Spanish Republicans and first deportees from France

On August 20, 1940, a few weeks after the arms race, a first deportation act was committed by the Nazis in France, leaving Angoulême, almost 900 Spanish Republicans were sent to Mauthausen, Austria and then to Spain. Long forgotten, this convoy is today the subject of memorial work.

“We could not see anything because the skylights were too small, we did not know where they took us.” It is with these words that José Alcubierre, who died in 2017, had told a few years ago to the newspaper Sud Ouest, its departure to Mauthausen by the first convoy from France, 20 August 1940.

At just 16 years old, he was part of a group of nearly 900 Spanish Republicans gathered by the German authorities in Angoulême, less than two months after the signing of the coat of arms. These men, women and children had taken refuge in Charente in 1939 during the Retirada, a retirement of half a million Spaniards who had fled the Franco regime. A camp, that of Alliers, had been set up by the French authorities to regroup them, at the end of Angoulême. “They were not prisoners. They could go out. They were recruited for agricultural work and many also worked on the nearby blowing snow. Some even lived outside the camp, with the locals,” describes Arnaud Bouligny, researcher at the Foundation for the Memory of Deportation.

An article of 2 February 1939 from the newspaper “La petite gironde” about the arrival of Spanish refugees in Angoulême. © space Memorial of the Resistance and Deportation of Charente

Unwanted people

But when the Germans arrived in June 1940, everything changed. “To them, the Spanish Republicans were red, enemies of the empire,” says the historian. “They explain to the French Interior Ministry that they must be grouped together because they pose a threat.” Thus, on July 13, 1940, an order was given to regroup all Spanish refugees from the department in a camp near a railway line, the Allies. It then numbered about 1,500 people.

Little by little, rumors circulate about the formation of a convoy in Angoulême while the Spanish refugees are identified. Some say they will be taken to the free zone, others to Spain and even to Norway or Russia to work there. On the morning of August 20, 1940, these rumors became a reality. The German forces, soldiers from the Wehrmacht and Feldengendarmes, according to Arnaud Bouligny, surrounded the Allied camps. They order passengers to travel with their belongings to Angoulême station, where Republicans discover a train of 20 to 30 cattle. “They will not leave until the middle of the afternoon because at the same time the French authorities had orders from the Germans to get back as many people as possible from those who lived in the city,” specifies this deportation specialist. A document kept by Charente’s departmental archives reports 437 women and children, 490 men or 927 people, without this figure being verifiable. In any case, the convoy will retain this name, the name of 927.

Allier's camp in Angoulême.
Allier’s camp in Angoulême. © space Memorial of the Resistance and Deportation of Charente

Separated families

Inside, no one knows the final destination. It was only after a four-day journey that the train finally arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. It is one of the toughest established by the Nazi regime, where prisoners with common and political rights since 1938 are considered unrecoverable. The doors open and SS officers only ask men to come down. “The women called their husbands and sons’ first names. I have the impression of hearing them again,” José Alcubierre testified. Deported with his father, the young man discovers hell.

In Mauthausen, he finds compatriots who have joined the French army and who were taken prisoner during the Battle of France. Considered dangerous, they had been taken from their “stalag” to be taken to this concentration camp: “We saw men dressed in zebra. We understood that something was wrong. They undressed us, passed under the window. Shower and disinfected. We had to eat a ladle of some kind of soup that smelled bad. I thought I would die there. “

The route of the convoy on August 20, 1940.
The route of the convoy on August 20, 1940. © Graphic Studio – France Médias Monde

At the same time, the train resumes its journey. He went again to the west and returned to Angoulême, before entering Spain where he finally came to 1your September. Women and children are distributed according to their place of origin. Some are imprisoned by the Franco regime. Back in their country, most people remain silent about what they have just experienced and wait anxiously to hear from their relatives who have been deported to Mauthausen. For them, everyday life is especially hard. The deportees were assigned a granite quarry or to construction sites. Lifespan is reduced. Of the 430 Spaniards in Angoulême, 354 died in deportation. José Alcubierre was separated from his father in January 1941: “He went to another camp, in Gusen. I never saw him again. I later learned that he had been fired for wanting to help another deported man.”

José Alcubierre in the Mauthausen camp.
José Alcubierre in the Mauthausen camp. © Memorial area for the resistance and deportation of Charente

A hidden convoy

The young Spaniard was released in May 1945 and returned to his residence in Charente, where he lived until his death. His memory, and that of his comrades, is especially preserved today byThe association for parents and Spanish families emigrated to France (APFEEF). “Our parents did not tell us about it. They wanted to forget,” explains Grégorio Lázaro, president of the APFEEF in Charente, whose aunt was part of this convoy. “We talked about the deportation trains for the Jews, who first started going to Germany after the decision on the final solution in 1942, but this story about the convoy 927 was completely hidden, in the same way. The Spaniards have been forgotten for their role in the resistance and liberation of French cities. .

However, this train has a unique place in the history of France due to its early dates, its composition and the separation of the family. “We wanted to celebrate this anniversary with the dignity of the convoy’s 80th anniversary, unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis prevents us from doing so,” regrets Grégorio Lázaro. The authorities granted us a “light” ceremony in front of our stele at Angoulême station and an outdoor cinema session showing the documentary “Le convoy des 927”.

In the absence of a large ceremony, work organized by Friends of the Foundation for Memory of the Deportation going on with school children from CM2 to the terminal. Students participate in the preparation of biographical notes on the constantly deported. “These messages will then be sent to the Foundation’s Scientific Council for Validation. They will be published by the daily La Charente Libre between November 2020 and the end of 2025,” said Michèle Soult, president of the association. These sheets will also be published on the website of the Foundation for the Memory of the Resistance and on the archives of the department.

A great reward for the participants, but above all an awareness that is more relevant than ever, according to Michèle Soult: “At a time when extremists around the world are emerging with their teachings aimed at curbing, even destroying, anything that does not conform to their ideals, it is very important to get young people to reflect on our painful situation. earlier, to remove those mechanisms of this fascist policy, and often negationist or revisionist, so that they become enlightened citizens and that maybe yesterday does not happen again tomorrow. “

The Foundation for the Deportation Memorial is trying to get in touch with the descendants of the deportees from convoy 927. Testimonies can be sent to this address: fmdcaen@yahoo.fr