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Kosmopolis 2005

Literatures of Exile

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  • Literatures of Exile

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From 4 October 2005 to 29 January 2006

In relation to

Kosmopolis 2005 - International Festival of Literature: special edition for the Year of the Book and Reading

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On 26 January 1939, Franco's troops were set to take Barcelona. Hordes of people started out on the road to exile. Among the throng were writers and intellectuals, artists and scientists. Thanks to the support of various organizations, they spent the first months in refuges in the south of France. Others were not so fortunate, and ended up in concentration camps that were set up hurriedly on wasteland and beaches. It was the start of an adventure that forced decisions that became radical changes in ways of living. Europe was preparing for World War II, and, in the Americas, only three countries opened their doors to the wave of refugees: Mexico, Chile and the Dominican Republic.

The work of writers—the novel, short stories, memoirs, poetry—is the best testimony of an experience that touched the lives of thousands. Following the voices of these writers, Literatures of Exile returns to the sites of the events to recover books, manuscripts and photographs that convey the moral climate of exile, and to film a documentary that allows us to relive some of its principal episodes: crossing the border, arriving in the Americas, the contribution of exiles to the cultural life of their host countries and the dilemma of return.

The curatorship of the exhibition brings together three creators from different fields:

The literary critic Julià Guillamon is responsible for the contents , reconstructing the stories of exiled writers by means of their literary work and the testimonies of those who knew them.

The film-maker Joaquim Jordà has travelled to some of the foremost scenes of exile and filmed them as they are today, shunning the historical reconstruction and reflecting on time and the persistence of memory.

And the visual artist Francesc Abad has created the installations that metaphorically represent some of the sequences narrated by the exhibition.


When the civil war was lost , in 1939, Catalonia saw its foremost writers and intellectuals go into exile. Their initial destination was France, the starting point for the diaspora that was to take them to England and Switzerland , to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Argentina or Chile.

‘Literatures of Exile' brings us face to face with the experiences of these exiles in a Europe that was shaken by World War II and reconstructs relations with the host countries on the other side of the Atlantic in an experience that brought Catalan literature into direct contact with the major issues of original identity, of ‘the other' and life in big contemporary metropolises .

The exhibition aims to relive the experience of exile through the voices and testimonies of its protagonists: the disappearance of a world that forced them to make decisions and create strategies of survival, but also an opening up to new horizons that was to take the form of a great many cultural initiatives.

The last days of Republican Catalonia
In January 1939, Franco's troops were set to take Barcelona. In the city's streets, many people were facing the same dilemma: should they leave or not? Most intellectuals committed to the Republican cause chose the path of exile . A large group set out for La Jonquera. The border was closed, so they had to put up at Mas Perxers in Agullana, where the Generalitat government had prepared a refuge. Others joined the withdrawing army and crossed into France at Prats de Molló. Paths and roads were packed with scattered groups of starving and sick people weighed down with suitcases and bundles.

The defeated
The sheer size of the exodus caught the French authorities unprepared. At the border crossings, disarmament points, hospitals and reception points were set up. From there, the refugees were distributed to different concentration camps set up on beaches and esplanades. La Generalitat, practically without resources, was unable to deal with the situation, but it worked with various bodies to provide support for the fugitives and helped to create residences for teachers and intellectuals. In order to improve the conditions of inmates, as of summer 1939 it became involved in the organisation of Agde concentration camp , known as the ‘Catalan camp'.

Argelers, Sant Cyprien, El Barcarès, Bram-the names of concentration camps fixed in the memory of thousands of refugees. All the versions tell the same story of extreme living conditions: the lack of drinking water, the cold, the harsh north winds, the violence of the Spahi. But they tell too of the emergence of forms of solidarity between people obliged to live together in tiny spaces, dug into the sand, with shelters made of canes and sheets. The experience of the camps produced a testimonial literature, written on the spot or reworked later from the point of view of the epic or stinging satire.

The residences for intellectuals organised by universities and auberges de jeunesse in Toulouse de Languedoc, Montpellier, Boissy-la-Rivière and Roissy-en-Brie ensured the survival of teachers, writers, artists, scientists and professionals. The spring of 1939 saw the creation of the Fundació Ramon Llull, a Paris-based body devoted to preserving and diffusing Catalan culture. The precariousness of life in the first months of exile meant that the Foundation had to look after many refugees with no means of support, applying for permits and subsidies, and helping to locate families that had been broken up in the diaspora.

