The forgotten exiles: Spain's 'War kids'

14th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

As children they were forced to leave Spain after the Civil War because their parents were Republicans. Only now have the so-called 'War kids' been recognised by Spain. Mar Marin reports.

Two 'war kids' who were evacuated from Spain during Civil War

Though their childhood is far in the past, the elderly "war kids" who fled Spain for Britain, Russia, Cuba and other Latin American nations in the 1930s when their country was embroiled in civil war are taking steps to ensure that their story is not forgotten.

There's a saying that only the things that are forgotten truly die, and the war kids know that.

Although they are now old and scattered all over the world, they want their story of exile and civil war to endure.

The Spanish government this year said they can claim pensions which were previously denied them.

For some, this cash – however overdue –has been more than welcome, particularly those who ended up in Cuba.

*quote1*Although fewer of the exiled children came to Cuba than to other countries, now more than 100 have requested the benefits approved by Madrid, which amount to about EUR 6,136 (USD 7,200) a year.

Their search for documents to back up their requests has caused them to relive their story.

Each of their lives in exile from their native Spain has been different, but there is one group among them - those called the "Hispano-Soviets" by the Cuban government - who have shared a large part of their collective life on the Communist island.

Most of the Hispano-Soviets were evacuated from Spanish ports in 1937, in the middle of the 1936-39 Civil War, destined to be housed in orphanages in the Soviet Union.

The defeat of the Republicans in Spain ended the children's hopes of returning to their families, and World War Two destroyed many of their remaining illusions about the former Soviet Union.

The wars cut their childhoods and adolescences short, but the bloody and devastating conflicts could not take their futures from them, futures which arose out of the alliance between the Cuban Revolution and the Soviet regime.

At the beginning of the 1960s, Cuba needed technicians and translators to consolidate its relationship with Moscow.

The Spanish war kids were perfect candidates to step into the breach: they knew the USSR, they were well-educated and they had command of both Spanish and Russian.

An agreement between the Red Cross and the Communist Parties of Cuba and Spain led to the arrival on the island of dozens of the war kids, now grown into well-educated adults.

Civil War Communist propaganda poster which says 'Workers the country is yours'

Jose Sevill, now 72, was one of them. He was the son of a Communist commissioner and had left Valencia, Spain, in 1937 with his brother Ricardo.

World War Two had left its scars upon him - his fear of the bombardments, pervasive hunger and rampant disease - but Sevill had conquered them and had moved to Moscow to study naval engineering.

In 1961, he left his Russian family behind and travelled with Ricardo to Cuba to work for the Revolution, where he rubbed elbows with its leading lights, including Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

"I travelled with Che on many occasions, especially to countries in the Soviet area, because I knew the language," he explained.

After Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's death, Sevill intended to return to Spain, as his brother did, but Madrid's embassy denied him permission to do so in 1977.

"I suppose that because my name is the same as my father's they must have some file on hand. They got me confused and they would not give me authorization," he said.

*quote2*He never tried to return to live in his native country again, although he has Spanish citizenship and has visited Spain on several occasions.

Alicia Casanova, born in 1925, also left Spain in 1937, coincidentally on board the ship 'La Habana', named after the Cuban capital.

She still recalls the "horrible nightmare" of the area near Leningrad - now called St. Petersburg - from which she escaped via the so-called "Road of life," a route that passed over frozen Lake Ladoga.

"Ours has been a very sad history," she said. S

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