Josep Simo

Interviewed November 7, 2017 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries.

Good evening, if you could tell us your name and where you were born?

My name is Josep Simó Hideu and I was born in Sabadell the 23rdof October, 1935.

So I am 82 now.

Could you tell us about your job?

I was lucky enough to have a career that I could choose

and I could enjoy.

I’m a surgeon.

And I was trained very close, in the Clinic Hospital of Barcelona

under the tutelage of a great surgery teacher,

professor Pere Piulachs.

Afterwards I had the chance to train too, for my specialty, in the Sant Pau hospital

under the tutelage of Antoni Sitges Creus

and later I had the chance to travel. First to Montpelier

and then to Liverpool, where I finished training in the head and neck surgery specialty, what the English call ‘head and neck surgery’.

Something that interests us a lot for this documentary is having personal stories… Could you tell us about the raising of anarchism in Barcelona?

Well, obviously I didn’t live the raising of anarchism in Barcelona,

but I did live it through my father.

My father had first been part of the ‘Bloc Obrer i Camperol’

that late became the POUM in Sabadell, and he was a member until he had to exile to France.

My father, luckily people from Sabadell,

didn’t have to relive the sad times of May 37

when, in other words, the forces

that were part of the ‘Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya’, ‘Esquerra Republicana’

and later UGT faced against the libertarian parties, namely POUM and CNT-FAI.

My fater, of course, was part of the POUM but in Sabadell there was a friendly agreement because the mayor,

Josep Moix, despite being from the communist party was also friendly with that gang and they didn’t suffer what the Barcelonese suffered.

Let’s remember that the Barceloese suffered in May, ‘37

500 dead and almost a thousand hurt.

So, what did that mean?

It meant that Catalonia lost its self-government, it turned to the government

ruling in Madrid, Largo Caballero fell and Juan Negrín stepped up.

The tragic week of 1909?

No, I hadn’t even heard talk about it.

Not even by my grandfather. My grandfather was low class and he had little… well, he had no relation with all that happened.

Well, I do have explanations from relatives, but no personal stories, it’s plainly history, we could say.

You just said that your father was a member of the POUM… Could you tell us what the POUM was?

Well, I’d say that POUM was, at least from what my father told me,

an idealist movement, that opposed Stalinism.

That’s why it was so minoritarian. Despite that,

it was full of intelectuals, that is, many leftist intelectuals were in the POUM.

Unluckily, it was very underrated, because even in the exile they were basically out of any kind of treasury and, really,

I would say from what my father told me, that they were basically abandoned.

Despite what it meant. Specially in Catalonia, because the POUM was a party that, basically, was found here in Catalonia,

and a bit in Valencia too, and well, it’s like in the movie ‘Tierra y Libertad’, right?

I mean, it was part of that libertarian minority of that time.


Could you tell us how the POUM was different from the CNT and the FAI?

Well, that’s something that I had asked many times to my father

and he was quite the idealist. Of course,

he would only transmit to me that words. They, hose on the CNT and FAI, he rather defined as aggressive, totalitarian people,

incapable of dialogue and even with some violence. And they

were on that side, the idealist side, good people,


And all I know is what he explained me.

And the difference between POUM and PSUC?

Well, I say that POUM is Trotski and

the PSUC is Stalin, but I know little more than that.

Is it possible he could explain the difference between those two things? Like what’s Trotskist vs Stalinist?

Well, I think that… About this, of course, I’m not a political scientist nor

a historian, and only know from what I’ve read.

I’ve always had this idea, that Stalin was totalitarianism, right?

It was totalitarian and the others, rather

had a tendency that almost leant towards social-democracy.

But, well, I have neither the skills nor the competence to define those differences.

That’s my point of view, transmitted by my father who, as I’ve said, had idealized the POUM.

He and many companions of his.

What was your father’s role in the POUM?

My father in the POUM acted as a political commissar.

He was, at first he was a volunteer with…

There was, when the war started, in the 36 the patrols began marching towards the Aragon front

and the first one that left from the POUM was the one from Sabadell.

