The Spanish Civil War (1936-39)
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© Cor Faber en Ellen Bijma
Franco-supporters on Dutch Ameland
The Spanish Civil War started on July 18, 1936 as an uprising by the army (sometimes July 17 is taken as the date). That revolt started in Spanish Morocco and soon spread to the Spanish mainland. To help Franco, Moorish soldiers (80-85,000) were transferred from Morocco to the south of Spain by planes from Hitler's Germany. The intention was to push through to Madrid as quickly as possible and thus bring down the government, a coup d'état. But General Franco decided to first relieve the Alcázar in Toledo, 60 kilometers south of Madrid (see special stories: The siege of the Alcázar). It was besieged by militias from Madrid in particular. That relief succeeded, but ensured that the advance to Madrid was delayed by three weeks. Three weeks that Madrid used to put its defenses in order and thus prevent Franco's victory until March 31, 1939. With the capture of Madrid, the Spanish Civil War ended and Franco's dictatorship began. This would last until his death in 1975.
Although the fighting took place in Spain, it was certainly not a local Spanish event. All over the world, all kinds of countries were involved in one way or another. You should think of the (illegal) arms trade, but also the fact that 40-45,000 volunteers from many countries went to Spain to fight against Franco, the International Brigades. Among them were also about 650 Dutch people. But the Netherlands was also involved in that war in another way: Francoists who were given asylum in the Netherlands and ended up on Ameland, among other places.
Spain was a republic in 1936 since 1931 and Madrid was a republican stronghold. Nevertheless, a number of residents were staunch Francoists. But after the outbreak of the uprising, their lives were no longer certain. Not before then, but definitely not now. About 450 of them sought refuge in various embassies. Of these, 75 ended up in the Dutch embassy in Madrid. (**** Photos list) But an embassy is not suitable for habitation, so the embassy rented a few buildings next to it to house the refugees. That could not last long, of course, and so it was decided that they should move to the Netherlands as asylum seekers. They were transported to the port city of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. This happened in the middle of the night to prevent them from being stopped on the way. The safe conduct that one received from Madrid might not work everywhere on the way to Valencia. People were still booed here and there when a village was passed and residents there turned out to be aware of the transport. From Valencia it went by boat to the French port of Marseille and from there by train to the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, the Spaniards were accommodated in The Hague, Utrecht and Eindhoven, among others. They were allowed to stay here on the condition that they would not try to go back to Spain and they had to report regularly to the police station. Returning to Spain was not allowed because, if those Spaniards would join the fight, the impression would be that the Netherlands had provided aid and would therefore not have been neutral. The Dutch population also looked at the arrival of those Spaniards in different ways. The left, the socialists and communists, did not like the admission of fascists. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, set up a support committee to accommodate them. The church did not see them as fascists, but as victims of religious persecution. After all, Franco wanted to restore the Catholic faith in Spain. At least, that's how it was presented. History is timeless and, just like today, asylum seekers are not always welcome. In a number of places in the Netherlands, fights broke out between the Spaniards and the local population. In those cases, relocation to another location was chosen. Despite the ban, some Spaniards tried to return to Spain. Most of them were arrested, sometimes even abroad and sent back to the Netherlands. People were a bit upset about it, now what? It was decided that the escapees, and almost all of them were single men, would be interned on Ameland. After all, the Wadden Sea formed a natural obstacle that could not be easily overcome. The Spaniards were accommodated in hotel de Boer, among other places. A number of police officers were also seconded to Ameland. Among them was Hendrik Alkema from Friesland. In the photo on the right he is together with a few of those Spaniards. (**** photo Hendrik) Among those Spaniards were also two members of the royal family in Spain of the De Bourbon family. Of course plans were also made on Ameland to escape, but they soon disappeared when it turned out that they were not feasible.
On Ameland was a holiday resort of the SDAP, the socialist party. People were very concerned about whether there would be clashes between the Dutch socialists and the Spanish fascists. Fortunately, this turned out to be not too bad in practice.
In general, there was a friendly atmosphere on the island. People entertained themselves with playing football, ping pong and dominoes. The Amelanders were not so concerned about their Spanish guests. The island was already a well-known tourist destination and with tourists you don't wonder what the background is, as long as money is earned from them. One of the Spaniards, Pedro, started a relationship with a young lady, Riemke. (**** photo Pedro) From that relationship a girl was born, Annelies. When the father went back to Spain, he was never heard from again. Annelies did meet two half-sisters, but she never saw her father herself.
When it became clear around March 1939 that Franco had actually already won the war, the Spaniards left for Spain again.
For the (Dutch) documentary of the VPRO program Andere Tijden (Different Times), click here.
One of the lists with names of the Spanish “guests”
Arrival at Roosendaal
Hotel de Boer on Ameland
Policeman Hendrik Alkema in between a couple of Spaniards
Clubhouse Excelcior of the SDAP
To the far right Pedro
Spanish asylum seekers in The Netherlands