Basque Fact of the Week: The First Translation of the New Testament into Basque

As compared to its neighbors, the Basque language was standardized only recently, in the 1970s. The challenges in standardizing the language so that all Basque speakers could communicate with one another was expressed by Joanes Leizarraga, one of the first to attempt the task. One of the first to refer to the Basque Country in print as heuscal herria, he said “everyone knows how the manner of speaking almost changes from one house to the next in the Basque Country.” While it took centuries more for Basque to be standardized, Leizarraga’s translation of the New Testament was a critical first step along that path.

Modern interpretation of Joanes Leizarraga, by painter Irkus Robles-Aranguiz.
  • Born in Beskoitze, Lapurdi, sometime around 1506, not much more is known about Joanes Leizarraga’s origins. While he was baptized Catholic, in 1559 he embraced Protestantism, specifically Calvinism, and was imprisoned for his beliefs.
  • This was about the same time that Queen Joana de Albret of Nafarroa also converted to Calvinism. She recognized the need to spread the word about Calvinism in Euskara and commissioned Leizarraga for this task, as he was a well known Basque scholar (Basque shepherds of the area are known to have sent their children to him to learn Basque). In March of 1563, at the synod of Pau, he was tasked with translating the New Testament to Basque. He finished this first translation of the Bible into Basque in 2 or 3 years. His translation, officially entitled Iesus Christ Gure Iaunaren Testamentu Berria (The New Testament of Jesus Christ our Lord), was published in 1571.
  • After that, there is little known about his life. He simply disappears from the historical record. In 1581, he met with French politician and historian Jacobo Augusto de Thou, and he participated in Protestant meetings in 1577 and 1579, but not in those held in the 1590s. Historians surmise he must have died around the year 1600, which would have put him in his mid-nineties.
  • In addition to his translation of the New Testament, Leizarraga also published two other works in 1571, his Kalendrera (Calendar) and ABC, edo Christinoen Instructionea (ABC, or the instruction of the Christians). The first is a religious calendar, intended to help believers organize their religious life. ABC is a small instructional booklet meant for children and young people that contains chapters on grammar, math, and Christian doctrine. It seems inspired by a similar book, a Calvinist ABC, that was published in Lyon in 1555.
  • The Queen that had commissioned his translation died in 1572, and while it was published in 1571, it wasn’t distributed until 1574. Thus, the Queen may not have seen the translation reach her subjects. Shortly after her death, her son, King Henry III of Navarre (Henry IV of France), reinstated Catholicism. Protestantism was outlawed and Leizarraga’s works were essentially discarded and abandoned.
  • It wasn’t until the 19th century that his work was reprinted, and this was motivated more by linguistic interests than anything else. Linguists and historians have examined his word choice and the difficulty of his task, of choosing words that wouldn’t automatically alienate some of his readers. He also Latinized his language significantly, perhaps in a need to adhere to the original as much as he could and to make the language as accessible as possible.

Primary sources: Zuloaga San Román, Eneko. Leizarraga, Joanes. Enciclopedia Auñamendi; Available at; Joanes Leizarraga, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 84

Before long, dinner came and went. As they were finishing up, Javi looked over at his cousin and Maite. “Are you still up for dancing?”

Kepa looked over at Maite who simply smiled and gave him a slight nod. Kepa beamed as he turned back to Javi. “Bai! Noski!”

Javi led them out of the restaurant and across the street. “There aren’t many good places to go dancing around here, but we’ve found them all. This is our favorite.” He smiled at Julie.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

There was a small cover to get into the club, which Javi paid for all of them. Inside, the lights were dim and the room filled with bass. There were tables on the sides surrounding a dance floor that was lit up with a disco ball above them. Maite couldn’t help but think of the clubs they would hit when she was a teenager. It had been so long since she’d gone out dancing. Kepa more felt than heard her sigh.

“Is everything ok?” he asked, almost yelling into her ear to be heard. “We can go if you want.”

“No,” she yelled back. “I’m good. It’s just been so long since I’ve been dancing like this.”

Kepa nodded. “I know what you mean.”

They found a small table in one of the corners. Kepa and Javi went to the bar to fetch drinks, leaving Maite and Julie at the table. They sat next to each other so they could hear themselves over the music.

“I’m so happy for Javi,” said Maite. “You really make him happy.”

