Port de la Bonaigua
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 and which took them to Es Bòrdes, Bossòst, Bausen, Les, Canejan or Montgarri. At times, the escaping Jews received the help and support of evasion networks and the solidarity of many Aranese 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. Others were allowed to stay at hotels in Les and Vielha. The drive to Lleida passed through the Bonaigua pass and El Pallars because although the construction of the Vielha tunnel was in an advanced stage of completion by 1941, it did not open for vehicle transport until 1948. For all of these refugees, the Lleida Pyrenees were the penultimate obstacle separating them from freedom.