Part of the memory of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and anarchism is preserved in the Netherlands, specifically in the International Institute of Social History (IISH), in the Dutch capital, founded in 1935, and which is housed in the archive history of the CNT-FAI – known as 47 boxes of Amsterdam – together with an extensive collection on labor activism and social movements. Taken from Spain to prevent Franco from claiming it during the war or in later years, among the more than 20 kilometers of shelves at the institute is the order to travel to Madrid given by the union itself in 1936 to the anarchist leader Buenaventura Durruti. There he would later fall into strange circumstances. The IISH also keeps the archives of the anti-Franco resistance and the Ruedo Ibérico publishing house, those of unionists and libertarian feminists, original letters from the writer Pío Baroja, as well as thousands of images of the conflict that were believed to be lost. Among these, those captured by the photographers Margaret Michaelis and Kati Horna, whose attribution was made possible thanks to the work of the Spanish historian Almudena Rubio. It is the legacy of an extreme situation made available to researchers.
REPORT | Kati Horna’s lost war
GALLERY | Kati Horna’s file on the Civil War
The note on Durruti, signed by the regional committees of the CNT-FAI, was dated November 9, 1936, unsealed, and orders “that comrade Durruti, without further delay, leave for Madrid (…) to intervene decisively in the defense of the capital of Spain ”. According to Almudena Rubio, who has recovered this circular, it is documentary proof that “the leadership of the National Labor Confederation and the Iberian Anarchist Federation was behind that decision, while Durruti wanted to take Zaragoza,” he explains in a video call.
He adds that not all the orders of the CNT-FAI were sealed, and there was a gap between the union and its bases, “but it seems that Durruti was considered essential for the antifascist struggle in the capital.” By diverting the Leonese from his original idea, “the communists, who were already taking positions in Madrid, and Stalin, who was against the social revolution pursued by Durruti, benefited,” he says. The signatories indicate “the enormous possibilities of success [de nuestros camaradas] if our help comes to them ”, and they appeal to“ the desire of the people of Madrid, who claim us ”. The reality was quite different. Durruti was shot to death days after arriving and there are various theories about what happened. His driver, Clemente Cuyás, said in 1993 that he had been the victim of a fortuitous shot from his own rifle and the union demanded silence from the witnesses. Other versions speak of his death in combat or by the bullet of a traitor.
The arrival of the CNT-FAI archive in the Netherlands was tumultuous. “When in 1939 it was seen that the republican side would not win the Civil War, union representatives took it to the IISH branch in Paris. They did it as individuals, to prevent the then fascist state from claiming it later because it belonged to a Spanish organization, ”explains Leo Lucassen, its research director, in another video call.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the Parisian archive was transferred to the United Kingdom and returned to Amsterdam in 1947. Closed for three decades, until Franco’s death, in the 1980s it was ordered and an inventory was taken. Lucassen emphasizes that the Spanish Civil War generated ideas on an international scale whose effect is indisputable: “Proof of this is that among the international brigades there were hundreds of Dutch engaged in a struggle presented as exemplary: between good and evil.” The return to the Netherlands of this group was very painful and almost meant their civil death. “They were left without a passport for having fought for a foreign force. They were seen as traitors to their homeland, but also as a liberating icon ”, he points out. Nationality was returned to them in 1970, and Amsterdam dedicated a monument to them in 1986 in a square called Spanje (Spain) 1936-1939.
Among the abundant Spanish correspondence preserved there are three original letters from the writer Pío Baroja. Included in the Archive of the Spanish Resistance, which collects documents until 1974, they are addressed to Concepción Martí Vall (Ada Martí). She was an anarchist writer and journalist who admired him, although later she distanced herself because it seemed to her that Baroja had betrayed the social character of her early works. Dated in 1936, when she was 21 and he was 64, they seem like an exchange between an idealized teacher and his student, and Baroja confesses his passion to “live to write, write to live”. At the same time, he says things like this: “I no longer need a compass because I am anchored in the port. You are the one who must be attentive to the marking needle ”. Found by the same Spanish expert, sources from the Ateneu Enciclopèdic de Barcelona, which has a photocopy of these letters, indicate that they were unaware of the presence of the originals in Amsterdam.
The Dutch center also houses the archive of Ruedo Ibérico, the publishing house founded in Paris in 1961 by five Spanish refugees from the Civil War. There was the manuscript of Trip to the south, the book that the editors commissioned from Juan Marsé. Supposedly missing, the writer recalled that he had titled it Andalusia, lost love with the pseudonym of Manolo Reyes, and was published after his death, in 2020, by Lumen.
An archive of files
Founded in 1935 by Nicolaas Posthumus (1880-1960), a Dutch professor of Social and Economic History, the IISH has become an archive of archives – there are papers from Marx, Engels, Bakunin or the anarchist Emma Goldman – with a million books and publications, 5,400 collections and 1.5 million pieces of audiovisual material. Posthumus was interested in the intellectual roots of anarchist and socialist, liberal or Christian democratic ideas. Around 1930, when the movements of the left were threatened in Europe by fascism and National Socialism, he began to receive documents from social organizations. Extracted many times clandestinely from the countries of origin, he maintained the independence of the new center, ”says Leo Lucassen. Over time, “entire collections of left-wing publications from Latin American countries like Argentina and Bolivia have been entrusted to us,” he adds. A heritage that continues to arrive today from other places where similar conflicts persist.
The historian Rubio hopes to present an exhibition in 2022 with the material from the Civil War of the Hungarian photographer Kati Horna, and her colleague of Polish origin, Margaret Michaelis, recovered from 2015. The union commissioned them to provide graphic testimony of the revolution it was intended to implement, and the photos were in the Photographic Archive of the Foreign Propaganda Offices of CNT-FAI, included in the Amsterdam Boxes.