Category Archives: post-en

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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.  

IHR signs cooperation agreement with the UAB Graduate School of Archival and Records Management

Innovation and Human Rights is delighted to announce that we have signed a cooperation agreement with the Fundación of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (FUAB)  enabling us to organise joint activities and to publicise each other’s projects.  FUAB is in charge of the strategy to develop the teaching projects of the Graduate School of Archival and Records Management (ESAGED), and this agreement brings IHR into closer contact with the academic world and develops our cooperation with the students and staff on the Official Master’s Degree in Archival and Records Management

The projects run by Innovation and Human Rights increase public access to documentation and information on the Civil War and the Franco Regime. Most of the personal files in our central database are referenced to documents which are stored in the archives. This is also the case with our online  Summary Military Proceedings  project. 

In addition to helping the families of the victims to gain access to documentation about their relatives, we have other aims; to promote wider public knowledge and understanding of the purpose of archives; to encourage greater public access to the archives; and, by republishing material from the archives, to make their contents more widely available. 

These objectives are furthered by this agreement, which was signed by Montserrat Balagueró, Director of Teaching Services at FUAB, and Concha Catalan, co-founder and Chairperson of IHR in a ceremony held in ESAGED on 21 November 2019.  Among those also present was Dr. Joan Pérez Ventayol, Director of ESAGED, who underlined the importance of promoting the use of archives to correct injustices.

IHR already enjoys the assistance of a student from the course for Official Master’s Degree in Archival and Records Management who is carrying out research using documentation relating to the exile of Republicans at the end of the Civil War.   

Further information on this agreement between ESAGED and IHR is available on the ESAGED website 

Photo by Eli Pachón.  From left to right: Concha Catalan and Montserrat Balagueró. [Translation by Charlie Nurse]

Memoirs of the War & Post-War by female writers

Last year we published a selection of books dealing with aspects of the Civil War and the Franco Regime. We continued this this year with some Some Recommendations for Summer Reading Following on from this previous post (1) New Books , today we discuss (2) Memoirs of the Civil War and the Post-War period by female writers. In relation to this you may also be interested in looking at our virtual exhibition Summary Military Proceedings against Women . Another article will follow about (3) Forced Labour in Franco’s regime.

  • The first person to reveal to the outside world the nature of the repression which occurred in women’s prisons during the Franco Period was, without any doubt, Tomasa Cuevas. Starting in 1974 she courageously travelled around Spain,  interviewing fellow former political prisoners about their terrible experiences so that these would not be lost. These interviews were recorded on a cassette recorder (for the benefit of any readers who are milennials, it would have been something like this ) and they later formed the basis of her bookCárcel de mujeres (1939- 1945)published in 1985, with a frontcover designed by Josep Guinovart. This has been published in English as Prison of Women: Testimonies of War and Resistance in Spain, 1939-1975 (State University of New York Press, 1998). A fully revised edition was later published in three volumes as Testimonios de mujeres en las cárceles franquistas (Instituto de Estudios Altoaragoneses, 2004) and one part was also published under the title Presas (Icaria Editorial, 2005). For a posting by Innovation and Human Rights which discusses her experience in the women’s prison of Les Corts in Barcelona follow this link . A budget has finally been approved by Barcelona City Council to establish a memorial on the site where the Les Corts prison used to stand.
  • Ángeles Egido, a History doctorate, compiled bleak testimonies of the repressive conditions experience by women prisoners in her book El perdón de Franco. La represión de las mujeres en el Madrid de la posguerra (Catarata, 2009). On 8 March this year we included the data from her research in our centralised database and discussed her work in our blog entry Women Whose Death Sentences were Commuted. In her book Egido gives a detailed description of the commutation of the death sentences. Although commutation was supposedly a benevolent gesture, it was, in effect, a very cruel process. The death penalty was commuted in favour of a prison sentence of 30 years and one day. In some cases prisoners were not informed that their death sentences had been commuted and were forced, every evening, to listen to the announcement of the names of those who were to be executed the following dawn. The book also analyses the fundamental role of the Catholic Church in supporting the prison system. We discovered her book during a conference entitled Pasados Traumáticos: Historia y Memoria en la Sociedad Digital ,organised by HISMEDI in the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. At this event Innovation and Human Rights presented our centralised database after it had been incorporated into the Entorno Virtual de Investigación del Laboratorio de Innovación en Humanidades (LINHD) de la UNED. You can see all the videos of the conference by following the link here.

