English, is one of the jewels of the coast of Iparralde. A historically important port, it was a thriving economic center during various phases of its history. It has also changed hands many times, being part of the Kingdom of Pamplona, England, and France over the centuries. As a consequence, it has a long and complex history; I’m only scratching the surface here.
Baiona, with its motto numquam polluta (“never soiled”), is the capital of the province of Lapurdi – located at the confluence of the Nive (Errobi in Euskara) and Adour (Aturri) rivers – and over its history has been a religious, administrative, and military center. The urban center is divided into three parts linked by bridges that reflect its history: Gran Baiona, which is the ancient Roman nucleus; the medieval barrio of Little Baiona; and Saint-Esprit.
Almost certainly, the place we now call Baoina was long inhabited before the Romans reached the area. But, in the 1st century, the Romans built a wall around the city to keep out the Tarbelli, Aquitani, or the proto-Basque. The Romans built a fort or castrum named Lapurdum – though this may have also been the name of the larger territory – from which the name of the province came from.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Romans left the city in the 4th century and control alternated between the Vascones – ancestors to our modern Basques – and the English. In 1023, the viscounty of Lapurdi, part of the Kingdom of Pamplona, was created and Baiona was the capital. Baiona proper was established in 1056 when Raymond II the Younger, Bishop of Bazas, was tasked with building the Church of Bayonne. It wasn’t much later when the town abandoned the name Lapurdum and began being referred to as Baiona in official documents.
In 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England, placing the city under English rule. Her son, Richard I Lionheart, became Duke of Aquitaine and thus Baiona was directly ruled by the kings of England. This opened the English market to local products and Baiona became an important commercial hub and military base. Baiona’s economy was centered around shipbuilding and whaling. Further, in about 1174, Richard declared the fueros of Baiona, formalizing the rights of the citizens of the town.
During the time of English rule, multiple factions arose in Baiona, allied with different powers, leading to myriad conflicts. In one infamous incident, Pes de Puyane, the then mayor of Baiona, placed guards to collect tolls on one of the bridges. The locals threw the guards in the river, teasing them to check the height of the water. Puyane retaliated by taking five men and hanging them from the bridge, asking them to check the water levels as the water rose and ultimately drowned the men.
In 1451, Jean de Dunois, onetime comrade of Joan of Arc, captured the city for the French crown. It was about this same time that the Spanish Inquisition was persecuting Jews, many of whom fled to Baiona, bringing their recipes for chocolate with them. However, the loss of English markets and rights to the French crown (for example, the mayor was now appointed by the king, not elected by the citizens of Baiona) led to economic decline in the city. In 1602, by request of the merchants of Baiona who were threatened by the economic competition they posed, the King of France ordered the expulsion of the Jewish inhabitants of the city.
In the 17th century, during the constant fighting that occurred in the French countryside, the peasants of Baiona, lacking gunpowder and ammunition, began fixing knives to the ends of their muskets, creating the bayonet (though the Chinese were using something similar even earlier).
De Lancre was on his knees, curled up in a near fetal position, as Kepa and Maite approached him. They watched as his arms twisted in unnatural ways, the nanobots fixing the broken limbs and torn flesh. He was much more serene as the nanobots must also have been administering some local anesthetic, which made Kepa shiver even more, realizing that Latxe had disabled that effect when her nanobots had attacked him.
As they got close, de Lancre looked up, a cold steely look in his eyes.
“I admit,” he said as his body continued to contort and snap in ways that made Maite grimace. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“Had what, exactly?” asked Maite.
“The cold ruthlessness to take what you want.”
Maite shook her head. “We don’t. We stopped her from killing you.”
De Lancre laughed. “You would have been better off letting me die.” He began to raise one hand, the broken fingers twisted in strange directions but snapping, as they watched, back into their normal position.
“No,” said Kepa as a gun materialized in his hand and he held it to de Lancre’s temple. De Lancre lowered his hand.
“Guns are forbidden here,” said de Lancre matter of factly.
“Latxe’s control of the nanobots is pretty amazing,” replied Kepa. “Now where is the zatia?”
“Or what? Are you going to shoot me?” asked de Lancre. He looked across the room where Latxe stood in the doorway, her form silhouetted by the lights behind her. He nodded at her. “She might be able to do it.” He then looked up at Kepa, shaking his head. “But, I don’t believe you can.”
