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Commemoration of La Retirada

9th February - 21st February

La Retirada
Remembering the refugees of the Franco regime

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 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.

Find out more here.

2019 marks the 80th anniversary of La Retirada and as such, extra special commemorative services and events will be taking place across the region.

Click here to see the programme in Argelès sur Mer.


Saturday 9th

10.30am Installation of commemorative plaque
11am Opening of exhibitions (Maison de l’Histoire & Médiathèque)
12pm Apéritif
3pm Free guided visit : The Republican Exodus (in French/Catalan- reservations at the Office de Tourisme)

Friday 15th

6pm Conference :  Les Camps créés lors de la Retirada dans les Pyrénées-Orientales et au Boulou

Saturday 16th

3pm Film screening : No passarán – album souvenir
4.15pm Presentation of film & refreshments

Thursday 21st

3pm Guided visit : The Republican Exodus (in French/Catalan – 5€- reservations at the Office de Tourisme)

Laurie Lee, English Poet

“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.”


9th February
21st February
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