Republican Exiles in France
Repository: Centro Documental de Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Creator: Centelles, Agustí, 1909-1985
Fond or Collection
Repository and Location
Centro Documental de Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Date Created: 1939
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Bram, France
Between the end of January and the beginning of February 1939, more than 450,000 people crossed the border between Spain and France through Catalonia. They were fleeing from the unstoppable advance of Franco's troops in their offensive for the final occupation of Catalan territory that began on December 23, 1938, a month after their victory in the Battle of the Ebro. Responding to evacuation orders and fear of reprisals and brutality from Francoist forces that faced almost no resistance from a retreating Popular Army, a human flood began in the province of Tarragona and increased as the rebels occupied the cities of Tarragona on January 15, Barcelona on January 26, and Gerona on February 4, as well as dozens of other cities and towns.
Faced with these hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, along with Republican troops with their equipment in tow, who were arriving at the border, the French Government tried to negotiate the establishment of a neutral zone supervised by international authorities to house the refugees. Franco refused, which forced the French to open the border, first to civilians, and then, on February 5, to the combatants, who were immediately disarmed. Some were sent to makeshift concentration camps on the beaches of Argelèrs-sur-Mer, Saint-Cyprien and Le Barcarès. There, deprived of any services, they endured terrible sufferings. Others were sent to Bram and other camps in the interior where conditions were somewhat better. For their part, the civilians were sent to other departments in southern France. Later, at the end of March, and after the occupation of Madrid and the central republican zone, refugees would also arrive in French North Africa by sea.
At the end of 1939, approximately 300,000 of the refugees had returned to Spain, trusting in Franco's propaganda which claimed, falsely as it turned out, that no-one should fear Francoist justice if they didn’t have blood on their hands. Many remained interned in France until the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939 when Republican ex-combatants were given the option of joining the Foreign Legion or joining the Auxiliary Workers' Companies of the French army. Some would be captured by the German troops after the defeat of June 1940 and, after Franco refused to have them transferred to Spain, sent to Nazi concentration camps. Others would manage to escape and join the Resistance and the French maquis, fighting for the liberation of the country. They would later be recognized as fighters for the freedom of France.
16,000 republicans were interned in the Bram camp, near Carcassonne. Among them was the Barcelona-based photographer Agustí Centelles (1909-1985)who produced invaluable visual documentation of exceptional importance.