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Amateur Historian Digs up Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Press Pass From the Spanish Civil War

The celebrated author of “The Little Prince” once covered the Spanish Civil War

Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Montreal, Canada in May 1942. (via Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is best known as the author of The Little Prince, but that fable is far from the only thing he ever wrote. A pioneering aviator, author, and journalist, Saint-Exupéry joined many other writers of his generation during the 1930s to cover the Spanish Civil War as the conflict between the leftist Republicans and the fascist forces of Francisco Franco unfolded. Now, nearly a century later, an amateur historian has uncovered the press pass that Saint-Exupéry was issued at the time.

During the war from 1936 to 1939, Saint-Exupéry was stationed in Spain as a correspondent for several French newspapers. But while documents belonging to other journalists reporting on the war were stored together and preserved, Saint-Exupéry’s was apparently misfiled and remained lost for decades until an amateur historian researching cinema from the Spanish Civil War stumbled across it in a small village last week, Sarah Laskow writes for Atlas Obscura.

"It has extraordinary value. His press pass provides us with precious information regarding his stay in Madrid,” Policarpo Sanchez, the lawyer and hobbyist historian who discovered the pass, tells the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The press pass, which is dated April 16, 1937, was issued by the propaganda ministry run by the Republican forces that sought to defend the democratically-elected Socialist government from Franco’s fascist rebellion. According to the pass, Saint-Exupéry listed himself as an aviator and a clerk, though that is likely a mistranslation of “ecrivain,” the French word for writer, the AFP reports. Saint-Exupéry also listed the Hotel Florida in Madrid as his residence – a favorite spot for many foreign journalists to stay while covering the war.

The Spanish Civil War wasn’t just a prelude to World War II and another step in the rise of fascism in the early 20th century: it was also one of the first wars to be extensively covered by the international press. Journalists, writers, and photographers from around the world flocked to Spain to report on the war, including George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, and Jay Allen, Elaine Sciolino wrote for the New York Times. Others, like Ernest Hemingway, joined up to serve in the army, with many foreign anti-fascists serving in the Republican Army’s Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Saint-Exupéry himself would go on to serve as a volunteer pilot during World War II flying reconnaissance for the French Resistance, even as he continued to write. Shortly after The Little Prince was published, he disappeared without a trace during one mission over the Mediterranean. While his body was never recovered, several former German pilots have come forward over the years claiming that they were the ones to shoot him down, though never with much proof to back up their stories. Though historians may never know what became of Saint-Exupéry, this press pass helps fill in new details about an important time in his life and career.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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