Tuesday, February 21, 2012


They call it “La Retirada” in Spanish, or “la retraite” in French, or “the retreat”.




(Note from Morgan---This is the first year that Romani were invited to the annual commemoration)

Seventy years ago, in less than two months, half a million people fled from Spain to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Franco’s troops were sweeping through Catalunya: Tarragona fell on 14 January, followed by Barcelona on 26 January and Girona on 5 February. Five days later, the last resistance in Catalunya was broken.
The defeated republican soldiers and refugees walked through the snow, in a long march across the high passes of the Pyrenees. France wasn’t prepared for the huge exodus, and didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet, or any other coloured carpet for that matter.

The women and children were divided into shelters, and the local hospitals were swamped. Some of them, such as the hospital of Saint Louis de Perpignan, would only admit the sick or seriously wounded patients, at the expense of women on the verge of childbirth. So the majority of pregnant refugees from January to October 1939 gave birth in the stables of Hares, near Perpignan. The rate of infant mortality approached 90%, and the women themselves often died due to complications during delivery.

Meanwhile the men were herded into makeshift open-air camps, on the beaches of Argelès, Saint Cyprien and Barcarès.

Internment or exile

After a bitter civil war, and the long march and the cold, hunger and disease, they were housed in squalid conditions in about 31 internment camps around the region. You can get some idea of the scale of all of this from Robert Capa’s photos of the camps and of the Retirada itself

Some of the refugees later emigrated again, to North America or South America. An example is the ship of 2,000 people who ended up in Chile – one of the mercy missions arranged by the Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda, a diplomat in France at the time.

Others were returned to Franco’s Spain, ending up in the Miranda de Ebro camp for “purification”. Others again were forced into work gangs. After the fall of France in June 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy government in June 1940, the French police tried to round up those who had been liberated, and the remaining refugees in the camps became political prisoners. Many ended up in the Nazi death camps.

Others survived and eventually integrated into French society. They include a charming old man in our village who walks his little old dogs past our house every day. At first glance he looks like a shepherd with four very well behaved sheep trotting around him. We haven’t seen him lately, so we hope he’s OK. The mind boggles to think how he would have been eight or nine when he took part in La Retirada

Commemoration of the "Retirada" ( the Retreat), like every month of february to commemorate the exil of the spanish antifascists whom ended up in the concentrationnary camps in southern France.

For the first time, the Romanies were invited to this event, and the romanies from Perpignan brought out the romani flag.

This chapter of the "Holocauste", of romanies dying side by side with spanish antifascists, has always being silenced, because these camps where not controlled by german Nazis, but by the French government of Vichy.


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