Guide to the 1939 Spanish Exile in the National Archives

The preservation of the documentary memory is a duty of the Spanish State, which is exercised through the Ministry of Culture and Sport, delegated to the General Sub-Directorate of the National Archives (SGAE), an organism that has been working to recover the documentation dispersed by the Exile of 1939.

With the turn of the millennium, an increase in social demand for the documentation of this historical period has also been noted, to such an extent that it has been Spanish society itself that has been demanding the dissemination on the Internet of documentary collections on the Civil War, Francoism, and Exile, whether these are kept in Spain or abroad.

For all these reasons, in 2019 and coinciding with the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the republican Exile, the SGAE published on its institutional website the Guide to the 1939 Spanish Exile in the National Archives, a microsite that compiled the informational resources of the Spanish National Archives on the subject[1].

The Spanish Republican Exile affected at least half a million people, who were forced to leave Spain after the Francoist victory in the Civil War. The main host countries of the diaspora were France, Argentina, and Mexico, the latter of which took in more than 200,000 Spanish refugees. Other destinations of Spanish exiles were Chile, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Moreover, around 9,000 Spaniards are known to have been deported to Nazi concentration camps.

The aim of the Exile Guide is educational, and therefore it has been structured around sections, as the main threads of the story of the Spanish diaspora in 1939, after the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Franco’s regime:

1. Exiled archivists and librarians

The first thread highlights the crucial role that some members of the Faculty of Archivists, Librarians, and Archaeologists played in safeguarding Spain’s historical, artistic, documentary, and bibliographic heritage during the Civil War. Later, after the defeat and their journey into exile, these professionals continued their cultural work, contributing to the development of the profession in their host countries.

2. Refugee ships

The end of the war meant the diaspora of hundreds of thousands of Spaniards that had remained loyal to the government of the Second Republic. The fate of the defeated was to head into exile. The refugee ships on which these Spaniards embarked were the silent witness to the colossal exodus.

The main ships are identified which, through successive maritime voyages across the Atlantic, took the Spanish refugees and their families to the countries that offered to help them start a new life. In some cases, they did not find accommodation at their initial destination and had to re-emigrate to third countries by making new voyages by boat.

3. Aid Organisations  

The third section lists the main humanitarian aid entities created by the government of the Second Spanish Republic with the aim of organising and channelling the massive departure of Spanish refugees to their new destinations once the war had ended. Thus, the leading maritime expeditions were the work of organisations such as the SERE and the JARE, with the collaboration of diplomats and politicians from various countries, especially Mexico.

4. Children of War

The fourth section covers the evacuation and repatriation of children. With the advance of the war front, it proved necessary to protect the civilian population by organising expeditions to evacuate more than 50,000 children to safety. In some cases, it was a temporary evacuation to get them away from the conflict, but in others, it entailed a non-return to their homeland due to the outcome of the war. They are known as the “Children of War”. The expedition of the Children of Morelia was the first of them all.

5. Refugee Camps

The fifth section provides an account of the refugee camps in the French Midi, which the French government set up near the border with Spain in the early months of 1939, close to the conclusion of the Civil War. These camps housed tens of thousands of defeated Spanish refugees, who had crossed the border into France to flee the reprisals of the Francoist faction.

6. Documentary resources

Finally, the last section of the Guide provides more in-depth information resources on the subject so as to enable the user to study the topics of interest in more depth.

To end, the SGAE continues to disseminate content on the 1939 Exile, and nowadays nearly six thousand records of Spanish exiles from the Civil War, linked to their archival documents, are available on the Spanish Archive Portal (PARES) for consultation on the Internet[2].

Josefa Villanueva, Archives Document Information Centre (CIDA)

Pic 1: Return to Spain of children sent back by the Special Delegation for the Evacuation and Repatriation of Minors. Reference code: AGA,33,00800,01
Pic 2: File of a Spanish girl evacuated during the Civil War to France. Reference code: CDMH,PS,SANTANDER,O,C0109,001
Pic 3: Arrival in Valencia of Spaniards repatriated from the Soviet Union. Reference code: AGA,33,01675,018,001
Pic 4: Spanish refugees in the Bram concentration camp (France). Reference code: CDMH,Centelles,03564
Pic 5: Banner of the Spanish Exile Guide

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