Lluís Companys

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Lluís Companys i Jover (Catalan pronunciation; 21 June 1882 – 15 October 1940) was the President of Catalonia (Spain), from 1934 and during the Spanish Civil War.

He was a lawyer and leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) political party. Exiled after the war, he was captured and handed over by the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, to the Spanish State of Francisco Franco, who had him executed by firing squad in 1940. Companys is the only incumbent democratically elected president in European history to have been executed.

Early life

Born in El Tarròs, on June 21, 1882 into a peasant family with aristocratic roots, he was the second child of ten. His parents were Josep Companys and Maria Lluïsa de Jover. His parents sent him to Barcelona in order to study at the boarding school of Liceu Poliglot. Later, after obtaining his degree in law from the University of Barcelona, where he met Francesc Layret, Companys participated in the political life of Catalonia from a young age. In 1906, as a result of the military attack on the offices of Catalan newspapers Cu-Cut! and La Veu de Catalunya, and after the passing of the Ley de Jurisdicciones ("Law of Jurisdictions"), which made speech against Spain and its symbols a criminal offence, he participated in the creation of Solidaritat Catalana.

Later, he became affiliated with the ephemeral Unió Federal Nacionalista Republicana, where he was president of the youth section. He was investigated for his intense youth activities and was jailed fifteen times, being classified after the Tragic Week of Barcelona as a "dangerous individual" in police records.

With Francesc Layret, Companys represented the left-wing labour faction of the Partit Republicà Català (Catalan Republican Party), for which he was elected local councilor of Barcelona in 1916. In November 1920, he was arrested together with Salvador Seguí (known as El Noi del Sucre), Martí Barrera and other trade unionists and he was deported to the Castell de la Mola in Mahón, Menorca. Shortly afterward, Layret was assassinated while preparing his defence.

Despite having been deported, Companys was elected member of parliament for Sabadell in the 1920 Spanish legislative elections, taking the place of Layret, who would have taken that seat had he not been assassinated. This gave him parliamentary immunity, which secured his release from prison.

Companys was one of the founders of the Unió de Rabassaires in 1922, where he worked as lawyer and director of the La Terra magazine during the years of the Primo de Rivera regime in the 1920s .

Detained again, he was unable to attend the Conferència d'Esquerres(Conference of Leftists) held from March 12 to March 19, 1931 that produced the political party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Republican Left of Catalonia); however, he was elected as an executive member of that party, representing the Partit Republicà Català. Thanks to the bonds between the Spanish labour movement and the Spanish trade union movement, the election of Companys to this position gave the ERC great prestige amongst left-wing public opinion as it would otherwise have been regarded as a party of the progressive petty bourgeoisie.

Proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic

In the 1931 Spanish Local elections ERC won a surprise victory in Barcelona. After knowing the results, Companys, who was elected a city representative, and other ERC candidates together with the Party's leader Francesc Macià, decided to take over by surprise the office of Mayor and assaulted the City Hall. At gunpoint, the transitional Mayor was deposed and Companys was proclaimed new Mayor. Subsequently, he hung a tricolour Spanish Republican Flag from the City Hall's balcony and proclaimed the Republic. Shortly after, Francesc Macià proclaimed the Catalan Republic within the "Federation of Iberian Republics", a project that was later abandoned after gaining the promise of regional devolution and the restitution of the Catalan Generalitat (as an autonomous government) from the new Republican government.

After controlling the Barcelona City Hall, Macià ordered Companys to take the office of "Gobernador Civil" of the Barcelona province (provincial political authority, which at that time held considerable powers, policing included), which had been controlled by radicals during the process of the Republic proclamation. Macià probably wanted a less public office for Companys, whom he thought of as a political rival. Companys ran as a Barcelona provincial candidate in the December 1931 Spanish Legislative Elections. After gaining a seat he led the ERC representation and the Catalan minority group in the new Republican Parliament. He described his political objectives in Madrid as: "We, the Catalan members of the Parliament, have come here not only to defend our law of autonomy "Estatut, Catalan original", and the fraternal and democratic understanding of the members of Parliament; but, also to participate in matters that affect the greatness of Spain: the Constitution, the agrarian reforms and social legislation." In 1932 Companys was elected Speaker of the Parliament of Catalonia.

