Convoy phase 2
I’m working again with a family fragment oral testimony about a nazi roundup to the Mauthausen Camp on 20 August 1940. You can hear my mother recall what she was told by my grandparents here
Now, an invitation to join Dawn Cole and Dan Thompson’s Appletye Paper Trail project, has prompted a whole new response. I’ve been sent a sample of paper from 1940, the year of the Nazi round-up of 927 Spanish republican exiles at Angouleme. This lovely invitation to respond to the paper is what’s got me going again.
Unknowingly, the 927 exiles were bound for the Mauthausen extermination camp. They had been told they were to be transported to ‘la zona libre’, ie unoccupied France. Probably the worst they could’ve imagined at this time would’ve been that the Nazis had more likely organised their repatriation to Fascist Spain. This fear may have been what saved my family that day, but until yesterday I didn’t know about this detail.
You can read about the Paper Trail work on my WordPress site The Other Side, I was thrilled with this creative break through, but left with a sense of mystery surrounding it.
So until yesterday, how my grandparents and great-grandmother knew to hide in a forest while others were taken had seemed shrouded in mystery to me – though I now find it has been documented as (of course) these events affected a much wider community of republican exiles and survivors have been able to bear testimony. Yet the nature of my mother’s anecdote had been both vague and intensely personal. She had held it for probably 60 years and while she may only have received a fragment in the first place, all possible detail had long fallen away. It had also been narrated to her in a political and domestic vacuum, so to speak. This information had travelled nowhere, nor had it met with similar stories from the mouths of others – due to the interruption of such transmissions by many complex socio-political factors including the official suppression of the memory of these events within Spain.
Spurred on by the Paper Trail work I began to dig deeper into the history and I found several new sources. The German occupation of the region had made the Spanish republican exiles’ position even more tenuous than before in France, and there were events leading up to the roundup which had increased the Spaniards’ anxieties. The Nazi’s had already attempted to ‘organise’ the Spaniards in the region, and the net was closing in on the camp of Alliers near Angouleme in which entire families of exiles lived.
An order was issued to exiles living outside the camp in the surrounding area to present themselves at the camp of Alliers with their papers and as many of their belongings as they could carry – but rumours had begun to circulate. In one French source, a description can be found of the advice (from several quarters) to flee and hide for the night (19 August) even though the destination of this roundup was thought to be to ‘la zona libre.’ By this time many of the exiles were not living in the internment camp of Alliers, or if they did they had found work in the surrounding area and were free to come and go as they pleased. My family hid in a forest, many others were hidden by the people they worked for.
The Gestapo were disappointed that day. They had expected to ‘deport’ 2000 Spanish exiles and caught approximately less than half that number.
As I absorb these new details I’m processing the idea this tiny fragment – as it becomes hooked onto a wider history where more facts can accrue – is not just about one lucky escape. Hundreds of exiles disobeyed the order to report in to the camp of Alliers.
I will continue to plan my tribute for the 927 taken (I’m working numerically) but will now consider further works to encompass this new information. On a personal level I feel a curious sense of wonder and some relief. It feels nothing short of miraculous to locate our fragment within a body of information – the itch of curiosity is satisfied on the most basic level, but more importantly it brings me closer to understanding. I can now inhabit my work with greater confidence and I hope with sufficient sensitivity to the victims and survivors.