Spanish resistance fighter to General de Gaulle, when asked how long he had been in the Resistance, ‘With all respect, General, before you.’
Quoted in From Love And War In The Pyrenees: A Story Of Courage, Fear And Hope, 1939-1944 by Rosemary Bailey. Via Richard Baxell
Arthur Koestler, Le Vernet concentration camp, Toulouse 1939.
A percentage of the continent’s population had become quite accustomed to the thought that they were outcasts. They could be divided into two main categories: people doomed by biological accident of their race and people doomed for their metaphysical creed or rational conviction regarding the best way to organise human welfare. The latter category included the progressive elite of the intelligentsia, the middle classes and the working classes in Central, Southern and Eastern Europe.
Thus wrote Arthur Koestler from his own internment in Le Vernet concentration camp near Toulouse which was “rehabilitated” by the Daladier government to intern International Brigaders who had crossed into France with the defeated Spanish Republican army after the fall of Catalonia in February 1939. Unlike the beach internment camps, such as Argelès, St Cyprien and Le Barcarès, which were hastily set up to contain the Spanish refugees, Le Vernet, like Gurs and a small number of the other camps across the south-west, was expressly conceived as a punishment or disciplinary camp. So while those refugees in the beach camps suffered appalling conditions, especially at the start, through the sheer lack of basic facilities and even shelter, in Le Vernet the inmates were subjected to an explicit prison regime – which of course says much about how the French government viewed the brigaders. More here
Some 4,000 Spanish Republicans were deported by the Nazis to the occupied Channel Islands and were forced to work building fortifications; only 59 survived. From Paul Preston’s “The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge“
A belated Holocaust Memorial Day remembrance.
Llorenç Vitria, from Barcelona and flyweight Olympic champion in Paris 1924, managed to cross into France in 1939 where he was later captured by the Nazis, and sent to the hell of Gusen, a sub-camp of Mauthausen, Austria. Here he was registered as prisoner number 4,074 and given a unifom with an “S” denoting “Spanien”. The SS used to entertain themselves in the camp organising boxing fights between the prisoners. Without hope and tired of all the horror, on 18 June 1941 he committed suicide by throwing himself against an electrified fence . The plaque can be seen today in Mauthausen. More here in Catalan
Referring to the contribution of the Spanish Maquis to the French resistance movement, Martha Gellhorn wrote in The Undefeated (1945):
“During the German occupation of France, the Spanish Maquis engineered more than four hundred railway sabotages, destroyed fifty-eight locomotives, dynamited thirty-five railway bridges, cut one hundred and fifty telephone lines, attacked twenty factories, destroying some factories totally, and sabotaged fifteen coal mines. They took several thousand German prisoners and – most miraculous considering their arms – they captured three tanks. In the south-west part of France where no Allied armies have ever fought, they liberated more than seventeen towns.”