Kepa tossed the tablet back toward Latxe, who caught it in mid air. “You are right,” said Kepa, as he lowered the gun. “But this time, I won’t stop her.”
De Lancre stood up, his body more or less back to its normal shape, though there were some hideous cracks as he stretched his legs. “Seems we are at an impasse.”
He looked up. A massive skylight above them revealed the night sky. It was bright, with as many stars as Kepa could ever remember seeing.
“This time,” sighed de Lancre, “is simply incredible. I’ve been so many places, so many times. This one just resonated with me. They’ve managed to solve all of the problems that your time has caused. The world is no longer dying. People everywhere have at least a modicum of dignity. It’s really impressive.”
“And still, you couldn’t resist to use us as your toys,” snarled Latxe from the doorway.
De Lancre turned to face her. “It was nothing personal. And, it will all be gone, as if it never existed, the moment I claim the zatia.” He turned to Kepa and Maite. “So, what now? If I can’t kill you, you’ll just keep coming back, over and over.” He sighed again. “You’ve ruined everything.”
“Just give us the zatia and this will be over,” said Maite.
De Lancre shook his head. “I’ll end it, but it will be me claiming the zatia.”
The black sphere that Maite had seen earlier floated into the room and hovered in front of de Lancre. She made a lunge for it, but it jumped up and out of her reach. De Lancre shook his head. “No, it’s mine.”
“Just get it over with,” barked Kepa. He looked over at Latxe. “They’ve suffered enough.”
De Lancre smiled. “Of course.” The black sphere settled back down, stopping about chest height. De Lancre waved his hand over the surface of the sphere and it opened up. His face fell immediately. “Where…?” he began.
Maite could see that the sphere was empty.
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Thomas Jefferson. John Adams. Benjamin Franklin. George Washington. These are the founding fathers of what would become the United States of America. The Basque community in the United States has, in some sense, our own founding father. Along with his brother Bernardo, Pedro Altube was the catalyst of the Basques’ strong role in the livestock industry, first with cattle and then sheep. Because of him and his partners, hundreds of Basques, and along with them their friends and family, came to the United States seeking opportunity.
Pedro Altube was born on April (some sources say May) 27, 1827, in Oñati, Gipuzkoa, in a baserri named Zugastegi. He wasn’t the first of his family to leave the Basque Country. An older brother, Santiago, and two step-brothers already lived in Argentina and three more step-brothers lived in Uruguay by the time Altube left home.
At the age of 18, in 1845, Altube boarded the Yrurac-bat, heading to Buenos Aires, a trip financed by his brother. Three years later, he did the same for his younger brother Bernardo. But, in 1850, Pedro, Bernardo, and another thirty Basques left Argentina for San Francisco, excited by the discovery of gold. They reached California in 1851. However, they quickly discovered that livestock was more profitable than mining for gold. Joining other Basques, they entered the cattle trading business, driving cattle from southern to northern California, trying to avoid, amongst other obstacles, the bandit Joaquin Murrieta.
The brothers were very successful, first starting a dairy where Stanford University now stands. They then purchased Rancho Los Vaqueros with three other Basques. Together, they were very prosperous, until a series of tragedies hit, including both brothers losing numerous children and then all of their livestock.
Deciding to start over, in 1871 the brothers bought 3000 head of cattle in Mexico and moved them to Independence Valley, near Elko, Nevada, where they established the famed Spanish Ranch. From this beginning, they built a cattle empire in northern Nevada. Their success led to their nephews and a niece joining them from the Basque Country. It was only in 1900 that the brothers introduced sheep into their business; before that, it was all cattle. By 1907, when the brothers sold their holdings, they had 20,000 sheep, 20,000 cattle, 2000 horses, and 400,000 acres.
Back in 1853 in San Francisco, Pedro had married fellow Basque Marie Ihitzague. They had seven daughters. Upon his retirement, the family moved from Nevada back to San Francisco. Pedro was also known to hire a man to read him books, since he himself couldn’t read English, on topics ranging from history to science.
