I went to Alicante, Spain, recently to a new museum commemorating the 80th anniversary of the fall of this port city to Franco and the Nationalist forces. One of the main events depicted at the museum relates to the last-minute evacuation of war refugees from the harbor. Spaniards fighting on the Republican side and their families wanted to leave Spain before they could be killed or imprisoned by the enemy. As Alicante was the last Spanish city to fall, at the end of March 1939, there were thousands of people who went there, hoping to get on boats to leave the country.
Only one man was brave enough to transport the refugees away from danger. That was Welsh native Archibald Dickson. He transported 2,638 exiles away from Spain on March 28, 1939 on board the steamboat Stanbrook. The civil war ended April 1, 1939, a few days later. It had begun on July 17, 1936.
Captain Dickson took the refugees to Oran, Algeria. According to historical accounts, when they arrived, French authorities refused Dickson permission to moor, but finally relented when he threatened to crash into the harborside. The refugees had to wait three months before they were allowed to disembark, from where they were taken to a concentration camp where many would die. Dickson himself died several months after the evacuation when the Stanbrook was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat.
While at the museum, we saw a recreation of an artists’ gallery featuring political propaganda from the Spanish Civil War period. Here is one of the posters displayed there. This one’s message resonated with me.
Based on what I have read so far about the Spanish civil war, I think I would have sided with the Republicans. The Nationalists, led by Franco, rounded up many artists and intellectuals and shot them because of their ideas. Ernest Hemingway was one of the most famous writers who supported the Nationalists and traveled to Spain to fight with them. He wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls based on his experience there.
As the above poster shows, not everyone who wanted to escape Spain ahead of Franco was able to do so. Many people were left behind. Some of these people killed themselves to avoid capture or imprisionment. Others were imprisioned in two concentration camps located in Alicante province, including one called Los Almendros and another one in Albetera.
In addition to telling the dramatic story of the evacuation of Alicante, the museum contains a wooden scale model of the Stanbrook, complete with tiny passengers, including a man shaving while holding a mirror in his hand. Outside this exhibit are three separate panels listing the names of many people killed in the Spanish civil war, including victims of bombings and victims of the Franco’s dictatorship.
War brings so much suffering, death and destruction. Why can’t people find a way to work out their differences without violence?
One thought on “Spanish Civil War 80th Anniversary Memorial Museum”
Very interesting. Civil wars like the ones in the US and Britain, and many other countries, are so horrible as it tears the country apart. It was a bad time for the Spanish people although it did keep them out of WWII.
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