Before the Second World War, a great calamity broke out on the Spaniards. The country was devastated by a civil war and many had to flee for various reasons. Their story is told here.Älgbert Elgson
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The Museu Memorial de l’Exili (MUME) is dedicated to the history and memory of the many people who had to flee into exile as a result of the civil war in Spain and Catalonia. Above all, it follows in the footsteps of those who were defeated in this battle. An unequal struggle that paved the rise of the fascist movement in Europe and, consequently, the Second World War. Many women, men and children had to go into exile in 1939 – many thousands of kilometers from their homeland in various countries in Europe, America or Africa. Quite a few of the refugees continued their fight against fascism in the French Resistance or on other fronts in the areas of Europe occupied by fascism. Thousands were also deported to National Socialist concentration camps – for most of them it was a journey of no return.
The MUME is located in La Jonquera, the town near the border crossing into France through which most of the people forced into exile fled. With the permanent as well as changing exhibitions, the museum finds its task in historical research and passing on the memory of the displaced. The conflicts that drive people into exile have been a constant in the long history of humanity. It is still today.
The trail of history
Spain has a long tradition of resolving conflicts – including internal ones – militarily. The short lived First Republic (1873 – 1874) was violently overthrown after just eleven months. Industrialization, which started relatively late and was only possible through foreign aid, was mostly limited to areas near the coast. Most of the inland population remained dependent on agriculture. The landless population’s hope of land ownership was not fulfilled – on the contrary. The bourgeoisie, supported by the government, began to buy agricultural land. This inevitably led to further tensions and the creation and strengthening of socialist and anarcho-syndicalist groups. Spain remained neutral during the First World War. Dissatisfaction with the promotions, which were rejected by a large part of the officer corps, caused a state crisis in 1917 in which the „Juntas“ made up of mainland army units forced a change of government. At the same time, a general strike by workers and socialists, especially in Barcelona, shook the government. The then worsening domestic political tensions led from September 13, 1923 to the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, King Alfonso XIII. agreed. The constitution of 1876 was repealed. Despite widespread support at times, including among workers and intellectuals, Primo de Rivera was only able to hold out until 1930. He was replaced by General Berenguer, who announced municipal elections for April 1931. Republican candidates, disadvantaged by the constituency, were only able to win a fifth of the seats, but they received 40% of the votes, which led to the proclamation of the Second Republic. The king left the country without relinquishing the throne. As a result, at the beginning of the Second Republic in Spain, various incompatible groups faced each other. Economic problems and political inadequacies prevented consolidation. Many reform projects came about with hesitation or were withdrawn after a change of government. The first attempted coup in the young republic was made in August 1932. It shouldn’t be the last. Several uprisings were forcibly suppressed in the following years by the later dictator Francisco Franco. The instability worsened after the victory of the union of left-liberal, socialist and communist parties in the parliamentary elections of February 17, 1936. During this time there were street battles and attacks, and leading generals finally took the murder of the monarchist opposition leader José Calvo Sotelo by members of socialist groups Militias and the Republican Security Police on July 13, 1936 as an opportunity to carry out a long-prepared coup four days later. The pent-up tension caused the overflowing powder keg to explode and the catastrophe of the Spanish Civil War broke out.
The starting point of the conflict, however, was not as clear as it might appear at first. There were disputes and power struggles within the groups of both parties to the conflict. The only unifying element was the status quo. The nationalists wanted to keep it, or bring it to the same level as before the Second Republic and expand their privileges, which they saw in danger. This group consisted mainly of royalists, upper middle classes and landowners. The Republicans wanted to change this old status quo and fight for an improvement in the living conditions of the common workers and peasants. So it is not surprising that this group is composed mainly of socialist, communist and anarchist currents. The long-planned coup by the nationalists started on July 17, 1936 with a military revolt in Spanish Morocco. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, the Spanish armed forces split into a republican and a nationalist army. For the first few days it looked as if the republican government could bring the uprising under control and limit the conflict to Morocco. But National Socialist Germany expressed its open support for the putschists early on and helped General Franco with planes and ships to bring the military units across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. The Third Reich also provided financial support early on. Fascist Italy also provided logistical and military aid. During the war, the Nationalists were supported by more than 50,000 Italians, 20,000 Portuguese, 16,000 Germans, 700 Irish and a few hundred French, Russians, Yugoslavs and Romanians. In addition, there were 6,000 monarchist Carlist and around 15,000 Falangists from Spain. On November 18, 1936, Italy and Germany recognized the Franco regime as the legitimate government. On the republican side, the Soviet Union and Mexico could be counted among the allies. But France also made considerable amounts of material available. The so-called International Brigades were founded by a resolution of Stalin. They consisted of 40,000 volunteers from 52 countries (including 10,000 French, 5,000 Germans, 3,350 Italians, 2,800 Americans, 2,000 British, 1,000 Canadians, 550 Soviet citizens).
The course of the war quickly turned in favor of the nationalist insurgents. Although they initially had less material than their opponents, they were able to turn the tide due to their military skill and measures that were in part incompatible with international law. For example, the civilian population was specifically hunted down and anyone suspected of being close to the socialist or communist cause was either shot immediately or interned in concentration camps based on the German model. The attack by the German Condor Legion on Guernika, which instead of bombing the strategically important bridge, bombed the old town and its civilian population, is also classified as a war crime. By pushing back the Republican Army, more and more people had to flee the reprisals until a large number waited for the inevitable end and defeat in the area from Barcelona along the coast to the French border towards the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. France had closed its borders by then. Tarragona fell on January 15th, Barcelona on January 26th and Girona on February 4th. On February 10, all of Catalonia was occupied. In anticipation of a massacre, around 450,000 people had tried to escape to France despite the cold, snow and constant attacks from the air. The French government opened the border to civilians on January 28 and to members of the Republican armed forces on February 5, who were interned in improvised camps such as Camp de Gurs. Many of them had to remain in exile and could not return to their homeland.
The streets of La Jonquera are very narrow. If you arrive with a large vehicle, you should park outside in the large parking lot at the N-2. For normal cars it is no problem to park in the centrally located parking lots. In the museum it is possible to lock jackets or backpacks in the wardrobe.
How to get there?
La Jonquera is located directly on the Spanish-French border on the AP-7 and N-2.
The MUME is a very informative little museum. Those interested in history are provided with sufficient information and those less interested are not bored to death. The eyewitness accounts are valuable testimonies to history – but it would be better to provide these films with English subtitles in order to bring the dramatic events in their lives closer to visitors who do not speak Spanish or Catalan. When entering the exhibition, every visitor receives an information folder in the respective language in order to better understand the information boards. We recommend everyone who is in the area to visit this museum. After that it is easier to understand the nature of the Catalans.