French camps for Spanish Republican refugees: the Hell. February 1939
After the fall of Barcelona on late February 1939, the flow of refugees to the French border was constant. Troops and civilian headed to the exile, while their columns were attacked by air raids. Hundreds of thousands of people wanted to cross into France, and hundreds died in the attempt, crossing the Pyrenees during their hard winter. Many of those heading to France were armed soldiers, carrying even artillery pieces. This late episody of the Spanish civil war is known as 'La Retirada', the Withdrawal. Once on French soil, the military delivered their arms to the French army or to the 'Gendarmes', and they were distributed with civilians among several camps, looking more like concentration camps than like refugees camps.
All Southern France was scattered with these camps, many guarded by Senegalese colonial troops, who gave an horrific treatment to the refugees. Best known camps are Argelès-sur-Mer, Saint-Cyprien, Bracarès, Septfonds, Rivesaltes and Vernet d'Ariège. Even a camp was set up on French North Africa (Relizane, Algeria). Entering those camps was entering the Hell: hundreds died due to hunger, cold, illness and inhuman treatment.
The French government issued a franchise stamp to grant, at least, basic communications to the refugees, and each individual was handled two 90 cent stamps per month with an F overprinted on it (for Franchise). Each camp had its own postmark, and immediately after those covers started to flow out of the camps, a new postal history type appeared: the covers from Spanish refugees in France.