Project to honour thousands of Jews who braved Catalan Pyrenees to escape Holocaust

The project ‘Persecuted and Saved’ will tell the story of how 80,000 WW2 refugees escaped persecution and death through the Pyrenees mountains into Catalonia. The Israel Ambassador in Spain, Alon Bar, and the CEO of EL-AL - the main Israeli airline, Walter Wasercier, have already taken a key interest in the project, aiming to promote the history of the 20,000 Jews that used the mountains to escape from the Holocaust and obtain their freedom. The project is based in the Province of Lleida, in western Catalonia, around various historical sites, including refugee camps and mountain pathways used by fleeing refugees.

An institutional visit, with Israel Ambassador in Spain, to the Holocaust escape route through the Catalan Pyrenees (by M. Lluvich)
An institutional visit, with Israel Ambassador in Spain, to the Holocaust escape route through the Catalan Pyrenees (by M. Lluvich) / ACN / Ben Ramage / Marta Lluvich

ACN / Ben Ramage / Marta Lluvich

February 12, 2014 11:57 AM

Lleida (CNA).- The Lleida Provincial Council is promoting a project entitled ‘Persecuted and Saved’ that aims to explain the way that 80,000 fugitives, of whom 20,000 were Jewish, fled the Nazi horror during the Holocaust via the Catalan Pyrenees. The routes will include the pathways that the terrified fugitives took through the mountains, as well as prisons and concentration camps set up to hold those who were caught. The project has already merited a strong response from Israel, with visits from the Ambassador of Israel in Spain, Alon Bar, to the key sites. Furthermore, a meeting between the CEO of the major airline of Israel, EL-AL, Walter Wasercier, and the President of Lleida’s Provincial Council, Joan Reñé, has also taken place, with a view to setting up weekly chartered flights between Israel and Lleida-Alguaire Airport.

Reñé claims that the project is an opportunity to “recover the historical memory and publicize the little-known facts that occurred here during the Holocaust.”  Bar quoted a Hebrew saying, “to save a soul is to save an entire world”, to summarize the importance of the project. He also thanked the Catalan people, many of whom risked their lives to help save fleeing Jews and other refugees from Nazi barbarism.

A chance for Jewish people to find their ‘roots’

Bar believes that many Jewish people may find their roots in exploring the sites that their ancestors used to escape tyranny and certain death to gain their freedom. Over 20,000 Jewish refugees are believed to have passed through the Pyrenees, often taking the harshest and most difficult routes to avoid capture by Nazi soldiers patrolling the area.

Better Catalan understanding

Reñé also believes the project is a good chance for Catalans to better understand the history of the area and the part that their ancestors played, helping the starving and freezing survivors that made it over the mountains.