Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: David Seymour (Chim), Spanish Refugees Preparing to Board S.S. Sinaia, 1939, gelatin silver print David Seymour (Chim)
Spanish Refugees Preparing to Board S.S. Sinaia, 1939
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Ben Shneiderman
© David Seymour Estate/Magnum Photos
Image: David Seymour (Chim), Spanish Refugees aboard S.S. Sinaia, 1939 David Seymour (Chim)
Spanish Refugees aboard S.S. Sinaia, 1939
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Ben Shneiderman
© David Seymour Estate/Magnum Photos

Spanish Civil War

Spanish Refugees Preparing to Board S.S. Sinaia

Spanish Refugees aboard S.S. Sinaia

The French were unprepared for the massive influx of Spanish refugees and hoarded them into improvised camps set up along Mediterranean beaches. The Republican government, now in exile, tried to arrange for the passage of many of the refugees to Mexico and South America. The new French weekly Match assigned Chim and writer George Soria (with whom Chim collaborated frequently for Regards) to cover the May 1939 voyage of the S.S. Sinaia, the first ship to carry refugees to Mexico.

The Sinaia's sailing was a logistical challenge that required the cooperation of English, French, Mexican, and Spanish authorities. For some, making it onto the ship was more trying than the 23-day journey itself. One passenger described the "hair-raising" four-day process of collecting the refugees and transferring them to the boat as "more emotionally exhausting than anything I have ever experienced."

Chim's photograph of the men on the quay captures the chaos that preceded the departure. That of the men sleeping on deck highlights the ship's overcrowded conditions but also encapsulates the refugees' utter exhaustion after years of war, escape to France, and months spent in a makeshift refugee camp. Several of Chim's Sinaia photos were published in the United States by Life.