Scenes of Bravery and Determination: Walter Rosenblum's Homage to the Spanish Republicans

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The Spanish Refugees

CaringIn 1946 Rosenblum returned to Europe as staff photographer for the American Unitarian Service Committee (USC) of the American Unitarian Association to document its refugee relief work in Czechoslovakia and France. The photographs exhibited here were shot in Toulouse in the camps and facilities for refugees of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), which had ended seven years earlier with the victory of Francisco Franco over the democratically elected government of the Republic. In late 1938 and early 1939, some 500,000 Spanish Republican refugees had crossed the border into France, where they were treated as criminals and herded into concentration camps. In the months and years that followed, more than 20,000 managed to make it to the Americas; several thousands were sent to Mauthausen and other German camps. Many continued their fight against fascism in the French Resistance.
Although Franco had had the active military support of Hitler and Mussolini, he survived the defeat of the Axis in 1945. For the almost 140,000 Spanish refugees who remained in France, often living in appalling conditions, this meant that there was no end in sight to their misery as they could not return to their homeland.

CampThe Rosenblum archives hold 46 photos of Spanish refugees. Some were first published in the December 1946 issue of the Christian Register, the Unitarians’ monthly magazine. They were used throughout the 1940s and ‘50s in fundraising materials for the USC, the Spanish Refugee Appeal, and UNESCO refugee campaigns. One appeared on the cover of the 1946 holiday issue of the New York Times Magazine. Starting in the late 1940s, Rosenblum included them sporadically in exhibits. In 2001, the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid purchased a complete set; in 2005 they were shown in Madrid as part of a Rosenblum retrospective at PhotoEspaña. The 25 photographs displayed here were given as a gift to the Tamiment Library by the Rosenblum family. This is the first time that an almost complete set is being shown in the United States.

Early on in his career, Rosenblum made an important discovery. “I realized,” he later said, “that I worked best when I was photographing something or someone I loved and that through my photographs I could pay them homage.”