He was destined to an artillery unit, in Montflorite to be specific,

until he was moved here in Barcelona. He was a man

who could write, he was a man… he was an intellectual

and they saw that he could do little besides a cannon

and they sent him to Barcelona to a department of public relationships, etc.

So he acted as a political commissar,

and as a political commissar what he did was organizing, with others, the retreat to Colera, near to Portbou.

That was, basically, the role that he had in the POUM here in Catalonia.

Do you have any anecdote that your father had told you regarding something that happened in the POUM or with a member?

Well, my father

always explained the anecdote that

was, maybe not related to the POUM but related to a

Republic captain that when they arrived to

Portbou, well, rather Colera,

then this man was so depressed that he committed suicide in front of him and shot himself.

And that’s one of the things he always remembers with great sadness as an

anecdote during the war and when they were leaving for the exile.

Something else that I have already commented is that he explained that the communist-POUMist relationships in Sabadell didn’t have any sort of issue precisely because

the mayor of Sabadell, a communist, had great regard for all of them.

Any story about the general strike of 1919?


The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera?


Well, look, I have only… about the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera

I’ll tell you something that people said.

The workers said that well, yeah, it was very bad but they all had been able to build a small house.

You know? I mean, that’s what the workers said. I don’t know why,

but they always said the same, and keep in mind that for Catalonia this man took everything away.

But all the workers got to build this house,

that’s the…

Of course, they built the house for a reason.

I’ve always thought,

since the dictatorship took place in the 20s it came after the first world war. And in the first world war,

since Spain was neutral, then the manufacturers in Sabadell manufactured wool for the allies and the German.

So, my great-grandfather became rich.

My great-grandfather became rich with all this,

he, who was a bourgeoise, and

the others, the workers, worked and by working got more income so they were all able to build their house.

By the way, it’s a house that I’ve never understood why they are called English houses.

A house beside the other, they are English houses that the workers from Sabadell built during the dictatorship, precisely.

Something contradictory and paradoxical, but it’s a fact.

The second Republic?

The second republic, well, I…

I can say that of course, I was born in the second republic, and

yes, I do know what my grandparents told me, what my parents

told me.

Also the anecdote is that when the first republic came,

my grandmother, she saw people so euphoric and hugging in the streets that she said, oh lord, we start laughing and we’ll end up crying.

She was right, she made this prediction and hit the target.

It was a moment, the way they tell it, of glory.

People we’re very happy, many things developed. Well, teaching

in the second republic was extraordinary. Schools were built,

many more things were developed.

Culture was at its apex

and I’m talking about an industrial city like Sabadell, and people, at least my family, lived great until, unluckily, the 36.

The popular Olympic games?

I’ve heard tel about them because, precisely

well, Hitler in Berlin held the, we could say, conventional Olympics,

so in answer to Hitler’s they did some popular Olympics in Barcelona,

and many of the athletes that came stayed with the international brigades.

I don’t know anything else, because I don’t know who won or anything, but I know that it was. It was a rather important event in


The invasion of Barcelona the ’36?

The sublevation?


I do know that because that –

now I’m talking about my father, basically.

I was very young and knew many things, because my father

was continually explaining them to me.

Well, what happened? Franco rises

the 18thof July in Morocco and the 19th, immediately after,

being president Lluís Companys, the people rise, the anarchists

rise, take the weapons – which is why Companys was so

criticized – but thanks to the uprising of anarchism

here in Barcelona they stopped the uprising and

the Francoist military officer, general Godet, was imprisoned and shot by a firing squad.

That way, Barcelona was one of the places that was immediately in republican hands, thanks

to the action of anarchism, that grabbed the weapons, of course.

Something about the civil war?

Yes, the civil war…

Also quite commented.

I’ll tell you from my point of view, from those who lived.

My family lived in Sabadell and Sabadell was always on the rearguard.

