They Were in Exile—and Needed Help

They Were in Exile—and Needed Help

There have been millions upon millions of refugees. Most of them have received considerable media attention, even where concrete support (food, decent living conditions) was meager and inadequate. One group of refugees, perhaps because they “merely” numbered in the tens of thousands, received almost no attention and, but for the dedicated help of a few people—one in particular—little would have been done to alleviate their wretched condition. Nancy Macdonald was that “one,” and over the years she recruited friends and built a small organization that served the needs of the Spanish exiles after the Spanish Civil War. In a recently published book, Nancy (a firstname privilege I take, having known her for almost the entire period covered) presents the story of these exiles and what was done to help them— principally, the non- or anti-Communist left: anarchists, socialists, POUMists (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista / United Marxist Workers Party).

It all began, for Nancy, in 1941, when she received a letter from Victor Serge (see Dissent, Winter 1984) asking “if we could help a Spanish refugee, Juan Andrade, suffering with tuberculosis in the prison of Montauban in Vichy-ruled France.” Andrade was one of the leaders of the POUM. In Spain, while fighting Franco’s forces, he and his comrades had been persecuted by the Stalinists. (The intellectual leader of the POUM, Andrés Nin, had been assassinated by the Stalinists.) Serge wrote that, with thirteen other POUMists, Andrade “had been condemned by a military tribunal of the Vichy Government, sitting behind closed doors [in Montauban, November 17- 18, 1941], for having maintained an illegal organization with connections in Spain.” Andrade was sentenced to five years (from which he was freed by Spanish maquis). With some friends, Nancy sent food and money before communication with France was ended by the Nazi takeover. Vichy was not sympathetic to Spanish refugees, nor were subsequent French governments much better.

In these high-tech days when causes good and bad seem unable to operate without sophisticated computerized appeals and organizations, it is good to be reminded that a few individuals, working with dedication and minimum resources, can accomplish worthy goals. Ad hoc and formal committees, efforts of one sort or another, followed this first step of helping Andrade. Finally, in 1952, Nancy and her husband Dwight sent a leaflet, Proposals for a Committee to Aid Spanish Refugees in France, to friends who had already contributed in one way or another. The leaflet listed specific needs: for example, used clothing, “monthly subsidies for Republican Dispensaries in Montauban and Toulouse.. .. Help for 90 people in hospitals. . Aid for 74 tuberculars. . . .” They attracted sponsors, and Spanish Refugee Aid (SRA) finally came into being in 1953. In its first year, April ...

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