Proclamation of the Catalan State

After the death of Francesc Macià in 1933, at that time presiding over the Catalan government (Generalitat), Companys was elected the successor President of the Generalitat by the Catalan Parliament. In October 6, 1934, Companys led a Catalan Nationalist uprising not supported by the center and conservatives Catalan representatives, against the center and right-wing republican government, and proclaimed the Catalan State (Estat Català) within the "Spanish Federal Republic", an action by which he was arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison. This action was seen as an attempt at a Coup d'État as Companys revolted against the newly democratically elected center-right republican government and joined the Asturias miners revolution. Companys asked Manuel Azaña, who happened to be in Barcelona during the events, to lead a newly proclaimed Spanish Republican government, a proposition that Azaña rejected. After the 1936 election and the victory of the left-wing coalition Frente Popular, he was set free by the new government and the Catalan government was restored.

Civil War

When the Spanish Civil War began shortly after, in July 1936, Companys sided with the Second Spanish Republic against the Nacionales rebels and was instrumental in organizing a collaboration between the Central Committee of Anti-Fascist Militias, which was sponsored by his Catalan government, and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), a revolutionary anti-Stalinist communist party, and Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), an anarchist syndicalist trade union.

During the war, Companys attempted to maintain the unity of his political coalition, but after the Soviet Union's consul, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, threatened that his country would cut off aid to Catalonia, he sacked Andrés Nin from his post as minister of Justice in December 1936.

Exile and execution

Exiled to France in 1939 after the Civil War, Companys had passed up various chances to leave France because his son Lluís was seriously ill in a clinic in Paris. He was arrested in La Baule-les-Pins near Nantes on 13 August 1940, and detained in La Santé Prison. He was then extradited by Nazi Germanauthorities to the Spanish government in Madrid in early September 1940 and imprisoned in the cellars of the headquarters of the Dirección General de Seguridad (State Security) at the Real Casa de Correos in Puerta del Sol. He was held there for five weeks, kept in solitary confinement, tortured and beaten, while senior figures of the Francoist State visited his cell, insulted him and threw coins or crusts of bread at him. In a military trial which lasted less than one hour and lacked legal guarantees, he was accused of military rebellion and sentenced to death. During the trial Companys was defended by Ramón de Colubi, a young soldier who had fought the war on the side of the rebels. Surprisingly Colubí defended with courage Companys to the point of receiving threats and risking his own life. Colubí asked Franco to pardon Companys, but was ignored. As a consequence of his role as defence attorney Colubí was forced to go into exile. Víctor Gay Zaragoza, a Catalan writer found that Companys and Colubí were relatives. All these efforts were useless and Companys was executed at Montjuïc Castle in Barcelona at 6:30 a.m. on October 15, 1940. Refusing to wear a blindfold, he was taken before a firing squad of Civil Guards barefoot and, as they fired, he shouted 'Per Catalunya!' (For Catalonia!). He is buried at the Montjuïc Cemetery, near the castle. The cause of death was given as 'traumatic internal haemorrhage'.

The main stadium used for the 1992 Summer Olympics, located on Montjuïc, is officially named in his memory. In 1998 a monument to Companys was installed near Arc de Triomf, on Passeig de Lluís Companys in Barcelona. A friend of Companys, Conxita Julià, is portrayed next to Companys' image in the monument. Several streets and squares in many cities and villages of Catalonia are named "Lluís Companys" after him.

His personal archive is located in the Pavelló de la República CRAI Library - University of Barcelona . It consists of correspondence about him, as well as discourses and declarations between 1936-1938.


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        1Francisco FrancoFrancisco FrancoGegner04.12.189220.11.1975

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