By Lisbeth Hedebye
Special to The Star
the Spanish Civil War 3,000 children, orphans of rebel families,
were taken in by the Soviet Union. Here is the story of one of
MADRID — The year 1937 was a bad one for the Spanish Civil
The attacks against northern Spain were very heavy indeed and with the
support of German aircraft and Italian soldiers, Franco's troops
occupied Bilbao in June, Santander in August, Gijon in October.
In September, 3,000 Spanish children between 5 and
15 were evacuated to
the Soviet Union. The Soviets had offered to take care of children from
the worst hit areas until the war was over.
The children were orphans or half-orphans of
killed Socialist or
Communist families. Most were living in orphanages.
Late one night in September, 1937, while the
harbor of Gijon was under
heavy bombardment, a cargo-steamer with 3,000 children aboard slipped
out to carry them to the Soviet Union and safety.
On board was Rosita Suarez, today 50 years old,
who has returned to
Spain and now is living and working in Barcelona.
That night 45 years ago she was only 5. Together
with a sister, 8, and
a brother 11, she said farewell to her mother and a little sister on
the quayside of Gijon. Later she learned her mother was imprisoned
and her little sister had died.
After a long journey by ship they came to
Leningrad, where the whole
town was out to receive them. The children were taken to different
hotels where they were given a bath, food and were dressed in sailor's
In Leningrad they were divided into several groups
and taken to
different places in the Soviet Union. Rosita came to Mozjajsk, a few
miles outside Moscow.
The Soviets had arranged something they called
homes" and in each one 300 children were living together with the
Spanish teachers who had come with them from Spain.
As the Soviets were very careful not to separate
sisters, Rosita, her sister and brother lived in the same home.
When she was 7, Rosita started school. All
instruction during the first
four years was given in Spanish with Russian as a second language.
After that, the instruction was given in Russian with Spanish as one of
many other subjects.
Rosita is thankful to both Spanish and Russian
teachers because they
gave all of themselves.
When World War II began and the Nazis attacked the
Soviet Union on June
22, 1941, Rosita was in the children's home in Mozjajsk. From the very
first moment she heard the German bombers flying above them. They had
to run downstairs to the air-raid shelter many times a day.
The fear had only been away four years, the fear
for that dreadful
sound of bombers.
As in all wars there was of course lack of food.
But Rosita says that
if there was bread it was given to them. The Spanish children were
At the end of 1944 they returned to Mazjajsk.
Rosita was then 12 years
old. There she continued her studies and passed her matriculation exam.
Then she studied mathematics
and physics at the University of Moscow.
At the age of 21 she was a qualified teacher and
started working in
The Soviets in general knew of the Spanish
children's existence. Rosita
tells how the children would exploit the situation and remembers how
she and her sister had asked for money from the staff of the children's
home to go and visit their brother in Moscow.
Instead of tickets they bought candy. When the
conductor wanted to see
their tickets they looked at him with innocent eyes and said, "but we
are Spanish children." He pinched them lovingly on their cheek, smiled
and replied: "There is no need for tickets."
As Rosita felt completely integrated in the Soviet
life and society she
applied for a Soviet passport. They were free to choose to be Soviet
citizens or not. That doesn't mean that Rosita didn't want to return to
Spain one day.
She says that there lies perhaps the greatest
merit of tho Soviet Union — that they educated
them so that Spain was their native country. They saw to it all the time
that they kept all the Spanish facets of their lives alive: Music,
dance, literature and language.
After 19 years Rosita finally went back to Spain.
Her mother had joined
the children in the Soviet Union in 1954, but couldn't settle.
She hadn't intended to return until Franco was
dead. The Soviet Union
had always felt a certain responsibility toward the children and if
they wished to return to Spain it wanted certain guarantees from the
Franco regime, guarantees that they wouldn't suffer from reprisals and
that they would be guaranteed work.
For Rosita it was hard to come back and she did it
mostly for her
mother's sake. In Asturias, where they first arrived the word was kept.
She got both residence and work, mostly thanks to the governor of
Asturias of that day. But when she moved to Barcelona it was a
She was offered jobs as a teacher, but only if she
Fascist party. She couldn't. The same thing happened to all her friends
who had returned to Spain in 1956. As soon as it was known that they
had belonged to the group of Spanish children in the Soviet Union all
doors were locked. Most of her friends then went back to the Soviet
Union — only to come back once again when Franco died in
Rosita supported herself with different jobs. For
10 years it was hard.
She wants to forget those first 10 years in Spain, she was
to go back to the Soviet Union every day.
Now she has long ago understood and accepted that
she has two homes
— one Spanish and one Russian. There are very few of the
evacuated ones left today and they will probably also return to Spain.
A Spaniard, Rosita says, always longs to be buried in the native soil.
is the only story about an ordinary Soviet
individual to be published in three Toronto dailies over the six-month
period ending March 31, 1983. In the time there were 922 stories,
photos, editorials, cartoons, opinion columns and letters to the editor
about the Soviet Union printed. Of these only 21 concerned daily life
in the Soviet Union as such. Of the 21 "The Evacuated Ones" was the
only one that was not anti-Soviet. An anti-Soviet story is
defined as one which does one or more
of: (a) Focussing on a difficulty or shortcoming of Soviet life (b)
Using language to reinforce negative stereotypes or to introduce
innuendos (c) Inserting "Western"perspective explanations for facts
about Soviets. It appeared on page B7 of the Saturday Star on
Star Photo not included: "Then and now: Rosita Suarez at 19 when she was in the Soviet Union, and
today aged 50, living in Spain."
Published in Sources Summer 1983
Sources, 812A Bloor Street West,
Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
Directory Include yourself
Mailing Lists and
Names & Numbers Sources Calendar
Names & Numbers