Julie smiled. “He’s just so great. I’m so glad we found each other.” Julie looked up toward the bar and saw Javi looking back at her. Her smile widened. Turning back to Maite, she continued. “Kepa seems like a great guy too.”

Maite nodded. “He is. We’ve been friends forever, but only recently decided to make things more.”

“What happens if you go to Berkeley?”

Maite’s shoulders slumped a bit. “I don’t know. He says he would come out with me, but I know he needs to help take care of his mom. I think it would be hard for him. And I don’t think I could ask him to do that.”

“He’s a big boy,” replied Julie. “He can make his own decisions. And,” she said, nodding toward the bar, “the way he looks at you, I don’t think you could keep him away if you tried.”

Maite looked over and saw Kepa looking at her, a large smile on his face as he talked to Javi. Maite’s heart fluttered just a little.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Mari Domingi, Olentzero’s Companion

These days, Olentzero, the Basque “Santa Claus” who brings gifts to children during Christmas, is reasonably well recognized in the Basque diaspora. He not only visits children in Euskal Herria, but can often be found in Basque clubs in the United States, South America, and elsewhere. Even the New Mexico Euskal Etxea, back when it was active, saw Olentzero come for a visit at one of our Christmas parties. Less well known is his companion and accomplice, Mari Domingi, who is often found at Christmas celebrations in the Basque Country.

Mari Domingi and Olentzero at a celebration in Ermitaberri in 2019.h
  • Mari Domingi has her origins as a Christmas figure in the 1990s. As a character, she was created in Donosti in 1994 to add gender balance to the Basque Christmas festivities. Her story was first told in a booklet of stories published by the Asociación de Ikastolas in the Antiguo district. The first image of Mari Domingi was created by illustrator Edorta Murua, while the story was written by Mitxel Murua. She was originally created as a character called Xixuko who was simply supposed to collect letters to deliver to Olentzero, but her role grew quickly and she became his co-equal as a bringer of Christmas in the Basque Country.
  • She was inspired by a popular Christmas song Horra Mari Domingi, collected by Resurrección María de Azkue, in which Mari Domingi wants to visit Bethlehem to see the newborn Christ child. She is told that she needs change her skirt, to put on something a bit more presentable, before she can go.
  • As Olentzero’s accomplice, she is described as a shepherd and a farmer. She knows the land, the phases of the moon, and the use of medicinal plants. She typically dresses in medieval costume, characterized by the tall headdresses Basque women used to wear in the 15th century. This is in contrast to Olentzero’s costume, which dates to a later time.
  • Mari Domingi loves apples, and rather than the cookies that kids leave for Santa, she prefers that a plate of apples, preferably roasted, be left for her instead.
  • These days, it is common to see Mari Domingi in the streets with Olentzero on Christmas Eve. Together, they deliver presents to the children that have written them letters. The more mischievous kids, though, get coal, which is an interesting twist as it was said that Olentzero originally gave coal to people to help keep them warm in older times. Coal has shifted from something good to give as a present to something bad.
  • The creation of Mari Domingi is not without controversy. Some view her creation as the result of political correctness gone too far, while others see her as an attempt to rewrite Basque traditions. Whatever one’s opinion of her is, it cannot be denied that she is becoming an important aspect of modern Basque celebrations of Christmas.

Primary sources: Mari Domingi, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 83

After lunch, the small cuadrilla wandered to some of the wine tasting rooms that dotted downtown. At each stop, they got a small glass of wine, just for tasting, before moving on to the next one. It really reminded Maite of the txikiteo of the Basque Country and she felt more at home than she had since they had left the Basque Country.

“So,” she heard Kepa asking Julie, “when is Javi going to bring you to the Basque Country?”

Julie shrugged. “Good question.” She turned to Javi. “When are we going?” she asked with a mischievous smile.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Well,” began Javi, “we haven’t really talked about it. With school and everything else, there just hasn’t been time to think about a trip like that.”

“We can make time,” replied Julie. “It would be nice to go when these two are still there, before they end up over here.”

“That’s true,” said Javi. He turned back to Kepa. “I guess as soon as we can,” he said with a big smile.

“Everyone will be happy to see you again,” said Kepa. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Maybe five years, at least,” replied Javi. “Before I started school, that’s for sure.”

Maite turned to Julie. “Just be careful. Knowing his mom -” she nodded in Kepa’s direction “- you’ll literally be eating the entire time you are there.”