During his life, Pedro became almost mythical. Standing at 6 foot 6, he was nicknamed “Palo Alto.” He was known for his horse riding and poker skills. He would greet people with his flask of whiskey, saying “Hey sonofabitch my friend, come and drink with me.” He employed hundreds of Basques and was the force behind much of Basque immigration to the region. In 1960, called the “Father of Basques in America,” he was named to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. He died on August 8, 1905.
The three of them carefully made their way to what they presumed was de Lancre’s master suite, the nanobots creating new doorways for them as they went. De Lancre’s suite was in the center of the floor, presumably to best shield it from any outside forces.
Latxe jabbed at the tablet again and a new door opened up in front of them to de Lancre’s suite. Just as the doorway had appeared, Kepa saw a bright light. “Duck!” he yelled, pushing Latxe to the side as he tackled Maite. A bolt of lightning flashed above their heads, smashing into the walls behind them.
De Lancre’s enraged voice echoed across the room. “Did you think to fool me so easily?” he bellowed. “I knew exactly where you were.”
Kepa peeked out through the doorway. De Lancre stood in the middle of his room. His left arm, all mangled, hung limply by his side. But his right was raised, ready to strike.
De Lancre let out a scream. Kepa saw his left arm begin to twist and contort as it was being reshaped.
“The nanobots…” Kepa began.
“Not on my watch, you son of a bitch.” Latxe had also been peeking through the doorway and saw how de Lancre had begun healing his arm. She swiped at her tablet. De Lancre’s arm stopped moving for a moment and then began to twist in unnatural ways. De Lancre fell to his knees, screaming.
“I thought you said the nanobots couldn’t hurt anyone!” exclaimed Kepa.
Latxe gave him a cold look. “They can’t unless I hijack them.”
“You’re torturing him!” yelled Maite over de Lancre’s screams.
“Any more than he tortured us?” responded Latxe, all warmth completely gone from her voice.
Maite winced as she heard the loud snap of one of de Lancre’s bones break. This time, he barely let out a whimper.
“Gelditu,” said Kepa, firmly. “Stop.” He held out his hand. Latxe looked down at her tablet then at Kepa. Tears welled in her eyes. Her hands quivered. But, after what seemed like an eternity, she placed the tablet in Kepa’s hands.
“Sentitzen dut,” she whispered as she slumped against the wall. “I’m sorry.”
Kepa bent over and kissed her on the forehead before turning to Maite and walking into the suite toward de Lancre’s mangled body.
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Most of us who have Basque heritage in the western United States trace that connection to the Basque sheepherders that, in years past, dotted the entire western landscape. My dad came over when he was 18 years old, drawn by the promise of economic opportunity and his three uncles who were already here herding. These men and women were the foundation of a vibrant diaspora that has garnered the respect of their neighbors and become pillars of their community.
Livestock was introduced to what we now call the Basque Country sometime around 2500 BCE through North Africa. The importance of livestock to the early Basque economy and lifestyle is attested by the fact that the word for wealth – aberastasuna – literally means “possession of herds.” In fact, herding predates agriculture in the Basque Country, with more native words associated with livestock than are used in agriculture.
In the Basque Country, there were large herds of sheep — in excess of hundreds of thousands — through which some Basques could make their fortune. Herders would partner until their herds got so big and then split into two new bands, increasing their individual success. In 1841, new customs were implemented at the French-Spanish border which hindered the herding model that Basques had developed. Some left, going to places like Argentina, where they took their model and proved very successful. Eventually, some of these Basques made their way to California, particularly after gold was discovered, and established a similar system there. In fact, early herders were paid in sheep, not money, and this let them establish their own herds.
Despite this long history with livestock, and sheep in particular, many of the Basques that immigrated to the western United States didn’t have so much experience with sheep. If they did, they had watched small family herds that they took to nearby pastures. They were not accustomed to the long transhumance practiced in the United States, in which animals were moved long distances between seasons.
Since at least the early 1900s, Basques would come to the United States on a three-year contract to herd sheep. They needed little, as they wouldn’t have a permanent home, and most were single.
While today, the Basque sheepherder is a romantic figure, that wasn’t always the case. In the late 1800s and 1900s, they were looked down upon, particularly by cattle people. They were called “dirty black Basques” and other names. Because they were foreign and they didn’t buy land, American cattle ranchers did not think the herders deserved the same rights as they did. This tension could lead to violence. Laws such as the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 protected grazing rights for ranchers, but not sheepherders.
