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buber.net > Basque > Features > Books > Book Review: Escape via Berlin by Jose Antonio de Aguirre
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Book Review: Escape via Berlin by Jose Antonio de Aguirre

by Blas Pedro Uberuaga

June 28, 2003

Read: January, 2001.

The majority of this book relates the adventures of Aguirre as he was stuck behind German lines after the Spanish Civil War. He decided to actually go to Berlin and try to leave Europe from there, as the only other way he could leave Europe was through Spain, where he would likely have been caught and executed. He had to leave his family behind, as they were in more danger with him than without him.

Aguirre had a great deal of help from the Ministers of several Latin and South American countries, including the Dominican Republic and Peru. He took the identity Dr. Alvarez and met with many people who would have arrested him instantly if they had known who he was. His wife was made to be from Venezuela, along with his children, while "Dr. Alvarez" was made to be from Peru.

He finally obtained a visa to leave through Sweden, along with his family, who met him in Berlin before leaving for Sweden. He gives a lot of commentary about the status of Europe at the time. He notes how Sweden, in order to avoid being invaded, submitted to many German policies. He also notes how the German population had to go without a lot of things in order to supply the war, but that they went to great efforts to make things appear plentiful (full store windows while the stores had nothing). Invaded countries, like Belgium, were plundered for their resources, leaving nothing for the native populace. Aguirre stayed with a family in Belgium and noted how the Belgians were, at first, happy with the Germans because they were polite and neat, but, after they started taking resources, the Belgians began grumbling. Aguirre notes that this is how things usually happen.

He spends a bit of time defending the side of the Basques in the Spanish Civil War, since most people viewed Franco as the defender of Christianity. They couldn't understand how the Basques, very Catholic, would fight against him. He spends time trying to illustrate the connections between Hitler, who everyone seemed to acknowledge as bad, and Franco, who they saw as a defender of Christianity.

He also tries to get the readers to understand the importance of encouraging democracy, especially Christian democracy. He spends a lot of time trying to describe the necessity of democracy based upon moral law (where he means Christian morals). He also spends time describing the influence Spain, Italy, France and Portugal have over Latin and South America and the importance of democracy in those countries, as the liberty they have would influence the Americas.

He spends a lot of time on these issues, maybe too much time from my point of view. He describes the future of the Soviet Union and how the democratic spirit is taking hold there. He, as the editor mentions, was naive with regards to this and undoubtedly didn't know if Stalin's purges.

The story of his escapes in Germany and Belgium are interesting and entertaining and I think he also has a lot of good political commentary, describing and defending his political beliefs. He goes a bit overboard in the last part of the book, especially trying to illustrate the importance of Christianity in making the world better. He also felt that the world was on the verge of a democratic age, which may have been partially realized, but definitely not to the extent that he envisioned. But, he did have some interesting insights into the different personas of the countries involved in the war. He was in a unique position in that he had to defend the rights of nationalism for small groups like the Basques. In an effort to do so, he goes a bit extreme in some of his defences of Christian democracy.

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