Javi laughed. “That’s for sure! Every time I went, I must have gained at least ten pounds. Everyone thinks that the long lunches are for siesta, but it seemed that you all eat the entire time.”

“Bah,” said Kepa, waving his hand dismissively. “That’s only for visitors.”

“Well,” continued Javi, “since I’m always a visitor, that’s all I see.” He turned to Julie. “They all want to play host and have this spectacular meal together, but when everyone wants to do that, well, it can really add up.”

“Tell you what,” said Kepa. “We can organize one big dinner with the whole family so that you can see everyone at once and don’t have to feel obligated to go to everyone’s house. That way, you’ll have time to see other things too. Maybe have a romantic getaway to the big city or something.”

Javi smiled as he looked over at Julie. “That would indeed be nice.” Julie simply nodded and smiled as she took another sip of her wine.

They stopped at a few more tasting rooms, each of them trying different wines and passing glasses around when they found a particularly nice one. The conversation drifted to Javi and Kepa’s family, what everyone was doing these days, particularly all of the cousins. Javi knew who everyone was and had a vague sense of what they had been up to, but was ignorant of the details – “There are just so many of them!” he exclaimed. Kepa was happy to fill in the gaps. Javi, in turn, caught him up on his parents and what they were doing.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: La Concha, the Iconic Beach of Donostia

You can do worse than having La Concha be the path you take to class. When I lived in Donostia, during my attempt to learn a bit of Euskara, I lived in the neighborhood Egia. While I often took the bus, when I wasn’t late and the weather was decent, I’d walk along the beach to the university – the building where our classes were held was just a few “blocks” away from the beach. Most times, I’d walk along the sidewalk above the beach, but once in a while I’d actually walk on the beach itself. It was certainly a magnificent view. As I walked along the promenade, little did I ponder the history of La Concha.

La Concha, photo from Se Hace Camino Al Andar.
  • The beach was given the name La Concha back in 1541 (in Euskara, it is called Kontxa Hondartza). The name means “the shell.” With Ondarreta beach, it connects Mount Igeldo with Mount Urgull. In the middle of the bay sits Santa Clara island. La Concha extends about 1,350 meters in length, with Ondarreta continuing on for another 600 meters. The bay sits at the mouth of the Urumea river, which starts some 33 kilometers earlier in the Nafarroan town of Goizueta.
  • The beach became fashionable in the mid 1800s when Queen Isabel II, at the recommendation of her doctors, came to the city to bathe in its waters. Her doctors thought it would help her skin condition. Other royals followed.
  • As the beach became popular, there were mobile cabins in which people could change in complete privacy and women wore long swim suits. However, as time passed, people became more relaxed and some even came to the beach already dressed in their bathing suits. This sparked a “war” with the cabin workers, who of course were losing income. At the same time, swimsuits became smaller, even inciting an anti-bikini editorial by El Diario Vasco in 1967.
  • In 1945, the Nazi collaborator Belgian Léon Degrelle landed a small plane on the beach in his escape from the Allies during World War II.
  • The Paseo de la Concha, the walkway that follows the beach, is notable for its architecture and design. There are unique lampposts which have since become a symbol of the city, their likeness used as awards for the San Sebastián Film Festival. La Perla spa, a center for thalassotherapy (the use of seawater for therapy), was established by Queen Maria Cristina and built in 1912. And the Royal Palace of Miramar, built in 1893, was the summer home of the Spanish royalty. It has a magnificent view of the bay and beach. Today, its gardens are open to the public and various buildings are used for education.
  • The railing that runs along the Paseo de la Concha has become itself an iconic symbol of the city. Installed in 1910 in anticipation of the arrival of the queen, it was designed by one Juan Rafael Alday, the city architect, and was constructed by “Fundiciones Molinao.” The railing was officially inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII in 1916. Over the years, the railing deteriorated to such a state that, in 1999, the city decided to restore the iconic symbol of the city. All 271 sections were dismantled, repaired, and reinstalled.
  • Since 1879 for men and 2008 for women, the Bay has played host to the Bandera de la Concha, a rowing competition held each September. The first race was won by the host city while the most recent men’s race, held just this year, was won by Santurce and the women’s 2021 race was won by a team from the host city.