I mean, unlike other Catalan cities, such as for example Lleida, that was bombed,

Sabadell was on the rearguard

and until the 37, well, people

ate, and could even work. Companies were collectivized.

Now, when the 38 started, that is, after the fall of Teruel,

then it was threatened, the prices of food began to rise and the salaries to drop and

the people started to suffer from hunger.

People suffered from hunger and then, basically, what people wanted was the war to be over. That war was over

as soon as possible, because people were tired,

exhausted from the suffering. Despite, as I said, Sabadell, and this is something curious.

Sabadell had one of these, a factory,

where they remodeled planes, the Polikarpov, the famous ‘mosca’,

in a factory that they had collectivized, and there they assembled the planes.

Despite that, they never bombed Sabadell.

And why wasn’t it bombed? Because, well, because Franco knew he would win the war and he kept that company

with all the workers in case he needed it in the future.

That’s a curious data, that people wonder, why wasn’t it bombed? Well, that’s just why.

And well, until the 39 and then when Franco entered it was all very pitiful. People, to be specific our family, it’s here when our exile begins.

Any history from the front?

A curious anecdote.

My father went to the front, but my uncle went there too

with the famous alpine column.

He was in the Aragon front,

close to Huesca.

Then the anecdote, not lived by me but,

the anecdote is that all Spanish governors critisized Catalan people because after so long in the Aragon front and they never took Huesca nor Zaragoza – Teruel

they took by the end but had to give it up.

A curious anecdote is that my uncle, when the alpine column was formed,

he then entered the hiking centers and took all the gear: piolets, ropes, boots, etc, and that way the alpine column was able to get to the front.

And this said, from the familiar point of view… except, also,

a cousin that was wounded on the Ebro battle and

during the retreat he was shot in the back and his scapula burst.

I mean, we have wounded in the family.

The May days?

The May days, I’ve already told you about. The May, ’37 was the struggle between POUM and Stalinists.

The revolutionary activity before the May days?

The revolutionary activity was in March. In Sabadell, to be specific, that’s an anecdote that I can tell because my father told me about it.

In Sabadell, those from the POUM,

tried, there were Catalan and Republican flags,

but the people from the POUM also hoisted the POUM flag, which was a red flag with the sickle and the hammer and a small tag that spelled POUM.

They put it in their establishment and people complained a lot and there was some ruckus

but it didn’t go any further. But I mean, it was starting. That was in March, ‘37.

Life in the internment camps?

This one, if I may.

When the war was finishing, my father was a frontier officer for the POUM,

to be specific in Colera.

He had already received the order that they had to cross the border.

Because first had to go through the border

the elderly, women and children

and we were able to get through the 28thand 29thof January, while they had to wait until the 5thof February.

Then my father sent a car

to get my mother and I all the way to Colera.

Then, from Colera by train until Portbou.

But before we could reach Portbou, the

fascist air force started bombing, bombing, bombing and the train would move from tunnel to tunnel, taking cover until it could reach Portbou.

When my mother and I reached Portbou,

we found a great darkness there, with soldiers that had hidden in the train, they had gotten on despite not being able to,

wounded people shouting.

There was a terrible ruckus because people weren’t able to find [others], my mother was even a while unable to find me

and then she, as an anecdote, she was able to take from one of these wounded soldiers

a backpack with powdered milk jars and she kept it.

But besides her there was a

woman who was also badly wounded, she wasn’t agonizing but seriously ill,

so my mother left the milk jars, picked up that woman,

and we crossed the border, that is, from Portbou to Cerbère, on foot.

Then, in Cerbère, a train picked us up and

took the women, children and elderly all the way to Poitiers

to a refugees shelter.

There my mother and I were from

February ’39 until September ’39.

Because French authorities, when they saw that already

Germany had invaded Poland,

they already thought that they would get through the Maginot line and into France.

Then, when the country saw itself in this additional difficulty it asked, almost demanded, that people went back to Spain.

Then, my mother turned to these facilities from the French and we headed back to Spain.