In February 1939, the Comité Universitaire Toulousain d'Aide à l'Espagne Républicaine , with its President, the teacher Camille Soula, organised a centre d'accueil intended to accommodate scholars and intellectuals in various municipal buildings. The initial idea was to create a stable nucleus integrated into the university life of Toulouse that would also serve as a space for the projection of Catalan culture and science. One of the writers who found refuge there was Ramon Vinyes, who inspired the Catalan bookseller in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude . In his short story ‘El malson d'un carrer de Tolosa' (The nightmare of a street in Toulouse), written in Colombia, Vinyes links the anguish of the days spent in that city with visions of the tropics.

The Résidence des Intellectuels Catalans in Montpellier was set up on the Toulouse model. It was assisted by the Comité d'Aide aux Intellectuels Catalans and the British Committee to Help Spain. At one point it housed over 800 refugees: teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists and writers, headed by Pompeu Fabra, Antoni Rovira i Virgili and Carles Riba. A highly active group of students comprising Heribert Barrera, Joan Grases, Josep Pallach, Feliu Riera, Teresa Rovira, Víctor Torres and Emili Vigo, among others, joined university life. One of these youngsters, Alexandre Cirici, gives an account in his book of memoirs Les hores clares.

By means of the offices of the Catholic writer Josep Maria Capdevila, the philanthropist Marc Sagnier, founder of the Auberges de la Jeunesse, offered a group of Catalan exiles the possibility of setting up in an old mill in the grounds of the castle of Bierville, near Paris. Carles Riba and Clementina Arderiu, the historian Ferran Soldevila and the painter Joaquim Sunyer lived there for four months before moving to the refuge in L'Isle-Adam. Under the ‘green vault' of the park at Bierville, near the stream that suggested to him ideas of corruption and renovation, Riba wrote the first five poems of Les elegies de Bierville , regarded as a pillar of contemporary Catalan poetry.

In April 1939, a group from Toulouse, comprising Benguerel, Calders (who quickly left his place to Agustí Bartra), Cluselles, Guansé, Jordana, Montanyà, Murià, Obiols, Oliver, Rodoreda and the Trabal brothers, settled in the auberge de jeunesse at Roissy-en-Brie: an 18th-century château set in grounds with a swimming pool and playing field, which was to become, in Benguerel's words, an ‘ambiguous paradise'. The long period of communal life and the imminent outbreak of World War II led to frictions and restlessness. There are innumerable testimonies of the Roissy days: from letters and diaries telling of everyday life to poems and novels that weave the myth of a safe house between two wars.

In the early days of exile, Prada de Conflent became a meeting place for intellectuals and artists, around the figure of Pau Casals. Pompeu Fabra spent some months there, in economic straits, before moving to Montpellier, where he returned to intellectual activity with the writing of a Grammaire catalane (1941) commissioned by the Fundació Ramon Llull. The author of the Diccionari General de la Llengua Catalana died in Prada on Christmas day 1948. His funeral drew politicians and intellectuals in an extraordinary manifestation of mourning that became one of the symbols of exile.

In exile
Until 1940, republican exile was concentrated mainly in France. The imminence of World War II forced decisions. The diaspora began. While some settled in London and Paris, many others set off for the Americas on expeditions organised by the Spanish Refugee Evacuation Service (SERE) and the Spanish Refugee Relief Board (JARE), until such a time as the Allied victory would bring about the fall of Franco. The harshness of life under occupation drove a few to return to Francoist Spain, exposing themselves to possible reprisals.

K_L. Reich
Joaquim Amat-Piniella went to war on the Aragon front, crossed the border at Prats de Molló and ended up in the concentration camp in Argelers. He joined the Overseas Work Squads, was arrested while working on the fortifications of the Maginot line and was sent to Mauthausen. The novel K_L. Reich , written in 1946, is a little known classic of concentration camp literature . It tells of the experiences that befell a group of refugees, including Pere Vives, the friend of Agustí Bartra, and Francesc Boix, the photographer who took part as a witness in the Nuremberg trials.

Paris, 1940
Paris has always exerted a powerful attraction for Catalan writers and artists. Due to the war and exile, many arrived in the city for the first time, and some stayed. As opposed to the literary myths and the film and music hall images , everyday reality: pensions and rooms in garrets, financial and practical difficulties. Added to the stigma of the refugee was the fear that the arrival of the Germans would lead to compulsory repatriation.

As part of activities to promote recognition of Catalan culture, the Fundació Ramon Llull restarted Revista de Catalunya , a prestigious publication that brought together the foremost of exiled writers and intellectuals. Armand Obiols and Mercè Rodoreda, who were in Paris, joined. At the same time, bodies involved in evacuating refugees were preparing for flight to the Americas. Thanks to the help of the SERE, Pere Calders managed to embark for Mexico on board the ‘Mexique'. Carles Riba also got his papers for the Americas but in the end returned to Catalonia in 1943.