Further, immigration from Spain was limited – in 1924 only 131 Spanish could enter the country. That changed in 1950, when Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran sponsored a bill that eventually became the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and which boosted recruitment of Spanish herders. Again, herders could come on a three-year contract, and potentially return a second time. The three-year contract was enforced to ensure that the herders didn’t reach the five-year residency qualification mark. The Western Range Association, established in 1960, led the selection of herders and this happened in the consulate in Bilbao, leading to almost exclusive selection of Basques as new herders.
The three-year contracts were for $200-$300 per month. The contracts also stipulated that the herder had to pay their way to the United States (though the Association often paid and then took the costs from wages) and could not work for anyone other than the Association. Amongst other things, the Association promised to pay funeral expenses if the herder died during employment. The herders could also gain permanent residency through their contracts and, in 1976, some 2000 herders became permanent residents. Eventually, however, the economic situation in Spain improved enough such that emigrating to the United States was no longer attractive.
Life as a herder was lonely. Young men would be put to work in the mountains, often alone or with a partner. While a foreman would come to deliver supplies periodically, it was still a lonely life. Many herders went crazy from the isolation – they would become “sagebrushed.” Some simply couldn’t handle it and committed suicide – my dad told me of one herder that returned to the Basque Country and ended up shooting himself in his ancestral baserri, not far from where my dad grew up. These herders also left their mark on the landscape through their carvings on the aspen trees, a visual historical record that is still providing new insight into their lives.
Latxe jabbed and swiped at her tablet. A bridge started materializing across the gap between the balcony and the building across the way. It wasn’t very wide, and didn’t look very secure, just floating like that.
“We can’t go,” protested Maite. “We have to get that zatia.”
“And we will,” replied Latxe. “This will just make him think we left.”
“Ah…” began Maite before Latxe interrupted her.
“We need a good hiding place, away from this room.”
“My room,” said Maite pointing to the door across the way. “Is that far enough?”
“It will have to be,” said Latxe as she ushered them all into the room Maite had been calling home the last few days. In the background, they continued to hear de Lancre’s rampage, as lightning crashed into walls from the floor below.
“Now what?” asked Maite.
“I’m going to bring the building down on him.” She swiped at her tablet. The door open, Maite and Kepa watched as a thin gap appeared around the edge of the room outside, starting at both ends and quickly marching across the perimeter.
“The nanobots are eating away the entire support of the floor?” Kepa asked, barely containing his amazement.
Latex nodded. “The whole floor will fall in bat… bi…”
Before she could say “hiru” the floor suddenly fell. They could all hear screaming and shouting from below and then a loud thud as the floor smashed into the floor below them.
“Hopefully that takes care of…” began Latxe before lightning burst through the cavernous hole in front of them, arcing and spraying in all directions. The three of them huddled into the back of Maite’s room.
“We’re trapped!” exclaimed Maite.
Latxe jabbed at her tablet and in moments an opening appeared in the back of Maite’s room.
“Let’s go,” said Latxe as she entered the darkness in front of her. “Even if we didn’t get him, he’ll think we escaped across the bridge and hopefully chase us there.”
“We need to get to his suite,” said Maite. “I’m sure that is where he’ll keep the zatia.”
Latxe nodded as she continued to swipe at the tablet. “Which way?”
Maite shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’ve never been there…”
“Hold on a moment,” said Latxe as she stared at her tablet, poking at the screen. “Here,” she said, holding it up and displaying a map of the floor. “I assume this large room here is his.”
“How?” began Maite.
“The nanobots. They can do more than build and destroy. I used them to map the floor.”
Kepa shook his head. “Like magic.”
Latxe laughed. “Except, it’s not.”
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This article originally appeared in Spanish at Euskalkultura.eus on May 27, 2022.
As the Basque-Chilean musician Alberto Arregui contemplated the Statue of Liberty as he entered the Port of New York, the words of Carl Vincent Krogmann, the mayor of the German city of Hamburg, echoed in his head, “Why did you not join us in the salute? Do you not feel sympathy with our cause?” . Alberto — who was fluent in French, German, English and Flemish, in addition to his native Spanish — was working for the Chilean Consulate in Hamburg, when he was forced to flee Germany to save his life  .
