On the Argelès-sur-Mer memorial: “French and German youth know more about the Civil War and Francoism than the Spanish”

“It is night, but we realize that we are walking on sand. where can we be Before we’re a few blocks away, the guard says, “We’re here,” and walks away. The disappointment is great. I walked all day, probably 40 kilometers, barely eating and sleeping too much in the open air and on the sand. what are we going to do here Now we are refugees brought in to be dumped on the beach and, moreover, to make do with what they give us.”

This is only a small fragment of the testimony of Isidro Torres Vivens, one of the hundreds of thousands of Republican exiles – it is estimated that there were about half a million – who had to leave Spain between February and March 1939, when General Francisco. Franco was on the verge of ending the civil war and starting a forty-year dictatorship.

These are the words gathered together with a hundred other dramatic statements – where you can feel sadness and disappointment, but also hope – defending and exploring the Memorial du Camp de Argelès-sur-Mer, a municipality in the south-east of France, on whose coast they were. About 100,000 Spaniards fleeing Franco’s troops were imprisoned.

Paradoxically, all this valuable material – to which are added photographs, books, works of art and all kinds of things, donated or private archives – is stored outside the borders of Spain. It is not for this reason, however, that it is still accessible to both researchers and exiles who experienced the hell of sand and salt water in Argelès or their descendants.

In fact, the team behind the memorial has been working for a quarter of a century (the twenty-fifth anniversary of this work will take place in 2024, when the center, in turn, celebrates its decade) on the spread. Painful Spanish exile or withdrawal, so in capital letters, as they call this historical chapter in the French museum. A kind of dynamic that raises the voice of the tragedy almost a century after the events, and thus ends up forgetting this very serious episode, embarrassing the French and the Spanish.

Testimonies are from Hispanics, but also from prisoners of other nationalities, and are diverse in nature, and some of them are available online. “It is the direct experience of thousands of people who suffered and were destroyed by the barbarism of the coup d’état of 1936, the contribution of life,” they explain in the memorial. At the center, they explain, the archives allow us to measure “how coup leaders, aided by German Nazis and Italian fascists, destroy the legitimate state, destroy the democratic rights of its citizens, freedom of thought and expression, or social progress.” And they plunge Spain into the darkness and brutality of one of the longest and most terrible dictatorships in the world,” emphasizes Olga Arcos, daughter of Spanish immigrants and representative of the Argelès-sur-Mer Field Memorial. “This memory of the defeated has enormous value because it was destroyed by Franco’s dictatorial regime, silenced by fear of reprisals, and it was difficult for many refugees to express what they experienced before they wanted to turn the page,” he adds.

“Loneliness, worry, lack of family relationships plunged men into an abyss and led to uncertainty in which prospects were unpredictable; For this reason, each tried to escape in the best way possible. ” These are the distant but clear words of another refugee, Isidoro Ribas, who was forced to leave his native Catalonia to experience inhumane conditions on the beaches of Argelès, with almost no food, outside in winter and only one doctor. for thousands of people.

They confirm from the memorial that some testimonies are more detailed than others, some reflect the wording of the lawyers, and others reveal the experience more simply. Although everyone, without exception, emotions arise. “The sadness of leaving their land, the hope that turns to despair when they arrive in France and face the conditions of reception, hunger, cold, scabies and lice, beatings by the border guards…”.

However, there are also words that immortalize the love for Spain and, above all, “the undivided will to continue the fight for freedom, or the act of war to demand rights and decent living and working conditions, in addition to inexhaustible solidarity,” he says.

Do you usually get questions to learn more about the content of all this material? “We very often receive requests from students and researchers, as well as groups and organizations working for memory to find information about the Retreat and the Argèles camp. The staff themselves already have experience assisting and guiding scholars in the analysis of this unique corpus of texts that give voice to exile, although they are particularly focused on relatives who arrive in the French city in search of answers. “They have a personal history related to exile, but the issue was never discussed at home; They are looking for information to try to reconstruct the family’s journey… because the silence was not only collective but also within the families themselves,” Arcos asserts.