Mind you, the life quality in the refuge was shameful.

It was a refuge

with no glass panes in the windows, we slept in, instead of mattresses, sacks of straw,

the feeding was very precarious,

well, it was full of bedbugs and rats. I mean, something

truly horrible.

And an anecdote? Well, the anecdote is that in August

my father escaped the internment camp where he was because they were sent to interment camps by the beach,

such as Saint-Cyprien and Le Bacarés.

He was able to escape.

He was able to escape because the French police officers weren’t really watching.

They didn’t watch, but once you were outside you had to take care of yourself. My father was able to come to

Poitiers, and I do remember that perfectly,

emotional memory, no need to mention that,

because m parent spent the night and

I was holding his hand until I fell asleep.

Next day, I started crying because my father had already left.

This is the sad story of the Poitiers exile.

And they were in the internment camps that well, that is perfectly known,

they had a horrible time there, the Senegalese would beat them up, also they entered in February with a terrible cold, with the north-winds and everything

and later, he, specifically

stayed – he was a barber and was able to

work in a barber shop – and was

hosted in the barbers’ residence in Montpelier, being the barber of intellectuals,

such as Pompeu Fabra, etc.

And my father came back home on the ’41.

Any about life under Franco’s regime?

This is… under Franco’s regime

I’d say [there are] three stages.

The immediate postwar was very, very, tough.

Very tough. Regarding the scorn of the winners over us.

The difficulties to acquire food

and something that we all remember, the cold. The cold, in winter of course,

but it was terrible.

Those were some very, very tough years.

People were dying.

One of my mother’s sister had a renal tuberculosis that despite a series of

surgeries died. Things were very sad.

The police came to our home every now and then to try to

learn about my father or if there was some document or something.

Mail was censored , here I have some

postcards where you can see military censorship [stamped].

We were living in what’s called a state of emergency. Everything was under control,

you couldn’t do anything, people

would hide, not talking about anything. I do remember that

in a very shocking way.

Of course, this darkness coincided until the 42, when the Russians entered Stalingrad,

then in the ’42 it was seen that

the third Reich wasn’t as strong.

And that’s when things begin to grow softer.

But, well, only grow softer. Even,

until the 45, when they entered…

already in the 44 they had entered Normandy, the 45 the war was over,

but despite that, Franco continued to be himself until he died.

Because let’s remember that in the ’75 he was still handing out death penalties.

I mean, we lived a terrible repression, as I’m saying. A lot until the 42, not as much from the 42 to 45

and still a lot from the 45 until his death.

Could you tell us about life under Franco after the 60s?

Well, after the 60s it’s something different. After the 60s

an aspect that I wanted to comment. I, after the 60s, disappear from history

because I finish my degree.

Well, the surgery degree is very demanding.

So, demanding that I didn’t live politics, I lived in the operation room.

So, I’d hear talk of things but

wasn’t interested in them.

It represents that I had already lived my share in life

but this time I didn’t, I heard talk about many things, about ‘Assamblea de Catalunya’, about

groups that were starting to move to take down the regime,

but I didn’t take any part in them.

Not at all, I disappeared so much that the transition came

-notice, we’re talking from 62 to 76-

I dedicated myself to surgery and – I was a father of three- to the upbringing of my children,

but completely out of politics. I mean, I can’t give you much information in this regard.

The only that I do remember perfectly

are two things.

In the 45 I was in my grandfather’s barbershop, I was a kid,

and there would come, it was a worker’s neighborhood, very politically involved people. People who came from France,

people who came back from prison. Also, there, in barbershop people talk lots,

so, they discuss things, explain things.

Well, I enriched myself with everything they explained.

I remember the disappointment they had. They all expected, at least those who were here,

that once the [Second World] War was over Franco was over.

Not only that, but also the great disappointment in

my life, and there’s when I was done with all this stuff, was when I saw

when I saw Eisenhower hugging Franco.

For me, I don’t know, if the Americans see this,

it was so hurtful for me, so sad,

so disappointing and depressing,

that it’s made it difficult for me to get Americans.

