Republican labor camps and prisons are much less known that Francoist concentration camps and jails, because they lasted much less in time and concerned much less people. But brutality was similar in detention centers of both sides fighting the civil war.
Some of these Republican prisons or camps are often remembered as Francoist detention centers, because it is generally ignored that previously they served to the same purpose for Republicans. We can mention Almería’s provincial prison, known as ‘El Ingenio’, or Madrid’s General Porlier street prison. Even Albatera Republican labor camp was reused by Francoists as a concentration camp, known as ‘Almond trees Camp’ under their rule.
This work focuses on the toughest Republican labor camps postal history, those ruled by the Servicio de Información Militar (SIM), which was the military intelligence agency of the Second Spanish Republic. This is a specialty in the specialty of postal history from the Republican penitentiary system.
The pieces we study on this work undoubtedly give high added value to any collection containing even just one of them. This kind of pieces are so rare, that we will reproduce below all the known covers, post cards and stationery post cards related to the SIM’s labor camps system.
This is the rarest field of the whole Spanish civil war postal history, and one of the rarest of the Spanish postal history in general.
Brief historical review of the Republican labor camps system
On December 1936, the Republican government created a system of labor camps for ‘condemned in the rebel movement, to make public works able to resolve the problems of the regions where the camps are settled’ (Gaceta de la República núm. 362, Dec 27, 1936, pages 1118 & 1119).
These camps had to bee an alternative to prisons, where prisoners should be redeemed for work. The camps hosted a wide variety of political prisoners, deserters, undisciplined, right-wing people, religious, rebel military POWs and even civilian from areas retaken by the Republican army.
The treatment received by inmates was very different in some and other camps. While those ruled by the Prisons Office depending on the Ministry of Justice treatment was correct, those under Servicio de Información Militar (SIM) were famous for an inhumane treatment to the prisoners, and arbitrary executions where common there.
There are few documentary references about this kind of detention centers, but the list of Republican camps can be reconstructed through analyzing several sources. Here is the list of those under the control of the Ministry of Justice we could get references about:
Albatera labor camp: it was stablished on September 6, 1937 (Gaceta de la República, nr. 252, Sep 9, 1937, page 995). In later times, documents refer to this camp as ‘Campo de Trabajo del Segura, sección de Albatera’ (Gaceta 147, May 27, 1938, page 1056, & Gaceta 150, June 5, 1938, page 1202).
San Juan labor camp: it was stablished on Dec 20, 1937 (Gaceta de la República nr. 855, Dec 21, 1937, page 1334).
Calpe labor camp: stablished on Feb 19, 1938 (Gaceta de la República nr 53, Feb 22, 1938, pages 972 & 973)
Muchamiel women’s prison: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID,681,5.
Orihuela labor camp: we only know the existence of this camp through covers and post cards sent from it, with no other documentary reference. Being close to Albatera, it could also be part of ‘Campos de Trabajo del Segura’ mentioned before, being its base in Albatera. It was in San Miguel seminary.
San Vicente del Raspeig labor camp: known thanks to a cover sent to this camp and through documents in Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID,1662,29.
Segura de Benidorm labor camp: mentioned in some documents in Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID,1662,32
Almeria labor camp: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID,208,35.
Venta Araoz labor camp: only referenced on a document in Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID,1131,7
El Carrizal de Tarancón labor camp: known thanks to documents in Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID,1662,43.
La Pelosa labor camp: in la Pelosa beach (Roses), managed by the Prisons Office of the Ministry of Justice.
Clariana de Cardener labor camp: it was actually the Republican army’s Disciplinary Battalion number 5.
Alcalá de Henares, Casa de Trabajo labor camp: it was stablished in 1934 to host sentenced upon Lazy and Crook Law, passed by the Parliament the year before. At the beginning of the civil war, Casa de Trabajo was emptied of common prisoners to host right-wing people and rebel military, becoming a labor camp.
Totana labor camp: it was stablished on Dec 28, 1936 (Gaceta de la República nr 365, Dec 30, 1936, page 1156)
Cehegín, Casa de Reforma labor camp: it occupied Maravillas convent ‘to host people sentenced to labor camp internment, or other, for offenses of disaffection or endangering the regime’ (Gaceta de la República nr 49, Feb 2, 1938, page 910). It was stablished on Feb 1, 1938.
