Aftermath and Memory


After the end of World War II, all of Europe was in turmoil. Around 30 million people were displaced over the course of the war, and the Spanish Republicans were just one more group in the chaos. Their options were limited. The staunch Communists who went to the Soviet Union in 1939 had been brutally persecuted by Stalin, so that was not a viable option after the war. Thousands migrated to sympathetic Mexico or Cuba. Most, however, remained in France. They quietly assimilated over the years, learning French and raising bilingual families. Manual jobs were plentiful, because war-torn France needed as many men as possible to rebuild infrastructure and replace the many war dead. Return to Spain was dangerous and unprofitable: years of dictatorship took a heavy toll on the economy, leftists were silenced, and returning refugees still risked reprisal even decades after the Retirada.

Over time, France forgot about the Retirada and the thousands of Spanish refugees it brought. After the war, President de Gaulle promoted a new vision of France: a proud, strong France that collectively resisted the Nazis. By glossing over the nastier aspects of the past, the French could move forward and assuage the guilt of defeat, betrayal of French Jews, and collaboration. The story of the Retirada did not fit in with the new official narrative of French history, so it was ignored.

Only in recent years has the Retirada regained interest. The children and grandchildren of the survivors are vocal about keeping their families’ legacy and stories alive. The year 2009 was the 70thanniversary of the Retirada, and organizations in the south of France arranged conferences, documentary showings, art and photo exhibitions, and commemorative hikes to honor the occasion. The descendants of the Spanish Republicans are committed to preserving its memory.

There is a Museum of Exile in La Jonquera, Catalonia whose permanent exhibit is dedicated to the Civil War and the exodus of the Spanish Republicans

American students hiking the Retirada trail from Portbou, France to Figueras, Spain, March 2009


About adriennetyrey

I am a graduate student in the Michigan State University Department of History. My area of study is Amazigh culture and language policy of the French Protectorate of Morocco. I earned my bachelor's degree in History and French from the University of Tulsa.
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2 Responses to Aftermath and Memory

  1. I am the grandson of a Republican pilot that walked the Retirada trail in 1939. My grandfather crossed the border into France and was confined in a concentration camp. He managed to survive, and, reunite his family, and made it to Mexico as an exile. I am a mexican visual artist, and I have a plan to hike the Retirada trail backwards, from the former concentration camp in Argeles- sur- mer in France, to Barcelona. Any information regarding this hike would be highly appreciated!!

    • Hello Javier!

      Your project sounds fascinating! Your grandfather’s story deserves to be recuperated and celebrated. When are you planning on taking your hike? It would be beautiful and pleasant most of the year, but of course if you want to hike the trail in January like your grandfather would have, it will be cold and risky. Do you know where he crossed the border? There were numerous entry points, and the ones I’m most familiar with are in Le Perthus and Cerbere (the latter is through the mountains along the coast and has some stunning views).

      The bibliography I posted on this blog is only partial, and if you’re interested I can direct you to many more sources in English, Spanish, and French.

      While in France you ought to contact FFREEE ( They’ve organized Retirada hikes in the past and will be delighted to hear from a fellow son of the exile. Additionally, you might be interested in this project:

      Best of luck; please keep me posted on your expedition! And thank you for introducing me to your work (I particularly appreciate the exilio series, of course!)


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