There were about 2,500 Spanish immigrants on board,
including men, women and children; who wrrived
to Valparaiso on September the 3rd, 1939. They
were republicans that had been defeated on the
Civil War, and that had had to escape and seek
for shelter in France after Franco's assumption.
They were painters, writers and sellers, who found
in our country a new future for their families,
and who would get to contribute enormously to
our culture and social life, considering the remarkable
work later developed by people like historian
Leopoldo Castedo, and painters Roser Bru and José
Balmes (who was 12 years old when he left Spain),
We are now celebrating the 65 years of the Winnipeg's
arrival, and the Painters and Sculptors Association
organized during September a special act in which
thousands of people got to know a little more
about the history of this ship that left the French
port of Trompeloup-Pauillac on August the 4th.
During the ceremony, people got one of the 2,500
pieces especially painted for the ocassion, representing
visually and poetically each one of the passengers
of that time.
Neruda's biggest poem
Back in Chile, in 1937, after working as consul
in Barcelona and Madrid for three years, Pablo
Neruda got to know the tragic situation of the
Spanish refugees then living in French concentration
camps. He was specially moved, mainly because
of his profound link with Spain and the many friends
he made while living there. Neruda then decided
to leave his writing for a while and look for
a way to help these people. He was perfectly aware
that these immigrants would be of great help for
Chile not just to practice its collective generosity,
but also to be benefited by the valuable work
they would do here. So he convinces the administration
of Pedro Aguirre Cerda to sponsor this ambitious
In 1939 Neruda is sent to France to organize the
travelling process. He holds the diplomatic title
of Special Consul for the Spanish Inmigration,
and gets an office in Paris, where he arrives
with a cast over his leg. He inmediatly starts
an intense work with the thousands of applications
mailed, which he reads one by one with his wife,
Delia del Carril. With the help of the former
republican Spanish government, then exiled, they
choose the immigrants that would get to Chile,
a hard task considering the pressure from the
Spanish dictatorship and the division of the families
in different concentration camps all over France.
But the work gets done, through the creation of
the Evacuation Service for Spanish Refugees.
For the trip, Neruda hires an old French container
ship, which used to travel between Marsella and
the African coast with no more than twenty passengers.
Somehow, in this humble ship, the Winnipeg, they
make the beds fit for 2,500 people that would
end up arriving in Chile.
At the same time, all the preparations start being
organized at the French port of Trompeloup —Pauillac,
near Bordeaux. Even Pablo Picasso applauds the
A few hours before the boarding, couples, parents
and children, dispersed until then because of
the tragedy, meet again. "The trains would
get to the pier, and the wives would not stop
looking for their husbands through the wagons'
windows. They had been apart since the end of
the Civil War, and then they were seeing each
other again, in front of the ship that would take
them away. I have never again seen such dramatic
gestures: hugs, cries, kisses and laughs",
wrote the poet.
A month later, after an eventful trip, the old
ship, Neruda's biggest poem, entered the
Valparaiso Bay, packed with dreams and hopes.