85 years ago, on February 7, 1937, between 250,000 and 300,000 people, faced with a combined attack by fascist troops from the west to the north, began a mass flight from Málaga to Almeria, connected to Málaga by a coastal road. The majority of the population of the capital Málaga, which at the time numbered about 200,000, was joined by about 90,000 people fleeing from eastern Cadiz, the southern mountains of the Seville area and Córdoba. About 10,000 people were killed by fire from planes and warships under Franco’s command during the escape.
150,000 people managed to reach Almeria and then made their way along the Mediterranean coast as far as Catalonia, thousands of them ending up in France. The rest were captured by fascist troops. Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris, recalled in 2021 that her father Antonio Hidalgo, then seven, was also taking part in these events.
was the name given to the road that connects Malaga and Almeria, along which between 200,000 and 300,000 people fled in February 1937. In 2022, the Sociocultural Association La Desbandá organised their first International Congress under the name “A century of popular anti-fascist struggles”. The event took place from October 28 to 30 in Mollina (Malaga) and brought together renowned experts of historical memory, but also survivors of the massacre, among many other researchers who talked about specific facts related to La Desbandá.
In the period of the massacre in Malaga there were women with children, old men and old women, coming from all the nearby regions. Malaga’s population was doubled those days, even the churches opened to give shelter to the people who were fleeing from the barbarity of the nationalist rebels. In the end, they had no choice but to leave for Almeria.
The last refugees left at 2 p.m. on February 7 and did not stop, arriving in Almeria until the 12th.
“They were massacred by the German and Italian air force and bombed from the sea. It was a column of more than 30 kilometers of people who only wanted to save their lives and flee from the barbarity of rebels”
– Manuel García Morales, one of the organizers of the conference and former militants against Franco’s regime tells me.
Between October 27 and 29, 1922, the Italian Fascists marched on Rome, liquidating the parliamentary system and establishing the dictatorial government of Benito Mussolini. In these events we can situate the origin of the convulsions that the European peoples suffered until the victory of antifascism in the Second World War.
These days of late October 2022 we marked the fateful centenary of the Black March of the National Fascist Party, so the call for reflection and awareness of what those black events meant has been embodied in the celebration.
“As we know, people involved in the organization of the conference are people who belong to this association, people who are against fascism in general, victims of the fascist regime, their descendants, researchers such as Historians, archaeologists, teachers… All of us somehow want to fight for the memory of these events”
– says Carmen Gador, one of the participants of the conference.
At the conference we had occasion to meet the survivors of the war: Ana Pomares Ruíz, Annie González de Haro, Manuel Triano Simón and Salvador Rosado and Carmen Negrín, who is granddaughter of Juan Negrín and vice-president and ambassador of the Center for Interpretation and Research of the Memory of Republican Spain. Among the participants were also Lilith Vestringe, Secretary of State for Agenda 2030 and Fernando Martínez, Secretary of State for Democratic Memory, the renowned researcher and hispanist Paul Preston who spoke about the Causes, Course and Memory of the Malaga-Almeria Calvary.
What’s more, the memory about the events was not treated like it usually does, with regard only to the military or political framework. Here at the conference the strong voice was put onto the social roles of gender and the struggle and resistance of these women combined with link to today’s events. For example, Journalist Olga Rodriguez, gave a presentation on forced flight and exodus in today’s world.
As we can read in the article of Guillermo Martínez ,some people say that the Republican Government did not heed the warnings given from the south before the advance of the rebel troops because they were focused on the defense of Madrid, so the massacre committed was something that embarrassed and shamed them. This dimension was also scrutinized by the participants.
On the other hand, the atrocity committed on the Malaga-Almeria road was so horrifying that the side that imposed a totalitarian and criminal dictatorship in Spain for forty years and that had perpetrated the deed wanted to raise it. That is why many people know what happened in Guernica and Durango, but very few people would know anything about what happened in La Desbandá.
The aims of the whole movement behind the conference are, as Manuel García Morales has told me, are:
truth, justice and reparations.
Why the truth? Because the people want the story to be told as it was. It is now denied that La Desbandá took place at all, or that if it did, it was not a bombardment of civilians from land, sea and air. However, speeches by Franco’s top army commander in Andalusia have survived. Everyone interested can read how he boasted that he had given the order to bomb the fleeing Red masses. There are also military documents of the air force and cruisers, with the days, times and number of bombs that were fired at the fleeing population.
Justice, because Franco’s death sentences for the crime of defending the Republic are still in effect today, and the murderers enjoy honors in the form of street names, squares and monuments.
Reparations, because thousands of people still lie in ditches and mass graves, and the state must take it upon itself to exhume them and deliver their remains to their families. It must also restore property that was seized, expropriated from republican families as punishment for their political affiliation, property that became the property of the executioners and informers of those families.
In the future the organizers aim to bolster the youth republican movement, which would be able to bring those slogans into reality. It would be necessary to defeat nascent fascism and proclaim the Third Federal Republic in Spain.