The following volumes, dealing with memories of the Civil War and the Postwar period and written by women, are, in some cases biographical; in other cases they are works of fiction. Both approaches are equally valid in providing a view of the reality of the period, from the point of view of women protagonists.

  • Carlota O’Neill was the author of the first chronicle of the outbreak of the Civil War (Primera crónica del estallido de la Guerra Civil) . She was a Republican intellectual whose father was a Mexican diplomat and whose mother was a Spanish writer and pianist. When the military rebellion occurred in July 1936 O’Neill was on holiday in Melilla along with her two daughters and was visiting her husband, Captain Virgilio Leret, who was acting head of the Atalayón Seaplane Base in the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco. Leret was executed on the first night of the attempted coup d’etat, although his wife was not informed until three months later, during which time she had spent a hellish period in prison. It would be years before she could recover custody of her children. Her autobiographical account of her experiences entitled Una mujer en la guerra de España (Ed. Oberon, 2004), was originally published in 1964 in Mexico, where she subsequently lived in exile, under the title Una mexicana en la guerra de España. An English edition, under the title Trapped in Spain was published in 1978 by Solidarity Books (Toronto, Canada). In the 1930s O’Neill had founded the feminist magazine Nosotras. Following her release from prison in 1940, during the harsh postwar years in Spain, she made a living as a writer using several different pseudonyms, before leaving for Venezuela and Mexico. For more information on her and a video follow this link .
  • Constancia de la Mora wrote her autobiography Doble esplendor (Ed. Gadir, 2004) in the United States within months of the end of the Civil War and it was first published in English in 1939 under the title In Place of Splendour. She was the grand-daughter of Antonio Maura, who was Prime Minister of Spain on four occasions during the reign of King Alfonso XIII. Her uncle, Miguel Maura, was Minister of the Interior in the first government of the Republic. In her book she recounts her childhood experiences in a privileged family, her stay at a private school in Cambridge (UK), and how her concern over social conditions in Spain led her to support the Republic from 1931 onwards. Like O’Neill she was also married to an airman, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros, who was her second husband (Her first husband was the brother of Luis Bolín, who became Franco’s press chief and whom she divorced immediately after the legalisation of divorce in 1933.) During the Civil War, while Cisneros rose to become Head of the Republican Airforce, she worked initially as the head of a home for refugee children and later in the Republican Foreign Press Office, of which she became Head in November 1937. She was based in several different cities in the Republican zone, and, shortly before the defeat of the Republic she left Spain to promote the Republican cause in the United States, convinced that she would soon return. The prologue to the Spanish edition of her book was written by her first cousin Jorge Semprún.
  • Elena Fortún was the pen name of María de la Encarnación Gertrudis Jacoba Aragoneses y de Urquijo, who, during the Franco period, was the author of a series of very successful children’s books, which featured a character called Celia who was a very critical and inquisitive child. This same innocence and capacity for critical thinking occur in Celia en la Revolución (Ed. Renacimiento, 2016), in which Fortún presents a fictional account of Republican Madrid during the Civil War, seen through the eyes of the adolescent who had been Celia. What is surprising is that, although this novel is set in Civil War Madrid, the Madrid of “No Pasarán” (“They shall not pass”), it could have been an account of life in many other cities during the conflict with its portrayal of the harshness of day to day life, in terms of death, hunger, uncertainty, shortages of everything and fear, all presented without expressing an opinion. There was a first edition (1987) but, according to Andrés Trapiello in the prologue to the 2016 edition, “barely had it been published, than it disappeared from bookshops, since when it has only surfaced in the rare books market, appearing one copy at a time, always at fabulous prices.” The story of how this book came to us is in itself a wonder: the manuscript, written in pencil, was recovered in the 1980s (long after the author’s death in 1952) by Marisol Dorao (PhD in Philology, University of Cádiz), who travelled to the United States to obtain it from the daughter-in-law of the author. In 1993 Televisión Española created a series based on the books called Celia without including this volume. Editorial Renacimiento is publishing a new edition of the works of Elena Fortún, which have been out of print for many years, while the episodes from the TVE series Celia can be seen free by following this link.

