Walter Benjamin’s time in the town of Portbou, at the northern end of the Costa Brava, on the border between Catalonia and France, amounted to a little more than 12 hours. His memory, however, endures to this day.
The German Jewish thinker (Berlin, 1892), who on 26 September 1940 crossed the French-Spanish border in his attempt to escape the Nazis, in the hope of making his way to Portugal and a ship for America, died in this small town on the Catalan coast, and although the facts of his death were suppressed by the Franco regime for decades, since the restoration of democracy the truth has been recovered and dignified.
The Foundation is configured as a non-profit organization that aims to become a center for studies and debates of an international vocation interested in the dissemination, promotion and understanding of the figure and work of Walter Benjamin and of thought contemporary, a center devoted to research in arts and humanities, promoter and defender of ethical values and modernity, of European identity and of the culture of peace in today’s society, a space that, from the culture, vindicates historical memory , democratic values, human rights and have Portbou as a historic place of frontier and exile that contributes to the promotion of its historical and cultural heritage and landscape.
On account of its border location, during the twentieth century Portbou lived the experience of exile in a twofold sense: from south to north and from north to south. First, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, it was one of the main lines of retreat of the Republican army and of thousands of civilian refugees seeking exile in France; and secondly, during the Second World War, it was a place of passage, of welcome or detention for people fleeing the Nazis. This dual experience of exile makes this an exceptional place n which to trace the democratic memory and the struggle against fascism of twentieth-century Europe.
The Coll de Belitres pass is the most easterly crossing on the French-Spanish border, between the town of Cerbère-sur-Mer (Roussillon) and Portbou (Alt Empordà). Through here passed most of the nearly half a million people who fled fascism at the end of the Civil War: an estimated 480,000 for the Pyrenees as a whole and around 350,000 for the Alt Empordà. It was here, too, that European Jews and intellectuals fleeing the Gestapo sought refuge, Walter Benjamin among them.
Passages is the name of the Memorial the Israeli artist Dani Karavan created in Portbou in honour of Walter Benjamin to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. Financed by the Government of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, it was inaugurated on 15 May 1994.
The title chosen by Karavan, Passages, refers not only to Benjamin’s fateful passage from France to Portbou, but also to his unfinished last work, the Passagen-Werk orArcades Project, which he began in 1927, a vast collection of writings on the life of 19th-century Paris and its arcades and reflections on the contemporary urban experience.
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This website replaces the previous www.walterbenjaminportbou.cat, managed before by the Portbou Town Hall and updates the contents.