Auñamendi Entziklopedia. Paseo de la Concha. Available at:; Historia y curiosidades de la barandilla de La Concha, Se Hace Camino Al Andar; Bahía de La Concha, Wikipedia; Kontxa, Wikipedia.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 82

Soon, they all found themselves downtown. Javi led them to a small pub tucked in a corner.

“This is one of my favorite places. Low key, but good food. And good beer if you want it. Julie’s going to meet us here.”

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

As Javi checked in with the host, Kepa noticed a woman sitting at a table waving at them.

“Is that her?” he asked, pointing to the redheaded woman.

Javi smiled. “Bai, that’s her!”

Julie stood as they made their way to the table, her smile beaming. She was wearing a floral-print sundress that didn’t quite reach her knees. Her red hair was matched by freckles on her cheeks, making Kepa think she must have Irish ancestry. She gave Javi a hug and a kiss. 

“Thanks for snagging a table for us!” said Javi after they broke their kiss.

“No problem!” She turned her attention to the other two. “You must be Kepa. Javi’s told me so much about you.” She gave Kepa a kiss on each cheek. “And you are Maite? Javi told me about his childhood crush on you; I understand why!” She gave Maite a kiss on each cheek as well.

“Mil esker…?” questioned Maite as she sat down. “Seems I’m the only one who didn’t know about Javi’s crush.”

Javi blushed. “Well, that was a long time ago. Now, Julie has my heart.”

“How are you liking California? It’s your first time here, right?” asked Julie.

“So far, it’s been great,” replied Kepa. “I admit, a bit more… how do you say? Rugged or less glamorous than what I expected from the movies.”

“Once you get away from the coast,” said Javi, “it’s like anywhere else. Ranches and farms, and no movie stars.”

Maite laughed. “We certainly haven’t seen any movie stars yet! Though Kepa is still hoping to bump into Jon Hamm.”

Julie returned her laugh. “So would I!” she said with a wink.

It was Kepa’s turn to blush. “It’s not like that…” he began.

“I’m just teasing,” interrupted Julie. She turned to Maite. “Javi said you were thinking about going to Berkeley?”

Maite shrugged. “Thinking about it. That’s why we came out here, so I could interview with one of the professors. And I think it went well. But, they haven’t made a decision yet. And, besides, I don’t know if I can leave my parents behind.”

“I can understand that,” said Julie. “It isn’t quite the same, but I moved here from Boston. All of my family is back there. It took me a while to get used to being out here on my own.” She reached over and squeezed Javi’s hand. “Having Javi has sure helped a lot.”

Maite nodded. “My parents are older and I would just hate to not be there if they needed anything. I’m an only child, so they don’t have anyone else to help.”

Javi shrugged. “It’s what my dad did, leave everything there behind to come out here. But it was hard for him. When his dad died, he couldn’t make it back for the funeral. I think that always gnawed at him.”

“It had to be so hard, coming out here to be a sheepherder,” said Julie.

“You have no idea,” replied Kepa, with an air of authority. Javi and Julie looked at him, quizzically. “Or so I imagine,” he sputtered.

Javi gave his cousin a strange look before continuing. “It’s funny, when my dad first came over, he’d call home maybe once a year. It was so expensive. But, now, he’s on his cell phone talking to his brother back home almost every day. It’s amazing how the world changes.”

“I agree,” said Maite. “It certainly wouldn’t be as hard for me to come out here as it was for people like your dad. But, it’s still far away.”

Javi nodded as the waiter came to take their orders.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Pierre Hérigone, an Actual Basque Mathematician

Not long ago, I posted about mathematician Pierre de Fermat and his possible Basque connections (spoiler: he had none). However, in reading about this Pierre, I discovered another mathematician who certainly did have a Basque origin: Pierre Hérigone. His greatest contribution to math was in further developing the idea that math could be conveyed in symbols, rather than local language, making it universal. So, all of you who hated sitting through high school algebra, you have people like Pierre Hérigone to blame. For a detailed account of Hérigone’s contributions to algebra, see Maria Rosa Massa Esteve’s article Symbolic language in early modern mathematics: The Algebra of Pierre Hérigone (1580–1643). (Ok, after this post, I’ll lay off the mathematicians for a while…)