The entry of the Germans into Paris on 14 June 1940 wrought havoc among the refugees, fearful that the Nazis would turn them over to the Francoist authorities. Many fled to Vichy France. Others survived in very precarious conditions in the occupied area. Armand Obiols and Mercè Rodoreda fled to Limoges and Bordeaux. An unpublished notebook of Armand Obiols' portrays the moment of flight, with the floods of people and the German air raids, in an episode that Mercè Rodoreda recreated in her short story Orleans, 3 quilòmetres.

The third movement of Robert Gerhard's violin concerto combines the notes of La Marseillaise with those of a sardana , the traditional Catalan dance. It was a symbol of the hopes of many refugees who saw the liberation of Paris as the prelude to returning home. In the years after World War II, artists and writers returned to public activity. They set up art galleries, published artist books and planned future publications; Ferran Canyameras, for example, contracted Simenon's books for Albor publishing house, thinking of resumption.

The route to the Americas
Some American countries offered republican exiles a refuge during World War II. In the initial phase, up to 1945, this was a provisional exile until the fall of Franco. But the political situation in the cold war years prevented immediate return and converted provisional exile into a long and in some cases definitive exile. Writers had to review their activity in this anomalous context: away from their readers, without sounding boards to project their work, and an abolished language.

On 3 September 1939, the ‘Winnipeg' docked in Valparaiso, arriving in Chile with 2200 republican refugees in a prestigious operation conducted by Pedro Aguirre Cerda's Popular Front government. The poet Pablo Neruda, the Chilean ambassador in Paris, was responsible for its organisation. Other groups of refugees, such as the one comprising the writers Xavier Benguerel, Domènec Guansé, Cèsar-August Jordana, Joan Oliver and Francesc Trabal, arrived in Santiago from Buenos Aires, crossing the Andes mountain range.

Veracruz was the port of arrival for most expeditions of republican refugees who travelled to Mexico on board old broken-down ocean liners. Their testimonies speak of an enthusiastic welcome and the shock of little-known landscape and customs. The government of Lázaro Cárdenas fitted out reception centres and canteens, and organised the distribution of exiles around various towns, giving them their first jobs. Mexico was the only country that never recognised Franco's regime.

Ode to Catalonia from the Tropics
Between November 1939 and May 1940, various expeditions of republican refugees arrived in the Dominican Republic, heading for the farming colonies set up inland by the dictator Leónidas Trujillo. Among these refugees were writers such as Agustí Bartra, Vicenç Riera Llorca and Joan Sales, and artists such as Joan Junyer and Josep Gausachs, who left us their testimonies of the living conditions on the island and the culture shock caused by life in the tropics.

Joan Sales and Núria Folch spent over two years in the Dominican Republic, from 1940 to 1942. A stroke of luck (a meeting with an old acquaintance who held an important post in the government of generalissimo Trujillo and found them work as teachers) allowed them to organise their lives comfortably, in a beach bungalow, at Sant Pedro de Macorís. There, Sales wrote the second part of Viatge d'un moribund , the compilation of his poetry. In their delight at being reunited with former comrades in activism, in January 1942 they moved to Mexico.

In the Dominican Republic, Agustí Bartra picked up with poets and booksellers, published a book in Spanish, El árbol de fuego (1940), and set out to sell it door to door, according to the custom of the country. For five or six months, Bartra and his wife, Anna Murià, travelled from town to town, organising readings and visiting potential buyers. On 20 February 1941, they left for Havana to meet up with friends, the painter Joan Junyer and the pedagogue Maria Dolors Canals, before settling in Mexico City.

The Shadow of the Agave
Pere Calders lived for 23 years in Mexico, devoting himself to various activities in the publishing world. This experience-and the failed venture of the Cal-Fer print shop-produced the novel L'ombra de l'atzavara (1964), which portrays the life of a refugee, Joan Deltell, a member of the Orfeó Català (a Catalan cultural association), married to a Mexican woman. His frustrated efforts to ‘Catalanise' his son Jordi and conflicts with the firm's workers, whose habits were incompatible with the European mentality, produce highly comical scenes.

In his novel Érem quatre (1960), Lluís Ferran de Pol portrays the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Santo Cristo de Chalma, in Mexico State, where, beneath the Catholic liturgy, the memory of ancient pre-Columbian ritual is conserved. As we are told by Brother Bernardino Sahagún in the Historial de las Cosas de Nueva España, during the spring festival the old inhabitants of the mountains of Chalma offered the god Xipetotec macabre masks made of flayed skins. The visit to the Sanctuary of Chalma stirs up in the protagonist, a Catalan refugee in Mexico, memories of the war, when he was gunned down by machine-gun fire as he jumped out of a trench. Xipetotec, the myth of eternal renovation...

