Spanish Civil War Refugee Children in the USSR

In the late 1930s, the Soviet Union took in about nearly 3,000 child refugees of the Spanish Civil War. These kids, aged roughly from 5 to 12 years old, were placed in boarding schools in Leningrad, Moscow and elsewhere in the USSR. Their stay in this strange new land was supposed to be temporary. But fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of WWII made them exiles for the foreseeable future. Now responsible to their rearing and education, Soviet officials and their Spanish minders transformed these children into hybrid Hispano-Soviets. They were steeped in patriotism for their two homelands and taught to emulate Spanish and Soviet heroes, scientists, soldiers, and artists. How did these Spanish children fare in the Soviet Union and live through the multiple traumas of their childhood? What did it mean to Hispano-Soviet? What was their fate and memory of growing up as a refugee? Here’s Karl Qualls with this little known story.


Karl Qualls is the John B. Parsons Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Dickinson College. He’s the author of From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II. His new book is Stalin’s Niños: Educating Spanish Civil War Refugee Children in the Soviet Union, 1937-51 published by the University of Toronto Press.


Phil Ochs, “Spanish Lament,” The Broadside Tapes 1, 1989.