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Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness

Prison Stories from a Woman's Fight Against Fascism

by Mercedes Núñez Targa

Foreword by Pete Ayrton

Introduction by Mirta Núñez Díaz-Balart

Translated by Nick Caistor and Faye Williams

One woman's experience of Fascism in Spain, France and Germany

Mercedes Núñez Targa was born in Barcelona in 1911. She served as secretary of the poet Pablo Neruda, and fought in the Civil War with the Catalan socialists. Following the collapse of the Spanish Republic, she was imprisoned under the Franco dictatorship in Madrid. Unexpectedly released in 1942, she fled to France under a false identity and joined the French Resistance. In 1944 she was arrested by the Gestapo, subjected to a brutal interrogation, and transported to Ravensbrück, the Nazis' infamous all-female concentration camp. In April 1945 the camp was liberated by American soldiers, just days before her scheduled execution in the gas chambers. Bearing Witness is her moving and illuminating account of two totalitarian regimes and the brave women resisting them.

The book opens in Ventas prison in 1940, as Mercedes Núñez Targa begins a 12 year prison sentence for 'aiding the rebellion'. Made up of a series of brief vignettes that vividly depict the prisoners' lives, Núñez Targa highlights the contrast between the horrific conditions in the prison and the prisoners' incredible spirit and endurance.

The second part of the book – Destined for the Crematorium – consists of more detailed chapters. She describes the violence of the SS guards and their own pitiful conditions, but as before, shows how their appalling treatment only unites the women further.

Mercedes Núñez Targa was born in Barcelona in 1911. Despite a middle-class upbringing, the turbulent social and political atmosphere of the 1920s and '30s impacted her profoundly and she became an active member of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia from an early age. Working as secretary to poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda during his time as Chilean consul in Barcelona, her outrage at Franco's military coup in 1936 galvanised her commitment to the fight against fascism. She was arrested in November 1939 and spent most of the next six years in fascist prisons, firstly in Spain, and then in Nazi Germany. Freed at the end of the war, Núñez Targa continued to campaign against the Franco regime while in exile in France. She was finally able to return to Spain after Franco’s death in 1975. She died in Spain in 1986.

Pete Ayrton’s first job in publishing was as an editor with Pluto Press where he was responsible for Pluto Crime translations. In 1986, he founded Serpent's Tail, an independent publisher with a commitment to publish innovative fiction in translation and first novels. In 2019, Pete Ayrton started Small Axes, an imprint of HopeRoad publishing.

Mirta Núñez Díaz-Balart is a historian of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime based at Universidad Complutense Madrid.

Nick Caistor is a British translator from Spanish, French and Portuguese. With more than 90 books to his credit. He has three times won the annual Valle Inclan Spanish translation prize awarded by the Spanish government. Among his recent translation are works by Eduardo Mendoza (City of Wonders, 2022), Juan Marse, (The Snares of Memory 2021), Isabel Allende (A Long Petal of the Sea, 2020), Andres Neuman (Fracture, 2020). On the Spanish Civil War he worked on Granada TV's series of interviews for the 50th anniversary in 1986, he has translated the novel by Dulce Chacon The Sleeping Voice about women prisoners jailed by the Franco regime and written and presented the BBC Radio 4 documentary (2006: Starr's Spanish Heroes) with interviews of Republicans who joined the French Resistance.

Faye Williams is a Spanish to English translator, working on both fiction and non-fiction. Her translation experience includes crime fiction, science fiction and fantasy, multimodal texts, Children's and Young Adult literature, and academic texts.

'Thanks to this superb translation by Nick Caistor and Faye Williams, English-language readers finally have access to Mercedes Núñez’s crucial evidence about the appalling cruelty inflicted on women during the Francoist repression. Bearing Witness is a classic work of prison literature that has played a major role in keeping alive the memory of the crimes of Franco.'

- Paul Preston, historian and author of Architects of Terror: Paranoia, Conspiracy and Anti-Semitism in Franco’s Spain

'Mercedes Núñez Targa belonged to a young antifascist generation which fought Franco and his Nazi backers in the war of 1936-39 in Spain. Imprisoned, but eluding the obliteration Franco visited on so many, she escaped to fight with the resistance in France, and was deported to the Nazi camps. This first ever English translation of her humane, vivid and painfully honest testimony of incarceration under two fascist systems flares up for readers today an urgent signal in our own moment, of clear and present danger.'

- Helen Graham, Professor Emeritus of Modern European History, Royal Holloway

Part I Ventas Prison
Part II Destined for the Crematorium
Biography of Mercedes Núñez Targa

Published by Pluto Press in Jul 2024
Paperback ISBN: 9780745349084
eBook ISBN: 9780745349091

140mm x 216mm