The postal restrictions and conditions in the labor camps

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The only references to the postal conditions and restrictions in the labor camps and other S.I.M. prisons are offered by Francesc Badia, in his book Els camps de treball a Catalunya durant la guerra civil. In a specific chapter, he enumerates the rules for the mail from the experience of former prisoners, and he states he has never seen any document about this subject. Certainly, no documents remain about this, perhaps because the rules were never written, or perhaps the documents containing them did not survive to the war. By the way, according to Badia (143-144):

a) The correspondence had to be addressed to relatives.
b) Only two postcards per month were allowed to each prisoner.
c) The lenght of the text could not be over 30 words.
d) The content was limited to greet the addressee and to state that the sender’s health was good.
e) Only postcards were allowed, not letters in covers.
f) No word was allowed about the location of the camp. The actual address of the camp had to be concealed, using as the sender’s address the S.I.M. offices in Poble Espanyol (Montjuïc) or Muntaner 55 in Barcelona.

He also states that during the first months any kind of correspondence, not outgoing neither incoming, was allowed, but that later this was changed and mail was allowed following the previous rules (Badia, 142). This may be correct for all camps except for Number 1 in Barcelona: the earliest postcard we know from a camp outside Barcelona is dated on May 11, 1938 (catalog number 015) in Hospitalet de l’Infant (Labor Camp Number 2), exactly a month after it was built. On the other hand, the earliest known postcard from Labor Camp Number 1 is from April 2, 1938 (catalog number 007), so it seems this prohibition did not rule in this urban camp. He also notes that in Labor Camp Number 5 the correspondence was allowed from September 6, 1938 (Badia, 142, note 10). We cannot confirm or deny this statement, as the two only postcards recorded for this camp are incoming mail, one with no readable date, and the other one of early 1939 (catalog numbers 054 and 055).

Money in the camps.

In addition, Badia says inmates were not allowed to receive any money, and he quotes an order issued by the Government on May 15, 1937 as legal basis for this disposition, saying “no cash subsidy from outside will be allowed, and if any prisoners receives this type of payment, it will be spared in a bank account” (Badia, 147, and note 19). But we have examples of prisoners asking their relatives to send them money: a postcard from Labor Camp Number 1 requests 100 Pts (catalog number 009); another postcard from Labor Camp Number 2, in Hospitalet de l’Infant, requests 300 Pts saying he had “a debt from Montjuich” (catalog number 015); but a prisoner in the detachment in Tivissa of Labor Camp Number 2 writes “do not send money, it is useless here, but send tobbacco instead” (catalog number 034). This same request is repeated in another postcard from Labor Camp Number 2 in Hospitalet de l’Infant: “Tobacco is what most interests me, but I don’t need any money.” (catalog number 016). This does not prove that any of those solicitors could effectively get the money they requested.

Packages.

Lastly, Badia says the inmates were allowed to receive packages with goods, despite “not always reached the addressees” (Badia, 147). Thanks to the postcards recorded for Labor Camp Number 2, and for its detachment in Tivissa we have “want lists” from two prisoners. In a postcard from May 11, 1938, Josep Blasi requests a list of goods he needs and says “I don’t know how to receive this, many get goods from their families, that bring them here” (catalog number 015). He was right, as we have a proof of this thanks to the postcard of another inmate: “on Sunday I received the packet you brought me to Hospitalet” (catalog number 035). On June 17, 1938 he requests another list of goods, and instructs his family how to send the package: “send it through Poble Espanyol” (catalog number 017), this is, through the offices in Labor Camp Number 1 in Barcelona, were packages for prisoners in the labor camps were admitted on Fridays and Saturdays (catalog number 019) until early September 1938, when this service was disrupted: “I guess you already know that packages are no longer admitted in Pueblo Español” (catlog number 039). There was censorship on the content of these packages, as one of the prisoners confirms on one of his writings: “do not send anything without first asking them [if allowed]” and “send me […] whatever you can, as long as it is allowed” (catalog number 019). Censorship also applied to outgoing mail: “don’t be surprised if I’m not writing you in Catalan because I do this for censorship reasons” (catalog number 022). This is what Josep Blasi, in Labor Camp Number 2, wrote to his sister in Spanish, despite in later postcards he wrote in Catalan again.

