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Commemoration of La Retirada

16th February - 19th February

La Retirada
Remembering the refugees of the Franco regime

La Retirada

Dictionary definition
Retirada – (catalan) withdrawal of troops to a more favourable position to escape the enemy’s superior forces or after a defeat

In memory of the Retirada of February 8, 1939, when the French military set up a camps on the beach in Argelès sur Mer to detain between 70,000 and 90,000 Spanish Republican refugees, the town pays homage to these men and women, freedom fighters and victims of fascism in exile, who continued the fight for republican values and democracy.

“We had been fighting for freedom from Fascism for three years. We expected to be
given a hero’’s welcome”

But they were not welcomed with open arms into the Pyrénées-Orientales. Dubbed as the “Reds”, they were admitted as “foreign undesirables”, meaning they could be imprisoned legally. Women and children were initially sent to accommodation centres, men were at first refused entry entirely before eventually being herded into internment camps on the beach at Argelès-sur-Mer, behind barbed wire fences, exposed to the elements, unspeakable squalour, food and water shortage, dysentery and rats.

La Retirada

The repression of the exiles intensified under the German occupation. Thousands of Spanish Republicans perished in the Nazi gas chambers, especially at Mauthausen. Many others, despite their treatment in France, joined the French Resistance and, as ‘Guerilleros Espagnols’, contributed substantially to the Liberation in 1944.

On 15th March 1945 the exiles were finally granted the official status of ‘Political Refugees’ and today a third of the Languedoc-Roussillon’s present-day population are descendants of these Spanish refugees.


Thursday 16th
9pm Muséu Memorial de l’Exili, La Jonquera Concert : Cançons de la Resistancia (Resistance Songs) 10€
Friday 17th
5pm Cimitière des Espagnols, Argelès Wreath laying
6pm Espace Jules Pams, Valmy Exhibition opening: Spanish Republicans during the French Resistance. Followed by conference: From Argelès to Vernet, resistance in the camps
Saturday 18th
9am Parking CCI, Port Vendres Commemoration walk with wreath laying at the cemetery, followed by the inauguration of a memorial plaque for children taken in at the Centre de la Mauresque during the war
10am Espace Jean Carrère, Port Vendres Opening of the International Literary Salon: meet authors and discover various works and charities based on La Retirada throughout the afternoon
12pm Espace Jean Carrère Picnic lunch (bring your own!)
4pm Espace Jean Carrère Conference: Children exiled in Russia, followed by film screening of Lon niños de Rusia and a discussion of refugee children today
7pm Espace Jean Carrère Paëlla and traditional Spanish concert. Reservations essential. Call 06 49 58 52 83 or email nardo.cedo@orange.fr before 16th February 18€
Sunday 19th
9am Centre Culturelle, Colioure Welcome from the Maire and dignitaries from Foyer d’Accueil Médicalisé.
10.15am Centre Culturelle Conference: Procession of Sadness- the Spanish refugees and Antonio Machado (in Spanish, with French subtitles)
11am Centre Culturelle Prize giving for college competitions
11.30am Centre Culturelle Witness account and book presentation from survivor, Manuella Parra
12.30pm Centre Culturelle Memorial walk to cemetery for wreath laying
3.30pm Centre Culturelle Concert: Our songs from La Retirada (accordian and singing). Call 06 87 43 39 74 for reservations 10€
5pm Centre Culturelle Closing ceremony

“I believe we shared something else… the chance to make one grand and uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith, which might never occur again … few of us yet knew that we had come to a war… to be led by brave but bewildered amateurs. But for the moment there were no half-truths and hesitations, we had found a new freedom, almost a new morality, and discovered a new Satan- fascism.”
Laurie Lee, English Poet

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16th February
19th February
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