Some Recommendations for Summer Reading

Top of the list of summer reading recommended by Innovation & Human Rights this year is La vall de la matança (Cossetània Edicions, 2012), by Josep Masanés, a writer from Barcelona now based in Menorca. This novel won the award for Narrative Fiction at the 29th  Ribera d’Ebre Book Fair. It tells the story of the Civil War struggle by Republican troops led by Captain Creus and Second-lieutenant Ciurana during an attack on Francoist defensive positions held by the fearsome Major Marín. Although this attack resulted in victory, the Republican armies were forced to continued retreating.  Summoned in front of the General Staff, Creus and Ciurana were entrusted with a difficult mission. As they carry this out we meet the other men chosen for the mission including Ulldevidre, Reimann and Homs.  By the end of the Civil War we have learnt about their fears, their desires and their loves, along with the enemies who pursue them, personified by the diabolical Major Marín. Josep Masanés has paid tribute to the influence of the American writer, Cormac McCarthy.

Our second recommendation is La memòria de l’Oracle (Edicions del 1984, published in 2018), the third novel of Pere Joan Martorell, which won the Premio Mallorca de Narrativa 2017.  In this the author reflects on the human condition in a harrrowing tale set in the brutal atmosphere of the Civil War on the island of Mallorca. The story follows the search for their father by Jacob and his family: his mother, his aunt and his uncle. Jacob himself is the omniscient narrator who begins his account from within his mother’s womb. The novel offers a double perspective: it takes place both at the time of the conflict and during the post-war years. It is neither a historical novel nor a documentary.  The author details the barbarity and the dark times of the Fascist period in Mallorca. Martorell’s language is both rich and poetic.

While we are on the subject of the Balearic Islands, we cannot fail to recommend Llibre d’Exilis (2018), by Josep Portella, a biographical dictionary of Menorcan exile. This is a work which took over seven years of research, documenting the lives of Menorcans who were driven into exile by the Civil War and the Franco Regime. It is a volume of great documentary value: extending to over 700 pages and  including over 1,000 photographs, it is a major contribution to the recovery of historical memory in Menorca. It was published in collaboration with the local council (Consell Insular de Menorca).

Another book which is highly recommended is Las heridas (Editorial Pepitas de Calabaza, 2012), by  Norman Bethune, translated from English by Natalia Fernández. Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor is famous for the role played by his medical units during the Spanish Civil War and, later, with the Chinese armies during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He is considered to have developed the first mobile blood transfusion service in Spain in 1936. This small but interesting volume is a compilation of his fundamental writings. In the first part, Bethune defends the idea of universal medical attention. In the second, he narrates the events which he witnessed as a doctor during the flight of the population of the city of Málaga along the road towards Almería in February 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The third part describes the privations of life in China and his work for the cause of medicine there.  

Finally, since it has been topical recently, we take this opportunity to recommend Los Girasoles Ciegos (Editorial Anagrama, 2004, published in English as Blind Sunflowers, Arcadia Books, 2008). This, the only published work of Alberto Méndez, consists of four connected tales:  “If the heart could think it would cease to beat”,; “Manuscript found in oblivion”; “The language of the dead”; “Blind sunflowers” .  This is in many ways a grim book, reflecting the atmosphere of the Civil War and the post-war Francoist repression.  A Spanish-language film version of the novel was released in 2008.