Doubts about if the content of the packages was untouched were common. On June 21, 1938, Josep Blasi made this complain to his family: “Yesterday I received two packets and, as usual, they didn’t have the content list. I find it very rare that despite continuously asking for the content list it is never or almost never in the packet. Please, send me one through mail” (catalog number 018). And another prisoner, Joan Raventós, in the detachment of Tivissa, explains that “on Monday I received the packet you sent me through Pueblo Español and I got everything except the onions and the garlics” (catalog number 037). Another postcard from the main camp in Hospitalet de l’Infant explains why Raventós did not receive the onions and garlics he expected: “Referring to the packages, I’ve previously said that only cooked meals, cans, sausages, milk, chocolate, pork, etc can be sent; but not onions, Maggi, garlic, olive oil, mashed potatoes, etc” (catalog number 022). Another postcard by the same sender clarifies, again: “do not send me any of raw food, only canned or cooked food or cold meat (sausage, bacon, etc)” (catalog number 023). Later he requests this: “only send me goods like bread, clothes, etc, through Poble Español, but cans, milk, canned meat, better send that through the mail”. He also asks his family to send him tobacco through the mail and not through the S.I.M. package service in Poble Espanyol (catalog number 028).

The goods requested were mainly food, clothes, shoes, blank postcards, tobacco and even tools and equipment. This goes into contradiction with all the memories and direct witnesses, who say food in the camps was scarce to nearly starvation, and prisoners had little chances to get new clothes and shoes. Not a single text published about these labor camps fails ever to mention these conditions of bad clothing and worst nutrition, but the evidence in the postcards show a different situation. Perhaps the senders had some sort of privilege, or perhaps those circumstances applied only to Labor Camp Number 2 while being in Hospitalet de l’Infant and Tivissa, as postcards sent from other camps do not show neither give any clue to think there was such a transit of goods to those camps. There is no chance that the senders of the recorded postcards of Labor Camp Number 2 while being in Hospitalet de l’Infant and Tivissa were guards instead of prisoners: “I use peak and shovel”, writes Josep Blasi (catalog number 029), whose postcards, all except this one, were sent to request goods he needed. Joan Raventós, who also requested many things through his correspondence, was even more explicit: “we think we will be freed very soon” (catalog number 036).

Muntaner 55.

Many of the labor camp and preventorio postcards are sent to Muntaner 55, Barcelona, or the senders mention this address as their replying address. Catalog number 006 is the definitive proof that this was used as the S.I.M. post office for mail going to or coming from camps and prisons. The postcard, printed to be used in the “Preventorios”, states that Muntaner 55 (bajos) Barcelona was the “Oficina de correspondencia” (mail office). It is the only known example of this type of postcard, and it is considered the most rare postal history piece of the Spanish civil war, as it is unique.

Nowadays Muntaner 55 hosts a parquet floor store, and nothing remembers the past of this building, but in 1938 it was the hub that managed all the S.I.M. penitentiary system correspondence. This is why many of postcards from camps and mostly preventorios have a Barcelona roller postmark, as most of the correspondence was managed in this city through this office, wherever the camps were.

THE CORRESPONDENCE FROM AND TO THE CAMPS

Through the analysis of the postal history pieces we know, we are going to set the differences between the camps, to see how did they manage the inmates’ correspondence, and how accurate are Badia’s conclusions.

Labor Camp Number 1:
Apparently, there was no limit in the frequency of correspondence and length of text for outgoing mail. The actual address of the camp was neither censored, as the postcards we know from this transit camp mention Barcelona next to the date. It is also true that if the prisoner had to use the alias address of Poble Espanyol would be the actual address for this labor camp, so maybe this fact made no sense to use an alias. No directions on the content of the text also, as the cards we’ve listed in the catalog talk about very different subjects, and the sender mentions he wrote to some friends, not family members only. We know eight postcards sent from this camp, all by the same prisoner: 3 in April 1938, 4 in May 1938, and one undated.. The first one bearing a mark mentioning a text extension limit is from May 20, 1938 (catalog number 012): “Máximo 30 Palabras / en la contestación”, this is, “the reply must have a maximum length of 30 words”. Certainly, the text written by the prisoner in this postcard goes far beyond 30 words, so it seems clear that the limit only applied to incoming mail, at least in Labor Camp Number 1. The only card apparently being limited in the text length is catalog number 13, dated on May 25. The telegraphic style of the text, containing 28 words, plus date, location and signature, may indicate that the 30 words limit also applied to prisoners in this date. The sender’s address is always the same: “Palacio de las Misiones (Exposición), this is Poble Espanyol in Montjuïc, Barcelona. From the examples we have seen, it seems only Badia’s rule e) applied to this camp, and probably c) beyond late May 1938.

Preventorios related to Labor Camp Number 1:
These appear to have been the most strictly controlled postcards, as all of them except one comply with the rule of a maximum of 30 words in the text (numbers 001 to 005, and 066). Number 067, addressed to a prisoner, was returned to the sender with a handwritten note reading “20 palabras”, as the text was longer. All of them except 066, which does not give the sender’s address, and 067, which is directly addressed to Montjuïc castle (Preventorio A), are sent mentioning “Muntaner 55” as the sender’s or addressee address.

