Rabat (EFE).- “We have left war, the hell of concentration camps and hunger behind”. Begona was 19 years old when he started a new life far away from death. He shared the deck with 750 other Spaniards fleeing the two wars on the last deportation ship to sail from Casablanca to America 80 years ago.
It was September 22, 1942. The Portuguese steamer “Niasa” carrying 850 refugees, mainly Spanish Republicans but also Jews, headed for Mexico and thence to New York, following a route through the Caribbean that carried thousands. freedom
In order to piece together the puzzle of the Spanish maritime exile, historian José Luis Moro devoted five years of his life to compiling stories like Begona, of which the ship Casablanca is an essential part.
“For Spanish and European emigration, especially after the 1940s, Casablanca would have great importance. Along with Lisbon, it became two ports of hope for thousands who were able to leave America and come to Argentina from Canada,” Morro told Ife from his home in Segorbe, Spain. .
“The Mexican Schindler” helped
Up until June 1940 it was relatively easy to take ships to America to escape World War II, but from that date things became complicated with the signing of the Armistice which meant the surrender of France to Nazi Germany.
Departures from French ports were prohibited except for shipments of food to French colonies and exceptions prompted by bilateral treaties that allowed refugees to sail to countries such as the United States, Argentina, or Mexico.
A route to America then began through Casablanca, which was transformed into a city of refuge, inspiring Michael Curtiz’s homonymous film. Under a French protectorate, hundreds of refugees from Europe were waiting to embark in work camps in Morocco and Algeria.
Moreau says that between June 1940 and September 1942, between 3,000 and 5,000 Spaniards boarded those ships through Casablanca, with thousands more Jews unaccounted for.
Among the passengers were intellectuals such as Max Aub -who traveled from the Algerian countryside in September 1942-, diplomat and republican politician, helped in many cases by the then Mexican consul in Marseille, Gilberto Bosquez, “The Mexican Schindler”. Got a visa to travel to their country.
Those who left Gallic ports embarked after being imprisoned in the camps of Vichy France, and were most fortunate: they were able to pay, yes, large sums of money for safe-conduct, as the price of the ticket had quadrupled.
Begona’s “Journey to Freedom”
Routes passing through Casablanca depart from Lisbon and the South of France and reach the Caribbean before heading to Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico or New York.
In Mexico, Moro recalled, about 20,000 Spanish exiles arrived. Among them Begoña Alonso, one of the passengers of “Nyassa”. He said this in a diary he wrote in 1990.
After fleeing the Spanish Civil War and moving from Bilbao to France with his parents and three sisters in 1937, after being arrested by the Germans in Brittany and spending two years in a Gallic concentration camp, they managed to travel to Morocco and from there to Mexico. He called it “Journey to Freedom”.
“Finally they told us that the ‘Niasa’, a Portuguese ship, and therefore neutral, was already waiting for us. And fortunately it was, because a German submarine came out while passing through the Canary Islands,” he recounted the start of the journey.
It was the last collective shipment of refugees to America, a path frustrated by the Allied landings in North Africa and many Jews choosing Israel as their final destination.
“The voyage lasted a month as the ship was old and sailed slowly. But the trip was a joy,” wrote Begona, as they ate “sugar, pastries” and “white bread” after years of malnutrition.
800 “Novels” on board “NASA”
The Freedom Ship, said Morrow, who spoke to dozens of exiled families, was a “microcosm” where there were “stowaways, births, weddings, marriages, divorces and burials.” Each person had a story, “a novel,” he says.
Also traveling on the last leg of the “Niassa” was Pedro Tordesillas, a Moroccan concentration camp inmate who built the trans-Saharan railroad that would supply the Nazis with minerals.
He got money from his family in Spain and escaped: he bought two camels, hired a guide and arrived in Casablanca “drinking animal urine,” Moreau says.
The passage included Dominican diplomat Porfirio Rubirosa, the wife of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s son-in-law, a “gentleman in a coat and hat,” a female passenger recalled.
They all lived in the “fiesta” that Begona described in his diary. “The engine officers sang fado to us and played the guitar. Seas like oil rigs all the time. So we were happy. We almost didn’t want to go there.”
But they arrived. And the first thing that caught their attention in Veracruz was the color of the port, the suit, the fruit, the house, Moro said. “From a Spain and a black Europe, they came to a land of color”.
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