Purpose

During the Spanish civil war (1936-1939) the Republican government set up a penitentiary system based in labor camps, where prisoners should redeem their faults through work in behalf of the society. The mastermind of this reform, adding labor camps to prisons, was the Anarchist minister Joan Garcia Oliver, and the decree that created the camps in Spain was published in Gaceta de la República number 362, of December 27, 1936, pages 1118 & 1119. The camps were mainly intended to host rebels, fascists, deserters and political enemies of the Second Republic, but after the events of May 1937, when the Communist Party took control of the power, the camps system was used to host many of its political opponents.

In August 1937 the Minister of Defence created the Servicio de Investigacion Militar, S.I.M., a counter-espionage agency and secret police inspired in the Soviet NKVD. In mid 1938, when the Francoists were near to break the front in Vinaròs and to divide the Republican Spain in two parts, the S.I.M. created an autonomous system of labor camps in Catalonia, all known with a number, from 1 to 6. This was the start of two parallel camp system: those under the control of the Ministry of Justice, and those under the control of the S.I.M.

The S.I.M. also took control of the so called chekas (secret prisons, often under the control of trade unions and political parties) and two steamer ships anchored in Barcelona harbor and used as prisons: Argentina and Uruguay. The usual route for those interned in chekas and prison ships was being moved to Labor Camp number 1, which was in the former buildings of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, known as Poble Espanyol in Catalan or Pueblo Español in Spanish. This was just a transit camp, from where prisoners were sent to their final destinations in labor camps 2 to 6. Labor Camp number 1 also hosted the Jefatura Principal de Priosiones, the S.I.M.’s administrative organization to rule the camps.

The main purpose of this website is not the history of the S.I.M. neither the history of its labor camps, but the postal history that was sent from or to these labor camps, chekas and prison ships. S.I.M.’s operations were mostly secret, and they did not left behind many documents: the few that exist are mostly in public archives like Archivo Histórico Nacional and Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya. Some town councils of the villages that hosted their camps also have in their files S.I.M. documents. The only S.I.M related documents in the hands of private individuals is the correspondence sent to or by its prisoners.

This correspondence is so scarce, that it can be catalogued and tracked. Living conditions in the camps, chekas and prison ships were so though that finding a piece of mail sent to an inmate is extremely difficult and very few are known. Outgoing mail from these places is also rare: the inmates, generally, were only allowed to send a postcard per month, and the short life of the camps (from April 1938 to February 1939) did not give many chances to prisoners to send mail. Each prisoner may had been only able to send an average 10 pieces of mail during the existence of the S.I.M. camps. Most of them have not survived over the years. This website lists all known pieces of postal history coming from or going to the S.I.M. prisons and camps system.

This website is maintained and it is property of Colectalia. We specialize in Spanish civil war stamps and postal history, and we keep a specific section of S.I.M. related postal history in our store.

Finaly, just a legal notice: this site does not install cookies, does not track visitors in any way, does not request personal data to anyone visiting it, and the legal details of the property can be found here.