Part of Euclid’s Optics as translated by Hérigone (image from Wikipedia).
  • Little is known about the life of Pierre Hérigone (also known by his Latinized name Petrus Herigonius). He was born in France in 1580 and died in Paris in 1643. In his Apologie ou juste défense, Hérigone himself claimed to be of Basque origin – Hérigone would be a variant of the modern Basque Irigoyen. He spent much of his adult life teaching in Paris.
  • Some sources claim that Pierre Hérigone was not his real name, but was a pseudonym for one Baron Clément Cyriaque de Mangin. These also suggest that the Baron went by the name Denis Henrion, but there is only one source for these connections, by Claude Hardy, a fellow mathematician. However, their stylings and mathematic descriptions are very different, so modern scholars seem to discount this claim.
  • Hérigone is known for one work, the six-volume Cursus mathematicus, nova, brevi, et clara methodo demonstratus, the first volume published in 1634. In this work, Hérigone tried to lay out a complete and consistent mathematical and logic notation, the forerunner to the notation used today in mathematics. Most of what he introduced is no longer used. However, he was the first to use what have now become familiar (at least to mathematicians!) symbols. These include ‘⟂’ for perpendicular or orthogonal (like two lines), and ‘<‘ for angle (though this was slightly changed to ‘∠’ by later authors to avoid confusion with the meaning of less than. Hérigone also introduced the precursor to our modern notation of exponents, to indicate that a number is being raised to a power. He wrote a2, a3, a4… and today we use a2, a3, a4
  • He also described a camera obscura, in the shape of a goblet, which he said one could use to spy on their friends. He didn’t do more than describe it; Johann Zahn was the first to draw this device. Supposedly, when one took a drink, you could see the people behind you.
  • In 1634, Hérigone was part of a commission to examine the claims of Jean-Baptiste Morin that he could measure longitude using the position of the moon relative to the stars. Measuring longitude accurately was a critically important technological advance for navigation at sea and there was a monetary award for anyone who could come up with a better method. The commission, which lasted five years and was in constant debate with Morin, concluded that his method was impractical. Hérigone gave the final report and Morin then blamed him for the negative outcome. Hérigone also disliked Morin’s belief in astrology, writing elsewhere that “The desire to know things to come is an ancient disease of the human mind.”
  • Other than his time on the commission and his interactions with Morin, little else is known about Hérigone’s life. He seems to have been a famous checkers player, and, as described by Scottish mathematician James Hume, he was the only French mathematician he could deal with as he was not quarrelsome.
  • His other major innovation was the so-called major system, in which you convert numbers into sounds and then in to words to remember sequences of numbers. Using these kinds of techniques, Akira Haraguchi has memorized over 100,000 digits of pi.
  • There is a crater on the moon, Herigonius, named for him.

Primary sources: Pierre Hérigone, J J O’Connor and E F Robertson, University of St Andrews; Pierre Hérigone, Wikipedia.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 81

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

The beach was picture perfect. The air was cool, but not cold, just enough to counter the heat of the sun. A gentle breeze came off the ocean, bringing with it the salty smell of the sea. Maite took a deep breath. 

“Almost reminds me of home,” she said, suddenly homesick.

Javi chuckled. “You haven’t been gone that long!”

Maite smiled as she looked at Kepa knowingly. “No, I guess not.”

They hiked along the beach, Javi leading the way as Kepa and Maite followed, hand in hand. Maite was still anxious from her existential crisis earlier that morning and held tight to Kepa’s hand, not wanting to ever let go. Her every step was deliberate, as she tried to burn each moment into her brain.

“There’s a nice spot up ahead,” said Javi. “I like to just sit and watch the surfers.”

“You don’t surf yourself?” asked Kepa.

“Nah, I grew up inland and didn’t have much time to make it to the beach to surf. Dad always had us working on something or other. There wasn’t much time for anything else. And now…” he shrugged. “School takes a lot of time.”

“I can relate,” said Maite. “After a long day of classes, then assignments and cramming for exams, there isn’t a whole lot of time to do anything else. Then research sucks even more time.”

“I thought you enjoyed all that research?” asked Kepa, slightly accusingly. “At least that is your excuse for not going out with me most of the time.”

“Of course I like the research,” replied Maite, defensively. “I mean, I want to dedicate my life to doing research. But, at the same time, it comes with sacrifices. It isn’t a nine-to-five type job. You never really turn off or disconnect.” She gave Kepa a pained look. “And sometimes, those who you love are the ones that suffer for it.”

