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The University of Southampton
Special Collections

Introduction to Basque child refugee archives

In 1937, during the Spanish civil war, a group of almost 4,000 children, the niños vascos, plus some teachers and priests, were evacuated to the UK from Santurzi/Santurce, the port of Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain.

They were part of a movement which saw some 20,000 children leave the war zone, dispersed to countries across Europe and overseas. The Spanish Second Republic was established in 1931, with an ambitious agenda to eliminate deeply-rooted social and cultural inequalities. The republican programme encompassed land and education reform, improved rights for women, restructuring the army, and granting autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Threatened by far-reaching change, diverse political groupings aligned themselves in the so-called ‘two Spains’. The ensuing civil war lasted three years, with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy helping one faction, Communist Russia the other, with Chamberlain’s Britain leading a policy of appeasement among Western democratic nations. In this bitter conflict, there was a third Spain, which did not want to take up arms, but to live in peace. War, hunger, revolution, counter-revolution, denunciations, persecution, summary trials and executions, and mass repression often resulted in the disintegration of family and community life, desolating a country and forcing thousands of its people into exile.

Those Guernica evacuees who remained in the UK became known as the “Basque children” and tried to keep in touch with each other.

The Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK (now the BCA' 37 UK) was founded in November 2002. A specific aim of the organisation is to encourage the collection and preservation of archives (photographs, letters, documents, artwork etc), to be deposited in the University of Southampton Library.

The Special Collections holds archives for the Basque Children of ‘37 Association UK (MS 404), together with small collections relating to Basque child refugees (MS 370) that have come from individuals. There also are a series of interviews of niños vascos conducted as part of an oral history project undertaken by the University of Southampton.

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