Spanish Culture behind Barbed Wire: Memory and Representation of the French Concentration Camps, 1939-1945

Spanish Culture behind Barbed Wire: Memory and Representation of the French Concentration Camps, 1939-1945

Spanish Culture behind Barbed Wire: Memory and Representation of the French Concentration Camps, 1939-1945

Spanish Culture behind Barbed Wire: Memory and Representation of the French Concentration Camps, 1939-1945

Synopsis

By the end of the Spanish Civil War in March of 1939, almost 500,000 Spaniards had fled Francisco Franco's newly established military dictatorship. More than 275,000 refugees in France were immediately interned in hastily constructed concentration camps, most of which were located along the open shorelines of France's southernmost beaches. This book chronicles the cultural memory of this war refugee population whose stories as camp inmates in the early 1940s remain largely unknown, unlike the wide dissemination of the literature and testimony of the survivors of Nazi death camps. The hidden history of France's seaside camps for Spanish Republicans spawned a rich legacy of cultural works that dramatically demonstrate how a displaced political community began to reconstitute itself from the ruins of war, literally from the sands of exile. Combining close textual analyses of memoirs, poetry, drama, and fiction with a carefully researched historical perspective, Spanish Culture behind Barbed Wire Investigates how the most significant literature of the early post-civil war exile period appropriated the concentration camp as a discursive vehicle.

Excerpt

Quizá la historia entre en vía de razón cuando la conduzcan hom
bres dotados de larga memoria y hondo sentimiento, que conserven
vivo, como si ellos lo hubiesen vivido, el recuerdo—la experien
cia—de todas las derrotas.

[Perhaps history will be on the right path when it is written by men
who have a long memory and deep compassion, who keep alive, as
if it were their very own, the memory—the experience—of all de
feats.]

—María Zambrano, “Sentido de la derrota”

Y si no puedo verme,
si de mí quedan sólo las raíces,
si los pájaros buscan vanamente
el lugar de sus nidos
en las tristes ausencias de mis brazos,
entonces, desde el fondo,
con el silencio de una primavera,
brotaré de la tierra como llanto
insinuaciones de verdor y vida.

[And when I can no longer see myself / when only my roots
remain, / when the birds look in vain / for where their nests once
were / held in the sorrowful absence of my arms, / then, from the
very depths, / with the silence of springtime, / I will spring forth
from the earth like a sob / verdant promises of new life.]

—Manuel Altolaguirre, “Ultima muerte”

In the spring of 1975, just months before the death of the SPANish dictator Francisco Franco, the well-known writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán penned a short preface, “Perder la historia” (A Lost History), for a collection of essays written by the longtime Republican exile Carlos Sampelayo, Los que no volvieron (The Ones Who Never Returned). in his remarks, Vázquez Montalbán reported that, almost forty years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish state would at long last implement a program to grant pensions for the disabled veterans who had fought to defend the democratically elected Spanish Republic against the Franco-led military insurgency in 1936. Unlike their . . .

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