The Forgotten Story of “the Mamás belgas”

In April 1937 a group of young women from Antwerp and Brussels left Belgium to join the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. The volunteers were from East-European Jewish families who moved to Belgium after the First World War. Most of these volunteers had partners or husbands fighting in the international brigades.

In an old convent in Ontinyent, a small town between Valencia and Alicante, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the International Solidary Fund (ISF) organized an international military hospital. With a capacity of 800 beds and four operating theaters, it was one of the biggest and best-equipped hospitals in Spain. The socialists were short of personnel and mainly communist volunteers answered the call to work at Ontinyent. The group of 21 Belgian volunteers was the first to arrive. In the town they were popularly called the les mamàs belgues in the Valencian language.

In 2016 Belgian journalist Sven Tuytens made a documentary about them with the help of the Diputación de Valencia, researcher Joan Torró Martínez from Ontinyent and Belgian historian Rudi Van Doorslaer. In 2017 his biography was edited in Belgium. The Spanish edition followed in 2019 and was edited by El Mono Libre in Madrid.

With Paul Preston, presenting Las Mamás belgas at the London School over Economics.