Joined: 17 Feb 2003
|Posted: Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:30 pm Post subject: Corsino's story in News - Historia de Corsino por Noticias
|After 60 years, man finds his truth
A Haltom City man finds his family and childhood home in northern Spain after decades of searching and wondering.
Sunday, Oct. 24, 2004
[Thanks to Chris Vaughn for permission to post his article.
This story is related to this long thread in the forum:
I M A G E S
STAR-TELEGRAM/RON T. ENNIS
Top, Cole Kivlin displays the first photograph ever taken of him. It was shot in the late 1930s, after his father had sent him to France to escape the Spanish Civil War.
COURTESY COLE KIVLIN
Above, Cole Kivlin, far left in second row, arrived in the United States from France in July 1942.
COURTESY COLE KIVLIN
In 1942, Cole Kivlin's protectors sent him from German-occupied France to the United States.
After 60 years, man finds his boyhood home
By Chris Vaughn
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
A quarter of Guernica's 7,000 residents lay dead on the streets, bombed and strafed during a crowded market day, a scene later made eternal by Picasso.
Not far away, in one of Spain's northern provinces, a father heard about the bloodbath and knew that Gen. Francisco Franco's troops, backed by German dive bombers, were coming.
As the Spanish Civil War raged in the summer of 1937, the sheepherder did what he could to save his family. He sent the youngest of his 12 children, a 7-year-old boy, Corsino Fernandez Garcia, to the safety of France.
"My father put me in a truck with the clothes I had on my back," Corsino said. "We went to several more villages to pick people up, then we drove to the seaport."
A few days before, Corsino had been herding sheep with his brother in the mountains outside his village. He looked up to his brother and relished his companionship.
"Whatever he did, I did," he said. "Wherever he went, I went."
But Corsino didn't know much about the rest of his family. His mother had died when he was 4. His oldest siblings were away, fighting against Franco's army. His father was always working and spoke few words when he was home.
His father, in fact, had put him on the truck so quickly, with so little notice, that there were no lengthy, painful goodbyes.
"I don't remember being scared," he said.
At the seaport, hundreds of people crammed into the ship, which normally carried coal. Every afternoon during the voyage to Bordeaux, they lined up for an orange marmalade sandwich. They shared one water hydrant and slept in the stifling hold.
It took three days, long days, to get to France.
"When we landed, they found that my father had slipped a note into my shirt pocket when I left, telling people my name and village," Corsino said. "Corsino Fernandez Garcia. La Guelga."
He had no idea what trouble the note would cause him.
It took him 60 years to figure it out.
A lifetime later
The boy who began life as Corsino is 74 now, a silver-haired great-grandfather named Cole Kivlin who lives with his wife of 52 years, Barbara, and two Chihuahuas in a modest 1950s house in Haltom City.
He draws a small retirement check from McDonnell Douglas Aircraft and a bit more from Social Security. He lives quietly and rather anonymously.
As a young man, he tried college for a year at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, but he dropped out to work. The defense industry needed people, so that's what he did, first in El Paso, then in Huntsville, Ala.
He worked at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis on the F-4 Phantom program, then relocated to General Dynamics in Fort Worth before returning to McDonnell Douglas. He retired in 1987.
He moved back to North Texas to be near his children and grandchildren, even though they didn't really know him, didn't know why he had an accent, didn't know that a boy who had fled a war in Spain grew up to become their father.
"It was kept secret from us," said Kivlin's daughter, Barbara. "We suspected something when we found his naturalization papers, but nobody would answer any questions we had."
The children quizzed their mother over the years, but she said she knew little. They didn't ask their father much because he rarely spoke, rather like his own father.
By bits and pieces, a clue here and there, they learned about Kivlin's past. Then, in 2003, he put his story on paper and gave a copy to everyone in the family. His story was finally told.
By then, he was a different man in many ways, more expressive and talkative, an optimist whose mental outlook had changed in his autumn years.
"We were shocked," his daughter said of the news. "Why didn't you tell us about this?"
Alone in France
It was 1940. The Germans had conquered Belgium, the Netherlands and France, all quickly. Corsino lived in a two-story house outside Lyon, France, with a group of refugees. He was 10, and although he was not technically alone, he felt that way.
"I was quiet anyway. I was always an introvert," he said. "But I didn't have many friends, at least no good friends. I never seemed to spend enough time at one place to make any."
