World War II and the Spanish Refugees

            The successful German invasion of France in May of 1940 did nothing to help the Spanish Republican refugees. After Maréchal Philippe Pétain signed an armistice in June, many of the refugees were still interned in camps in what became known as the “free zone” (the North was the “occupied zone,” under Nazi control). Pétain’s new Vichy government was even less friendly to the Spanish refugees than its predecessor. Since the Republican refugees were seen as left-wing socialists, Communists, and anarchists, the new regime was very suspicious.

As it turned out, they had reason to be. Many Spanish refugees were very committed to the antifascist movement, and participated in the Resistance movement against Nazi occupation and Vichy collaboration. This was incredibly risky. Spanish Republicans who were considered dangerous political opponents of the regime were rounded up and shipped to camps where the conditions were worse than ever. About 12,000 Spanish refugees of the Retirada were deported to Nazi concentration camps, particularly Mauthausen, a brutal labor camp in Austria. Others were kept in France but forced into hard manual labor, building roads, working in factors, and so on.

Many veterans of the Spanish Civil War enlisted in the French army, including the Free French Forces (Forces françaises libres, or FFL). This army, led in exile by General Charles de Gaulle, joined with the Allied forces to combat the Axis powers. Spanish Republican guerilleros took part in the liberation of France.