Refugees under attack
Repository: Osler Library, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Creator: Bethune, Norman, 1890-1939
Creator: Sise, Hazen 1906-1974
Contributor: Publicaciones Iberia
Fond or Collection
Norman Bethune Collection
P156-11-3, File 3
Repository and Location
Osler Library, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
The war produced a vast number of internal refugees. Rebel conquest of Republican-held territory and news of the subsequent repression led large numbers of people to flee for safety. Reaching a total of 3 million, these displaced people put additional stress on Republican authorities, who were already straining to supply their citizens with food. The rebel advance towards Madrid in July and August 1936 drove people from Andalucía, Extremadura, and Toledo. In many villages, more than half the population had fled. Their destination, Madrid, was overwhelmed by up to 500,000 refugees.
With the rebels at the gates of the capital in early November, the Madrid Defence Council, which was left in charge of the city when the government moved to Valencia, organized the evacuation of Madrid. Working with the Red Cross, International Red Aid, and political and union organizations, by February 1937 the Evacuation Department had moved up to 450,000 people to other parts of Republican Spain, especially to provinces on the Mediterranean coast: Murcia, Alicante, Valencia, Castellón, Tarragona and Gerona.
The largest movement of refugees before the conquest of Catalonia in 1939 came early in 1937. The Nationalist attack on Málaga, which began on 3 February, produced the mass exodus of civilians known as the Desbandá. Having heard news of Francoist repression as well as listening to months of General Queipo de Llano’s radio broadcasts, at least 150,000 people, mostly women and children, fled along the coastal road to Almería, approximately 200 kilometres away. As they fled, they were attacked by Francoist tanks, artillery, and Francoist, Italian, and German planes, and bombarded by Francoist naval vessels. The attacks lasted for five days and continued even as the refugees entered Almería itself. At least 5,000 were killed.
The only visual evidence of this war crime are the photographs taken by Hazen Sise, a member of Dr. Norman Bethune’s Canadian Blood Transfusion Service. Sise and Bethune were en route to Málaga when they heard of the exodus and during three days used their ambulance to transport refugees to Almería. Bethune included his colleague’s photos in the booklet The crime on the road Malaga-Almeria he published shortly afterwards.