Category Archives: post-en

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Barcelona: 800 Days under the Bombs

Tuesday 10 November –  At a quarter past ten at night feelings of alarm spread across the city as the sound of heavy gunfire in the distance. The official explanation given was that a coastguard vessel had opened fire at a suspicious vessel which was sailing without lights. 

The year: 1936. The city: Barcelona. The author: the journalist Tomás Caballé i Clos in his book Barcelona roja. Dietario de la revolución (julio 1936 – enero 1939).  This account, recording the first attempt to bomb the city, is confirmed by the journal of a sailor on the rebel Nationalist cruiser Canarias, which is cited by Joan Vilarroya in Els bombardeigs de Barcelona durant la Guerra Civil (1936-1939) [PAMSA, 1999]. 

The Interactive Map

To mark the 79º anniversary of the first nighttime aerial bombing of the city of Barcelona, in 2016 the data-laboratory BTVDatalab of Barcelona Televisió created an interactive map which analysed the data available dealing with the bombing of the city, its air-raid shelters and the victims. Since 2017 Innovation and Human Rights has maintained this material online. Now 84 years after the event, we wish to commemorate this first attempt to bomb Barcelona from the air.   

The interactive map allows the user to examine the data in three different ways: firstly on a contemporary map of the city, taken from the Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona and originally drawn in 1930 by Vicenç Martorell; secondly on a present-day map of Barcelona; and finally on a satellite image of the city.

As well as locating more than 500 exact locations where bombs fell, largely carried out by the Italian Airforce (Aviazione Legionaria)  under the orders of the rebel armed forces, the map shows the location of the main air raid shelters which were built under Barcelona by the Junta de Defensa Pasiva (Civil Defence Committee) and the city’s inhabitants. 

The sites where bombs fell were located by using the material in Perill de bombardeig (2004) by Santiago and Elisenda Albertí, who used documents of the Junta de Defensa Pasiva which are held in the Arxiu Municipal Contemporani de Barcelona. With regard to the air raid shelters, the map shows the 1,354 shelters which have been catalogued by the Municipal Council (Ajuntament de Barcelona) and which are shown on their Archaeological Map. To explore the interactive map, click on the headline or here .

The video 

The three-minute long video provides an audiovisual summary of the 19 most deadly aircraft bombings of Barcelona during the Civil War. The attacks are presented in chronological order and indicate the number of victims. As a result of the work of historians such as Joan Vilarroya we know that these totalled 2,404.  Of these, 2071 victims have been identified by name and they have been included in the IHR centralised database of those killed during the Civil War and the Franco Regime. 

View the Barcelona: 800 days under the bombs video on a computer but not by a mobile phone. 

The Online Exhibition 

Barcelona: 800 días bajo las bombas” is an online exhibition which further explores the memory of the victims and the human cost of the Civil War on the city. At present it is only available in Italian.  Follow this link for access .

The exhibition includes the following sections: life histories of seven of the victims; the first naval bombardment of the city; the first aircraft bombardments of the city; the most severe bombardments (in March 1938);  The Italian Airforce (Aviazione legionaria italiana) and the anti-aircraft defence of the city. 

[English translation: Charlie Nurse]

Photo: Air attack on Barcelona on 17 March 1938, viewed from one of the Italian bombers.   Public domain.

The red Duchess

During the Civil War the Spanish Republic received support from many people in other countries. One of the most unexpected of these supporters was probably the Duchess of Atholl, an aristocratic member of the British parliament. To mark the 60th anniversary of her death, on 21 October 1960, IHR is publishing this post which highlights the Duchess’s support for the Republic and illustrates the breadth of support the Republic received from across the world. 

Born into a Scottish aristocratic family in 1874, Katharine Marjory Ramsay became Duchess of Atholl in 1917 when her husband inherited the Dukedom. In her youth she had trained as a pianist at the Royal College of Music in London, but, after her marriage she dedicated herself to public service. Before 1914 she was a member of a committee which examined the problems of providing health services in the sparsely-populated Scottish highlands and islands. During the First World War she helped to organise nursing services for the British army. 

In 1923 she was elected to parliament as Conservative MP for Kinross & West Perthshire, the Scottish constituency which included Blair Atholl, the family estate and which had previously been represented by her husband.  She was quickly promoted and from 1924 to 1929 she was  a junior minister for Education, only the second woman to become a British government minister. There was some irony in this: women had received the vote in 1918, but before 1914 she had outspokenly opposed giving women the vote, arguing that they were not yet sufficiently educated. 

In the late 1920s her attention shifted to international issues. She supported a campaign to prevent female genital mutilation in the British colonies in East Africa and she became concerned over developments in the USSR: her book The Conscription of A People (1931) exposed and denounced Soviet forced-labour practices. Despite her hostility to the USSR she decided, after reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that Nazi Germany was a greater to threat to European peace. This influenced her support for the Spanish Republic after the failure of the attempted military coup in July 1936.  

In his memoirs Men and Politics, published in 1941, the U.S. journalist Louis Fischer gave this assessment of her contribution to the British campaign in support of the Republic

“In her old-fashioned black silk dress that fell to her shoe tops she would sit on the platform, at Spain meetings, with Communists, left-wing socialists, working men and disabled International Brigaders and appeal for help for the Republicans. She would interrogate everybody who had been to Spain and hang on their words and note many of them in a book filled with her illegible scrawl.”

Men and Politics, pp 440-441

She became Chair of the Joint National Committee for Spanish Relief (NJC), which was set up in November 1936 to coordinate the work of the myriad groups established in Britain to provide humanitarian aid to the Republic.  As Chair she worked with people from a wide range of backgrounds and with political views very different from her own, including Ellen Wilkinson and Leah Manning, both of whom were left-wing members of the Labour Party, and Isabel Brown, a prominent member of the British Communist party.  In  April 1937 a parliamentary delegation of Atholl, Wilkinson and the Independent MP Eleanor Rathbone, visited Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. In Valencia they met Italian soldiers who had been taken prisoner while fighting alongside Franco’s forces at the Battle of Guadalajara (March 1937). Madrid was under heavy artillery bombardment but they were taken to watch the fighting in the Casa del Campo.  Shortly after their return she became Chair of the Basque Children’s Committee, which organised the evacuation of nearly 4,000 children from Bilbao and accommodated them in Britain, as we explained in “Expedición a Inglaterra”: The Basque Children in Britain.  

Her support for the Republic led right-wing newspapers in Britain to call her the “Red Duchess”, but she was a very conservative figure and a strong supporter of the British Empire. In 1935 she had temporarily resigned from the Conservative party in parliament in protest at legislation to introduce local self-government in the British colony of India, as she feared this would lead to Indian independence.  Louis Fischer, whom she invited to tea in the House of Commons in 1937, concluded “she is no radical” (Men and Politics, page 440). 