The figure of Quetzalcoatl, the legendary synthesis of various mythical and real characters, immediately attracted the exiled writers. This pacific, humanitarian king, who introduced a baptism to cleanse the sins of infants and confession to absolve man's failings, suggested substituting the sacrifices offered to the gods with offerings of butterflies and flowers. The ancient priests rebelled, but Quetzalcoatl chose not to suppress the rebellion with violence and abandoned his kingdom. The legend of the return of Quetzalcoatl precipitated the fall of the Aztecs to the troops of Hernán Cortés.

In 1939, Mexico was a city of two million inhabitants, undergoing a moment of strong economic growth. Many of the republican refugees were technical experts and professionals who became quickly integrated: they set up businesses, worked with existing residents and helped to give a new impetus to the city, which in the space of a few years multiplied its population to become a large megalopolis. The influence of exile made itself felt in all aspects of Mexican life, and particularly in the field of culture.

The family albums reflect the evolution of the refugees' lives: their first rented apartments (generally rooms in garrets), their first cars, the birth of children, their discovery of the country, their first holidays, comfort or even, in some cases, luxury. As they consolidated their economic position, the exiles changed districts. From Calle López, in the centre, where Pere Calders had an office, to the residential areas of Las Lomas or Colonia Polanco.

In 1966, Camilo José Cela commissioned Carles Fontseré to produce a series of photographs for an illustrated book about Mexico City, to be published by Alfaguara publishing house. Fontseré took three trips to Mexico. The writer Juan Rulfo revealed to him aspects of the city that were unknown to the Mexicans themselves. The result was hundreds of negatives that reflect the contrast between traditional Mexico and contemporary lifestyles.

Economic growth helped to consolidate the situation of the established Catalan residents and encouraged entrepreneurs. Around Avenida Insurgentes, one of the main thoroughfares of Mexico City, many Catalans set up businesses. These were publishing houses and bookshops, patisseries and restaurants, and furniture and electrical goods shops that were advertised in the magazines of exiles.

The refugees played a major role in the development of the Mexican publishing industry and gave the university fresh impetus. In 1938, the government of Lázaro Cárdenas set up the Colegio de España en México, now the Colegio de México, to give asylum to fugitive writers and intellectuals. The former headquarters of the Colegio, in Avenida Madero, became a veritable ‘house of exodus'. Writers, correctors, typographers, printers and bookbinders joined existing publishing houses such as Fondo de Cultura Económica, founded in 1934, and promoted new ones: Quetzal, Costa-Amic, Séneca, UTEHA, Hermes, Grijalbo, Era.

Avel·lí Artís-Gener, Tísner, was one of the writers to most quickly become integrated into Mexican life. He started out doing set design for the cinema, worked in advertising and was one of the pioneers of Mexican television when the studios of XHTV-Canal 4 Televisión de México were based in Calle Bucareli. In 1954 Artís-Gener worked as a set designer on a North American production filmed in Mexico, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle , which has become a cult series.

Exile changes lives and sinks fortunes . T hanks to the mediation of Pablo Neruda and a group of resident Catalans, Xavier Benguerel, Domènec Guansé, Cèsar-August Jordana, Joan Oliver (Pere Quart) and Francesc Trabal were generously received in Santiago de Chile with their families in January 1940. Months later, they were joined by the philosopher Josep Ferrater Mora. The story of the ‘Andean group', their projects and disappointments, and of their relation with the Catalan colony and Chilean intellectuals illustrates the different options in the face of exile: integration, failure to adapt, entrepreneurship and ruin.

Cèsar-August Jordana
Cèsar-August Jordana arrived in Chile with his wife and two children. After a very short while, the couple separated and Jordana went to live in Buenos Aires, where he became a literary advisor and translator for two firms set up by Catalan refugees: the Editorial Sudamericana of Antoni Lòpez Llausàs and the Editorial Poseidón of Joan Merli. His experiences of homesickness and loneliness in Buenos Aires produced the novel El món de Joan Ferrer , published posthumously in 1971. On his return to Santiago, he died in 1958 at the age of 65.

