When in February 1939 the troops of the Republican Army withdrew towards France due to the impossibility of containing the Franco advance, they made the effort to cross the border in an orderly manner and with their heads held high. The combatants carried inside all the pain in the world and were exhausted and broken, but they also had the deep conviction of having done everything in their power to defeat the enemy and defend the freedoms that the Republic brought to Spain and its project of social justice and modernization of the country. Each one did it in their own way. And there was surely everything. Some fought more convinced, others with less enthusiasm, and there were those who did it forced.
The situation was chaotic, an immense number of men and women filled the roads, and all suffered the greatest penalties in order to avoid the reprisals that were coming, death and jail, the loss of a world that was falling apart. The fact is that an important part of the republican troops was managed to pass to France in perfect formation. There they were, they could have been defeated but they kept their dignity intact and alive the values for which they had fought. A few were able to return to continue defending what still remained of the Republic, but the vast majority ended up in concentration camps that were set up in any way to make room for that human tide that managed to escape the dictatorship that was coming. Exile began for all of them, exiles, each one very different. How to survive, how to start from scratch and, in many cases, with nothing. How to move forward, how to invent yourself again.
It is poorly known and very little has been said about what that enormous journey that began during those days, eighty years ago, meant to so many Spaniards. Ferran Planes was one of them. During the war he became a lieutenant in the Artillery Command of the IX Army Corps and ended up writing his adventures in a revealing chronicle that he entitled The mess. "I was still in my thirteen: Western-type democracy, anti-fascism, and I was opposed to Marxism, because I did not admit the lack of freedom or any kind of dogmatism," he points out there when he narrates the moment in which many republican soldiers formed a Company of Workers Foreigners who collaborated in the construction of a sort of "second Maginot line" to stop the advance of Nazism in French lands. He had to watch the work of his section with a guy from Brittany. "And the fact is that I," he writes, "who was not French, was passionately interested in that war, with which he linked the future of the world (…), while he only dreamed of returning home."
It was precisely that, home, what the Spaniards lost, who had no choice but to leave. Many of them never quite managed to leave. They always had the suitcase ready to return. So they lived on a razor's edge. On one side, the world they had left behind; the other, the one in which they had to get ahead. When they finally managed to return, who knows if, hoping to pick up where they had left off, they discovered that their home was no longer the same, and that they did not recognize themselves either. If someone had asked them who they were, they would surely have answered like Ulysses to Polyphemus: "My name is nobody."
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