Guernica- Pablo Picasso
During the afternoon and early evening of Monday, April 26th, 1937, the German and Italian fascist air forces destroyed the Spanish town of Guernica in a raid lasting three hours. The war crime was ordered by the Spanish nationalist military leadership and carried out by the Congor Legion of the German luftwaffe and the Italian Aviazone Legionairre. Designed to kill or main as many civilians as possible, Operation Rugen was deliberately chosen for a Monday afternoon when the weekly town market would be at its most crowded. Guernica, in the Basque country where revolutionary sentiment among workers was deep, was defenceless from the bombers, which could fly as low as 600 feet.
The airplanes made repeated raids, refuelling and returning to drop more bombs. Waves of explosive, fragmentary, and incendiary devices were dumped in the town. In total, 31 tons of munitions were dropped between 4.30 in the afternoon and 7.30 in the evening. In the aftermath of the raid, survivors spoke of the air filled with the screams of those in their death throes and the hundreds injured. Civilians fleeing the carnage in the fields surrounding the town were strafed by fighter planes. Human and animal body parts littered the market place and town center, a horror soon immortalised by Pablo Picasso's Guernica.
Guernica was effectively wiped of the map. From a population of 5,000 some 1,700 residents were killed and a further 800 injured. Three quarters of the buildings were raised to the ground. Farms four miles away were flattened.
The savage and barbarous attack was a deliberate attempt to terrorise and intimidate the workers of Republican Spain. Spanish nationalist general Emilio Mola had spoken of destroying the industry of Barcelona and Bilbao in order to cleanse the country. In other words, the Nationalists would endeavour to destroy the industrial proletariat. As the historian Paul Preston has recently written in Spanish Holocaust, the Nationalist forces had launched a scorched earth policy during their rapid advance through Spain, most notably in Badajoz, where many hundreds of revolutionary workers were machine gunned to death in the city's bullring.
The fascist government of Berlin and Rome were only to glad to assist Franco in his 'cleansing' of the Spanish population, as both a geo-political necessity and as a test for their military command, new military technology and fighting forces. At his trial for war crimes at Nuremberg, the leading Nazi Hermann Goering would tell the tribunal that he had urged Hitler to send German forces to stem socialism in the Iberian theatre and to test out the Luftwaffe.
We should never forget.
The destruction of Guernica was part of Franco's wider, brutal campaign against the existence of the Spanish Republic. This campaign led not just to widespread destruction of property, but thousands of civilian casualties too, as well as widespread displacement. Many sought refuge abroad, as many as 3,800 Basque children were evacuated to England and Wales for the duration of the war. The British Government at the time callously refused to be responsible for the children, but throughout the summer children were dispersed to camps throughout Britain. Eight of these colonies were here in Wales. They were received with a mixture of hostility and kindness, but they had all managed to escape the grips of Franco's fascist Spain.
Picasso's picture still resonates with clarity, capturing the full terror and horror of this terrible moment in history.
Guernica: The history and art of:-
Guernica - Paul Eluard - P Picasso - Victory at Guernica
Music: Richard Wagner and Herbert Von Karajan
extract from poem written by Paul Eluard, a surrealist poet and friend of Picasso, in August, 1937.
Lovely world of cottages
Of the night and fields
Faces good in firelight good in frost
Reusing the night the wound and blows
Faces good for everything
Now the void fixes you
Your death will serve as a warning
Death the heart turned over
They made you pay your bread
Sky earth water sleep
And the misery of your life.