Exhibition group


In the 1930s, fascist governments were on the rise in Europe, starting from Italy and spreading to Germany. Ideological and social conflicts also developed in Spain. Republican “reds” and fascist forces under Franco clashed in the Spanish Civil War. The Fascists conducted a coup against the legitimate democratic government while they didn’t enjoy the support of the majority in the population. Franco united with other nationalist and conservative groups to fight the leftist movement and Catalan autonomous tendencies. The Fascist bloc called itself National Catholic. Thus, Catalan Republicans and Anarchists were excluded.


Many refugees, especially politically persecuted, became stateless when they had to flee to France, as they were recognized neither by the Spanish nor by the French government. Living in constant fear, some of them were sent to concentration camps like Mauthausen. They were forced to wear a triangle with an inscribed “S” meaning “stateless”. This shows the cooperation of Franco with the German National Socialist system. At the same time, groups of exiled were created in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and countries of South America.

Even upon coming back to Fascist Spain later, refugees wore the stigma of being anti-Spanish and communist, facing discrimination. Under Franco many families denied their histories and suppressed the memories of their exile until the end.

Lessons for today/Conclusions

The Spanish political system and great parts of the society officially never distanced themselves from their fascist past. The remembrance of victims, persecuted and refugees was never recognized. However, local civic movements formed to express the feelings and the demands of survivors. They show the collective power of the civil population by cooperating and connecting initiatives.

Refugees from the civil war kept their motivation to fight for a life in peace and dignity. Responsibility for their families and comrades and hopes for a better future enabled them to resist the repression of Franquist fascism. In the later course of their lives, many started to reclaim their biographies. Refugees from the whole world can draw hope from their example, and connect to their stories. By now, a new wave of remembrance includes the young population, and the memory of the Civil War can pass on into general awareness. As the last witnesses of the Spanish Civil War die, their stories shall not fade away with them.

PS1: Ramon Brugues Serra

“I was 8 years old when we had to flee. My mother died when I was 4, so I, with my brothers and sisters we lived with my aunt in Figueres. My father was with the Republicans. When the Civil War started, my aunt decided we should move to France. We were on the road, walking together with thousands of people. The sides of the roads were full with things left behind. There was a dead horse on the road and people were fighting to get a piece of it. To eat, to survive. We were so hungry.

We arrived to La Portuz and took a train to Montpelier, where our uncle was expecting us. But the train never stopped and we arrived to a very cold place with lots of mountains. They put us in a big house with iron bars on the doors and windows. We were desperate. We tried everything to contact our family. Some of the people managed to slip in and out of the place, and contacted our uncle, who was searching for us. He came to Grenoble and took us to Montpelier. We were finally safe with family in France. We were lucky. Not everyone was though.

After few months, it was safe to come back to Figueres. Our uncle and aunt took us from Montpelier to the border with Spain. We had to walk back towards home, on the same mountain road that we had taken to escape before. The smell of war and fire was still in the air. The local Ford shop was still in flames. Our house was robbed many times, but it was still there. But my father was not. He was taken to prison by the forces of Franco. Even when he got out he had to travel to a nearby town to check in with the police every week, and often he was beaten because he was one of the “Rojos” [Red; political opponents]. He could never go to France, because he was a Republican.”

PS2: The father of Ramon’s wife

“I am a blacksmith. When I was arrested and put to prison by the Franco regime, they asked me to repair iron objects like tools, bars, guns. I saw so many horrible destinies inside. Like the one of the man kept locked up in the toilet. His misfortune was greater than ours. All he had was a dirty toilet and a wet mattress they gave for the night. He couldn’t bear the torture and the abuse. He had to end it by himself, smashing his head against the only object he had before him, the toilet. Somehow I don’t see such stories written in history. They just fade away together with us, the witnesses.”

PS3: Xavier Diez, speaking about his friend Joan:

“Joan had a good life, a normal life, like it would appear. When he came back to France he was not speaking Spanish. He studied in France and his family was speaking Catalan. He only came back to Spain because doing the military service in France in that time meant going to the war in Algeria. And he was born in war, in exile, in the Maternity of Elma, because his mother was pregnant with him when her and his father had flee to France.

In Spain, he arrived in sad, poor and depressing times. Despite the circumstances he still managed to live a normal, middle class life: he worked for Nestle, he got married, had two children. But you could always sense the trauma he lived through in his youth. His insecurity was giving it away. He was not belonging to France nor to Spain. One could see it in simple things, like how he was trying to show off his car, or his house, what he has, the material side. You could see the elements of trauma, of what he lived through, despite the normal ordinary life he had here.”

PS4: Xavier Diez, speaking about the brother of his grandmother

“The brother of my grandmother was an anarchist leader. He exiled to France once the war broke out. From France he somehow got to the United State, in Detroit. He was a mechanic, so he started working for the Ford factory there. He progressed a lot in his life, he had money, and big expectations when he came back to Spain in the 60ties. He started working as a commercial representative of Ford in Spain, but the depressing atmosphere and the level of poverty was very traumatic for him. I never met him, because he died before I was born.”

PS5: Postcard in MUME

Maria, this painting represents the sunset of the day in the camp, the hopelessness next to the barbed wire. Write soon, many days passed without a word from you , one month. Greetings from your friend.”


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