“I think it’s great that you are passionate about your work,” interjected Javi. “Finding something you want to do so deeply is rare. Most people end up working to live. Don’t get me wrong, the world runs on those jobs, but most of us can’t wait for the day to end so we can go home and do something else. If you have that passion, and you can actually follow it, I can’t think of anything better.”

“Live to work, right?” said Maite. She looked again at Kepa. “But, I’m starting to realize that there is more to life than work.”

Kepa couldn’t help but smile. 

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write if you want to get in touch with me.

Fighting Basques: Basque-Americans in the Battle of the Philippines (1941-1942)

This article originally appeared in Spanish at El Diario on November 27, 2019.

Location of the air bases of the 19th Bombardment Group in December 1941. Source: Little Rock Air Force Base (

“The air attack on the airfields of the main island of the Philippines, Luzon, took us all by surprise and the ‘P-40’ fighters were destroyed on the ground the first day, without being able to take off.” Thus begins the first-person account of Román Arruza Asorena – a young US Army soldier recruited in Manila while he was studying dentistry at university – published in 1988 by José Miguel Romaña in his book La Segunda Guerra Mundial y Los Vascos. It was December 8, 1941. The 14th Army, under the orders of Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, began the invasion of the Philippines in the context of Japan’s military and colonial expansionism in East and Southeast Asia. Arruza, born in the city of Iloílo, on the island of Panay in the Western Visayas region in 1920, was the son of prominent sugar and tobacco farmer Román Arruza Urrutia, from Mungia (Bizkaia). As a child, the family moved to Durango (Bizkaia), but the beginning of the military uprising in 1936 pushed them into exile, first to France, and then to the Philippines.

“Echoes of two wars, 1936-1945” aims to disseminate the stories of those Basques and Navarrese who participated in two of the warfare events that defined the future of much of the 20th century. With this blog, the intention of the Sancho de Beurko Association is to rescue from anonymity the thousands of people who constitute the backbone of the historical memory of the Basque and Navarre communities, on both sides of the Pyrenees, and their diasporas of emigrants and descendants, with a primary emphasis on the United States, during the period from 1936 to 1945.

Guillermo Tabernilla
is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association, a non-profit organization that studies the history of the Basques and Navarrese from both sides of the Pyrenees in the Spanish Civil War and in World War II. He is currently their secretary and community manager. He is also editor of the digital magazine Saibigain. Between 2008 and 2016 he directed the catalog of the “Iron Belt” for the Heritage Directorate of the Basque Government and is, together with Pedro J. Oiarzabal, principal investigator of the Fighting Basques Project, a memory project on the Basques and Navarrese in the Second World War in collaboration with the federation of Basque Organizations of North America.

Pedro J. Oiarzabal is a Doctor in Political Science-Basque Studies, granted by the University of Nevada, Reno (USA). For two decades, his work has focused on research and consulting on public policies (citizenship abroad and return), diasporas and new technologies, and social and historical memory (oral history, migration and exile), with special emphasis on the Basque case. He is the author of more than twenty publications. He has authored the blog “Basque Identity 2.0” by EITB and “Diaspora Bizia” by On Twitter @Oiarzabal.

Josu M. Aguirregabiria is a researcher and founder of the Sancho de Beurko Association and is currently its president. A specialist in the Civil War in Álava, he is the author of several publications related to this topic, among which “La batalla de Villarreal de Álava” (2015) y “Seis días de guerra en el frente de Álava. Comienza la ofensiva de Mola” (2018) stand out.

Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, only a few hours before the Philippines was attacked, the Japanese carried out a campaign of multiple and successful attacks on American, British and Dutch possessions. During the months that the Battle of the Philippines lasted, Japan invaded Guam, Burma, British Borneo, Hong Kong, Wake Island, the Dutch East Islands, Dutch Borneo, Java, Singapore, Sumatra… it wasn’t until the beginning June 1942 that Japanese ambitions met their first major setback, at the hands of the United States (USA), with the victory at the Battle of Midway.

At that time, command had decided to transfer air groups to the Philippines to improve their defenses in the Pacific, among which were the 19th Bombardment Group (B-17) and the 27th Bombardment Group (A-24). The relocation operation of all the B-17s that were in Hawaii and California had not been completed when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. Similarly, the 27th arrived in Manila on November 20, 1941. Faced with the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the priority was to divert convoys for transporting supplies and airplanes to Australia, while the pilots and all valuable military personnel, who were on Philippine soil, were evacuated.