During a reception organized by the Consulate, Krogmann, who had been invited to the event, gave a speech about the superiority of German culture. The mayor concluded his talk with the usual Nazi salute of “Heil Hitler.” The attendees responded to the greeting by raising their arms. However, Alberto did not. The next morning, two Gestapo men delivered a notice to the Consulate ordering Alberto to leave the country within 24 hours . His time in Nazi Europe had come to an end. On January 20, 1943, Chile broke off relations with the Axis.
From Antwerp to New York via Hamburg
Alberto’s European journey had begun in 1939. Being a tenor, he had come to Europe to continue his music studies. At the university in the Belgian city of Antwerp, he studied for a couple of years, until the invasion of Belgium by Germany — beginning on May 10, 1940 — and their subsequent occupation of the country interrupted his studies. Antwerp was targeted by both the German Luftwaffe from the start of the war as well as by the Allied air forces in their attempt to dissuade Nazi forces from taking control of the city’s strategic port.
Marita Arregui, Alberto’s daughter, told us about a painting she has in her house that was painted during the war by Emil Kammerer, “a Jewish man whose daughter my father got out of Belgium saying she was his wife. This man gave this to my father in recognition to taking his daughter to Irún.” This act speaks for itself of Alberto’s humanity and courage. Following the invasion, the persecution of Belgian Jews began very early, first by excluding them from economic and public life and then followed by their deportation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. It is estimated that 25,000 of them were killed . After Antwerp, Alberto had the opportunity to resume his studies, this time in Hamburg, being employed at the Chilean Consulate.
“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.
THE AUTHORS Guillermo Tabernilla is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.
Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by EuskalKultura.eus. On Twitter @Oiarzabal.
Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.
Immediately after landing in New York in September 1943, Alberto headed to the nearest army recruiting center with the sole goal in mind of stopping Adolf Hitler. “A story that reads like that one of the Knights of King Arthur’s Court going to fight in the Crusades is that of Alberto H. Arregui, of Lima, Peru,” wrote Private David A. Bridewell in a November 1943 military newspaper about the man who would become his comrade in arms. “His experiences in Germany and his observation of conditions in Europe,” Bridewell explained, “convinced him that Nazism should be crushed, and he should help the allies by fighting with them” .
However, his hope of enlisting was momentarily dashed. The recruiting agent turned him down not only because he was a foreigner but because he was not registered with the Selective Service System, which required at the time that all men between the ages of 21 and 45 register for compulsory military service. “A letter written by the American Embassy in Peru cleared these hurdles for him” . After the draft center, Alberto was sent to a local draft board in New York City. Skipping the times established by the protocols, Alberto even rejected the mandatory three-week leave granted to all recruits to be able to organize their civil affairs before joining military life. He just wanted to join the army. There was no time to lose. Alberto was admitted on September 25, 1943 in New York City. He was 30 years old.
From Gipuzkoa to Peru, passing through Chile
The son of Francisco Arregui Berasaluce and Adela Herrera Heredia, Alberto was born on March 15, 1913 in Santiago de Chile. Francisco, born in 1886 in the Belozaki farmhouse in Mendaro, Gipuzkoa, had emigrated to Chile around 1908, following in the footsteps of his cousins. He made his way via Mendoza, Argentina, crossing the Andes mountain range by the Puente del Inca. “He was very proud of his Basque heritage,” Marita confessed to us. It was a legacy that he faithfully passed on to his descendants.
His mother was born in 1890 in Santa Rosa de Los Andes, Valparaíso, Chile, to a Spanish family settled in Los Andes, San Felipe. It was in Adela’s hometown that Alberto’s parents married in 1910, subsequently establishing their domicile in the country’s capital. Alberto’s siblings were born there: Eduardo in 1911 and Inés in 1919. By that time, Santiago de Chile had become an important destination for Basque emigration. In fact, in 1912 the Basque community in the city had founded the Centro Vasco, which celebrated 110 years of uninterrupted existence this year. In 1915, part of the Basque community of Valparaíso organized the Chilean Basque Center for Mutual Aid .
