In Memoriam: Manuel Alfonso Ortells


The sad news has reached us from France that Manuel Alfonso Ortells has died at the age of 99.

In Memoriam: Manuel Alfonso Ortells
(photo credits: Mauthausen Memorial)

"All my life I was a very lucky person, and I was really very lucky in the concentration camp." (Manuel Alfonso Ortells)

Manuel Alfonso was born on 20 September 1918 in the Catalonian town of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat. He studied drawing and lithography. At the age of 17 he fought on the side of the Spanish Republic against Franco's troops. Following military defeat, Manuel Alfonso fled to France in February 1939. There he spent several months in the Vernet and Septfonds refugee camps. At the end of 1939 he volunteered for a work company in the French Army. After the invasion of France by the German Wehrmacht in June 1940, Manuel Alfonso was taken prisoner by the Germans while trying to reach the Swiss border.

He was taken to a prisoner of war camp in Strasbourg and then to Mauthausen in December 1940. The first months in Mauthausen were, in his own words, the worst. At first he was forced to carry out heavy labour in a road-building work detachment. However, in May 1941 his drawing skills meant he was assigned to the so-called Buildings Office. There it was his job to copy the plans for expansions to the camp. But he also managed to find the opportunity and the means to make drawings in secret. Some he gave to fellow prisoners as gifts, others he used to earn extra food rations. Many of these drawings have survived and some are now held in the Archive of the Mauthausen Memorial.

On 5 May 1945, Manuel Alfonso was liberated by the US Army. Since he was prevented from returning to Spain by the Franco dictatorship, he forged a new life in France.

Manuel Alfonso Ortells was born to fight for freedom. We are saddened by the loss of this brave and admirable person.