Remembering the Maternity of Elna

Last Sunday, May 28th, SCI Catalunya participated in the “Trobada de nenes Elna i nenes Nael”, that gathers all the girls named “Elna” and the boys named “Nael”. The meeting, organized every two years, aims at paying tribute to all the families who decided to name their children after the Maternity of Elna, the institution dedicated to helping women exiles of the Spanish Civil War created in Northern Catalonia by the SCI volunteer Elisabeth Eindenbenz.

Maternity of ElnaSCI Catalunya board member Marta Palau Alba, on stage to share some words at the Maternity of Elna, Catalonia, Spain (May 2017)

The Maternity of Elna is an institution supporting exiled women from the Spanish Civil War. Founded in 1929, this Maternity saw the birth of 600 babies, whose mothers where refugees in the camps close to Elna. The Maternity of Elna was also known as the Swiss Maternity, as it was promoted by the Swiss organization, the Swiss branch of Service Civil International.

This was the sixth meeting for the young Elnes and Naels to remember the story behind their names. During the day, children and family had the chance to remember, learn and have fun together. SCI Catalunya was asked to share some words in the parliaments that opened the event together with Bruno Ryff, Swiss consul in Barcelona; Edouard Beslay, French Consul in Barcelona; Mónica Garrigue-Auzeil, First Deputy Mayor and Council for Culture and Heritage; Angelina Fournier, Deputy Mayor representing Elna’s town Mayor; and Raül Romeva i Rueda, the Catalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations and Transparency.

We would also like to share with you the some of the words that we shared with the assistants at the event:

“Like The Maternity of Elna, the Service Civil International was born surrounded by war and with the desire to transform an unfair reality. It was 1920 and Europe was devastated by World War.

The Maternity of Elna marked SCI history both in the type of work – working with refugees and civil society with different origins, cultures and religions- and the commitment – working against violence and for a better world.

For us, it is a great example of pacifism that demonstrates the capacity of civil society, of people, to self-organize in solidarity when governments’ actions are not enough. The Maternity of Elna was a tribute to life and not just to any life but a decent life. Because we are all born equals and all have - or should have - the same rights.

Today, 78 years after the creation of the Maternity of Elna and almost 100 years after the foundation of the Service Civil International, we are still surrounded by realities that we want to transform:

Last year, the number of people who died trying to cross the Mediterranean sea reached the 5000. We live in a country where the rights of migrant people are systematically violate in Detention centres. A country where racism and gender inequality are still present in our education and where, on the other hand, we miss values such as culture of peace, nonviolence and critical thinking.

It may seem that society does not learn from history and continues repeating the same mistakes over and over again. But we are many who do remember, and continue to believe in a better future and work for it. All the families that are here today are an example of it.

And to those who have the name Elna or Nael: somehow your name gives you a special peace and strength to make yours a life that is worth living every day. A peace that you can share with the lives around you and the force that allows you to transform those realities that you consider unfair. Make the most of them.”

You can read more about the work of Elisabest Eindenbenz and the Maternity of Elna in the Memoric Booklet that was published as part of SCI's project Memory Beyond Rhetoric. 


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