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The Evacuation of Basque Children
May 9, 2012 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Around 4.30pm on April 26, 1937, a joint squadron of 23 German and Italian planes appeared in the skies over the historic, and undefended, Basque town of Gernika. Over the next five hours they would drop a total of 22 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices that would burn for days, destroying 70 percent of the town, and killing and wounding 1,600 people - around a third of the population. Following the attack, thousands of children were evacuated from the Basque country.

The Guardian's report of the bombing from the 28th of April 1937 has been scanned. The website of the Basque Children of '37 Association documents the experience of the evacuees in Britain.
posted by hoyland (40 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It didn't make the post, but Wikipedia has a pretty thorough on the bombing of Guernica.

I was sorely tempted to make some sort of Kindertransport pun/joke in the title, but I couldn't figure out how much in poor taste it was.
posted by hoyland at 6:44 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some have said that the German involvement in the civil war was used as their 'dress rehearsal' for learning new techniques, etc..
posted by circa68 at 6:46 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fascism is real and dangerous. I can't figure out why this is not widely known.
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:49 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fascism is real and dangerous. I can't figure out why this is not widely known.

Bit of a non-sequitur when we're talking about events from 1937, wouldn't you say?
posted by Dasein at 7:08 PM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dasein, Franco was a fascist. The Spanish Civil War was fought between a Fascist faction (supported by Germany) and a Communist faction (supported by the USSR).

Which, for the people, was about like being fought over by a lion and a bear. No matter which won, the people were going to going to get eaten afterwards.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:36 PM on May 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


What? No. I'm no Spanish historian but my understanding is that the Republic, while leftist, anticlerical and antimonarchist, was not a communist state--more like a popular front--though it was convenient for the fearmongering Falangists to portray it as communist. Only when the Soviets came in as a counterbalance to the Italians and Germans did the Stalinist element become forceful.
posted by stargell at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


The Spanish Civil War was fought between a Fascist faction (supported by Germany) and a Communist faction (supported by the USSR).

Which, for the people, was about like being fought over by a lion and a bear. No matter which won, the people were going to going to get eaten afterwards.


If this were true, communists wouldn't be fascists' first target, throughout history, when consolidating their power.
posted by Catchfire at 8:17 PM on May 9, 2012


Art history anecdote:

I have read that when the Nazis arrived in Paris in 1940, a group of officers who fancied themselves art aficionados went to visit Picasso's studio there. One of the group saw the then-new composition Guernica and asked the painter, "Did you do that?"

Picasso replied, "No, you did."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:22 PM on May 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


I would really strongly recommend reading "Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell. An amazing piece of journalism, and really gets deep into the nuances of who the Spanish Republicans were and the ideological splits that ensued between anarchists, communists, etc.

One of the many interesting nuances is that the Soviets were actually *against* a Communist Spain. So yeah, it's just a wee bit more complex then "lions and bears," but any reasonable observer can agree on which side would have done better by "the people."
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:45 PM on May 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


It was a lot more complicated than "fascism vs. communism". Both sides were a complex hodge-podge of different factions. On the Nationalist side there were Falangists, but also, among others, monarchists and Carlists. Franco wasn't even its original leader, but ended up on top through a mixture of luck, intrigue and chutzpah. On the Republican side there were several flavours of Communist (Stalinists, Trotskyists, etc.), Anarchists, Socialists, left-wing Republicans, but even quite conservative Basque nationalists. Within each side there were several wars within the war, internecine fighting and the occasional political assassination. Both the Stalinists and, in particular, the Falangists, were in fact weak in Spain before the war, although at the end they had become the dominant factions, because:
a) they were the best disciplined and
b) they had the strongest friends abroad.
It was war. It was nasty.
posted by Skeptic at 11:08 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


War is rarely simple. The Battle of the Boyne - Protestant William beats Catholic James, securing Ireland for the Protestant throne and removing the threat of popery from Great Britain, right? Orange Orders, marching season, the Troubles, etc...