Valmuel labor camp: only mentioned on document with signature PS-MADRID,684,6 in Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica.
Caspe labor camp: references in Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, signature PS-MADRID-1091,10
Six labor camps existed under the direct control of the S.I.M., all in CATALONIA:
Labor camp number 1: it was in Poble Espanyol, Montjuïc, Barcelona. Poble Espanyol were the buildings where the 1929 Exhibit took place. These buildings, along with Muntaner 55, also in Barcelona, hosted the SIM’s offices.
Labor camp number 2: it was in Hospitalet de l’Infant, with an accessory camp in Tivissa. It was later moved to Montferrer and La Seu d’Urgell.
Labor camp number 3: it was in Omells de Na Gaià and later moved to Vilasana & Cabó.
Labor camp number 4: in Concabella, and later moved to Barbens.
Labor camp number 5: in Ogern, near Bassella, and later moved to Anglesola.
Labor camp number 6: in Falset, with an important accessory camp in Cabassers and detachments in Gratallops, La Figuera and Porrera. Later moved to Arbeca and merged with Labor camp number 3 in Cabó.
The study of Catalan labor camps is widely documented in Francesc Badia’s book ‘Els camps de treball a Catalunya durant la guerra civil (1936-1939), Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 2001.
The main tasks of the prisoners in the Catalan camps was the fortification of zones close to the camps, and communication with the outside world was subject to a severe control. In most camps -there are exceptions- each prisoner could only send two post cards per month to his closest family, with a text no longer than 20 words, on a post card to make easy for the censorship to review it, and the text could only greet the addressee and say the sender was in good health. It was strictly prohibited to write about anything else or to reveal where the camp in which he was interned was.
On the other hand, there were no restrictions on incoming mail, but each camp had its own norms on this. While in some camps prisoners could receive long letters in covers and even packets with clothing, food or stamps and post cards to reply, in others correspondence addressed to prisoners had to be written on post cards with the same word limit than the outgoing mail.
In Albatera camp there was a peculiarity on correspondence received by prisoners: it has no censor marks of any kind. But that outgoing does (the only example we have seen is on a post card)
In Catalonia, the odyssey of those interned in labor camps ended when they crossed the French border on early February 1939. This brought liberty to them and exile to their guards. In the Spanish Levant, the camps ended with the Francoist occupation, and some were used as concentration camps as well by the rebel army, to enclose those of the other side.
DOCUMENTARY SOURCES TO IDENTIFY ADDRESSEES AND SENDERS
Unfortunately we don’t have complete lists with the names of those held prisoners in the camps, neither of officers and guards serving there. Despite this, we have partial lists, which are the only help to identify senders and addressees of the postal effects we study here.
The best source to identify labor camp guards is an order by Government Ministry of May 19, 1938, published in Gaceta de la República nr 154, June 3, 1938 (pages 1177 to 1181). It contains the appointment of 777 labor camp guards. They do not appear on alphabetical order, but it mostly resembles a consecutive publication of three different lists merged in one.
Other orders appointing or ceasing labor camp guard corps officers in the following Gacetas:
All these documents can be found on the Internet, on the historic collection of the Gazeta, in the website of the Spanish Official State Bulletin:
For a partial list of inmates in the Catalan labor camps, you can see Frances Badia’s work ‘Els camps de treball a Catalunya durant la Guerra Civil (1936-1939), Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 2001, appendice 19, pages 394/450.
For a partial list of those killed under the Frente Popular government in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, see appendices on César Alcalá works ‘Checas de Madrid’ and ‘Checas de Valencia’, and on the book by César Vidal ‘Checas de Barcelona’. Sometimes it is possible to identify senders or addressees of Republican labor camps postal history pieces through the lists of those killed
Gaceta de la República
Francesc Badia: Els camps de treball a Catalunya durant la Guerra Civil (1936-1939), Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 2001
Joan Samper: Los Campos de Trabajo republicanos en Catalunya durante la Guerra Civil, Monografías Filatélicas nº 20, 2016
César Alcalá: Checas de Barcelona, Ed. Belacqua, Barcelona 2005
César Alcalá: Checas de Valencia, Ed. Styria, Barcelona 2006
César Vidal, Checas de Madrid, Planeta DeAgostini, Barcelona 2007