About Franco’s death?

Yes. I celebrated it.

Yes, I openly celebrated it. I remember

that I was, precisely, in England

and I suppose you know what happened to him, that he

underwent several surgeries, in the end he was intubated and into the Intensive Care [Unit] and well, as if he was vegetative.

And I remember

that an English friend of mine, Kate Chambers,

told me, “Perhaps Franco is immortal”, right?

As a joke, because there was really no way for him to die.

Now, when he died, everyone, well, at least

those around us celebrated a lot. Really a lot.

Just like we celebrated

before the ETA attack on, what’s the name, on Carrero Blanco, right?

Listen, it was something, when we saw that car jumping through the air,

we were jumping with joy.

These are anecdotes that I’ve lived of this time where I barely participated.

The transition?

Just one word: the great disappointment.


we saw that the Francoists continued [on power].

The excuse that the politicians gave, this I did live because I followed it,

was saying, well, we had to draft the constitution with the swords of the military beside us.

Yes, but there’s no country, nor England, I mean, nor

Argentina, nor Germany, nor Chile that has allowed

all these people… but we have them all.

Notice that here in Spain

there’s no radical right, because they are all in the People’s Party.

And this was, for me, the great failure of the transition, despite them wanting to sell it as a huge victory.

And everything that is happening now. All that is happening now,

is the result of not doing a transition that was,

I’m not saying violent, but that it was proper, convincing and moving all the Francoism, Fascism and Nazism out of Spain.

And that’s all.

How is Spanish democracy different from a proper democracy?

Because they are the same inside [the government], nothing has changed. They think exactly the same.

They think the same, only that they call it a democracy, but it isn’t so.

I don’t have any other explanation.

Of course, it can’t be because the very same stayed [in power].

The very same ones stayed.

The day the constitution was signed?


Yes, it was, but to me it was something that came after so many scares, so many epic, heroic and sad situations that for me it was a further step

to which I granted no importance.

The Spanish constitution isn’t…

The ’81 coup?

Yes, see, I remember the ’81 coup perfectly.

I saw it all and I was so sure that nothing but happen,

so very sure, that I saw it, went to bed and by the next day it was over.


It was just boasting, that’s all.

That’s all. That’s all.

Of course, that meant many things, because from here on people grew

apart, but not much more. I didn’t see,

at any point, that it had any impact.

Despite the tanks taking the streets and all, right?

Grew apart how?

Yes, then it was seen that they were coming back.

So, some of them saw themselves supported, thinking wait, we’re still there.

And the others said, watch out. And ‘jweet’.

We moved tighter. There’s democracy, and all fine,

they allowed communism, the king,

there were Catalan representatives that were already talking and gathering, you know, many things.

But this was a moment, of course, of inflection, that people said, look

we’re back at it.

The Hipercor attack?

Yes, I lived it but of course, I lived… I was very close,

of course. I was very close…

but it wasn’t something that, I’ll be honest. Of course,

it goes without saying the pain of the families, but

I didn’t, well, yes, it had great importance but

didn’t represent anything. Personally for me, I mean.

Besides what I’m saying, all you could do for these families.

The expectation before the ’92 Olympics?

Yes, that was very… of course, man.

That, for us, was

very beautiful. Barcelona, well

recovered, or rather than recovered already had, but hey, Barcelona entered the world.

Many people who possibly didn’t know, many Americans that didn’t know where Barcelona was, found out through the Olympics.

We were great, they were very fraternal, very fraternal.

They were quite pretty. That allowed, listen, Barcelona,

that had never looked at… As a child, you’d walk by the harbor and there was no way to see the sea, it was all

full of the factories’ mess.

From those Olympics on

we get to know the sea,

we lived the sea, we were besides the sea.

Barcelona underwent an extraordinary sea.

It was great, hey, a great satisfaction from all Catalan people for the Olympics.

Do you have any story of the Olympic games per se?