Adela died in 1919 giving birth to Inés, a tragic event that marked Alberto for life. He was six years old at the time, while Eduardo was eight (his father died in 1976, in Lima; Eduardo had died a year earlier). Around 1920 the family moved to Peru, with Alberto and his brother staying in Santiago de Chile, where they were interned at the Colegio de San Ignacio for a few years. Summers were spent in Chillán, in the south of Chile, at the home of relatives. Around 1928, Alberto and his brother moved permanently to Lima, where their father had a felt hat factory, Industrial Sombrerera S.A., founded in 1928. In 1931 he opened another factory, also in Lima, under the name of Arregui y Cía S.A.
Once enlisted, Alberto was sent from New York to Fort Sill, near Lawton, Oklahoma, for training with the 29th Field Artillery Battalion. He would finally be assigned to Battery B of that battalion.
The 29th Battalion was the main fire support for the 4th Division’s 8th Infantry Regiment since its deployment to the European Theater of Operations. According to the commander of the 29th, Joel T. Thomason, “The battalion with a 15% over strength to cover initial casualties, consisted of about 700 men including 45 officers. The unit was equipped with self-propelled 105 mm howitzers, M-7s” . M105 howitzers were mounted on M7 tracked vehicles. In the words of Irving Smolens, Alberto’s partner in Battery B, “The normal crew for a gun consisted of 12 men. Six men were designated as the “active” crew, and six were designated as ‘reserve.’ Only 3 men were actually needed,” Smolens clarified, “to aim, load, and fire the gun once it was in position” .
During World War II, the 29th participated in five major campaigns — Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe — in four countries — France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany .
Normandy: Landing on D-Day at Utah Beach
“As the darkness gave way to early morning light, I could see a vast armada of boats and ships of all types; it was an awe-inspiring sight. They were so numerous that it appeared one could walk from England to France on them. The atmosphere was electric with excitement and that was my feeling- – one of great excitement. This was the day for which we had trained and awaited so long” . This is how Thomason described the first wave of the H-Hour D-Day assault.
Alberto and his comrades from the 29th Artillery Battalion had arrived in Axminster, England, in January 1944, beginning intense amphibious training at Slapton Sands between February and May. They became the first artillery unit to land on Utah Beach, Normandy, on D-Day. “During the invasion,” Private Smolens explained, “the batteries would fire [high trajectory shells onto the invaded beaches in close support of our infantry] from the deck of the LCT’s [Landing Craft Tanks]. Our M7’s were loaded on the LCT’s two in front, and two in back, each with their ‘active’ crew. The ‘reserve’ crews were located on other boats” .
John C. Ausland, liaison officer with the 29th, arrived on the same landing craft as Colonel James Van Fleet, commander of the 8th Infantry Regiment, on the initial assault on Utah Beach. He wrote how “the sound of loud explosions from aircraft bombs and naval shells left no doubt that the beach was an inferno… When the landing craft hit the beach and the front ramp went down, I waded through some shallow water and ran to the shelter of the seawall that ran along the beach – barely glancing at several soldiers who were lying on the sand as though asleep. I could hear rifle and machine-gun fire beyond the dunes, and some mortar shells fell not too far away” . Ausland’s mission on the ground was to guide the 29th’s three artillery batteries into firing positions. However, he soon learned from Thomason that one of the batteries had been destroyed.
During the first hours of the invasion, the 29th lost an entire gun battery when the landing craft (LCT-5) carrying it collided with an enemy mine floating a mile offshore. This was the assault element of Battery B, which consisted of four howitzers. It sank almost immediately. This was reported by Peter N. Russo, a witness to that event, and at that time a member of Battery C; later when Battery B was reformed, Russo would be transferred to the new Battery B, as crew chief of the number one artillery piece.
“Daylight was now approaching and the volume of planes flying overhead was noticed. Bombs were landing on the beach, in hopes of destroying enemy guns emplacements. The Navy guns joined in pelting the same area. […] Our attention was diverted by a large boom to our left flank and not more than 50 feet to our center. The boom was followed by a huge puff of smoke. B Battery was leading the Battalion Artillery toward the landing site on Normandy. It struck a mine in the water and was gone. We could see very little debris and a few bodies as we rode by. All on our landing craft tanks were up and looking at what was left of B Battery personnel, the landing craft and the equipment. Sea sickness was replaced with horror and fear. We were introduced to our first combat exposure. We focused on the enemy artillery rippling along our landing zone and thought about the losses to be added to that of B Battery. […] Not a sound was to be heard on this craft until we landed. We became seasoned veterans before one round was fired in support of our Infantry” .