At night, under the glow of a dim bulb, he studied maps of Spain. He looked for La Guelga. He knew it was his birthplace because his paperwork said so.
Lieu et Contrée de Naissance. Guelga, Espagne.
But his search of atlases and geography books never produced a Guelga. The people in charge of the refugees in France never found it either. None of the other refugees had heard of it.
The years dragged by: 1937, '38, '39, '40, '41, '42.
As he moved from place to place -- Paris, Le Havre, Paris, Lyon, Marseilles -- Corsino watched many of the Spaniards go home. The brutal and bloody civil war had ended in 1939, and German-occupied France was no longer a guaranteed haven.
"I went with the flow until I got to Lyon" in 1940, he said. "I had felt like I was going to go back soon. Then I began to think, 'They're not taking me back to my family.' "
Across the sea
Corsino saw Spain again in July 1942. But it was only a fleeting glimpse.
He was on the deck of a French ship and looked off the starboard side, where he saw beaches.
"What is that?" he asked a Frenchman on board.
"That's the coast of Spain," the man answered.
Several dozen Spanish and Jewish children were on the ship, all with identification tags around their necks. Corsino wore tag No. 21.
"They had brought all of us from different parts of France, so we didn't know each other," he said. "Many of the children had siblings with them. I had no one."
They were steaming toward the United States because their protectors in France wanted them out of Europe before the Allied invasion.
No one told Corsino where he was going until they left Marseilles. Nor did anyone ask him what he thought. He can still feel the sinking feeling as he watched Spain disappear.
"Nobody asked me if I wanted to go back to Spain," he said. "I was a boy. I wasn't in control of my life."
The ship docked in Baltimore, and a train shipped the children to an orphanage in the Bronx to learn English.
After a year, Corsino and another boy were sent to a foster home in San Antonio, where they would be raised Catholic.
"The man of the house was in the Army in Europe," he said. "When he found out two boys were living in his house, he didn't like it. So they split us up, and we moved out."
He moved in with a family on the north side of San Antonio, close to the airport. For two years, he lived with Mildred Kivlin, a childless woman whose husband was also away in the Army.
"She bought me a used girl's bicycle, and we put a bar across the top so it would look like a boy's," he said. "That was the best thing I ever had."
He had not lived with his foster mother long when she asked the question that no one else had:
"Do you want to go back to Spain?"
"Yes, I would."
"But there's no use going back. Your family's all dead."
He swallowed hard, accepted that he had nothing to go home to and tried to put the idea away.
When Kivlin's husband returned home in 1945, the couple started having marital problems, although Corsino didn't know it. One day, some men from a Catholic welfare agency showed up, took him downtown and broke the news.
He never went back to the Kivlins' house. His possessions were delivered to him.
"I was surprised when she put me in an orphanage," he said, the closest he comes to admitting hurt.
For the next three years, he lived in St. Peter's/St. Joseph's Home on the city's south side. He graduated from Central Catholic High in 1948.
By then, Corsino Fernandez Garcia had disappeared, just like his family.
His name had changed shortly after he arrived in San Antonio. He was now Cole Kivlin.
By the time Kivlin returned to Spain, his hair had turned gray, he wore eyeglasses, and wrinkles lined his face. It was April 1996 when he arrived, alone again, in Moreda, a city in the province where he grew up.
It was the one town he remembered from his journey in 1937.
"When I was in that truck going to the seaport, we went through several towns," he said. "I remember hearing the driver say, 'This is Moreda' as we went into one. I have remembered that all my life.
"So the first place I went was Moreda."
His Spanish was rusty and he was tired from the trip, but he asked everyone he met that day, "Do you know where La Guelga is?"
No one knew.
The next day, he found his birth certificate with the help of a local woman who taught English. When he returned to his hotel, the manager greeted him.
"Your brother is waiting for you," he said.
Word had traveled quickly that an American, a Spanish Civil War refugee, was searching for La Guelga. A cousin of Kivlin's was getting her hair done in a beauty shop. She knew who it was.
She called his brother Constantino.
In a matter of hours, Kivlin was at his brother's home with his cousin. His sister-in-law waved and yelled to him from the fourth-floor apartment.
"I had gone to Spain to find them, and they found me the second day I was there," he said.
