Search results

Abstract only
France and the Spanish Civil War refugees, 1939–2009
Author: Scott Soo

As they trudged over the Pyrenees, the Spanish republicans became one of the most iconoclastic groups of refugees to have sought refuge in twentieth-century France. This book explores the array of opportunities, constraints, choices and motivations that characterised their lives. Using a wide range of empirical material, it presents a compelling case for rethinking exile in relation to refugees’ lived experiences and memory activities. The major historical events of the period are covered: the development of refugees’ rights and the ‘concentration’ camps of the Third Republic, the para-military labour formations of the Second World War, the dynamics shaping resistance activities, and the role of memory in the campaign to return to Spain. This study additionally analyses how these experiences have shaped homes and France’s memorial landscape thereby offering an unparalleled exploration of the long-term effects of exile from the mass exodus of 1939 through to the seventieth-anniversary commemorations in 2009.

Abstract only
Coming to terms with the Spanish republican exile in France
Scott Soo

Why is the Spanish republican exile in France of such historical importance? When discussing the origins and development of this exile why might we use the notion of ‘routes’ as opposed to ‘roots’? This introductory chapter sets out to answer these questions by assessing the scale and nature of French responses to the Spanish Civil War refugees’ arrival along with how these refugees differed from other migration episodes. What emerges from this discussion is the need to reconsider the notion of exile in relation to both the refugees and their hosts. While the narratives of return, nostalgia and paralysis are often central to cultural representations of the Spanish republican exile, this introductory chapter explains how a different set of characteristics emerge when focusing on the lived experiences and memories of exile in France. The result is a call for historical contingency and the enabling properties of remembrance to be incorporated into our understanding of the Spanish republican exile.

in The routes to exile
The exodus of 1939
Scott Soo

Given France’s reputation as a refuge for the persecuted why did the French government receive the Spanish Civil War refugees so ambivalently? This chapter addresses this question by situating the 1939 exodus within the context of early twentieth-century immigration history in France. The last part of the chapter resonates with the refugees’ voices and identifies their strategies for coping with the harrowing journey across the Pyrenees. This border crossing represented the culminating point in a process involving the unravelling of both the Spanish republicans’ identities and the French Republic’s commitment to asylum.

in The routes to exile
Scott Soo

Outlines the reactions of the French authorities, press and public to the refugees’ arrival in France. Although some French nationals reacted with gestures of solidarity, the refugees faced a considerable level of discrimination and pressure to return to Spain. The most visible sign of exclusion existed on the beaches of the French Mediterranean where close to two hundred thousand refugees were penned into sprawling ‘concentration’ camps. The remaining refugees, mostly women, children and the elderly, were housed in reception centres elsewhere in France where conditions were often very basic. Comparisons are drawn between the reductive and scaremongering reporting of the Spanish refugees by much of the French press, and French officials’ descriptions of refugees arriving in their localities. The chapter reveals how French officials mobilised cultural difference in order to secure the exclusion and return of the refugees to Spain.

in The routes to exile
Scott Soo

This chapter explores the Spanish republicans’ responses to the onset of exile with a focus on the reconstruction of their organisations, networks and collective identities. The chapter presents an overview of the Spanish republican government and the main organisations in exile before looking at the reconstruction of inter-personal and organisational networks in the camps. It additionally reveals the effects of internment and the various ways in which refugees recreated group identities, from the telling of stories to the commemoration of dates from the Spanish and French republican calendars.

in The routes to exile
Abstract only
Refugees and the French war economy, 1939–40
Scott Soo

Questions the view that all refugees endured an increasingly repressive context at the end of the Third Republic by showing how the war economy created certain, though limited, opportunities for the Spanish republicans. The introduction of the refugees into workplaces through the Foreign Labour Companies and other work schemes secured an end to mass internment and was followed by improved working conditions. Nonetheless, the French authorities had to contend with problems of surveillance and issues of legitimacy as some Spanish republicans protested or escaped from the Labour Companies in order to retain some agency over their lives in France.

in The routes to exile
Scott Soo

This chapter studies the refugees’ experiences in Vichy’s Foreign Labour Groups and the German Organisation Todt. How similar were Vichy’s Labour Groups to the Labour Companies of the Third Republic? How effective were the French and German authorities’ strategies for controlling the refugee workers? What were the refugees’ motivations for escaping from French and German workplaces? In the course of the discussion, this chapter shows how initial reluctance to employ the refugees by Vichy and German officials was replaced by a realisation of their labour potential and a corresponding amelioration in working conditions. This was followed by a competing demand for labour combined with the development of rival refugee labour strategies by Vichy and the Germans which inadvertently created new possibilities for Spanish republicans needing to change their place of work. As French and German authorities became increasingly reliant on Spanish republican labour a pronounced pattern of refusal and revolt unfolded with workplaces becoming central to Spanish republican resistance.

in The routes to exile
Scott Soo

The different ways in which the refugees responded to the possibility of returning to Spain are the focus of this chapter. The refugees’ aim of returning was not accompanied by a nostalgic discourse about an idyllic homeland, but rather justified by references to atrocious conditions in Spain, and the Spanish republicans’ participation in the Liberation of France and Europe. Expectations of an imminent return resulted in a mass incursion of Spanish republican guerrilla fighters into Spain, the re-appropriation of Spanish consulates in southwest France, and a prolific round of public meetings and commemorative activity designed to call attention to the Spanish republican cause. For the first time since their arrival, the refugees began mobilising a collective memory of exile in France as part of their strategy for returning to Spain. But as it became clear there would be no French and western intervention or support for overthrowing General Franco, the socio-political framework of exilic memory declined. This proto-commemorative culture of exile nevertheless established some of the central themes of the commemorative culture that gradually began to emerge during the 1970s.

in The routes to exile
Scott Soo

The title ‘Moving Memories’ refers to the affective, changing and spatially mobile characteristics of Spanish republicans’ memory activities. The chapter reflects on the place of refugees’ memories within and beyond the memory framework of the French nation state. It demonstrates both the possibilities and limits of Nora’s work for understanding refugees’ memories through a discussion of the relationship between lieux and milieux de mémoire. The emphasis then turns to Spanish republican remembrance practices in both public and private spaces in France. The chapter explains how and why a commemorative culture of the Spanish republican exile slowly started to appear during the 1970s. It then charts the development of memory associations in France from the 1980s to the seventieth anniversary of the Retirada in 2009. The last section of the chapter reveals how Spanish republicans have constructed a sense of home through material culture and everyday rituals. Their narratives evoke the long-lasting effects of exile, but also underline how any understanding of exile necessarily involves a consideration of the attitudes and reactions of the host country.

in The routes to exile
Abstract only
Trajectories and legacies
Scott Soo

This concluding chapter reiterates that the ‘routes’ to the Spanish republican exile in France are to be found in the refugees’ reactions to the interactive, spatial, and temporal dynamics of daily life. In the course of the discussion, the chapter draws attention to a number of issues. A symbiotic approach to history and memory is useful for understanding just how deeply refugees were affected by their arrival and subsequent relations in France. Secondly, the relationship between asylum and the economy is highlighted along with the ways in which the Spanish republicans sought to maintain a degree of agency over the type, place and conditions of work.

This chapter closes with the issue of memory. More particularly, it questions the prominence of Gaullist and (French) resistance discourses at the Liberation by drawing attention to the array of French-Spanish republican commemorative events which occurred at the local level. It then outlines the legacy of the Spanish republicans’ remembrance practices in contemporary France and the accompanying transnational dynamic.

in The routes to exile