A group of women and children wait to be transported to France. / SUR

23 December 1938: Catalonia is stormed by Nationalist troops

This was a catalytic event in the development of the Spanish civil war which saw Spain’s second largest city, the largely Republican Barcelona, lost to the Nationalist regime


December 23rd 1938 marks the beginning of the Catalonia offensive, a key event in military, social and linguistic history for the northeastern Spanish region.

The offensive forms part of the chain of events in the Spanish Civil War, which came to an end in April 1939 with the defeat of the Republicans and the beginning of Franco's 36 year long dictatorship.

Military and political consequences were huge for Catalonia. The storming of the region weakened the Republican troops who were already dispirited by a lack of provisions and harsh conditions, further dampening the fight against Franco's army.

Many Catalonians crossed the border into France due to the persecution they faced in their home cities and towns. A large majority were placed in internment camps which lacked basic provisions and sanitary conditions, eventually leading to the deaths of nearly 15,000 people in the first six months after the offensive.

Some were able to return to Spain at the end of 1939, but many were forced to relocate to countries such as the US, Canada, Mexico and Belgium.

Perhaps the most important consequence was the suppression of the Catalan language and culture. Franco's regime set out to homogenise Spain with a blanket ban on the use of any language apart from Castilian.

Measures were extreme: the ban on the use of the Catalan language went as far as the burning of books and newspapers and even the removal of inscriptions on the tombs of Republican figureheads.

While Catalonians were forced to "speak the language of the empire" during Franco's dictatorship, today the language is protected by law and enjoys official language status in Spain's Catalan-speaking regions.

The preservation of the language goes beyond the borders of Catalonia. Today, Catalan is taught in over 150 universities worldwide. It has an important presence in media and literature with over 80 television channels and 6,000 books published in the language each year.

The language and culture's resurrection has shown that sometimes prohibition will only lead to the strengthening of a people's resistance in the face of oppression.