Executioner of 'Captain Narwitch'

Albert Masà³, who was born in Barcelona in 1918 and died in Paris in November 2001, joined the youth group of the Bloc Obrer i Camperol (BOC) in 1934 and took part in the revolutionary general strike in October of that year against the appointment of fascist ministers to the government. Masà³ was recruited to the BOC's action groups, formed to protect strikers against police violence, and continued with those duties when the BOC united with the Izquierda Comunista, led by Andres Nin, to form the POUM in 1935. He was wounded in the attack on the army barracks on July 19 1936, the day after Franco's rising. He served with the POUM forces in Aragon and Huesca and was wounded again, but subsequently returned to the Huesca front. Masà³ was involved in the fighting during the Stalinist coup in May 1937, where POUM and CNT militants mounted a barricade to defend the Gracia district against attack by the police and the Stalinists. He observed the demoralising effects on CNT militants of the broadcasts by the anarchist leaders, Montseny, Garcà­a Oliver and Mariano Vásquez, calling on them to abandon the barricades. On returning to the front Masà³ was appointed a lieutenant in the 29th division (formerly the POUM's Lenin Column). In June the POUM executive was arrested and Nin was kidnapped, tortured and killed. Masà³ was jailed from July to November 1937 after pasting stickers protesting at the coup. A key player in the frame-up of the POUM was a NKVD agent, 'Captain Narwitch', probably a Pole, who posed as a sympathiser in his attempts to incriminate the POUM. The POUM, on discovering his intentions, agreed to have a meeting with him. On February 10 1938 Narwitch went to the arranged spot, where he died from three shots in the head by the action group formed by Masà³ and Lluis Puig. Neither was arrested for what was essentially a retaliation for Nin's murder and the persecution of the POUM: the Stalinist-controlled police blamed the killing on the tiny Trotskyist group, the SBLE, led by Grandiazo Munis. In exile in France Masà³ remained a political activist, being arrested by the Germans in 1944, and was involved with French and Italian comrades in Bordigist groups and with Socialisme ou Barbarie. In 1972 he rejoined the POUM, becoming a member of its executive committee. He returned to Spain after Franco's death, attempting to regroup the POUM with other sections of the revolutionary left. When that failed he returned to Paris in 1979. J Sullivan * This is a summary of a fuller-length obituary, available in Spanish from Agustà­n Guillamà³n at balanci@teleline.es