This article was translated by John R. Bopp
This entry is the fruit of the help of one of our readers, a friend on this blog’s Facebook page, by the name of Manu Behaeghe, who follows us, if we’re not mistaken, from Belgium.
He’s offered us an extraordinary collection of documents about the presence of the these Basque children in that country. We’ve written quite a bit on our blog about these boys and girls the Basque Government sent to different countries to keep them from suffering the consequences of the Francoist coup and the war the insurgents led in the Basque Country. And even though most of them are about those who went to Great Britain, we’ve also found out information about their presence in Belgium thanks to the book Kirmen Uribe wrote about them.
Our Facebook friend has given us material that seems absolutely necessary to discuss in a blog entry, a material which reminds us how war can bring out the best and the worst in every person, and that even from the greatest tragedies, goodwill can create something good.
The first “gift” given us is an amazing documentary completed four years ago by Ischa van Ekert, telling the story about her grandmother Raquel. She was a little girl who had to leave Bilbao for Belgium and ended up living there. Her (extraordinary, moving, impressive) story will leave nobody indifferent. Her story is that of thousands and thousands of Basque families who still have the disasters of that war burned into their memory, as well as that war’s consequences, which, we can assure all, continue to the present day, as we can see in this video.
But, not content with that, Manu also sent us some complementary information we found very interesting.
Especially the thesis that Tim Cassauwers and Nicky Jenne have written about the Basque children who were taken in in Mechelen and Antwerp. Curiously, as it explains in the introduction, the children who arrived in Belgium were distributed according to their “beliefs”: the “socialists” went to Ghent, and the “Catholics” to the two cities above. We don’t know what they did with the “socialist-Catholics” or the “Catholic-atheists”, nor can we imagine that both groups needed different cities or attention.
But that was what was done and, as far as we can see, the reality is that the attention the members of both groups received was exemplary.
The thesis is in Flemish, and unfortunately, there’s no “subtitled” version as is the case with the vide. We found a good friend of this blog, Professor Dr. Frederik Verbeke, at the University of the Basque Country, who is Flemish by birth, and Basque by adoption (and marriage) to translate (to Spanish) the prologue of the thesis (which is found on pages 5 and 6).
This started as a mandatory research project, but it turned into an admiration and a passion for a different culture, that of the Basques. “The Basque Children in Belgium” is a topic that we discovered at a party with friends. Jan Peeters, son of a Basque mother, told us, in an endearing way, about the Basque blood that runs through his veins, and we starting looking into that immediately. We found out that 70 years ago, Basque children fled Franco and his war. They fled to South America, to France, and also to Flanders. The socialists ended up in Ghent, the Catholics in Mechelen and Antwerp. Jan will return later in this story with his passion for the Basques and their culture.
The Ghent Children have been discussed so many times, we were told time and again. Both the Basques who were taken in in homes in Ghent (in “War Children”), as well as experts in the subject of the Spanish Civil War, confirmed that statement. Maybe there are Basque children who got to Mechelen or Antwerp? Sure! But are they still there? After digging a bit, we discovered there are, and we went into to the world of those welcoming people, each and every one of them true Basques who stayed in Belgium for any number of reasons. They are people with a fascinating history, older people who remember the fears of war as if they were still children. And they all tell their story with an enthusiasm that makes the heart pound. The stories they tell aren’t told chronologically, since they happened seven decades ago. Their thoughts jump to the first host family or the question of returning or staying in Belgium, their war stories, and their first years in small, cold Belgium.
In this work, the stories of all our interviewees mix, in a way that suggests the living image of what happened all those years ago. Some don’t remember everything and don’t appear in each chapter. Others appear like clockwork, as they’ve kept their memories alive. Even the protagonists’ family members have been wonderful, telling their part of the story. We heard positive and negative reactions from adopted brothers and sisters, we heard the wife of a Basque man who was, in her words, “stubborn”, and we lived the passion of Jan, son of a Basque refugee. All these stories, all these people, encouraged us to tell their tales.
When other cultures, history, war experiences, and their consequences interest you, you read it as if it were a movie, as if you yourself were living the story. You don’t have to thank us, but rather all those who told us their stories. All our thanks and admiration go to them. They dedicated their time to us and answered our questions, which were sometimes difficult because of the wounds history has left on their souls. We hope that reading this story will open your soul to those of our interviewees. If that happens, our work will have been a success.
We’re just left wanting more, wanting to read the rest of this very promising document.
We were also told about the book Los Niños · Tien vluchtelingenkinderen uit de Spaanse Burgeroorlog vertellen, which talks about the presence of the Spanish war children in Belgium, and information published in Gentblogt about the children who escaped from the Spanish Civil War to be taken in in Ghent.
Gentblogt – 27/7/2007 – Bélgica
Tentoonstelling Los Niños – kinderen van de Spaanse Burgeroorlog
Tijdens de Spaanse Burgeroorlog (1936 – 1939) zwermden tienduizenden Spaanse kinderen uit over Europa, op vlucht voor oorlogsgeweld. Circa 5000 van hen kwamen terecht in Belgische families en opvangtehuizen. Gent ving meer dan 200, voornamelijk Baskische kinderen op. Dit jaar vond de evacuatie 70 jaar geleden plaats. Er wordt op verschillende wijzen hulde gebracht aan deze solidariteitsactie. Het boek ‘Los Niños’waarin tien vluchtelingenkinderen uit de Spaanse burgeroorlog vertellen. Het project ‘Vlernika’, een multimedia-concert met de Gentse stadcomponist Dick van der Harst en de jonge filmmaker Fabio Wuytack. De zeer aangrijpende wandelvoorstelling het ‘Spaans krijt’ door Daan Hugaert die in de huid kruipt van een voormalig Spaans vluchtelingenkind dat als oude man herinneringen ophaalt.