During the Second World War (1939-1944), thousands of Jews crossed the Pyrenees, fleeing from the persecution to which they had been subjected in Nazi-occupied Europe. Many of those who escaped from Germany, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France crossed the mountain passes of the Lleida Pyrenees. In these epic escapes, they had to evade surveillance on either side of the French-Spanish frontier, defy hash climatic conditions, which included year-round snows, and overcome the rugged terrain along the way.
The Val d’Aran was one of the main entry routes for refugees, whether via the customs office at Pont de Rei or via the mountain paths that led from the French departments of Haute-Garonne and Ariège. Bossòst was particularly important as a point of arrival for those crossing the Eth Portilhont and Còth de Baretja passes, following different routes from the village of Bagnères-de-Luchon. Many of the Jews who had taken refuge in this village began to flee to Spain from the spring of 1942 onwards. In 1943, more than 600 escapees were detained in the Eth Portilhon pass alone; many of these were Jews. In this area, the refugees received the help and support of evasion networks and the solidarity of many local citizens. Some managed to cross the Iberian Peninsula and reach Portugal without being detained, but the majority were captured and transferred to the prison of Vielha and then driven to prisons in the city of Lleida. For all of these refugees, the Lleida Pyrenees were the penultimate obstacle separating them from freedom.