Her support for the Republic led to her book on the Civil War, Searchlight on Spain, which was published as a paperback in June 1938, selling over 100,000 copies within a month. By contrast George Orwell’s now-famous Homage to Catalonia sold  under a thousand copies when published a few months earlier.  Orwell reviewed Searchlight on Spain for the magazine Time and Tide in July 1938 and described it as “a short popular history of the Spanish war” which was “simply written and well-documented” (“Orwell in Spain”, 2001, page 304)  

Searchight on Spain included a chapter on “Insurgent Spain” which, she admitted, she had been unable to visit; basing her comments “on books of others who had visited” (Searchlight on Spain, page xi) she stressed the widespread repression and the refusal of the insurgent authorities to allow independent reporting.  In her final chapter she concluded :

“The barbarities that will be perpetrated if Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid fall into the hands of the insurgents are likely to baffle description. If the Spanish Republicans are crushed, it means the end of liberty, justice and culture, and the merciless extermination of all suspected of caring for those things”.

Searchlight on Spain, page 316

She also stressed the dangers of an insurgent victory in the event of a wider European war which, by 1938, looked increasingly likely. She pointed out that France would be surrounded by three hostile powers (Germany, Italy and Spain), and she highlighted the dangers to Britain, warning – accurately as events would prove during the Second World War – of the threat to British shipping from German submarines refuelling along the coast of Galicia.  

Her fears over Nazi Germany had been increased by visits in 1937-1938 to several central European states. These included Austria,  where she went shortly before the Nazi annexation of March 1938, and Czechoslovakia, which she visited in July 1938. Two months after this visit, in September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister and Edouard Daladier, the French Premier, agreed at Munich to Hitler’s demands to occupy parts of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. When the Agreement was signed she was on a tour of Canada and the United States, where she travelled widely speaking at public meetings in support of a campaign to raise money for food ships to be sent to the Spanish Republic. 

By this time her support for the Spanish Republic and her criticism of British foreign policy had led to her expulsion from the governing Conservative party.  After the Munich Agreement she resigned from parliament to provoke a by-election in her constituency, in which she stood as a candidate.  Her only opponent was from the  Conservative party because both the Labour and Liberal parties withdrew their candidates and supported her. Her campaign focussed on her criticism of Chamberlain’s foreign policy and of the Non-Intervention Agreement which prevented the Spanish Republican government from buying weapons legally. She received support from prominent members of the British literary and artistic establishment, including Gerald Brenan and Sir Peter Chalmers-Mitchell, both of whom had been living in Malaga when the Civil War broke out.  Winston Churchill, another opponent of the Munich Agreement, phoned her regularly – but avoiding visiting the campaign. Voting, on 21 December after two days of heavy snow, resulted in her being narrowly defeated. This ended her political career, but not her support for the Spanish Republic or for human rights.

In January 1939 she was one of the signatories to a joint letter to The Times which called for the Republican government to be allowed to buy weapons legally. After the defeat of the Republic she visited the camps in Southern France where hundreds of thousands of Spanish refugees were confined and, in May 1939, she travelled to the French port of Sête to witness the departure of the Sinaia, which the NJC had chartered to transport Republican refugees to Mexico. 

After the Second World War she helped to establish the British League for European Freedom which she chaired. The League campaigned to expose the human rights situation in Eastern Europe after it came under Soviet domination. Her memoirs, Working Partnership, were published in 1958, two years before her death. Surprisingly perhaps, she had relatively little to say about her work in support of the Spanish Republic.  However, as Louis Fischer had observed in 1941,

“she had gone to Madrid and thenceforth worked as hard for Loyalist Spain as anyone in the realm”. 

Men and Politics, page 440

Photo: Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray (née Ramsay), Duchess of Atholl by Howard Coster. Half-plate film negative, 1938. © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG x12264. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In Spain there is no such thing as a single “General Archive of the Civil War (or a need for one) (Part 2)

Henar Alonso @henararch – Archivist (Técnica Facultativa Superior de Archivos). Ministry of Defence.

This article is a continuation of the earlier one  In Spain there is no such thing as a single “General Archive of the Civil War” (or a need for one)

The two main archives which are fundamental for any research on the Civil War and the repression during the Franco Dictatorship are the  Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica de Salamanca (CDMH) y el Archivo General Militar de Ávila (AGMAV), both of which were discussed in Part 1. However, these are not the only archives which contain documentary sources which are of interest for researchers. 

Within the Sistema Archivístico de la Defensa (Defence Archive System), which covers the archives managed by the Ministry of Defence, those which are particularly relevant are the Archivo General e Histórico de la Defensa (General and Historical Defence Archive) as well as the other historical archives of the separate arms of the armed forces, namely those of the Army (Ejército de Tierra), Air Force (Ejército del Aire) and of the Navy (Armada).  Among these archives the following are especially important: 

Archivo General e Histórico de la Defensa (AGHD)

The most important part of the General and Historical Defence Archive are the records of the summary courts martial of the Territorial Military Tribunal which covered Military Territory No. 1 (TMT1). The lists of those prosecuted (listados de encausados) by the army have been indexed and are available online in relation to the provinces of Albacete, Alicante, Castellón, Madrid and Valencia.  These are of primary importance for research into the repression which followed the Civil War. 

The records of the summary courts martial carried out by all of the Territorial Military Tribunals may be found by following this link to the Guía para la localización de los procedimientos judiciales incoados por la Justicia Militar a raíz de la Guerra Civil y durante la etapa franquista (Guide to the location of the judicial proceedings initiated by the Military Justice system as a result of the Civil War and the Franco period).  However, at the moment only the records of people prosecuted in TMT No. 3 and TMT No 4 are available. Those for TMT No. 4, covering the northwest of Spain, are available via this link  sumarísimos que se conservan en el Archivo Intermedio Militar Noroeste . For those for TMT No. 3, covering Catalonia, follow this link  Cataluña . The records of all of those prosecuted in the courts martials in TMT No. 1,  TMT No. 3 y TMT No. 4 are included in the database of  The Air Force Historical Archive (Archivo Histórico del Ejército del Aire) also provides online access to the records of those members of the Republican Air Force who were prosecuted  as well as the records relating to the purging of civilian personnel who had worked in the service of  Republican military aviation.

Archivo General Militar de Guadalajara (AGMG)

The General Military Archive of Guadalajara holds the archives and personal files of two types of forced labour battalions established for former Republican soldiers as part of the Francoist repression, namely the Batallones Disciplinarios de Soldados Trabajadores (Disciplinary Labour Battalions for Soldiers) and the  Batallones Disciplinarios de Soldados Trabajadores Penados (Disciplinary Labour Battalions for Convicted Soldiers) , as well as those of the military prisons and of the Concentration Camps of  Miranda de Ebro and Alcazaba de Zeluán (near Melilla). They may be consulted online via the introductory index of the Archive.  The database of includes part of the AGMG index of  138,000 members of these two types of forced labour battalions, including the 3,000 sentenced soldiers from the so-called 1ª Agrupación, as well as those from the Montjuïc military  prison in Barcelona (more than 3,000), and from the Zeluán concentration camp (1,000).

