Marie Traspaderne |

Rabat (EFE).- “We left behind us the war, the hell of the concentration camps and hunger”. Begoña was 19 when she embarked on a new life far from death. He shared the bridge with 750 other Spaniards fleeing two wars on the last ship of exile, which sailed from Casablanca 80 years ago to America.

It was September 22, 1942. The Portuguese liner “Nyassa”, with 850 refugees on board, mainly Spanish Republicans but also Jews, was heading for Mexico and from there to New York, following the route through the Caribbean which led thousands of people to freedom.

Historian José Luis Morro devoted five years of his life to compiling stories like Begoña’s in order to piece together the puzzle of Spanish maritime exile, of which Casablancan ships are an essential piece.

“For Spanish and European exile, especially after 1940, Casablanca will be of enormous importance. Together with Lisbon, it has become one of the two ports of hope for thousands of people who managed to leave for America and arrive from Canada to Argentina,” Morro told Efe from his home in the Spanish city. of Segorbe.

Helped by “The Mexican Schindler”

Until June 1940, it was relatively easy to take a ship to America to escape the Second World War, but from that date things got complicated with the signing of the armistice which meant the submission of France to Nazi Germany.

Departures from French ports were prohibited except for exceptions motivated by the sending of food to the French colonies and bilateral agreements which allowed refugees to embark for countries such as the United States, Argentina or Mexico.

Then begins a road to America via Casablanca, converted into a city of refuge that inspired the film of the same name by Michael Curtiz. Under the French protectorate, hundreds of refugees were waiting to leave, coming from Europe and from labor camps in Morocco and Algeria.

The Alonso family, on board the Portuguese liner “Nyassa”. EFE/Family of Begoña Alonso

Morro says that from June 1940 to September 1942, between 3,000 and 5,000 Spaniards boarded these ships via Casablanca, not including thousands of additional Jews.

Among the passengers were intellectuals like Max Aub – who traveled in September 1942 from an Algerian campaign – diplomats and republican politicians, helped in many cases by the Mexican consul at the time in Marseilles, Gilberto Bosques, “the Mexican Schindler”, that he got them visas to go to his country.

Those who left the Gallic ports embarked after being imprisoned in camps in Vichy France and were the luckiest: they had managed to obtain safe-conducts, paying, yes, large sums because the tickets had quadrupled their price.

“The journey of freedom” by Begoña

The routes that passed through Casablanca left from Lisbon and the south of France and reached the Caribbean and then left for Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Mexico or New York.

In Mexico, Morro recalls, about 20,000 Spanish exiles arrived. Among them Begoña Alonso, one of the passengers of the “Nyassa”. He tells it in a diary he left written in 1990.

Leaving with their parents and three sisters from Bilbao in France in 1937 fleeing the Spanish Civil War, arrested in Brittany by the Germans and spent two years in Gallic concentration camps, they managed to embark for Morocco and from there to Mexico. he calls it “The Journey to Freedom”.

“Finally, they told us that the ‘Nyassa’, a Portuguese ship, and therefore neutral, was already waiting for us. And fortunately, because while crossing the Canary Islands, a German submarine came out”, he says about the beginning of the trip.

It was the last collective refugee expedition to America, a route later frustrated by the Allied landing in North Africa and the choice by many Jews of Israel as their final destination.

“The voyage lasted a month, because the ship was old and sailed slowly. But the trip was a delight,” writes Begoña, as they ate “sugar, pastries” and “white bread” after years of malnutrition.

800 “novels” aboard the “Nyassa”

The ships to freedom, said Morro, who spoke with dozens of exiled families, was a “microcosm” where there were “stowaways, births, courtships, marriages, divorces and burials.” Each person had a story, “a novel”, he said.

Also traveling on the final leg of the “Nyassa” was Pedro Tordesillas, a prisoner in a Moroccan concentration camp building the Trans-Saharan Railway that would supply the Nazis with minerals.

He got some money from his family in Spain and escaped: he bought two camels, hired a guide and arrived in Casablanca “drinking animal urine”, says Morro.

Along the way was the Dominican diplomat Porfirio Rubirosa, womanizer son-in-law of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, a “gentleman very well dressed in a coat and a hat”, remembers a passenger.

All of them lived the “parties” that Begoña recounts in her diary. “The motor officers sang us fados and played the guitar. The sea, like an oil raft all the time. So we were happy. We almost didn’t want to come to this.”

But they have arrived. And the first thing that caught their attention in Veracruz were the colors of the port, the costumes, the fruits, the houses, says Morro. “From a Spain and a Europe in black, they came to a country in color”.

Web editor: Rocio Casas

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