As described by John K. Lester, another member of Battery B and a Jeep driver for a forward observation party, “When I reached the beach on another landing craft and learned of the loss, I was devastated. How quickly I lost so many good friends and buddies. What a way to enter into conflict. The rest of that day draws a blank. I can’t recall much of anything. […] We didn’t know what was happening. Everything was very confused” .
A total of 59 officers and soldiers were wounded, with 39 killed. The remaining 20 were seriously injured to such an extent that only 3 or 4 were able to return to active duty and rejoin their comrades months later. The 29th “had lost one-third of its firepower before we even entered combat… That was a great tragedy,” Thomason stated . The reason Alberto and the rest of his mates from Battery B, including Smolens, survived was that they were not ‘active’ personnel and were held in reserve on another ship. In the late afternoon, towards nightfall, Alberto and the remaining men of Battery B were transported to the beach. They had been very lucky. As Thomason noted, “Of the 28,000 men landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, the total casualties were remarkably light — just under 200. Unfortunately about one-third of that number came from one small artillery battalion — the 29th Field Artillery Battalion” . The 29th was awarded the Presidential Citation for their part on D-Day in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
From the Liberation of Paris to Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945
As its main fire support unit, the 29th Artillery Battalion continued to support the 8th Infantry Regiment during 11 months of combat in continental Europe, taking part in the capture of Cherbourg, the drive towards St. Lo., the liberation of Paris and Belgium, at the entry into Germany in September 1944, at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, at the crossing of the Rhine River in March 1945, and at the end of the war in Bavaria in May 1945. Due to the fierce fight carried out in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest by the 29th, they were baptized by the Wehrmacht as “The beasts of the Hürtgen Forest.” Right at the beginning of this battle, the Basque-New Yorker Julián Oleaga, a soldier from Company B of the 1st Battalion of the 18th Regiment of the mythical 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One,” was wounded in combat on the outskirts of the city Aachen on September 18, 1944, for which he received the Purple Heart. Almost a year after his desperate flight from Nazi Europe, Alberto returned to Belgium and Germany, this time as a liberator.
The 29th Battalion also contributed its support to the French 2nd Armored Division in the liberation of Paris. “I was with the first Americans in Paris on August 25, 1944,” enthused Lester, a soldier from Battery B. “That was a most exciting day” . According to his companion Smolens, “We were then designated as the division to liberate Paris, along with the 2nd French Armored Division. Our forward units, according to infantrymen with whom I have spoken, could have entered the city before the French, but were told to wait for the French. We penetrated to the heart of the city, around Notre Dame, the Place de La Concorde, the Hotel de Ville, and the notorious Police Headquarters. We were denied the honor of parading down the Champs Elysee. Our job was chasing Germans across the Seine River and Belgium, and into Germany” .
The 29th Artillery Battalion fired a total of 182,000 rounds of ammunition at the enemy in Europe. The 4th Division returned to the United States in July 1945 to prepare for the invasion of Japan. However, the war ended before the invasion could take place . Alberto and his companions were repatriated and Battery B was deactivated on February 14, 1946 at Camp Butter, North Carolina.
Alberto was discharged with honors with the rank of technical sergeant. Like all veterans of the US Armed Forces honorably discharged in World War II, Alberto also received a letter of recognition signed by President Harry S Truman .
“My father,” confessed Alberto’s daughter to us, “was very reserved specially when it came to the war and what happened during those years.” The testimonies of his comrades from Battery B that we have collected here speak for the silences that drowned Alberto’s voice for much of his life and faithfully convey to us the sensations of the first moments of the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris.
Alberto received the American Defense Medal, the American Theater Medal, the European Theater of Operations ribbon with bronze arrowhead and five campaign stars, the German Army of Occupation Medal with clasp, the Presidential Citation, the Belgian War Cross, and the World War II Victory Medal. Despite his service to the country, he never obtained US citizenship.
He more than fulfilled the mission that prompted him to travel to New York for the first time. It was time to go home. Hamburg mayor Krogmann was arrested and interned in Bielefeld, Germany; he was fined 10,000 marks in August 1948 for belonging to a criminal organization. He was subsequently released. He passed away in 1978, at the age of 89.
