“THE INCREDIBLE JOY OF BEING REUNITED WITH MY HUSBAND WAS DIMINISHED WHEN WE LEARNED OF THE DEATHS OF MANY FRIENDS WHOSE LIVES HAD ENDED IN THE DEATH CAMPS AND WHO COULD NOT ENJOY THE VICTORY THAT CAME AT SUCH A HIGH PRICE.”
Constanza was an active member of the United Socialist Youth (Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas). She worked in the editorial office of the newspaper intended for the fighters, in the Military Political Commission of the Central Committee and in the Ministry of Defence until 1939, when she left for France. When France entered the war, the authorities urged Constanza to return to Spain. She refused. In June 1941 she was recruited by the German army, which did not prevent her from being in contact with the banned Spanish Communist Party (Partido Comunista de España) through its secret structure. On 27 June 1942 she was arrested during a raid. She was taken to prison in Paris. Constanza and Juan Escuer, her future husband, met for the first time when they were questioned in the police station. Juan secretly gave Constanza a piece of paper which she thought was just a letter to the women in prison. Upon returning to her cell, she discovered that it was a declaration of love. The following day, in the middle of the trial, Constanza told him yes.
In June 1944, Constanza was brought to Ravensbrück concentration camp via Saarbrücken, where she stayed for almost a month. From the end of July 1944 until the liberation she had to perform forced labour for war production in the Ravensbrück subcamp at Leipzig-Schönefeld.
With the approaching Soviet troops, the SS decided to evacuate Ravensbrück and its sub-camps. When the guards disappeared, the women split into small groups, each of which continued on separately. The group that Constanza, three other Spanish women and one Frenchwoman were in was accepted by another group of prisoners of war (a Czech, a Yugoslav and an Italian) who worked on a farm. They hid them there until the Soviet troops arrived in Schönefeld on 22 April 1945. They were gathered in a large camp and later taken to Torgau, and from there US troops returned them to France to the Lutecia Hotel. There she met her husband, who had returned fifteen days earlier.
There is the story that she owed her life to her glasses. She had had to wear them since childhood, and the day after she arrived in Leipzig, they broke. The guards said they would fix the glasses, but they never returned them. The first days without glasses were terrible. One day, however, Constanza was grateful for losing them when the camp commander issued an order that all the women who wore glasses had to go to the gas chamber.
Constanza suffered from serious health problems as a result of the suffering she experienced during deportation. However, she continued to testify to what happened in the concentration camps and was vice-president of the Amical de Mauthausen association.
Teresa del Hoyo
A friend of Constanza Martinez Prieto