Refugees of the Spanish Civil War and those they left behind: personal testimonies of departure, separation and return since 1936

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Rosy Rickett


During and after the Spanish civil war, over 500,000 people left Spain; at least 200,000 would remain outside Spain for many years, some for the rest of their lives. They went to France, Mexico, Argentina, the USSR, and across the globe. These Spanish 'republican' refugees were also connected to those who had stayed within Spain, by familial and political ties or the bonds of friendship. In order to investigate this reality - a group of people from all kinds of political, social and economic backgrounds based in so many different geographic locations - this thesis foregrounds the role of the individual in both experiencing and constructing history, being defined and resisting definition from different entities. Consequently, it seeks to intervene in the historiography of the Spanish Civil War and republican exile by highlighting the ways in which individual experiences and narratives both strengthen and weaken categories such as: political, a-political, refugee and exile. This PhD brings together underused source materials stored in Spain and Mexico, as well as digital archives stored online; it is based on archived oral history interviews with refugees, additional oral history interviews undertaken by the author, several collections of letters, unpublished and published memoirs, and official documents. Each chapter considers a different aspect of the refugees' experiences and how these experiences are represented in the source material: departure, separation and communication, return and home, and the memory of exile within families. How and why did people leave? How did they change their behaviour in order to adapt to or survive particular circumstances? How have the children and grandchildren of Spanish refugees reacted to family narratives and memories? Central to this analysis is the role played by factors such as gender, age, class, status, personality and political views in shaping peoples' experiences, as well as an emphasis on 'non-elite' alongside 'elite' refugees' experiences of displacement.The historiography of the Spanish Civil War and subsequent exile has been shaped by political and ideological debates, as well as the different national contexts refugees found themselves in. From the numbers of refugees recorded as having left Spain, to the idea that returning to Spain was a betrayal, to the memory of the exile within Spain, almost every aspect of the refugees' experiences has been used to make or refute arguments surrounding the morality of the republican cause and the nature of the Francoist regime. At the same time, the different circumstances of refugees living in countries like France and Mexico meant that different narratives or collective memories regarding the role of refugees in their host countries are still being constructed and reconstructed. One of the central aims of this thesis is to show how these debates have obscured the richness of individual experiences; the thesis therefore argues that considering stories which do not "fit" or details which are difficult to synthesise ultimately leads us to a more profound understanding of history. Driven by an extensive use of a range of oral history interviews, the thesis will also explore how historical time is complicated by personal testimony. The events of one person's life are carried into the present, as they continue to affect their character, state of mind and attitude to success and hardship. Personal memories and perspectives will provide a contrast to historical narratives which focus on the role of the state, military events, ideology or political parties; instead, the thesis will show how these entities and events affect people's lives, and the lives of their children. The central argument of this thesis is that Spanish refugees were not 'preordained' by the ideological conflicts which were embedded in the Civil War or their displacement. Instead, refugees actively constructed their 'self-hood' in response to these circumstances, rather than being (wholly) defined by them.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015