As war broke out with Germany, the camps were dismantled and up to 20,000 Spanish soldiers enlisted to the French army, only to be killed or captured in the German invasion.
The Spanish population in France was ripe for antifascist organising
Those who had chosen to work rather than fight were then used as forced labour for the Vichy regime.
Although attempts were made to detain the most ‘radical’ among them, the Spanish population in France was ripe for antifascist organising, and they soon began to sabotage whatever work they were assigned.
Furthermore, those Spaniards who escaped their labour or conscriptions were quick to join the nascent French resistance in large numbers, where their military experience and knowledge of guerrilla warfare proved invaluable. In the words of French resistance fighter Serge Ravanel:
"During the War of Spain our comrades had acquired the knowledge that we did not possess; they knew how to make bombs; they knew how to set ambushes; they had a profound knowledge of the technique of guerrilla war."
Known as maquisards, these small groups of fighters traversed the French hinterlands, harassing German troops and helping French workers escape from forced labour.
a key role in the liberation of the south of France
While resistance was slow to emerge, from 1942 onwards there were up to 500,000 people actively working in the resistance effort, including up to 60,000 Spanish fighters. These soldiers played a key role in the liberation of the south of France as Allied troops began pushing the German forces back in the north.
Many of these Spanish fighters had assumed that they would soon be allowed to turn their fire on Franco’s regime, and that the Allied forces would support them. But the USA and UK were more afraid of a communist Spain than leaving an isolated and contained Franco in place. Thousands of fighters re-entered Spain in 1944 in the hopes of overthrowing the government, but their mission was ultimately unsuccessful and Franco’s regime would last until his death in 1975.