No, not either. I was quite devoted to work.

Notice, did you notice? In my life there are two periods.

A main one, very focused on what was going on,

and another one very dedicated to work.

Surgery is very demanding.

This list is done, is there any event that you have forgotten to mention?

Well, I had some stuff ready that I have left out.

In the postwar, there was a great food precarity,

so the way that poor people had to be able to

survive, was, well, they had vegetable gardens

and everyone, almost everyone, even in flats,

they had a rabbits cage.

So I was the one in charge, when getting out of school, to gather grass for the rabbits.

That’s an anecdote about the precarity in the postwar.

And I think that’s about all.

Now I’d start jumping and it’s not worth it.

In many interviews… Could you tell us about the generational difference between your generation and the older one?

Yes. I’ll tell you about

the fear, specifically, of my mother.

My mother lived

the fear of my father on the front, my father as a commissar, my father in the exile.

And her fear for me, who was very young,

in the refugee shelter in Poitiers.

I’ll tell you more, my mother, I’ve always thought,

was so shocked

that her life ended here.

And do you know why?

Because she was not an active woman

like my father, who was always involved in messes and stuff.

She was a very passive woman

and then suffered. There’s something she always sad, she lived

-lived, she would say- she lived with fear in the heart.

With a feeling of pressure

and fear. I mean, I remember her saying, Josep, close the window.

Josep, they’re calling. Josep, don’t make any noise at all. Because, of course, every now and then

the police would come to her and raided

looking for papers. Because my father, when he was here

in Spain, he came on the ’41,

and notice that, in the ’41 there was still a lot of exiles

and they would smuggle people through the frontier, they came home and used it as a

gathering spot. Well, this kind of thing and, as I’m saying,

she’s the one who went through the fear.

But it was this kind of fear, a psychological fear rather than a physical one, because as I said, we didn’t live bombings

nor did we live being in the front.


There’s two more up to date questions left. The 17th of august attacks on Barcelona and Cambrils?

Look, I for

In summer… I spend the summer in the province of Soria, not in the ‘Pàramo [de Layna]’ but far up, Urbión.

And I also live far from Barcelona, so living far from Barcelona,

I really saw something that shocked me deeply.

I was very shocked and later I also saw

that there wasn’t only the attack per se, which was vert hurtful and sad,

but also that it bothered me thinking that politics were involved, right?

They already took advantage of the situation, ones and the others,

in order to involve politics with the situation

and that…

screwed with me. No…

I handled it poorly, no need to say.

Just like the Hipercor one flashed past,

I followed this one and hey, afterwards

I couldn’t watch Catalan tv, I watched only Spanish tv,

and I knew that… I could follow both onlilne,

and Spanish tv was completely biased, biased, biased.

That’s how I saw that moment.

This is the last one. What are your thoughts on Catalan independence?

Look, I’ll tell a quote that I’ve liked a lot.

Politicians have had too much

illusion and too little political science.

I see it that way too.

Despite that, I think…

My independence, despite that as a child,

for example my father, went from the

POUM to Pallach and from Pallach to Convergencia,

because he kept Catalanity as

a basis.

Now, well, why am I independent?

The Spaniards will never change.

They will never change.

They can’t change.

And since it’s in their DNA,

if we can we scamper, and if we can’t we stay,

go to the barricades and…

That’s my exact point of view, the way I think about it.

I’m not talking about companies going out, neither about the gross domestic product,

neither with… No, it’s simple:

as you can see, look at… we’re not the same.

We’re not the same and since we’re not the same better to be apart and love each other apart.

That’s it.

That’s what I think, eh. Keep loving each other but apart.

What did you do for fun as a child?

When I was a…

child, my entertainment was playing on the street.

I mean, kids would play on the street to anything.

We’d chase each other, play all the street games,

when there were, when we lived in an industrial area but by the country,

well, we went to harvest fruit, we were naughty, we played,

and the game it was a game on the streets.

We’d play in the streets. Completely on the streets with all of our partners.