The Spanish Exile
"They will find in Mexico their second fatherland; they will be able to practice their professions, doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, as if they had obtained their degrees in our universities, and the Mexican University will be honored to open the doors to the professorships that for the love of liberty and the independence of their country it was made impossible for them to live in Spain."
These words were spoken by Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas at the outset of the Spanish Civil War. Cardenas knew what the outcome of the conflict would be: the defeat of the democratically elected Frente Popular and the displacement of the hundreds of thousands who opposed Generalisimo Francisco Franco. It was not a difficult prediction to make as German and Italian forces fueled Franco' s war machine
while England and the United States stauncWy applied their non-intervention policies. By February 1939, the Frente Popular was surrounded in central Spain and Franco was recognized internationally as the leader of the country. The Frente Popular surrendered March 28.
The war broke out one day after fue elections of February 16, 1936. The exile began immediately; first an internal migration of civilians to free territories within the Spanish republic and later to France. In Spain the refugee camps were overcrowded and underfunded with few exceptions, one being the Colonia Mexico, funded by the Mexican Embassy in Spain. The French concentration carnps began to fill during January 1939, and many refugees perished while crossing the Pyrenees to reach them; whatever fate awaited them in France was considered better than remaining in Spain. The conditions in the French carnps were inhuman at best, and many people died before Lazaro Cardenas could fulfill his promise of granting them asylum.
Though the first exiles, 450 children, carne to Mexico in June, 1937, the Spanish Exile in Mexico is considered to have officially begun June 13, 1939, with the arrival of 1,566 prisoners from fue French concentration carnps. A total of 4,617 concentration camp
survivors were given refuge in Mexico. By the early 1940s, some
30,000 Spanish exiles were graciously accepted by their new fatherland. Tragically, 400,000 Spanish republicans could not flee Spain. Half of them died in prison or were executed by 1943.
Cardenas kept his promise. Though many did not reach Mexico, Cardenas' govemment stood out as the one who most supported the democratic ideals of the Spanish exiles in the face of international indifference. The three generations of exiles living in Mexico will never forget his life-saving vision, and how he granted them the most important of all human rights: freedom. O
Amal, Ariel Imagenes del Exilo Español,UniversidadAutónoma de México, 1999. Krauze, Enrique Mexico: Biography of Power, first edition, Harper Collins, 1997. Vidardte, Juan-Simeon "Ante la Tumba del Presidente de la República Mexicana, Sr. General Lázaro Cárdenas" boletín mensual de la caja Regional Valenciana, Num 179-180, México, noviembre-diciembre de 1970.
Photo: Joaquín SantamarÍa. The ship "Sinaia" in Veracruz, June 13, 1939. From the photo exhibition, "Imagenes del Exilio Español," Noverber 1999-February 2000 in the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Artes de México, D.F.