Postwar Experience: Into Exile

Surgeon Josep Simo discusses his experience, as a young boy, of leaving home for France after the fall of Spain’s 2nd Republic.

EN: When the war was ending my father was a frontier officer for the POUM. In Colera, to be specific. He had already received orders to cross the border. But first he did have to get across it. The elderly, women and children crossed on January 28 and 29, so he had to wait until February 5. Then my father sent a car to get my mother and me all the way to Colera. From Colera, there was a train to Portbou But before we could reach Portbou, fascist planes were bombing the train and the train had to scurry from tunnel to tunnel, taking cover, all the way to Portbou. When my mother and I reached Portbou, we were struck by great darkness. Soldiers had stowed away on the train. They’d gotten on, in spite of orders to wait. There was a terrible panic as people tried to find one another. For a while, my mother was even unable to find me. And then she…there’s this anecdote.  From one of those wounded soldiers she was able to get a backpack containing jars of powdered milk which she kept. But next to her there was a woman, badly wounded. a poor woman, not in agony, but very sick. She left the milk to help this woman with the crossing. Meaning, we were, from Portbou to Cerbère, on foot. Then, in Cerbère, a train picked us up, which took the aged, women, and children to Poltiers, to a refugee shelter. My mother and I were only there from February, 1939 to September, 1939. Because the French authorities, upon seeing the German invasion of Poland, they assumed the Maginot line into France would be breached. Upon seeing the country’s difficult road ahead, they asked, practically demanded, that people return to Spain. So my mother sought assistance from the French and we returned to Spain.

CAT: Nosaltres quan ja s’acabava la guerra, el meu pare estava de comissari de fronteres per el POUM a, concretament, a Colera. Ja va rebre l’ordre de que havien de passar la frontera.  Perquè primer haviem de passar la frontera gent gran, dones i nens i vam poder començar a passar el 28 i el 29 de gener i ells s’havien d’esperar fins el día 5 de febrer.  Aleshores el meu pare va enviar un cotxe a buscarnos a la meva mare i a mi i aleshores fins a Colera. Llavors, a Colera ja amb un tren fins a Portbou. Però abans d’arribar a Portbou, la l’aviacio feixista va començar a bombardejar, bombardejar, bombardejar i el tren s’anava col·locant de tunel en tunel fins poder arribar a Portbou. Quan vam arribar a Portbou la meva mare i jo, aleshores ens vam trobar amb una gran foscor, amb soldats que s’havien camuflat en aquest tren que no podíen pujar pero hi van pujar, ferits cridant. Escolta, amb uns aldarulls terribles perquè la gent no trobava, la meva mare fins i tot va estar una estona que no em trobava a mi i aleshores ella, com anècdota, va poguer arreplegar d’un d’aquests soldats ferits una motxilla amb pots de llets i aleshores es va quedar la motxilla. Però al costat d’ella hi havia una senyora que estava també malferida, estaba pobra dona no agonitzant però molt malalta, i la meva mare va deixar els pots de llet, va agafar aquesta senyora, i vam passar la frontera, o sigui, desde Portbou fins a Cerbère, aleshores a peu. Llavors, a Cerbère ens va gafar un tren i les dones, nens, i gent gran ja ens va portar fins a Poitiers a un refugi d’acolliment.  I allà vam estar la meva mare i jo desde el  febrer del 39 fins el septembre del 39. Perquè les autoritats franceses, quan van veure que ja Alemanya havía invadit Polonia, ja ràpidament pensaven que passaríen la línea Maginot i entraríen a França. Aleshores, al veures aquesta dificultat sobreafegida al país, ja va dir, quasi bé va exigir que la gent tornés cap a Espanya. Aleshores, la meva mare es va acollir a aquestes facilitats entre cometes dels francesos i vam tornar cap a Espanya.