There are also collections of archives relating to the Civil War and the Franco Dictatorship to be found elsewhere in the state archives (Archivos de la Administración General del Estado).  These include not only the national history archives which are the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture (Ministerio de Cultura) but also the historical archives of the various government ministries. Without attempting to be exhaustive, we would underline the importance of the following:

Archivo Histórico Nacional (AHN)

In the National Historical Archive, among the contemporary archive collections of the Judicial System (Poder Judicial) there is documentation relating to the Popular Tribunals and Emergency Courts (Tribunales Populares y Jurados de Urgencia y de Guardia de Madrid), established under the Republican government in the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup of July 1936).  Following the defeat of the Republic these documents were included in the Causa General (the Francoist prosecution; see Part 1) as supporting evidence.  In the Personal Archive section there are personal archives dealing with some of the major political and military figures relevant to the conflict, including Manuel Azaña, Vicente Rojo, Diego Martínez Barrio, José Giral…

Archivo General de la Administración (AGA)

The General Archive of Administration, in Alcalá de Henares, holds two small but very interesting collections of material, namely those of the  Junta Delegada de Defensa de Madrid (the Defence Junta which ran Madrid under siege from Francoist forces between November 1936 and April 1937) and those of the  Ministerio de Defensa Nacional, (the Defence Ministry of the Republic between 1936 and 1939). There is also a large collection of archive material from the central, regional and local bodies of the so-called “Movimiento Nacional” (the name given to the single legal political “movement” authorised in Francoist Spain) which is indispensable for social research on the postwar period and the Franco Regime. Although the AGA is categorised as an “archivo intermedio” (an intermediary archive which is supposed to transfer all of its archive material to the AHN for permanent storage), it holds such a large amount of documentary material on public organisations during the Civil War and the Franco period, much of it not yet examined, that it is currently impossible to provide a clear picture of its value. However the archives from the civil war and postwar periods of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Relations (Interior y Asuntos Exteriores  are particularly relevant.

Sistema de Archivos del Ministerio del Interior

The Archive System of the Ministry of the Interior, in spite of the difficulty of gaining access, has some particularly interesting archive collections, especially those of the Dirección General de la Guardia Civil, the  Dirección General de Seguridad/Dirección General de la Policía and those of the prisons and penal system (Direcciones Generales de Presidios/Prisiones/Instituciones Penitenciarias). 

So, if I want to carry out research on the Spanish Civil War do I have to consult all of the archives? No – not if you know what you want to do and not if you know where the sources you need to consult are located.   To help you to do this, we offer you a 

Quick Guide on How to Find Documentary Sources on the Civil War in the Spanish Archives

I would like to carry out research on…

1. Military aspects of the Civil War

Archivo General Militar de Ávila; Archivo General Militar de Segovia (for personal files of military officers); Archivo General Militar de Guadalajara (for personal files of ordinary soldiers); Archivo Histórico del Ejército del Aire; Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica.

2. The Repression following the Civil War

Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica; Archivo General e Histórico de la Defensa; Archivo General Militar de Guadalajara; Archivos Militares Intermedios of Ferrol, Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia, Ceuta, Melilla, Baleares y Canarias; Archivo General e Histórico del Aire; Archivo General de la Administración; Archivo General del Ministerio del Interior.

3. Social and Political Implications and Consequences of the Civil War

Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica; Archivo General de la Administración; Archivo General del Ministerio del Interior.

4. The Civil War in my own locality

Archivo General Militar de Ávila; Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica; Archivos Histórico Provinciales; Archivos Municipales.

5. Personal histories of the Civil War

The sections holding the private and family archives and the collections in the Archivos Histórico Nacionales of the Ministerio de Cultura (CDMH, AHN, AGA) and in the Archives of the Sistema Archivístico de la Defensa (AGMAV, AGHD).

So why is there no need for a single “General Archive of the Spanish Civil War”?

Because it would serve no useful purpose to attempt to concentrate all of the collections of documents which, as we have seen, are currently held in Spain on the subject in one single location.  It would be convenient, perhaps, and we think that an amendment should be proposed to the Law of Historical Memory (Ley de Memoria Histórica) which would go some way to achieving this objective by establishing a single unified point of internet access to all of the archive collections mentioned above.  This would be a true internet portal to source documents on the Civil War and the Franco Regime, which would also include links to open source data initiatives on the subject such as  IHR World, Todos los Nombres or Brunete en la Memoria, and to library collections and to collections of historical newspapers. 

Before completing this article we would like to add a brief mention of the main private archives, including those belonging to foundations, universities, political parties as well as personal archives. These also contain material relevant to the Civil War and to the Franco Dictatorship and the majority of these are accessible to the public.  We have serious doubts whether the action of some of these institutions in holding on to some of this material complies with current legislation, but this is not the time or place to go into this thorny subject….  

[Translation by Charlie Nurse]

Photo: Frente de Madrid. Servicio sanitario en la capital y en el Frente. El General Miaja con los jefes de Sanidad Militar visitando el importante donativo sanitario al ejército republicano por Central Sanitaria Internacional. Reportajes Gráficos Luis Vidal. Valencia. Biblioteca Nacional de España. Licencia CC-BY-NC-SA

In Spain there is no such thing as a single “General Archive of the Civil War (or a need for one)

Henar Alonso @henararch – Archivist (Técnica Facultativa Superior de Archivos). Ministry of Defence.

Publications by researchers on specific aspects of the Civil War and the Franco Regime appear with ever greater frequency, some of which, including those from people with a media profile, are multiplied by the social networks.  The majority of these,  moreover, of necessity refer to original documentary sources, and consequently cite the archives where these documents are to be found and where they have been consulted – or, at least, they should do this. 

And this is the moment when the archivists, sometimes by means of social media, throw our hands in the air in exasperation…. We understand perfectly that this kind of research work is not easy and that it requires time and effort from people who,  in most cases, do not receive any kind of payment or reward for their efforts, and that sometimes they manage to lose the correct relationship between the documents and their context.  The problem is that, with regard to documents and archives, the context is much more important than it may appear. 

As stated in the title, in Spain there is no such thing as a single “General Archive of the Civil War” (“Archivo General de la Guerra Civil”).  Instead there are many collections of documentary sources on the subject which are divided between lots of different archives,  some of them of a national character, but others regional, provincial, local, public, private…. People usually consider the Salamanca Document Centre of Historical Memory (Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica de Salamanca) as the  “Archive of the Civil War”, but, in reality, this holds only the documentary sources which were, for many years, a section of the Archivo Histórico Nacional. As a section of the latter archive, they were known initially as the “Sección Guerra Civil” and later as the “Archivo General de la Guerra Civil”.  This, understandably, is the source of the confusion which we have mentioned.

The Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica de Salamanca (CDMH) preserves the archive material from the Document Service of the Presidency of the Government (Servicios Documentales de la Presidencia del Gobierno) and from the Francoist-era  Special Tribunal for the Repression of Freemasonry and Communism (Tribunal Especial para la Represión de la Masonería y el Comunismo), along with others which were added after 1979, including documents transferred from other archives as a result of the promulgation of the Law of Historical Memory (Ley de Memoria Histórica) of 2007. Essentially, then, this archive contains the documentation produced by three of the Special Judicial Jurisdictions which were established for the purposes of repression during the Dictatorship, namely: 

The Causa General is the name given to the “general prosecution” established in 1940 to investigate the crimes committed in Spain between 1931 and 1939, during what was referred to as “the red domination” in Francoist Spain. The 1,953 sets of files of the Causa General, preserved in 4,000 boxes. They amount to more than a million pages that have been digitised and are accessible from this link by clicking on the arrow icon.

In addition to these three large collections which derive from the major institutions which were responsible for the seizure and copying of the documents which the rebel forces carried out during the Civil War, the CDMH also contains a number of  collections of documents from public institutions, from both Republican and  Nationalist zones. There are also numerous private or personal or family or institutional archives, as well as collections of oral sources, which have been added from time to time, along with material from numerous donations.  All of this may be consulted online via the Introductory Index (Cuadro de Clasificación) which, in addition, is linked to a description and a digitised version (if this exists)  on the Portal de Archivos Españoles except in the case of the Causa General, which still has to be consulted on this website as part of the Archivo Histórico Nacional, even though physically the documents are now housed in the Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica. 

It is also worthwhile consulting the index of online databases (micrositios web de las bases de datos) of the CDMH, where the following can be found: information on the victims of the Civil War and those who suffered retaliation during the Franco Regime; Republican soldiers and members of the Republican forces of public order;  members of the Republican Army who were killed or were reported as disappeared in action; or who were deported to the Nazi concentration camps. To conclude, therefore, we could say that the CDMH, rather than being an archive “of the Civil War” is an archive of the postwar repression

If there is really anything which may be considered as a most deserving of the title “Archive of the Spanish Civil War” it is the General Military Archive of Ávila [Archivo General Militar de Ávila (AGMAV)], which is one of the four historical archives of the Spanish army. This is where documentation dealing with the military aspects of the armed conflict are to be found, whether relating to the forces of the Republican government or to those of the military rebels.  The archive preserves information on the following: the different military units; the development of the military operations; the services of military intelligence; maps, plans and photographs of the conflict; personal files of men who enlisted in the rebel forces through the recruitment offices of the militias.  The Archive’s collections consist partly of material gathered at the end of the war by members of the Military History Service of the Ministry of Defence [Servicio Histórico Militar del Ministerio de Defensa] as a result of an order issued by General Franco in July 1939 requiring all military units to collect all documentation of a military nature, both of their own forces and that seized from the Republican Army, in order to establish what he termed the “Archive of the War of Liberation”  (“Archivo de la Guerra de Liberación”). 

Along with this initial collection of documents, the Ávila archive also holds the following: the personal files of volunteers who enlisted in the militias formed by the Nationalists in the early months of the war; the personal files of the “Blue Division” (whose formal title was the “División Española de Voluntarios”) which was formed in 1941 to assist the armies of Nazi Germany in the invasion of the USSR; documentation from the now-extinct Ministry of the Army (Ministerio del Ejército), from the former Captaincy-Generals of the Military Regions of Spain (Capitanías Generales de Regiones Militares) and of the Gobiernos Militares (which operated at the provincial level) ;  documentation from other military establishments, such as Hospitals, Military Academies and Armaments Factories. A final part of its collections consist of private and family archives and collections.  The introductory index (cuadro de clasificación) may be consulted online, as well as the index of its historical and organisational structure.

Although these are the two main archives which should be consulted in any research on the Civil War and the repression during the Franco Dictatorship, they are not the only archives which contain important documentary sources which are of interest for research. We will give an account of the others in a later article.  


[Translation by Charlie Nurse]

Photos: Salamanca (Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica current building), November 1937. Exhibition of the National Document. 1er Año Triunfal. FOTO DESLESPRO. Biblioteca Nacional de España. Licencia CC-BY-NC-SA

“Expedición a Inglaterra” : The Basque Children in Britain

The Spanish Civil War disrupted the lives of a generation of children. Many were forced into exile, whether temporary or permanent. Nearly 4,000 children from the Basque provinces became refugees in Britain. To mark the anniversary of their departure, on Friday 21 May 1937, we are publishing a blog-post on their experiences.

When the Habana, a steamer chartered by the Basque government, sailed from the port of Santurce, 14 km north of Bilbao, she carried 3,826 child refugees who were escaping the assault by Franco’s forces on the city to an uncertain future. They were accompanied by 120 señoritas (female helpers), 80 teachers, 16 priests and 2 doctors.  The vessel, built to carry only 800 passengers, had a difficult voyage, hitting storms in the Bay of Biscay and arriving in Southampton on the morning of Sunday 23 May.  After disembarkation the children were taken, by a fleet of municipal buses, to a campsite at North Stoneham, outside Southampton, which had been hastily prepared for them.  [Watch this 1937 British newsreel report of the children’s arrival].

As the failed military coup of July 1936 developed into Civil War, the British Conservative-dominated government adopted a policy of “non-intervention”.  However,  within days local groups were launched across Britain to support the Republican government in its struggle against the military rebels. In the autumn representatives of these groups formed the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief

By the spring of 1937 support for the Republic focussed on the plight of the Basque country which was blockaded by Franco’s navy and threatened by the advance of the insurgent army. The destruction of Guernica on 26 April by the German Condor Legion was widely reported in the British press, most notably by George Steer, The Times correspondent who visited the destroyed town hours after the bombardment [Read Steer’s original article].

Even before this there were fears for the civilian population of Bilbao: the city  was being bombed daily and was home to an estimated 100,000 refugees. From early April, plans were made to evacuate some of the women and children, with offers to accept refugees coming from several countries including France and the Soviet Union. In Britain leading members of the National Joint Committee formed a separate Basque Children’s Committee (BCC), chaired by the Duchess of Atholl, a Conservative MP, to organise the evacuation of some children. Leah Manning, a former Labour MP, was sent to Bilbao to organise this and was followed in early May by two doctors and two Spanish-speaking nurses. Families were invited to apply for their children to be included.  In the crisis of May 1937 this was an agonising decision with important consequences: in some cases the children who left would not see their parents again for years, if ever.