Among those who were en route to the archipelago, we have identified James Larronde, of both Nafarroa Beherea and Bizkaian origin. James was born in 1917 in Los Angeles, California. Graduating as a pilot in October 1941, he volunteered to serve in the Philippines. Upon receiving the news of the Japanese attack, the ship carrying James, his flight companions, and a group of 2,000 soldiers from the 131st Field Artillery, set course for Suva (Fiji Islands) and from there to Brisbane, Australia. Among the evacuees from the Philippines were the pilots of Basque origin Felix Larronde (not related to James) and Mitchell Cobeaga. Felix was born in Bishop, California, in 1922, to a Lapurdian father and a Californian mother, while Cobeaga was born in Lovelock, Nevada, to Bizkaian parents, in 1917. Many of their companions didn’t share in the luck of these pilots. The 27th ground personnel were not evacuated and became the 2nd Battalion of the Provisional Infantry Regiment (Air Corps), which was forced to fight as a regular infantry regiment, the first in the history of the United States Air Forces. Made up of some 900 soldiers, they fought against the Japanese for more than three months, finally being captured and sent to the fields in the so-called Bataan Death March, during which the Japanese committed endless atrocities. Half of them died. Similarly, the ground personnel of the 19th joined the infantry that would fight in the Bataan Peninsula, as was the case with another Basque in the unit, Paul Indart. Trained in the maintenance of the “Flying Fortresses,” Indart volunteered to serve in the Philippines, first at Clark Air Base which destroyed by the Japanese – Indart was unharmed – and then at Del Monte base in Mindanao. Indart was born in Reno, Nevada in 1916, to a father from Nafarroa and a Bearnaise mother.

As a consequence of the destruction of the US air bases in Clark (Pampanga) and Iba (Zambales) in central Luzon, the American fleet, left without air cover and for its own safety, was in turn evacuated to Java on December 12, although successive battles against the Japanese imperial army caused the loss of a large part of the American ships by February 1942. On December 27, 1941, Louis Erreca – born in 1905 in San Luis Rey, California, of a father from Nafarroa Beherea and a Californian mother – lost his life during a bombing mission from Ambon (Indonesia) against the Jolo Islands, in the Philippines. Six PBY Catalina seaplanes participated; only two returned. Erreca’s plane was the first to be shot down. He was the Aviation’s Chief Machinist’s Mate [ACMM] “Plane Captain.” His body was never recovered. As a result of his death, his son Louis Michael Erreca volunteered for the Navy when he was only 17 years old, participating two years later in the Battle of Leyte Gulf that would begin the Allied liberation of the Philippines.

Louis Erreca, Aviation’s Chief Machinist’s Mate “Plane Captain”, lost his life while flying a PYB Catalina on December 27, 1941.

The Japanese aerial bombardments were followed by the landing of troops in the north and south of Manila. The situation of General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the US and Philippine armed forces, was precarious: no aircraft, no naval force, and no reinforcements in sight, nor any supplies for a long resistance. The defending forces withdrew to the Bataán Peninsula, west of Manila Bay, and Corregidor Island, in the southwestern part of Luzon, with the goal of defending the entrance to the bay. Despite the declaration of Manila as an open city on December 26, 1941, to avoid its destruction, the fight continued in Bataán, Corregidor and Leyte, in the Visayas, until its final surrender. On December 24, the president of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel Luis Quezón, and his vice president Sergio Osmeña had been transferred from Manila to Corregidor.

“What happened in Bataán and Corregidor was a hell of fire and shrapnel. When it wasn’t artillery, the planes came to drop more and more bombs at us,” Arruza recalled. “When the Japanese occupied almost all of Luzon, they smashed us hard with their artillery.” Assigned to the Quezon and MacArthur headquarters in Corregidor, he continued his account: “To keep morale high, setting an example of incredible coolness, there was always MacArthur with his characteristic pipe. He was the ultimate symbol of resistance against the invader. To me, he was like a god of war. I never saw him stoop or throw himself to the ground, as others did to take cover from the shrapnel.”

