The last surviving member of the Spanish unit who were the first to enter Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II has died of coronavirus.
Rafael Gomez Nieto, 99, was the last surviving member of the La Nueve, a division of the French military almost entirely made up of Spanish soldiers who had fled their home country in the Spanish Civil War.
The group were the first to enter Paris to liberate it from the Nazis on 24th August 1944, occupying public buildings among others as they awaited the surrender of the German troops.
Nieto was born in Almeria province, in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, on 29th January 1921 before moving to Badalona in Catalonia with his family.
When he was 15 years old he was a member of the anti-Franco forces in Spain and fought at the Battle of the Ebro in 1938, the largest battle of the Spanish Civil War.
He eventually fled Spain, crossing the border into France where he was taken into a refugee camp with other Spanish Republicans.
Four months later he went to Algeria with his Father and joined the Army of Free France led by General De Gaulle from London.
In Algeria, General Philippe Leclerc organised a group made up of Spaniards, veterans from colonies, Moroccans, and Algerian citizens. The Second Division, including Nieto. went into France in August 1944 during the liberation of Paris.
La Nueve was a company of the Second Division which then went onto participate in the capture of the Eagle’s Nest, the building where Hitler was hiding, on 5th May 1945 and Nieto reportedly kept a camera taken from the building.
He returned to the city of Oran in Algeria where he worked as a shoemaker, marrying a woman named Florence Lopez with whom he had four children.
He returned to Europe in 1955 and moved to Strasbourg, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 2012 he received the Legion of Honour.
He died in Strasbourg after contracting COVID-19 some days ago.
Jean-Paul Gomez, his son told local media that “hospitals in Strasbourg are full, there are no beds.
“He did not suffer, he left in a modest way. The hardest part is that we were not allowed to go to see him, it is a difficult time for everybody.”
His remains will be incinerated.
The King of Spain, Felipe VI, called the veteran’s son to send a message of condolence, local media report.
Ana Maria “Anne” Hidalgo, the Franco-Spanish Mayor of Paris, paid tribute to the fallen hero, saying: “Rafael Gomez has left us and I am very sad about it. He was the last survivor of the Nueve: these Liberation heroes, who were Spanish, were the first to enter Paris. It was an immense honour to have known him. My thoughts go out to his family and loved ones.”