“I spoke to my mother, I told her she could go back to Spain with little Pilar if she wanted to, but I wouldn’t go back as long as Franco was there. Mother told me that she will not come back without me, and the three of us decided to get out. Anarchist activist Rosa Lavinia Carreras recounts how, despite everything, she and her family refused transport that would have taken them back to their homeland, not even knowing what they were going to do in the Argelès concentration camp where they slept in stables. , on straw, the first fifteen days, without even undressing.

Now that all this evidence has been released, it is interesting to know how France – a host country that expected a few hundred emigration but found hundreds of thousands – has dealt with the insults inflicted on Republican Spaniards. Olga Arkos admits that “the topic of withdrawal was more or less taboo”, “in any case a product of a mixture of guilt, shame, irritation, because of the terrible conditions that the refugees were given”. At the same time, the exile episode has not historically been removed from the Spanish taboo. From the memorial, they believe that the dictatorship “intended to erase the democratic and republican memory, to rewrite history from the Francoist criteria of the coup plotters.”

Perhaps in this silence is the beginning of a surprising reality. At the Argelès-sur-Mere Field Memorial, they receive hundreds of schoolchildren each year – almost 4,000 this year, out of the 15,000 visits they average each year. History of the country in the 20th century. “We realize that they absolutely lack knowledge not only of the Spanish exile, but also of the coup d’état, the civil war, the dictatorship or Franco’s repressions…”. Compounding the issue is the knowledge that, as Olga Arcos points out, “it always surprises us, especially if we compare them to other French, German or English young people who visit the memorial and know more about Spanish history than Spanish”.

And while France is aware of this sad historical episode and Spain is taking timid steps towards recognizing the displaced – Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited Argelès-sur-Mer in 2019 for the 80th anniversary of the mass deportation of Spaniards, the city of France is authentically on a “memory tour” of the first months of 1939. The old entrance to the hawthorn-fenced beaches to receive 100,000 Spaniards is today commemorated with a monolith as a sign of respect for the Republicans. But those who visit Argelès will also be able to visit the small “Cimetière des Espagnols” (Spanish Cemetery) located at 1939 Avenida de la Retirada, where stands a stela with the names of those who died in the countryside. Finally, in 2009, a plaque was placed at the northern end of the concentration camp, another informative stage that completes the posters that break the silence about the deportations in the municipality.

Details of Argelès’ past, leading to the concentration camp memorial, where documentation and archives relating to the passage of the fugitives have been found and preserved. The landscapes of the center, as those responsible explain, “allow us to reconstruct the history of the village”, a history that begins in the Second Spanish Republic, with the coup d’état of General Franco and almost three years of fratricide. argument. “The wall of the museum represents the border between France and Spain, which allows you to cross into the second room, where Argelès is already visible; On the one hand and on the other hand, the large panels recall events, heroes or the vision of the media, as well as the capital aspect: the organization and life in the countryside,” they describe.

But, beyond memory and respect, the Campo de Argelès-sur-Mer memorial works to convey a message that is too serious and important to ignore for Spaniards, past or 21st century Spaniards. Olga Arkos claims that “the July 1936 coup d’état and the civil war are not only a harbinger of the Second World War, but can also be considered its prologue; It was a clash between defenders of democracy against the onslaught of Fascist, Nazi and, of course, Francoist forces.

The message, which is going to become a real rallying cry, loud and clear: “Spanish refugees were one of the first to fight against the Nazis, joined the resistance, for which they paid a heavy price for deportation to German camps and contributed a very important way to free France and Europe from Nazism and fascism “, – firmly confirms the representative of the memorial. “Our archives – concludes Arcos – testify to this life that fought for freedom and against the oppression that so many Spaniards continued to submit to in exile.”

Source: El Diario

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