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Parallel lives

Dionisio Ridruejo and Ferran Planes narrate two distinct, complementary tales

I was reading Dionisio Ridruejo's Russian notebooks, when by chance I found another book that is almost its exact reverse. In 1941, when Ridruejo enlisted in the Blue Division, Ferran Planes, a lieutenant in the Spanish Republican army, had found a provisional refuge in the South of France.

Dionisio Ridruejo was a famous young firebrand of Spanish fascism, a vehement speaker and purveyor of rhetoric to the winning side in the Civil War. Ferran Planes, of the same age, was a municipal employee of Republican inclinations, but quite lacking in any sort of ideological vehemence. At the time of Franco's rising in 1936 he happened to be doing his obligatory military service. On leave in his home town in Catalonia, he was shocked by the murders committed by anarchist patrols. A sudden transfer from Madrid caused him to just miss the desperate battle of the Casa del Campo, which he did not even hear of until much later. Lacking, too, in martial spirit, he kept leaving his pistol lying about, and forgetting it. Stationed on a quiet front near Granada, he applied for a week's leave to do an exam in Catalonia, got married there and overstayed his leave by several weeks, then hurried back, to find that his colonel had hardly noticed his absence.

Dioniso Ridruejo soon felt disillusioned in the aftermath of his side's victory. The new regime, in which he held high political posts, was not fascist enough for him. In 1941, hearing rumors of Hitler's imminent attack on Russia, Ridruejo became one of the promoters of the Blue Division, a volunteer expeditionary force recruited to fight Communism in Russia under German orders; and put his money where his mouth was, by being among the first volunteers to enlist.

Ridruejo a decent person, though blinded by his fascist ideology"

At the same time Planes was wandering in exile, savoring to the full the miseries of the Spanish refugee camps in France. To get out of them he volunteered to work on the Maginot Line. In the summer of 1940 the fall of France drove him back to aimless wandering, and roughing it. But he was young, with robust health and a sense of humor. He saw, up close, some terrible things, but with a mixture of good luck, poise and gift of gab, emerged unscathed. He observed it all with a salty irony, not without an aura of tenderness. They put him in prison camps and he escaped from them, after having organized variety shows. He fled cross-country through occupied France, by night, freezing in the snow, sleeping in haystacks. Adept at making himself comfortable in precarious situations, he found a field job in the French Catalan country near the border, and soon sneaked across it to bring his wife back with him.

Dioniso Ridruejo grew bitter and bored in Franco's Spain. He fled to the Russian front, in search of the fascist dream of camaraderie and valor that he cherished. His Spanish expeditionary force crossed Germany by train, greeted at every station by martial music and girls waving flags. But soon, in Poland and Russia, he too saw some terrible things. Some of them he tells us of, others he omits. Ridruejo was a fine writer, and a decent person though blinded by his fascist ideology. His diaries give you a sort of frisson, from the contrast between the quality of the writing and the sordid acceptance of the same ideals whose atrocious consequences are taking place before his eyes.

Ferran Planes was not a writer, nor did he need to be. Life wrote his story for him. When the Germans occupied the South of France too, he found it prudent to discreetly return to Spain. In 1967 he published the story of his adventures. By that time Ridruejo was excoriating Franco's dictatorship with a vehemence that had in it something of lucid contrition. Now, when the two are long dead, their books reappear at the same time. By lucky chance, I have been able to read them as two parallel lives.