Labor Camp Number 2, and Detachment in Tivissa
Despite Badia (185) and Nistral (85) say no correspondence was allowed for prisoners in Labor Camp Number 2, the fact is that correspondence from this camp and its detachment is the most abundant among the exaples preserved: 26 pieces in total: 17 postcards sent from the camp when it was in Hospitalet de l’Infant; 7 postcards sent from the detachment in Tivissa; one postcard sent from Montferrer (reproduced by Nistral, page 133, so he states no correspondence was allowed while publishing this postcard); and one cover sent from Sallent de Castellbò, most probably by the administration of the camp, to the International Red Cross.

Referring to the rules, we’ve found any of them except e) were observed in Labor Camp Number 2 while being in Hospitalet de l’Infant, nor in the detachment in Tivissa, neither later, when it was moved to Montferrer, despite the location is not mentioned in this last example (catalog number 065). All the postcards we’ve seen have much more than 30 words. All those sent from Hospitalet de l’Infant main camp mention the name of the village (catalog numbers 015 to 031) in the sender’s info, in the date, or in both places. Even a postcard from the detachment in Tivissa reads “we are far from Hospitalet, in the camp of the 2nd company” (catalog number 033), and another one makes explicit that the relatives of the prisoner knew his whereabouts: “if you reached the building coming after the bombed house you were very close to me” (catalog number 035). A single prisoner appears to have sent up to 6 postcards in a month, so there may have not been any kind of limit in the quantity of outgoing mail allowed to the prisoners in this camp.

Incoming mail was not a problem and as per the content of the texts in the studied postcards sent by the prisoners, they were receiving correspondence, as all these postcards are mainly replies to other communications they got. They were even allowed to receive registered mail in the detachment in Tivissa: “The only mistake we did was to ask you to send the tobacco through registered mail, as it arrives here very late” (catalog number 037). Another postcard from the same detachment reads “Send me Tercusan and tobacco via registered mail. Do not put food in the packet, as it is very expensive to send it registered” (catalog number 039).

We know 17 postcards from a single sender (015 ti 031), 7 from another individual (033 to 039), one from another prisoner (065) and a cover, probably sent by the administration of the camp (032).

Labor Camp Number 3:
We don’t have examples of correspondence sent from this camp when it was in Els Omells de Na Gaia, but from its time in Vila-sana and from its detachment in Arbeca (created with former Labor Camp Number 6 prisoners), despite this last example could not be examined, as it is partially known thanks to an illustration in Badia’s book (catalog number 064). From the four pieces we can read in full, we learn that two postcards have a lenght of more than 30 words (catalog numbers 040 and 044), while the two other are written in a strict telegraphic style fitting this 30 word limit or less (numbers 041 & 042). Not a single one mentions any location, but the sender’s address is “Campo Trabajo Número 3” (040) , “Campo Trabajo No 3, Muntaner 55” (041), “Campo Tranajo nº 3, Base Muntaner, 55, Barna” (042), “Campo 3 Dº” (044), “Campo de Trabajo nº 3, Muntaner nº 55” (045). The only known incoming mail addressed to this camp, returned to sender, is sent to “Campo de Trabajo Nº 3, Muntaner 55 bajos, Barcelona” (catalog number 043). As per the content of two postcards it is clear prisoners were also allowed to receive packages: “I got your packet with clothes and post cards” (040) and “I received the packet and the letter […] If you can send espadrilles” (044).

As per the evidence (reinforced by the monthly postcards sent by the prisoner Antonio Bassols, who was first in Labor Camp Number 6 and later in Labor Camp Number 3) it appears the rule allowing only two postcards per month and per prisoner was observed in this camp, and in camp number 6, as we will see later.

Labor Camp Number 4:
This is where most variety of mail we find among all the Republican labor camps, and despite having seven pieces listed, we can’t read the content of any of them: because the scans we could obtain do not have enough quality, because we could only get images of the front of the postcards, and because, exceptionally, two of them are covers received by a prisoner, another one is a cover sent by a guard, and the last one is a cover addressed to a guard and returned to sender due to a mistake of the S.I.M. censorship. Non of the covers have content.

About the postcards we can only say they bear the mark of the camp. One of them (catalog number 052) mentions the sender’s address as “C.T.4” only, for “Campo de Trabajo Número 4”, so rule f) appears to be honored, at least by the sender of this postcard.

