Carmen Negrín's speech at the International Brigade commemoration in Jubilee Gardens, London South Bank, 4 July 2015

Post date: 05/07/2015

Carmen Negrín is the grand-daughter of Juan Negrín (1892-1956), who was the Prime Minister of the Spanish Republic from May 1937 until Franco’s declaration of victory in April 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War. For the past 15 years she has been the Honorary President of the Juan Negrín Trust in Las Palmas, which is an archive, museum and cultural centre dedicated to her grandfather and the Spanish Republic. She was also recently elected President of the Spanish Republican memory and research centre for the Septfonds concentration camp in southern France, where thousands of Spanish Republican soldiers and refugees were interned.


I am very moved to be here today, and I wish to say so in my personal name but as well as representative of the Fundación Juan Negrín in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and of the CIIMER, an NGO situated in Borredon, an old train station from where over 17,000 Spanish Republican soldiers were sent to a muddy cows’ field, quickly transformed into the concentration camp of Septfonds. This NGO is dedicated to recuperating the memory of the Spanish Republicans exiled in France. We should probably include research on those Brigadistas who remained in France.


The international solidarity towards the young Spanish Republic became a reality with the International Brigades; it was a unique case in history. In many ways it compensated, if not militarily, at least morally, for the absence of solidarity shown by the so-called democracies of those tragic years.


The men and women of the Brigades were the first – with the Spanish Republican government – to denounce and confront at their own sacrifice the dangers of the quickly expanding fascism and National Socialism.


Expecting nothing in return, they gave all they had: their youth, their future.


My grand-father, Juan Negrín, was eternally grateful to them. When we were children, he used to tell my brother and me how brave and devoted these men and women were; but also how most of them suffered persecution upon their return to their own country, when, in the best of cases, they could return.


I know, from his archive, that he tried to give them some financial support to be able to face the immediate future after their exit from Spain. Whether these instructions could actually be carried out or not, I don’t know.


What I do know is that some went through Franco’s prisons, other through the French concentration camps, now elegantly re-baptised “internement camps”, not a few of them ended up in Nazi concentration and extermination camps and, in many instances, they also tasted the Gulag and worse.


There was no respite for these men and women of goodwill. It has taken years for them to have some recognition, and I am glad that Great Britain is one of the countries who did so. It took too many years to fulfill the promise made by my grand-father to give the Brigadistas their Spanish nationality. But at least the promise was kept and I am sure he would have been very pleased.


On this occasion, I would like to recall that, although he was not feeling well, less than two weeks before his death my grand-father made his last official speech in Yugoslavia, to commemorate, with Tito, himself a Brigadista, the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Brigades.


Also, another point of history: a couple of years ago, in a cemetery near Valencia a grave was found with two bodies, a Frenchman and an Algerian; the names had almost been erased. After some investigation we found out that they were the bodies of two Brigadistas, a pilot and his mechanic, precisely those mentioned in the beginning of André Malraux’s film, “L’espoir, Sierra de Teruel”, done with Max Aub, at the request of my grand-father. The original grave, which had been given by the Republic, was repaired and we contacted the French embassy to try and find their possible families, but we had no response.


This is just one example of why we must continue fighting for their memory – theirs and all of those who left their lives in Spain, for the best of ideals, democracy and freedom.


Just one last anecdote that I can’t resist telling you: over 30 years ago, my grand-father’s life companion, Feli López de Dom Pablo, who by then had lost her train of thought, met my husband to be, and said: “What a nice Brigadista!”. For me, this was the green light to my marriage, which has lasted ever since. 


As you see, one way or another, the Brigadistas have always remained present in my mind and will pass on to my children and grand-children memories as well.


Thank you


For a video of the speech go to:

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