“Not everything is fantastic” in Germany. In France “there is no network of memory spaces of the Spanish refuge”. And Spain “has come very late to the memory of the deportation, compared to the rest of European countries.” Three flashes, in analysis mode, illuminate a comparative vision of memorialist public policies in the European Union.
The three sentences belong to the historian Stephanie Schuler-Springorum, the representative of the Argelès-sur-Mer concentration camp Memorial, Olga Arcos, and the Andalusian delegate of the Amical de Mauthausen, Ángel del Río. A debate to examine the construction of a European network for democratic and anti-fascist Memory, developed at the I International Congress ‘The Disband’.
The table of experts is part of the meeting that has the subtitle ‘A century of popular anti-fascist struggles’. A forum held in Mollina (Málaga), with huge public attendance, in times “of the rise of anti-democratic forces and ideologies” to promote the debate on “this first attack by the armed forces against the defenseless civilian population, as a prologue to the atrocities that the fascism took to European territory a short time later, ”says the organizer, the La Desbandá Association.
La Desbandá is the greatest war crime of Spanish fascism. With some stark figures: more than 200,000 refugees and at least 5,000 deaths, according to various studies. The river of civilians flees the coup terror from Malaga to Almería. And they are going to be attacked by land, sea and air by Francoist troops with the support of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy.
The humanitarian drama precedes Gernika (Bizkaia) –April 26, 37– or Xàtiva (València) –February 12, 39– and surpasses them in dimensions. The displaced, a large part of them women, minors and the elderly, are fleeing the massacres in Seville, Huelva, Cádiz… areas of Andalusia where there is no war and there is systematic repression against civilians. Western Andalusia has more disappeared than the dictatorships of Argentina and Chile together.
The Nuremberg trials prosecuted those responsible for the crimes committed during the Holocaust. The victorious allied powers of World War II judge more than 20 of the main leaders of Nazi Germany. The court passes twelve death sentences. The process -developed between November 20, 1945 and October 1, 1946- marks the beginning of International Justice.
Germany loses Memory
“Not everything is fantastic in my country”, starts the doctor in History from the Ruhr University Bochum and the Technical University of Berlin (Germany), Stephanie Schuler-Springorum. The key to the “famous policy of historical memory in Germany we owe to the allies and, even more, to the simple fact that we Germans had lost the war.”
With a latent, current danger. “Everything is disappearing in society, I see it in young people, who are losing historical knowledge when it is the generation that has had the most possibilities, and this is very worrying for the future,” he warns. Because the recovery of memory “is not something fixed, but slow”, and with “the wave of extreme right and fascists we realize how fragile democracy is when a short time ago it seemed that everything was done”, concludes the researcher.
Outside guardianship has a flat social immersion. A kind of history of the Holocaust that people assimilated, but far from the empathy of the victims. With a somewhat unexpected turning point. How to live from an “end point strategy”, to go “to live very fast” despite “a catastrophe of dimensions never experienced before”.
This popular discourse “changes significantly after the year 79 with a US television series that we imported and had a great impact on the normal German public”, generating “the first time in 40 years that we Germans face reality with the victims, who they were no longer presented as a pile of anonymous corpses”, nor perceived only as such.
duty of memory
“Our duty is to transmit the democratic memory to future generations”, says the mayor of Argelès-sur-Mer (France), Antoine Parra, descendant of Andalusian exiles. The coastal city reviews its past, and repairs it, “with a tour of our places of memory.” With one main stop, the concentration camp itself.
An enclosure built on bare earth. “The beach is a large, flat, wide space, where it is easy to take thousands of people,” he explains. Olga Arcos, representative in the Argelès Field Memorial. There, the Spanish refugees are “thrown, there is nothing, just sand and barbed wire”. Overcrowding, stark cold, and contempt.
That is why “it was a taboo subject” on French soil and the Argelès-sur-Mer City Council “was the first” to bet on the “pedagogy of memory”. With projects such as “rehabilitating the Spanish cemetery, where every year there are tributes, plaques with the names of adults and children who died in the field, at least those who could be identified.”
And an International Documentation Center on the Republican Exile, with a space for documentary collections. Or, since 2014, “as one more stage in this work”, with the creation of the Argelès Field Memorial. A pioneering meeting and dissemination space, because “in France there is no network of memory spaces of the Spanish refuge” and that, conceived as a meeting and dissemination space, grows as a “special hook for memory tourism” that reaches ” 15,000 visitors a year.
Late to Memory
“Spain has come very late to the memory of deportation, compared to the rest of European countries,” he explains. Angel of the River, Professor of Anthropology at the Pablo de Olavide University (UPO) and delegate in Andalusia of Amical de Mauthausen and other fields and of all the victims of Nazism in Spain. And in this repair collective recognition emerges: “There are more than 90,000 stones of memory throughout Europe (the so-called Stolpersteine)”, reveals.
At present, in any case, “we are in the golden age of the memory of deportation,” he advances. Because, he continues, “in these last 15 years there has been a quantitative leap, from studies, books, comics, documentaries, exhibitions, didactic units, plays… and all of this has had a penetration in the cultural field that has allowed reaching many people”.
Then there are the forgotten names, the banished stories, the buried stories. The missing. “The uneasiness caused by the figure of the disappeared is traumatic. The truth is always less harsh than disappearance”, appeals Del Río. And in that “anonymous” story there are pages to read, from which to learn how to build an anti-fascist future.
“There is no memory of the deportation without the legacy they have left us, including their testimonies,” he says. They have been “intense lives that had to be collected before they were lost in the sinkholes of history.” Stories of “perfect strangers, also in their towns of origin”, but that lead the way. “Anti-fascist action must fight from the various social movements,” he concludes.