Francesc Trabal
The story of Francesc Trabal is one of the saddest tales of exile. In his early years in Chile, he was actively involved at the Allied Press Office, the Chilean Pen Club, the Instituto Chileno Catalán de Cultura, La Nación newspaper and Radio Prat. He publicised in Spanish some of his works from before the war and published a novel, Temperatura (1945) . The outcome of World War II and the fact that Franco remained in power with impunity plunged him into depression. He died in Santiago de Chile in 1957.

Domènec Guansé
Domènec Guansé was secretary of the Centre Català in Santiago de Chile and one of the mainstays of the Agrupació Patriòtica. He is the writer of one of the best books about the diaspora, Ruta d'Amèrica , novelist, and author of the biographies of Margarida Xirgu and Pompeu Fabra. His Retrats literaris (reworked in 1966 with the title Abans d'ara ) are a vital reference to an understanding of the cultural climate of the Barcelona of the 1930s. He returned to Catalonia in 1963.

Xavier Benguerel
With the formulas for an antispasmodic medicine and money sent to him from Barcelona, in Santiago de Chile Xavier Benguerel set up the Laboratorio Benguerel Ltda, which in the space of a few years afforded him a comfortable economic position. At the same time, he continued his life as a writer. He translated Paul Valéry and Edgar Allan Poe and laid the foundations for the novelistic body of work that culminated in 1974 with Icària, Icària , which won the Planeta Prize. He returned definitively to Catalonia in 1954.

Joan Oliver/Pere Quart
Joan Oliver was one of the first to return. In the early years, he played a very active role in the Catalan colony in Santiago: he edited Germanor review and published one of the finest books of poetry of exile, Saló de tardor (1947). But he got involved in businesses that did not prosper, and his wife, Conxita Riera, never adapted to life in Chile. In January 1948, Joan Oliver embarked for Europe on board the ‘Vinland'. In Barcelona, he played a decisive role in the cultural recovery of the 1960s.

In the years of exile, the Jocs Florals literary competitions acquired an extraordinary cultural and social significance. In each of the cities where it was held, the festival represented an opportunity for contact between Catalan writers and the country's intellectuals, between exiles and the previous residents of economic emigration. When Catalan was persecuted and its poets and novelists scattered far and wide, the Jocs Florals became a meeting place and an opportunity for acknowledgment for the Catalan community scattered around the world.

To return or not
During the years of transition, it was a common sight to see intellectuals and politicians at the airport, meeting the country's people, in an act of symbolic amends, but there was no single moment of return. Some returned immediately, others stayed away more than 20 years, others still never came back. Xavier Benguerel wrote that there is no end to exile, that once an exile, always an exile. The body of work remains. Novels, books of poetry, memoirs, essays, written in Paris and Geneva, Mexico and Santiago de Chile, and in Barcelona, too, about the experiences and memories of the diaspora.



The audiovisual that accompanies the exhibition Literatures of Exile covers the paths followed by some Catalan writers when they left Catalonia in January 1939: from their departure from Barcelona, their time at Mas Perxés in Agullana, the border crossing (El Voló, Ares Pass and Portbou) and Perpignan, and, in some cases, concentration camps and the waiting in refuges for intellectuals before setting out for the Americas, including the places in Chile and Mexico where they stayed during their exile.

This documentary feature seeks out the resonances left by Catalan writers in these places. Using many written testimonies, given life by dramatised voice-overs, the audiovisual combines present-day images of all of these places with archive images, interviews with significant figures and drawings to illustrate the most narrative sequences.

Filmed in Catalonia, France, Chile and Mexico, this documentary will be shown, divided into 12 chapters, distributed throughout the exhibition layout:
CEMETERIES (Cotlliure: Machado, Prada: Pompeu Fabra, Panteón Francés, Santiago de Chile)

Literatures de l'exili
Els ulls de l’escriptor - Josep Ramoneda

Languages: catalan

50-Exili-Ramo-cat.pdf (257.7 KB)

Literaturas del exilio
Los ojos del escritor

Languages: spanish

50-Exili-Ramo-caste.pdf (175.7 KB)

Literatures of Exile
The eyes of the writer

Languages: english

50-Exili-Ramo-ang.pdf (189.5 KB)

Quadern educatiu

Languages: catalan

dossier.pdf (3.3 MB)


Centre de Cultura Contemporània de BarcelonaSociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior (SEACEX)Institut Ramon Llull

With the support of:

El PeriódicoTelevisió de Catalunya


Fundació Caixa CatalunyaZona Franca Consortium of BarcelonaCatalunya RàdioFerrocarrils Generalitat de CatalunyaRadio 4

CCCB - Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona Montalegre, 5 - 08001 Barcelona Tel. 93 306 41 00 - Fax 93 306 41 01 - info@cccb.org