The British government reluctantly agreed to the arrival of 2,000 children aged six to twelve, on condition that no public money should be spent on them and on the understanding that their stay would be limited to a few months.  Soon far more than 2,000 had been registered in Bilbao and the Duchess of Atholl persuaded the government to increase the number accepted to 4,000. Since she also highlighted the threat to teenage girls from Franco’s soldiers, the government agreed to accept children up to the age of sixteen, with girls making up a higher proportion of older ones. A desperate search for a site to house the children led to the offer of three fields covering 12 hectares at North Stoneham and volunteers worked hastily to erect tents and install necessary facilities including gas and water supplies. The War Office provided the tents and field kitchens and charged for their rental.

Accounts of life at North Stoneham stress the early difficulties which the children encountered – the strange food, the language, the life in tents and the heavy rain within days of their arrival which flooded the campsite. They also indicate the traumas caused by the children’s experiences of war (many, for example, ran to hide when a small plane flew over the camp to photograph it). The fall of Bilbao to the insurgent forces on 19 June led to emotional scenes as the children feared for their families and several hundred broke out of the camp.

North Stoneham was a temporary camp. Soon arrangements were made for groups of children to be dispersed across the country. 1,200 children were housed in communities run by the Catholic Church. The rest were moved to about 70 homes (known as “colonies”)  established by local community groups, the children being invited to put their names down for places of which they often knew nothing. Inevitably the colonies varied enormously as they depended on the resources of the host communities. Some colonies were clearly inadequate and were closed by the BCC, with the children being transferred.

The presence of the children was not welcomed by everyone. Supporters of Franco argued that allowing refugee children into Britain was a form of support for the Republic.  A campaign group, the Friends of Nationalist Spain, which included several Conservative MPs, was set up to press for their repatriation. Right-wing newspapers claimed that the children were communists, violent and unruly: a Daily Mail editorial described them as “potentially murderous little wretches”. In the summer of 1937 boys from two of the colonies were involved in disturbances with local residents, which provided further ammunition. After the fall of Bilbao the Catholic Church, which had supported the evacuation, joined the campaign for the children to be returned quickly.

However, most of the colonies managed to establish good relations with local communities. Boys’ football teams from the colonies played matches against local teams and some colonies organised concerts featuring Basque songs and dances to raise funds. The experiences of the children were very varied. Some of the colonies were better supported by local communities than others. Two of the best were those in Cambridge and in the south Wales town of Caerleon.

The 29 children in Cambridge were orphans from the families of Socialist militiamen. Initially they lived in a large vicarage outside the city, before moving to a big house near the railway station (a blue plaque now marks the house). They received classes from Cambridge University staff and spent a month in the summer of 1937 on the Norfolk coast as guests of the parents of John Cornford, who had been killed fighting in the International Brigades. Their music teacher, Rosita Bal, had studied under Manuel de Falla, and they performed songs and dances at concerts in London and elsewhere.

The colony in Caerleon benefited from the close links between Vizcaya and south Wales which developed in the nineteenth century as both areas industrialised (Vizcayan iron ore was exported to south Wales and the ships returned with Welsh coal for use in Basque steel mills). The Caerleon colony was supported financially by the South Wales Miners’ Federation as well as by local Methodists and Baptists and by the small Spanish community in Cardiff. The children were taught in both Spanish and English, established their own journal (Cambria House Journal) and gave concerts in towns across south Wales. In the summer of 1938 the children were invited to spend a week’s holiday with local miners’ families. Their football team developed a reputation as “the Basque Boys” and “the Invincibles”. The building which housed the colony also has a blue plaque. 

The children’s return to Spain was often a complicated process. In some cases one or both parents were dead or in refugee camps in Catalonia or in France. Letters from parents asking the children to return were in some cases clearly written under pressure from the Francoist authorities. Gradually, however, most children were reunited with their families, though this became more difficult after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939.  Eventually about 400 children remained in Britain, either because they had no families to return to or because, on reaching the age of 16, they chose to stay. By 1945 only one of the colonies remained – at Carshalton in Surrey – and it closed soon afterwards. Although the Basque Children’s Committee was finally wound up in 1951, in 2002 a Basque Children’s Association was set up by descendents of those who remained.    

Further details on the Basque children in the United Kingdom may be obtained from BCA ‘37: The Association for the UK Basque Children.

Photo: Niños vascos en Stoneham, cerca de Southampton (Inglaterra). Biblioteca Nacional de España. Licencia CC-BY-NC-SA

The Coalición ProAcceso asks to guarantee the right of access to information

Innovation and Human Rights is a member of the Coalición Pro Acceso, Along with around twenty other organisations, we have petitioned the Spanish government to guarantee the right of access to information, following the suspension of administrative procedures under the State of Alarm declared on 14 March in response to the coronavirus crisis.   

The Coalición ProAcceso, which  joined in March 2017,  is an initiative launched by  Access-Info, which defends and promotes the right of access to information in Europe. Its membership includes associations of Archivists, Journalists, Lawyers and other groups of citizens. Defending the right to access to information has always, since its establishment, been a key aspect of the work of our organisation.  At the end of this article you will find a list of all of the organisations involved; in some cases you may obtain further information on them by clicking on the links provided.  

Our requests are as follows: changes in legislation, the participation of archivists in the management of access to information, the establishment of a network centralising official information about Covid-19,  the publication of open data and, finally, guarantees for the protection of privacy in the process of digital data-tracking.

Access to information is fundamental

In a letter sent to Carolina Darias, the Minister of Regional Policy and Public Administration , the member-organisations of the Coalición Pro Acceso denounce the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on transparency and the right of access to information, which is a fundamental right which must be protected especially at times of crisis.  If we want citizens to trust institutions, it is essential that they know what those institutions are doing and that they are confident that they may hold the government accountable for its actions.  

The seriousness of the situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic has led the Government to take exceptional measures such as the suspension of plazos administrativos (the period within which official institutions are required to take action), a measure which has also occurred in many other countries, both in Europe and in the Americas. However, there are also examples of good practice, both within Spain and elsewhere, which demonstrate that, in spite of the circumstances, it is possible to fulfill the rights of the citizen in this regard: 

  • In Argentina, the measure has been altered so as to maintain the time limit requirements for replies to requests to access to information; 
  • In the European Union both the Council and the Commission have maintained the requirement to reply to requests, although they have given notice that in some cases there may be longer delays;  

The Coalición Pro Acceso calls upon the Spanish government to adopt the following measures:

  • Amend Real Decreto 463/2020, so as to include the right of access to information among the exceptions to the suspension of administrative requirements;
  • Require the information sections of the state administration to ensure that, as long as the State of Alarm continues, they prioritise all requests for information relating to Covid-19,  basing this on section four of the Disposición Adicional Tercera of the Real Decreto, which provides for the continuation of normal administrative procedures in matters related to the pandemic; 
  • Continue, as far as possible, to deal with those enquiries which are unrelated to the pandemic, whether received before or during the State of Alarm, thus avoiding delay in their resolution.
  • Fully document in a proper fashion all decisions taken and all action taken, in order to ensure the correct management of all information.
  • In the event that extra personnel are required to deal with requests for access to information, draw on the assistance of the archivists of the public sector as provided for in the eighteenth Disposición Adicional of the Real Decreto – Ley 11/2020, dated 31 March, under which urgent additional measures may be adopted in social and economic matters in order to confront Covid-19. 

