By Ainhoa Aristizabal Music: Tomorrow is Genesis
The bombing of Guernika (26 April 1937) was an aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernika during the Spanish Civil War. It was carried out at the behest of the Spanish nationalist government by its allies, the German air force’s Condor Legion and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria, under the code name: Operation Rügen.
The bombing is considered one of the first raids on a defenseless civilian population by a modern air force.
The number of victims of the attack is still disputed; the Basque government reported 1,654 people killed. Russian archives reveal 800 deaths on 1 May 1937, but this number may not include victims who later died of their injuries in hospitals or whose bodies were discovered buried in the rubble.
The bombing was the subject of a famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso. It was also depicted in a woodcut by the German artist Heinz Kiwitz, who was later killed fighting with the International Brigades. The bombing shocked and inspired many other artists, including a sculpture by René Iché, one of the first electroacoustic music pieces by Patrick Ascione, of a musical composition by René-Louis Baron and a poem by Paul Eluard (Victory of Guernica). There is also a short film from 1950 by Alain Resnais entitled Guernica (watch below).
The Spaniards know all too well that “The Guernika” belongs in Euskal Herria. Picasso said it clear, the painting was not to be back in Spain until democracy had been restored.
The Soviet Union helped the fight against fascists by sending tanks and humanitarian aid to Gernika. Dolores Ibarruri (aka La Pasionaria), a Basque of Russian descent was one of the key figures in the fight against the fascists. She died in the Soviet Union.
On December 25, 1991, the Soviet hammer and sickle flag lowered for the last time over the Kremlin, thereafter replaced by the Russian tricolor. Earlier in the day, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his post as president of the Soviet Union, leaving Boris Yeltsin as president of the newly independent Russian state.
Ibárruri (9 December 1895 – 12 November 1989) — known as “La Pasionaria” (Spanish, “the Passionflower“) — was a Basque Republican leader of the Spanish Civil War and communist politician. She is perhaps best known for her defense of the Second Spanish Republic and the famous slogan ¡No Pasarán! (“They Shall Not Pass”) during the Battle of Madrid. She died on November 12, 1989 (aged 93).
She became a revolutionary militant, joining the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) when it was founded in 1921. In the 1930s, she became a writer for the PCE publication Mundo Obrero, and was elected to the Cortes as a PCE deputy for Asturias in February 1936 during the Second Republic. After her exile from Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War, she was appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain, a position she held from 1942 to 1960. She was then named honorary president of the PCE, a post she held for the rest of her life. Upon her return to Spain in 1977, she was reelected as a deputy to the Cortes for the same region she had represented during the Second Republic. She is usually regarded as one of the greatest public speakers of the 20th century.
Ibárruri was born to a Basque miner and a Castillian mother. She grew up in Gallarta, but later moved to Somorrosto in the Basque Country. Gallarta was located next to a large siderite mine which became the second-most important in Europe during the 1970s and which shut down permanently in 1993. She attended the municipal school as soon as she could talk. The curriculum was basic and mainly religious; discipline was harsh. Outside she and the other children sang revolutionary ditties, played pranks and took part in rival gang fights. A willful child, she was taken at the age of ten by her mother to the Church of San Felicisimo in Deusto in the Basque Country to be exorcized.
Monday 26 April was market day; there were more than 10,000 people in the former Basque capital. Generally speaking, a market day would have attracted people from the surrounding areas to Guernika to conduct business. Market days consisted of local farmers bringing in their crops to sell to the village people. They would bring the crops of the week’s labour to the main square, which is where the market was held. The raid also took place on a Monday, ordinarily a market day in Guernika.
There is a historical debate over whether a market was being held that particular Monday; prior to the bombing, the Basque government had ordered a general halt to markets to prevent blockage of roads, and restricted large meetings. It is accepted by most historians that Monday “…would have been a market day”.
James Corum states that a prevalent view about the Luftwaffe and its Blitzkrieg operations was that it had a doctrine of terror bombing, in which civilians were deliberately targeted in order to break the will or aid the collapse of an enemy. After the bombing of Guernika in 1937 and of Rotterdam in 1940, it was commonly assumed that terror bombing was a part of Luftwaffe doctrine. During the interwar period the Luftwaffe leadership officially rejected the concept of terror bombing, and confined the air arms use to battlefield support of interdiction operations.
The Condor Legion was entirely under the command of the Nationalist forces. The order to perform the raid was transmitted to the commanding officer of the Condor Legion, Oberstleutnant Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, from the Spanish Nationalist Command.
During this time, Ibárruri had six children. Of her five girls, four died very young. She “used to relate how her husband made a small coffin out of a crate of fruit.” Her son, Rubén, died at twenty-two in the Battle of Stalingrad. The remaining child, Amaya, outlived her mother. In 2008 Amaya resided in the working-class neighbourhood of Ciudad Lineal in Madrid.
In the months before the Spanish Civil War, she joined the strikers of Cadavio mine in Asturias and stood beside poor tenants evicted in a suburb of Madrid. Around this time, Federico García Lorca, La Pasionaria and friends were chatting and sharing a coffee in a Madrid cafeteria when Lorca, who had been studying Ibárruri’s appearance, told her, “Dolores, you are a woman of grief, of sorrows…I’m going to write you a poem.” The poet returned to Granada and met his death at the hands of the Nationalists before completing the task.
Guernica (1950) Part 1 – Alain Resnais & Robert Hessens (English and Spanish Subtitles)
*(English and Spanish Subtitles)*On April 26 1937 the small Basque town of Guernica was bombed without warning by the German aviation. Two thousand people, all civilians, got killed. Like millions all over the world, Pablo Picasso was shocked and he translated his emotion into a magnificent but terrifying picture bearing the name of the martyred city. This film does not only comment on the painting, it also gives it a new life through frantic camera and sound effects.
Guernica (1950) Part 2 – Alain Resnais & Robert Hessens (English and Spanish Subtitles)
Dolores Ibarruri (farewell to the International Brigades)