The covers in this group are exceptional in any sense, all of them: 046 may have probably have been sent by a guard to Marcel Delpech, in Carcassonne, France. It bears the mark of the camp and a civilian censor mark. Number 050 is sent by this Marcel Delpech to a guard, Plácido Mor Font. It was sent to “Campo de Trabajo Nº 4, Montjuich, Barcelona”, it has civilian censor marks and it has two redirects to Muntaner 55 on the back. As the civilian censor tape partially covers the word “Guardia” in the address, the S.I.M. censor thought it was addressed to a prisoner, so they returned the cover as per the rule e), with a mark reading “SÓLO SE ADMITEN / TARJETAS POSTALES CON / 20 PALABRAS DE TEXTO” (only postcards allowed, with a text of 20 words).

The two other covers (047 & 048) were sent to a prisoner, and effectively received by him, as there are no indications of the contrary. The addressee is Pepe Pascual Semis, confirmed as a prisoner in Labor Camp Number 4 by Badia (432). This man was sentenced to “maxim reclusion” by the Tribunal Popular of Lleida (see La Vanguardia, October 1, 1936, page 7) and he survived his imprisonment in the camp of the S.I.M. (he was appointed Asesor Provincial de Campamentos y Albergues in a notice in the booklet “Organizaciones Juveniles, nr 1, 1940).

These two covers addressed to Pepe Pascual Semis were a violation of the rule e) and are the only examples known of covers delivered to an inmate. Perhaps it helped that both bear the mark of Tàrrega town council, but only due to the lack of stamps, and enforcing another mark that was stamped precisely due to this lack of franking.

Labor Camp Number 5:
Only two incoming postcards are known from this camp: one of them, sent from Gibraltar (catalog number 054), is addressed to “Campo de Trabajo Nº 5, Barcelona”. Redirected to Muntaner 55, from which office was sent to the camp. This is the only postcard known bearing a civilian censorship. The second one is addressed to “Campo de Trabajo Nº 5, Pueblo Español, Barcelona” (catalog number 055), and this one also proves that inmates in this camp could receive packages: “For the same […] post cards […] if you got them to repeat the sipping, as I have several: if not, I will have to send them to you with some clothes”.

Labor Camp Number 6:
Six postcards are kwonw sent from this camp, and five of them are written within the 30 word limit and by the same prisoner, Antonio Bassols (montioned when we analyzed the correspondence from Labor Camp Number 3). Only one does not follow this rule (063). All other requirements appear to have been met, despite a mistake by the S.I.M. officers may have revealed the location of the camp: numbers 057 & 063 bear a Falset postmark, which could have given clues to the addressees of the whereabouts of the camp. Both postcards, sent by different inmates, were written on the same day (August 18, 1938) and the Falset postmark was also stamped on a coincident date for both: August 20, 1938. This suggests that the prisoners were not free to choose on which day would they send their postcards, but that there were some dates reserved to this purpose. There is evidence that prisoners in this camp were also allowed to receive packages: “When I received your package, our son’s picture distracted me from its content” (063). Also, a cover sent to the prisoner Antonio Bassols (catalog number 058) was returned to the sender with a mark “Rehusado por el agente del S.I.M.” (refused by the S.I.M.’s officer), enforcing rule e), that did not allow letter in covers for prisoners, only postcards.

Labor Camp Number 6, Detachment Number 3:
Despite Badia states that “the prisoners in Cabassers, detachment of labor camp number 6, never were allowed to send or receive any letter” (Badia, 142) he reproduces in his own book an improvised postcard sent from this detachment, bearing a mark that reads “CAMPO DE TRABAJO Nº 6 / DESTACAMENTO Nº3” (Badia, 145), reproduced under catalog number 061. He confirms, in the chapter about this detachment, that it was number 3, belonging to camp number 6 (Badia, 259), as the mark reads.

Labor Camp Number 6, Detachment in Porrera:
Nothing can be reported about the observance of the rules in this detachment, except that the only piece of mail known related to it, a postcard sent to a prisoner, was addressed to “Campo de Trabajo nº 6, Pueblo Español, Montjuich, Barcelona”, that it was redirected to Muntaner 55, Barcelona, where a S.I.M. postal agent forwarded it to “Porrera” (catalog number 062). We’ve not had the opportunity to see the back of this postcard, so we do not know what the text reads. But it is clear that Badia’s rule f) was respected.

Conclusions.

No censor marks on the correspondence addressed from or to the labor camps, except on that goig to or coming from abroad (catalog numbers 046, 050 and 055).

Arbitrariness appears to have been the rule, and the six conditions listed by Badia were respected in some camps, and apparently did not affect others. Labor Camp Number 6 probably was the one were those rules were more tightly observed, and they were totally ignored in Labor Camp Number 2.