Moreover, in order to ensure the transparency of the actions of public institutions it is necessary to carry out the following: 

  • Create either a specific web page or a specific section on the Transparency Portal of the Government dedicated exclusively to Covid-19, on which should be published in a proactive and centralised manner, all of the information related to the management of the pandemic (health, legal, labour, economic, scientific, budgetary, environmental….)  at all levels – national, autonomous community and local –  providing data in the most disaggregated way possible (by neighbourhood).  Priority should be given to providing the information required in the form most frequently requested. All of the data should be published in formats which are open and reusable, along with the corresponding metadata, and should also be included in a special section dedicated to Covid-19 on ; 
  • Publish in a proactive manner and with immediate effect:
    • details of the composition of the scientific committees, along with the reports which formed the basis of decisions taken by the Government; 
    • all of the information relating to emergency public contracts, including the names of the intermediaries, the beneficiaries, the contracts themselves, settlement of accounts, implementation, etc. 
    • Maintain digital support for the provision of all information related to Covid-19 which facilitate the traceability of the action taken and, thus, guarantee an adequate accounting procedure.
  • Guarantee protection of privacy, ensuring that the digital tracking and vigilance employed to protect the health of the citizens in this emergency are only a temporary measure and their use is constantly supervised by specialists and by members of civil society, thus ensuring complete transparency in the use of the data collected.

List of organisations supporting this petition:

The Mission of the School is to Transform the Country

Universal education is now considered one the most important duties of the state. This is, however, a recent development. Today, 14 April, to mark the anniversary of the proclamation of the Spanish Second Republic in 1931, we publish a blog-post on the efforts made by the early governments of the Republic to to deal with the high levels of illiteracy by establishing a system of universal primary education

Spain had been one of the first European states to recognise the importance of universal education. The 1812 Constitution proclaimed that every village should have a primary school (article 366) and the Moyano Law of 1857 made school attendance obligatory until the age of nine.

These ambitious aims were, however, not translated into reality and the state relied heavily on the Church to provide education, both at primary level and at secondary, where some of its schools were among the most prestigious in the country.  In 1931 the Ministry of Education estimated that there were 32,680 schools and 27,151 more were needed [see Educación y Cultura en la Segunda República]. Based on an assumption that the average rural primary school would have one class of 50 pupils, there was a deficit of one million primary school places.

The consequences of this shortfall in school provision were to be found in the high rates of adult illiteracy, which amounted to over 30 per cent in the early 20th century and which, in some provinces, were over 60% [see detail]. As in any society with such high levels of illiteracy,  the abilities of many of those who qualified as literate were probably also very low.  Not surprisingly these estimates obscured major variations – between different social classes, between urban and rural areas (literacy tended to be higher in cities) and also between different parts of the country (northern Spain was generally more literate than the south). Illiteracy also largely affected women: the overall rate of adult illiteracy in the province of Zaragoza at the time was 30 per cent but 62 per cent of those who were illiterate were women, according to the Museo Pedagógico de Aragón

For the political leaders of the Second Republic universal literacy was fundamental. The Republican project did not simply represent the replacement of the monarchical form of government, but rather the opportunity to modernise Spain. Part of that modernisation was the creation of a literate and informed citizenry who would be capable of exercising the responsibilities necessary to support a system of representative government. This was recognised, for example, by Manuel Azaña, who became Prime Minister in October 1933, when he stated that “the state school should be the shield of the Republic” [“la escuela pública debía ser el escudo de la República”]. The role of education was also stressed by Rodolfo Llopis, Director-General of Primary Education, in a speech in Zaragoza in December 1932:

the mission of the school is to transform the country….so that those people who are now treated as subjects may become the responsible citizens of a Republic [La misión de la escuela es transformar el país en estos momentos (…) que los que estaban condenados a ser súbditos, puedan ser ciudadanos conscientes de una República] [source]

Llopis’s words were reflected in several articles in the 1931 Constitution, which stated that “the provision of culture is an essential responsibility of the State, and it will be provided by means of educational institutions linked to a unified system of schooling”. [El servicio de la cultura es atribución esencial del Estado, y lo prestará mediante instituciones educativas enlazadas por el sistema de la escuela unificada].  Under Article 48 primary education was to be “free and obligatory” [gratuita y obligatoria] and teaching was to be “carried out by lay professionals” [laica] and “inspired by ideals of human solidarity” [se inspirará en ideales de solidaridad humana].

Given the shortage of primary schools, the new government  committed itself almost immediately to a plan to build 5,000 new primary schools a year for the next five years. Land was to be provided by municipalities while the government would contribute towards construction costs and pay the salaries of teachers.

After the first ten months the Minister of Education was able to announce the construction of over 7,000 new schools.  Thereafter the pace of building dropped, partly because of financial restraints and partly because of the conflict with the Church and its political consequences. As a result the figure for 1932 was 2,580, for 1933 3,990 and for 1934-35 (the two years of government by the centre-right) 3,421. This represented a total of 9,991 in four years. These figures should be compared with the  total of 11,128 new schools opened under the monarchy in the three decades after 1900.

The government ministers most closely associated with this building programme – and with further reforms to strengthen and modernise the school system –  were Marcelino Domingo, Minister of Education between April and October 1931 and Fernando de los Ríos who succeeded him from October 1931 until the fall of the Azaña government in October 1933.

Of course, new schools required more teachers and the Ministry launched a programme to recruit some of the many holders of the title of licenciado (a teaching qualification) who had no teaching experience by providing 7,000 places on refresher courses. There were also measures to improve the status and pay of primary teachers: the notoriously low pay of teachers was reflected in the common expression “to be as poor as a school-teacher” [“pasar más hambre que un maestro de escuela”]. Teachers, who under the Constitution were given the status of public servants or  “funcionarios publicos”,  saw their salaries increase by about 15% between 1931 and 1933.

Teachers were, in fact, seen as key figures in the consolidation of the Republic: as the Revista de Pedagogía stressed in May 1931: “As Spanish teachers, we more than anyone, are obliged to be the most enthusiastic defenders of the Republic. We have the duty of providing the schools with the essential ideas which support it: liberty, personal independence, solidarity, civility”. [“Los educadores españoles estamos, como nadie, obligados a ser los defensores más entusiastas de la República. Tenemos el deber de llevar a las escuelas las ideas esenciales en que se apoya: libertad, autonomía, solidaridad, civilidad.” [source]. As Carlos París has noted:

“this gave rise to a generation of teachers identified with the Republic. The Franco regime identified this and banned from teaching those who had taught in the Republican zone during the Civil War” [“Surge así toda una generación de maestros identificados con la República. El régimen franquista tomó tan buena nota de ello, que prohibió la enseñanza a todas las personas que la habían ejercido en la zona republicana durante la Guerra Civil.”