But - whose side was the Pope on? Hint: the ones not supporting the French.
posted by Devonian at 1:32 AM on May 10, 2012


To understand from an ordinary person's point of view I highly recommend Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War by Ronald Fraser (previously).
.
posted by adamvasco at 2:58 AM on May 10, 2012


My best read on the Spanish Civil War so far has been Beevor's The Battle For Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.

The Republicans became co-opted by the Soviets as they were basically their only supporters with actual materiel and technical know-how but even so they were resisted at every level. Franco himself wasn't a fascist, he just rolled them into his Movimiento and awarded them top billing as it was convenient to him at the time.

The last thing that Franco and the generals wanted was a social revolution, something that the communists, socialists, anarchists and fascists all wanted in the Spain of the '30s. Their mission was to protect the territorial integrity of Spain, the status quo of the elite landowners and Spain's preferential position in the Catholic church. Change was not on the menu.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:12 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a plaque on the wall of my building in Stockholm's Old City commerating 75.000 Finnish children who were evacuated to Sweden following the invasion of Finland by Soviet Russia in 1939. In comparison to that what the Germans did in Spain was child's play. But since Picasso didn't make any painting about what the Socialists did to Finland, Russia's crimes from the same period are not so well-advertised.

It recently however came to my attention that Picasso created a similar painting "Massacre in Korea". This later work depicts the 1950 Sinchon Massacre, an act of mass killing carried out by South Korean and/or American forces in the town of Sinchon located in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea in which an alleged 35.000 people were killed in cold blood.
posted by three blind mice at 5:21 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In an attempt to bring the conversation back to the topic, I have a question: So, these Basque children were evacuated to England. Did any of them get further sent on to the country when English children were themselves being evacuated as well?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:28 AM on May 10, 2012


I have read that when the Nazis arrived in Paris in 1940, a group of officers who fancied themselves art aficionados went to visit Picasso's studio there. One of the group saw the then-new composition Guernica and asked the painter, "Did you do that?"

Picasso replied, "No, you did."


It was in the US at the time.
posted by empath at 5:43 AM on May 10, 2012


In comparison to that what the Germans did in Spain was child's play. But since Picasso didn't make any painting about what the Socialists did to Finland, Russia's crimes from the same period are not so well-advertised.

According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable of sources, that is true) approximately half a million people were killed in the Spanish Civil War. According to the same source, a total of 155,000 people were killed in the Winter War, of which, however, only 26,000 were Finnish. Also, a total of 957 Finnish civilians were killed in air raids in the Winter War. The number of people killed in Guernica alone is a very contentious subject, but it is generally accepted to have been in the triple figures.

I don't want to enter into a "my massacre was larger than your massacre" contest, especially as the Nazis considerably upped the ante shortly afterwards, not least in Russia itself. But in any case, when we are talking about such numbers of deaths, and this scale of human suffering, to speak of "child's play" is grossly inappropriate either way. As is your talk of "the Socialists".
posted by Skeptic at 6:04 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


But since Picasso didn't make any painting about what the Socialists did to Finland, Russia's crimes from the same period are not so well-advertised.

Well, also, the Russians won the war and the Germans killed six million Jews.
posted by empath at 6:13 AM on May 10, 2012


It was in the US at the time.

Yes, you are right. However, according to Alan Riding's excellent "And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi- Occupied Paris", German officers did visit Picasso's studio in rue des Grands-Augustins in the autumn of 1940. Picasso offered one of them a postcard of Guernica which led to the verbal exchange. And also according to Riding, Picasso often told the story.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:27 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fascism is real and dangerous. I can't figure out why this is not widely known.

nestor_makhno, in what sense is this not widely, almost universally, known? "Fascism" is one of the tried-and-true, go-to insults that any political pundit can throw at any perceived political enemy, with a guarantee that some of their audience will agree in disgust.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:03 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fascism is real and dangerous. I can't figure out why this is not widely known.

For the same reason it is not widely known that socialism is also real and dangerous. Ask the Finns. So much crap about the Nazis invading Poland when the Russians invaded Finland at about the same time - and then joined the Nazis in dividing Poland.

Well, also, the Russians won the war and the Germans killed six million Jews.