From the United States to Lima, Peru
Upon his return to Lima, Alberto joined the family business. Unfortunately, his musical career was over. He became a Peruvian citizen after the war when he started working in the factory. In 1946 he met his future wife, La Vern Betty De Ny (born 1920 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, died 1995, in Lima) while she was visiting an uncle of hers who worked for City Bank in Lima.
They married in 1949 in La Vern’s hometown, establishing their residence in Lima. They had two children during their marriage: Francisco (Lima, 1951-2007) and Marita. Alberto directed the two family factories until his retirement.
Alberto died in 1980 at the Clinica Anglo Americana in Lima, at the age of 67. In 2016, his sister Inés passed away, the last person of the first generation of the Arregui family born in Chile.
“Unfortunately, many things went unsaid and now more than ever I wish they would have been answered,” concludes Marita. “My father was a very extraordinary person, but two events marked his life. His mother’s premature death and the war. It’s not only fighting during the war but living a life after having taken part in it and live along side with the burdens and nightmares of a war. I always felt there were two Alberto Arregui, one covering up the other,” she asserts.
Just after the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, in a context marked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we want to remember all those men and women whose sacrifice made it possible to liberate Europe from the clutches of Nazi totalitarianism, and very particularly of those of Basque origin like Alberto, who, from different countries of the Basque diaspora, whether they were Argentina, Chile, Cuba, the Philippines, Mexico or Uruguay, joined the allied forces.
[1, 3, 5, 6] Bridewell, David Alexander. “Modern ‘Knight’ trains for his crusade after arguing way into Army”. (November 5, 1943). Bridewell (Forrest City, Arkansas, 1909-1999, Winnetka, Illinois) served in Battery B of the 29th Field Artillery Battalion and as a captain in the United States Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps.
[8, 11, 16, 17, 20] Thomason, Joel T. (April 30, 1994). “The 29th Field Artillery”. Thomason was appointed commander of the 29th Battalion on September 1, 1942, at the age of 24. On June 12, 1944, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
 Harry S Truman had also been trained in the Field Artillery at Fort Sill, commanding Company D of the 129th Field Artillery during the World War I.
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It hasn’t been all that long that Basque studies started delving into Basque prehistory and the myths and legends that shaped the Basque world view. José Miguel de Barandiaran Ayerbe was a pioneer in these efforts, but he didn’t work alone and his student, Julio Caro Baroja – the nephew of one of the greatest writers of the early 1900s – followed in his footsteps and beyond, scouring the Basque countryside for any tidbit he could find, expanding our own view of what it means to be Basque.
Caro Baroja was born in Madrid on November 13, 1914, to Rafael Caro Raggio and Carmen Baroja. Rafael was the founder of the publishing house Editorial Caro Raggio while Carmen was an accomplished ethnographer and writer. His uncles were Pio and Ricardo. Though born in Madrid, Julio spent much of his childhood in the Nafarroan town of Bera with his uncle Pio. He published his first essay, on the nature and importance of the house in the town of Lesaka, when he was 15.
Even before starting his doctorate, he was working with Basque ethnographers José Miguel Barandiarán and Telesforo de Aranzadi. He got his doctorate in 1940 in ancient history and published his first book shortly after in 1941. He obtained a position with the Museo del Pueblo Español and spent time in the United State and the United Kingdom studying both anthropology and ethnology.
He had a particular interest in witchcraft, which grew from a childhood where the people around him believed in the supernatural. This eventually led to his book The World of the Witches, which looks beyond the Basque Country to the history of witchcraft in Europe more broadly, though with an emphasis on Basque witches.
Caro Baroja published some 30 books and many more monographs, articles, and essays, many dealing with the Basque Country. A collection of his essays, translated into English and downloadable for free, was published by the Center for Basque Studies Press. His life’s work, Los Vascos (The Basques), also downloadable, touches on all aspects of Basque culture, from the nature of Basque towns and their economies to the social life of the Basques.
Caro Baroja died on August 18, 1995, in Bera. By that time, he had received numerous accolades for his work, including being named to multiple academies such as Euskaltzaindia (the Royal Academy of the Basque Language). He received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Social Sciences and a square in Donostia is named for him.