‘The Traitor’ by Curzio Malaparte
From London Review of Books:
In February 1942 during the Siege of Leningrad I found myself attached to General Edqvist, the commander of a division of Finnish troops stationed near Lake Ladoga. One morning he asked me to pay him a visit.
We have just taken 18 Spanish prisoners, he said.
Spanish? I said. Now you’re at war with Spain?
I don’t know anything about that, he said. But I have 18 prisoners who speak Spanish and claim they are Spanish, not Russian.
We have to interrogate them. Of course, you speak Spanish.
No, actually I don’t.
Well, you’re Italian, so you’re more Spanish than I am. Go interrogate them.
I did as I was told. I found the prisoners under guard in barracks. I asked whether they were Russian or Spanish. I spoke in Italian, slowly, and they answered in Spanish, slowly, and we understood each other perfectly.
We are soldiers in the Soviet army, but we are Spanish.
One of them went on to say that they were orphans of the Spanish Civil War; their parents had been killed in the bombardments and reprisals. One day they were all put on board a Soviet ship in Barcelona and sent to Russia, where they were fed and clothed, where they learned a trade, and where they eventually became soldiers in the Red Army.
But we are Spanish.