They called his only surviving sister, Aurora, the sibling closest to him in age.
"Where have you been? We've been looking for you!" she screamed.
Kivlin started writing everything down in a black book.
Jesus, the oldest, a Communist agitator, had died on Christmas Eve 1937, executed in a field by Franco's men.
Julian, the third son, also died in the war, around 1938 or so.
Cristina, 19, died in 1941 or '42.
Honorina, 23, died in 1948.
Florentino, the brother with whom he had tended sheep, died in Belgium in 1988.
Manuel, his father, died in 1950, having driven away most of his children. He was drinking heavily, had sold his furniture and sheep, and turned inward, Aurora told her brother.
Manuel had expected his youngest to be gone for a few weeks, maybe a few months at most.
"They were hard years for my family," Kivlin said. "I knew then that as far as quality of life, it had been better for me to be over here."
He told his family that he wanted to return to Spain earlier, but that he didn't think he could afford it -- or that any of them were still alive.
"But I needed to find out for sure," he said.
"I'm not bitter. Things happened. I had to accept it. Whatever people did, they didn't do it to harm me."
When he got back to Haltom City, his daughter, Barbara, barely recognized him.
"He looked 10 years younger," she said. "I think it bothered him his whole life, the pain that he carried, not knowing what happened."
That first trip back, Kivlin didn't recognize the tiny village where he had grown up. A bridge that had spanned the valley had washed away years before, his siblings told him, and it changed the look of the place.
And the name of the village is not La Guelga, his family told him.
La Guelga was what our father called the place, a nickname that only people in the village would know, they said.
Kivlin's whole life came together with those words, and he laughed, a kind of shocked and dumbfounded chuckle at the power of two short words written on a piece of paper and slipped into a 7-year-old boy's shirt.
"I was glad to find out," he said. "When you're searching for something and you find it, you can finally piece everything together and you're happy.
"I found the truth."
Last edited by Art on Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:40 pm; edited 1 time in total
Joined: 17 Feb 2003
|Posted: Thu Oct 28, 2004 6:38 pm Post subject:
|Mounting a search for fellow refugees
By Chris Vaughn
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
[This was the sidebar to the article in the previous post.
Thanks again to Chris Vaughn for permission to post his article.]
I M A G E
STAR-TELEGRAM/RON T. ENNIS (photographer)
When Cole Kivlin traveled to the United States with several dozen Spanish and Jewish children in 1942, they wore identification tags around their necks.
In April, Cole Kivlin looked up the number for the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia and made a call.
"I am Corsino Fernandez Garcia, and I would like to talk to someone about the Spanish refugees brought to the United States in 1942," he said.
He could no longer ignore his curiosity about what happened to the boys and girls who had come to the United States with him so many years ago.
The Friends organization, founded by Quakers to promote peace and justice, sent Kivlin copies of the passenger list, denoting children by country and religion.
Every day, he sat at his computer, typing in the names and hoping to hit on an address or phone number. He called hundreds of people and wrote hundreds of letters.
He contacted the Lutheran immigration agency that holds the records for the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children, a long-defunct organization that assigned the children to foster homes and orphanages.
"But they wouldn't help me at all," he said. "They have privacy rules, I guess."
His research has proved fruitful. Of the 40, he knows that three are dead. He has made contact with 18 and is searching for 18 more.
He is collecting the stories of those who crossed in a binder. When all 40 are complete, he hopes to pass them around.
"We may not ever get together for a reunion, but at least we can all know what happened to each other," he said.
Here are the people Kivlin has not found. Their hometowns and ages, where available, come from documents held by the American Friends Service Committee. The youngest would be in their late 60s; the oldest in their mid-70s.
Elvira Abadie, 75, Barcelona, Spain
Luisa Abadie, 73, Barcelona, Spain
Augustina Saez, 74, Alfaro, Spain
Argimiro Diaz, Sama de Langreo, Spain
Luis Diaz, Sama de Langreo, Spain
Jose Fernandez Groba, 75, Bilbao, Spain
Benigno Fernandez, 75, Oviedo, Spain
Manuel Fernandez, 74, Oviedo, Spain
Juan Garcia, 73, Bentarique, Spain
Rosario Garcia, 75, Almeria, Spain
Germinal Luis, 74, Barcelona, Spain