Measures were also taken to improve and extend secondary education, including the building of new schools. Co-educational secondary schools were to replace single-sex provision, a move which provoked opposition from parents especially in some rural areas and smaller cities. Co-education would later be banned by the Franco Dictatorship. 

The Republic’s educational reforms helped to fuel a serious dispute with the Church and to earn it the hostility of many devout Catholics. Article 26 of the Constitution prohibited religious orders from teaching. In 1931 the Ministry of Education asked municipalities for the number attending religious primary schools. The total came to 350,000 – to replace which, again on the basis of fifty pupils per school, would require the state to build an additional 7,000 schools. The Church also owned about 300 secondary schools with some 20,000 pupils. Unlike primary schools, the government could not immediately replace these because of the lack of qualified staff to substitute for the members of religious orders who taught in them. However, before this issue could be resolved, the Azaña government fell from office and was replaced by a centre-right administration led by Alejandro Lerroux which ignored this constitutional provision.  

PHOTO: José Sánchez Rosa’s school. He was an Andalusian rationalist teacher, follower of Francisco Ferrer Guardia’s teaching model. Image taken in Seville in 1936, shortly before the so-called ‘Alzamiento
Nacional’ (National Rising), the name given by its supporters to the
attempted military coup.. Author: Franciscojosecuevasnoa [CC BY-SA]

Pioneers: The First Spanish Women Deputies: Clara Campoamor, Victoria Kent & Margarita Nelken

The new Spanish government, announced in January, includes 11 women of a total of 22 ministers.  Women’s participation at the highest levels of government in Spain is, however, only a recent development. To mark International Women’s Day 2020 Innovation and Human Rights celebrates the first three women deputies to enter the Spanish parliament, all of them elected to the Constituent Cortes of the Second Republic in 1931

Clara Campoamor, Victoria Kent and Margarita Nelken were all elected under the 1890 electoral law which restricted the vote to men.  Women only received the vote under the constitution of the new Republic, passed by the Constituent Cortes in December 1931. This enabled women to vote for the first time in the Cortes elections held in November 1933.

Paul Preston has pointed out that “pressure for the female vote had come not from any mass movement but from a tiny elite of educated women and some progressive male politicians, most notably in the Socialist party” (“Doves of War: Four Women in Spain”, Harper Collins, 2003).  Female suffrage was above all the work of Clara Campoamor, who was a member of the commission which drafted the constitution and who led the argument for women’s legal equality in the Cortes debate in October 1931. Article 36, which would give the vote to women over the age of 23 – on the same terms as men – passed by the Cortes by 161 votes to 121, mainly due to support from the Socialist party. (Read the 1931 Constitution here)

Before being elected in June 1931 for Madrid as a deputy for the Radical party, Clara Campoamor had made her name in the 1920s as a lawyer.  Born in Madrid in 1888 to working-class parents, she qualified in 1924 and then specialised on paternity issues and cases relating to marriage at a time before divorce was legalised. In 1928 she helped establish the International Federation of Women Lawyers. She was the first woman to appear before the Spanish Supreme Court and, in 1931, was the first woman to address the Cortes during the Republic.  Her campaign for women’s suffrage was met not only by opposition from the Church and hostility from conservative opinion, but was also opposed by most of the members of her own party. She was defeated in the 1933 election and left the Radical Party soon afterwards in protest at its increasingly right-wing policies. In 1933-1934 she served briefly as Director of Public Welfare. In 1936, fearing for her safety, she left Spain and settled in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she died in 1972. 

The other two women deputies in the Constituent Cortes, Victoria Kent and Margarita Nelken, opposed female suffrage in 1931, though the latter was only elected in a by-election in October 1931 and had not entered the Cortes in time for the debates on Article 36.  Both Kent and Nelken argued that women were not socially and politically ready for the vote and that, since many women were subject to the influence of the Church, they would support parties which were hostile to the Republic. As Victoria Kent argued during the debate  “this is not a question of the ability of women; it is a question of the future prospects of the Republic” (“no es cuestión de capacidad; es cuestión de oportunidad para la República”). Both Kent and Nelken, had impressive backgrounds as campaigners for women’s rights and social justice and their fears about the consequences of women’s suffrage are, perhaps, a good measure of the strength of opposition which the Republic faced within months of its proclamation.

Victoria Kent was born in Málaga in 1891. She was one of the first women to pass the Spanish bar exams and became famous as the first woman to address a military court when she successfully defended Álvaro de Albornoz in his court martial after the attempted rising against the monarchy at Jaca in December 1930.  After the proclamation of the Second Republic in April 1931 Albornoz became Minister of Justice and Kent was elected to the Cortes as a member of the Radical Socialist Party. As Director of Prisons between 1931 and 1934 she implemented important reforms to improve conditions; these included the building of the new women’s prison of Ventas in Madrid (read about its inauguration here). 

Although she lost her parliamentary seat when the parties of the right won the 1933 elections, she was returned to the Cortes in February 1936, this time for the Left Republican party (Izquierda Republicana) in Jaen. During the civil war she worked in the Spanish embassy in Paris, helping child refugees from the conflict. After the German invasion of France she lived under a false identity, avoiding deportation to Spain where Francoist courts had sentenced her in her absence to 30 years imprisonment. In 1948 she moved to Mexico and then to New York where she lived until her death in 1987. One of the railway stations in Malaga is named after her. 

When Margarita Nelken entered the Cortes as a Socialist deputy for Badajoz in 1931 she was already a celebrated art critic, novelist and women’s rights campaigner. Born in Madrid in 1894 into an affluent Jewish immigrant family, her book La condición social de la mujer en España (1919) exposed the subordinate position of women in Spanish society and argued that the achievement of women’s rights depended on the success of a revolutionary movement. The book created such a scandal that it was debated in the Cortes and was condemned by the Bishop of Lleida. Right-wing newspapers and politicians maligned her, accusing her of being a foreigner and of being sexually promiscuous. Once elected as deputy for Badajoz she adopted the cause of the landless labourers and campaigned for land reform. Her experiences in Badajoz, including the resistance by landowners to the labour reforms of 1931-1933 and the right-wing violence and electoral fraud in the 1933 elections, led her to join the more radical wing of the Socialist party.  She was re-elected to the Cortes in 1933 and 1936. In the autumn of 1936, when Madrid was threatened by Francoist forces, she stayed in the capital, helping to organise the defence of the city. In 1937 she joined the Communist party but her relations with the party were very strained and she was expelled in 1942. In the later stages of the civil war she worked in government jobs first in Valencia and then in Barcelona, leaving the latter city shortly before Francoist troops entered in January 1939. After the war she settled in Mexico, where she made a living as an art critic, supporting her mother, daughter and grandaughter and where she died in 1968.

