The multifaceted legacy of Auxilio Social: contradictory visions, evidence, and collective memories




Skrivanek, Anna Charlotte

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During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Nationalists charted a new course for social welfare. Emerging in October 1936, Auxilio de Invierno (Winter Assistance) provided aid to the rapidly rising population of destitute women and children in Nationalist-controlled territories. Co-founder and war widow, Mercedes Sanz-Bachiller, simultaneously advocated and defied conservative socio-cultural values in her efforts to offer quality social welfare to fellow Spaniards. Modeling her vision on the Nazi German Winterhilfe (Winter Help), Mercedes quickly gained the support and encouragement of the Nationalist party; but, this political backing came at a price--her selfless vision for social assistance metamorphosed into a propaganda tool, becoming the positive social "face" of the Nationalist campaign. Later renamed Auxilio Social (Social Assistance), the organization could not escape the ensuing complications of international and religious influences, female rivalries, and accusations of inadequate care in its facilities, eliciting a marked shift in the organization's mission and purpose. Over time, Auxilio Social increasingly lost control to Franco, the Falangists (Spanish Fascists), and the Sección Femenina (Women's Section), headed by the combative Pilar Primo de Rivera. Upon her postwar ousting in 1940, Mercedes Sanz-Bachiller would walk away with a mixed social welfare legacy--largely forgotten until recent years when a new generation began to speak out against treatment they received as children while housed in state-run organizational facilities. Despite memories of postwar inadequacies and political corruption, Mercedes Sanz-Bachiller's initial, selfless vision for social welfare should not be minimized in civil war literature.


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