Faced with the inevitability of military defeat, Quezón, Osmeña, their families, and members of the government were evacuated on the recommendation of the American government in February 1942, although they did so in separate transports (Quezón by submarine and Osmeña by boat). They were transferred to Melbourne, Australia, and from there to Washington D.C., where they established the seat of government in exile. Assigned to the aid group of President Quezón, Arruza was evacuated with Osmeña’s group to Iloílo, while the vice president and his entourage continued their journey into exile. “Thanks to this politician, I got rid of the terrible death march of the survivors of Corregidor [some 13,000] towards the Japanese concentration camps and all the penalties, which lasted until the end of the conflict,” concluded Arruza. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, MacArthur, his family and staff left Corregidor on March 11, 1942 for Australia, a scene we saw in John Ford‘s unforgettable film They Were Expendable (1945). Upon his arrival, MacArthur was appointed Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater. General Jonathan M. Wainwright took command of the armed forces in the Philippines.

Bataán fell on April 9, 1942 and Corregidor on May 6. Wainwright surrendered unconditionally with the capture of Corregidor by the Japanese, although the last American troops surrendered in Mindanao on May 12. Wainwright was taken prisoner of war and became the highest ranking American soldier imprisoned by Japan. He was sent to the Formosa (Taiwan) concentration camp and later to Liaoyuan, China, until his liberation in August 1945 by the Red Army.

After the surrender of the US and Philippine troops in the Bataán and Corregidor Peninsula, they were captured and taken prisoner; Indart was among them. The prisoners of war – about 64,000 Filipinos and some 12,000 Americans – began a foot march of between 90 and 112 kilometers, starting from the south of the peninsula to Camp O’Donnell, a military base in Capas, Tarlac, on the same island of Luzón that the Japanese used as a temporary concentration camp. It is estimated that between 5,600 and 18,000 Filipinos and between 500 and 650 Americans died as a result of summary executions, murders, malnutrition, disease, and the cruelty of their guardians during the long march, which would later be christened the “Death March of Bataán.” Japan had not ratified the Geneva Convention, also known as the 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Both Indart and Arrizabalaga are buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. They were awarded the Purple Heart. Source: Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

The situation did not improve at Camp O’Donnell. An estimated 20,000 Filipinos and 1,500 Americans perished in that camp from hunger, disease, and brutality by their captors. Prisoners perished at the rate of hundreds a day. Corporal Indart, despite having survived the “Death March,” passed away on May 9 at the age of 26 at Camp O’Donnell. Similarly, Lance Corporal Joseph Arrizabalaga died on May 19 at the age of 21. Arrizabalaga, born in Boise, Idaho, to Bizkaian parents, had been sent to Bizkaia to continue his education when the Civil War forced him to return to the United States. He was assigned to the Philippines, forming part of the 808th Company of the Military Police, which in the face of the Japanese invasion he joined the infantry in defense of the country.

Manuel Eneriz was born in 1920 in Santa Clara, California, to a Nafarroan father and an Andalusian mother. Enlisted in March 1941, he was sent to the Philippines where he served with Company “K” of the 31st Infantry Regiment. Like most of the survivors of the Battle of the Philippines, Corporal Eneriz was taken prisoner and fortunately survived the infamous “Death March.” Although his situation was not serious enough, he was sent to the Fukuoka-Kashii prison camp, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, where he performed forced labor in a coal mine for ten hours a day for three years and six months until his liberation on the 15th of October, 1945, by American troops. He survived episodes of malaria, dysentery, scurvy, and occasional blows and stabbing by his captors. Those injuries earned him a Purple Heart many years after his discharge. During his captivity, at a distance of 30 miles from Nagasaki, he witnessed the atomic bomb hitting the city on August 9, 1945. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1997, Eneriz burst into tears as he recalled the event. He would dedicate his life to educating the youngest in the consequences of war and the high cost of freedom. “For me,” he used to emphasize, “every day is a Freedom Day.” He passed away in 2001 in Camarillo, California, one week after his 81st birthday.

Newspaper clip of Eneriz giving an interview to Los Angeles Times on August 9, 1997.

General MacArthur, on his arrival in Australia at the small Terowie train station, standing before the journalists and the assembled crowd, sent a resounding and foreboding message to the Japanese invaders. “I’ll be back”. After their defeat and the end of US and Philippine control over the country, the Japanese occupation began, and a strong popular protest gave rise to an underground resistance movement and guerrillas. The Japanese Imperial Army organized a new puppet government known as the Second Republic, beginning in October 14, 1943, and led by President José P. Laurel. Dictator Francisco Franco congratulated the Japanese high command for its final victory and recognized Laurel’s collaborationist government. Later, he would change his mind, but that is another story.

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