El País, “Why Amsterdam is home to a trove of archives on Spanish anarchism and the anti-Franco resistance”

The International Institute of Social History is home to historical documents from the CNT labor union and Iberian Anarchist Federation, including the order that sent Buenaventura Durruti to Madrid

By Isabel Ferrer, June 15, 2021

A significant part of historical memory regarding Spain’s anarchist movement and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) can be found at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Founded in 1935, the IISH is home to the historical archive of the National Confederation of Labor (CNT), an anarchist labor union, and the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) – documents known in Spain as the so-called “Amsterdam boxes” – along with an extensive collection on workers’ activism and social movements across the world.

Sneaked out of the country to preclude confiscation by the regime of dictator Francisco Franco, these 47 boxes take up a stretch of the institute’s 20 kilometers of shelves and include the CNT-FAI’s order to the León-born anarchist leader Buenaventura Durruti to travel to Madrid in 1936, where he would meet his end in uncertain circumstances. The IISH also houses the archives from the anti-Franco resistance and the Ruedo Ibérico publishing house founded in Paris in 1961 by five exiles from the Spanish Civil War with the aim of producing anti-fascist material to counter the dictatorship’s propaganda. Adding to the cache are archives relating to the libertarian trade unionists and feminists, original letters from writer Pío Baroja, a member of the Generation of ’98, and thousands of photos of the Civil War that were thought to have been lost, including images captured by Polish photographer, Margaret Michaelis and Hungarian photographer, Kati Horna. Altogether, it amounts to the legacy of a polarized period of history that is a mine of information for researchers.

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