In total only nine women were elected to one or more of the three parliaments of the Second Republic. Of these, five represented the Socialist party (Julia Álvarez, Veneranda García-Blanco,  María Lejarraga, Margarita Nelken and Matilde de la Torre), two were Radicals (Clara Campoamor and Victoria Kent), one represented the Communist party (Dolores Ibarruri) and one the right wing CEDA (Francisca Bohigas Gavilanes).

Photographs: [From left to right] Clara Campoamor, Victoria Kent and Margarita Nelken. Author: Estudio Alfonso. Source: Archivo General de la Administración at Portal de Archivos Españoles.

Letter to the Prime Minister of Spain

Dear Prime Minister – at least we finally have one, 

The road from here to where we want to be is tortuous and difficult, both for civil society and for the government. This year Innovation and Human Rights, a not-for-profit NGO,  has grown and extended its work: our centralised online database of victims of the Civil War and the Franco Regime  now has over 700,000 case-files, all of them supported and referenced to archives and academic research. This has been done without the support of any government agency.  

We are appalled by the difficulties experienced by the families of those people who disappeared or were otherwise subject to retaliation during this period when they seek information.  Therefore, our database provides access to almost half a million named case-files from the military judicial proceedings held between 1936 and 1975 as well as 130,000 files of people who were held in Disciplinary Labour Battalions as well as case-files from other sources.

 What we are asking for in 2020 is political courage:

  • To unblock the Congressional initiative which sought to reform the Official Secrets Law of September 1968 and to introduce the practice of automatically declassifying official documents after a maximum of 50 years, as is the case most other European countries. Or alternatively we call for the drafting and introduction of a specific Law on Archives.
  • To provide all of the archives with the human and financial resources necessary for them to provide a catalogue and description of the archive material dealing with the Civil War and the Franco Dictatorship which is still not accessible. 
  • To facilitate and to make public permission for the re-use of the databases and the descriptive material from the archives on the repression, especially those held by the Sub-Directorate of State Archives
  • To remove all the obstacles to access to official documents, especially historical documents, which have, for decades, faced people who have wanted to conduct research into the Civil War and the Franco Regime. In this case, the right of access to material should prevail over the right to protection of personal data, which is what the law currently establishes. 
  • To close the foundations which hold the documents of all the former Heads of State and Heads of Government and to include this documentation in the public archives.

In the coming year we plan to continue working to enhance the protection of fundamental human rights, especially the right of access to public information, and we trust that your government will do the same.

We look forward to receiving your reply. Best wishes,

Three Years Calling for the Right to Access to Information

Today, the entire team of Innovation and Human Rights  are celebrating the third anniversary of the foundation of our non-profit making association.  We are also celebrating the continuing growth of our online centralised database of victims of the Civil War and the Franco Regime, which currently includes over 700,000 case-files supported by reference to archives and investigatory research.  This is a task which we are committed to continue.  

The Big Data of the Repression

At the moment, the majority of the case-files, that is to say 485,136, are from military judicial proceedings which come from a variety of different archives of the Ministry of Defence; these we have centralised into one database for the first time. They are, however, only from the archives of the army – and not the other armed services – and they only cover eleven of the fifty Spanish provinces. 

Gaining access to documentation on the Civil War and continuing to build the database has at times been difficult. We have received no help from any part of the public administration.  We have often come up against the restrictions on access imposed by the general regulations on data protection which have been interpreted in the strictest manner possible.  A further complication has been the unusual nature of our work: some of the historical data is already published but in different formats and our task has been to make it accessible by presenting it in a single format.

Team Work

Our work has only been possible because of the following: (1)  the efforts of each and every one of the amazing people who are members of the team or who have otherwise provided assistance to Innovation and Human Rights: among them are experts in journalism, information science, history and archive work. (2)  the work of the archivists who provide descriptions of the documentation and provide access to researchers ; (3) the work of authors who have helped amplify and enrich the database by providing the results of their research; (4) those people who have always been ready to provide such support as they were able, each of them according to their position; they will know who they are. They include not only archivists, historians, information scientists, victims’ associations and similar organisations, with whom we are in regular contact, but also people who discover us, write to us and/or even thank us for our efforts or even give us tasks to do which help us survive as an association. 

Developing networks 

We are also very pleased and to have been able to sign cooperation agreements with the following organisations, to whom we wish to express our gratitude:  the Associació d’Arxivers i Gestors Documentals de Catalunya, the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, the CRAI Pavelló de la República de la Universitat de Barcelona (UB), the Fundación Pablo Iglesias and, recently, the Fundació Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (FUAB).  In addition, we have received students on practical placements in journalism and history from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR). We are currently extending these agreements.

The origins of IHR lie in the multimedia project The Bombings of Barcelona (800 Days under Bombardment) in 2016, on the Civil War in Barcelona, for betevé (which was then called Barcelona Televisió). This project included a database of the people killed by the bombardment of the city.  At the time we were annoyed to discover that, eighty years after the event, it was still difficult for the families of victims to gain access to information.  In November 2017 we formally presented the database, which at the time included 224,000 case-files online, at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.  At this inaugural event Concha Catalan was accompanied by Guillermo Blasco, one of the founding-members, and Dr. Javier Rodrigo, a historian who is a specialist on fascism, the Civil War and collective violence.  Their presence underlined the importance of an initiative which would incorporate both the collation of data and the enrichment of historical knowledge and understanding. 

Objectives for 2020 

In the short term, we intend to complete the task of documenting our methodology not only so that our work could be duplicated by others but also in order to improve our productivity. In the words of Carla Ymbern, an expert in Data-Journalism who has been at IHR since 2017 “The biggest challenge is that each dataset has a different structure, often as a result of its contents.  We verify that a dataset does not contain material which is either duplicate or incomplete, and that nothing has been left out in converting the file into reusable data. When we are sure that the data is correct, we identify the relevant fields and clean up the data using our established criteria”.   

We are also planning to continue to increase the volume of data, which has already tripled in the last two years.  We are eager to develop new links with other groups and organisations and to launch new projects. In the medium term, we face the challenge of improving the database and making it more accessible so that there are better links between sets of data.  Centralising all the information fields would achieve a qualitative leap.

Our aims are global rather than being focussed on one geographical area.  “Spain and its people have been very generous to me since my first visit in 1974” in the words of Charlie Nurse, a historian who produces the English version of this website from Cambridge. “ I think that this project may help Spanish society to understand and come to terms with its recent past. All societies need to understand their past ”.  In conclusion, we continue to work towards our goal of providing access to information, spreading an understanding of the importance of archive work and making a contribution towards historical research.