And then how many did Stalin kill? But as a man of the left Stalin gets a the pass Hitler as a man of the right is denied.
posted by three blind mice at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2012


But as a man of the left Stalin gets a the pass Hitler as a man of the right is denied.

Two things:

1) Stalin doesn't get a pass. Nobody wishes they could go back and live under Stalinism.
2) I'm pretty sure you're just complained about how Hitler's reputation gets a raw deal.
posted by gauche at 11:46 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stalin gets a pass from nobody.

If you really can't tell Stalinism from other, truer forms of Socialism, I'm afraid you have no business talking about either.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:49 AM on May 10, 2012


As someone who usually votes Democrat, I really love Stalin! Millions of death are just statistics!
posted by Burhanistan at 11:49 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


[It would be terrific if this thread didn't turn into a Stalin vs Hitler discussion. Not technically a derail perhaps according to rules lawyers but definitely not at all on topic and Godwinningly problematic. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:49 AM on May 10, 2012


And then how many did Stalin kill?

The article you link to says nothing about Stalin killing Jews. It talks about all the people Stalin did actually kill (and I have no idea why you think that Stalin "gets a pass" for this) and then at the ends talks about rumors near the end of his life that there would be an upcoming similar treatment of Jews and says "We'll never know..." if that was going to happen.
posted by XMLicious at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2012


Dasein: "Bit of a non-sequitur when we're talking about events from 1937, wouldn't you say?"

Regarding fascism in Spain, it's worth noting that Franco's regime lasted into the late 1970s. There are people under 40 who were born in fascist Spain, and to many it's a fresh memory. So while the tragedy at Gernika happened more than a lifetime ago, Spaniards have only had enough breathing room to come to grips with those events for a few decades.
posted by koeselitz at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2012


Come to think of it, as one last note - it was my liberal leftie public school that had me read not only Anne Frank's diary but also One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and to circle back to the main subject of the thread, look at Picasso's Guernica and study its history. It isn't that section of the political spectrum that is intent on ignoring or revising history.
posted by XMLicious at 12:19 PM on May 10, 2012


Spain still hasn't come to grips with it all. It is the reason behind why Judge Garzon was indicted.
posted by adamvasco at 12:20 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


For the same reason it is not widely known that socialism is also real and dangerous. Ask the Finns.

Communism isn't Socialism, Fascism isn't capitalism, and this may shock you, socialist and capitalist models can work in tandem, and often do in non-totalitarian states. Public utilities? Socialism! Car loans? Capitalism!

In any event, the danger with Leninist/Stalinist communism was the inherent totalitarianism, not the economic model used. In Fascism, totalitarianism is built right into the economic model.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:22 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also if anyone has interest there is a good recent (today) ask me about books on the Spanish Civil War.
posted by adamvasco at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks for that link adamvasco. What a god damn tragedy.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2012


Stalin crushed plenty of workers' organizations and by no means get a pass. Soviet forces have put more than enough workers up against the wall. That's without discussing the other terrible things the soviet state did in the name of totalitarianism and imperialism.

It can absolutely be argued that the Spanish resistance might have been safer and more comfortable without Soviet involvement, although they'd have also had less guns. At the end of the war they did sever ties with Russia, but the war was almost certainly already decided by then. There was a sense that they were pushed into that relationship by international relations: when your enemies are riding Italian tanks, you turn to the Soviets for anti-tank weapons.

More than a few workers died in Spain because of Soviet attitudes toward more anarchistic models of organizing. That isn't to say there weren't periods of cooperation either though. Spain's relationship with Soviet communism does not lend itself to simplistic, sweeping judgements.

It's not that I'm opposed to arguing about whether Stalin is worse than Hitler, but that particular argument bled Spain harder than anything else. They didn't need their home to be battleground for that argument. The topic is Spain, don't forget about Spain now while barreling back into the "which dictator is worse" game.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:48 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arms for Spain: The Untold Story of the Spanish Civil War.
Stalin helped the Spanish so much, it is suggested he defrauded them of $51 million (at 1936 prices).
Also non-intervention is as interesting as the direct intevention.
posted by adamvasco at 1:29 PM on May 10, 2012


Did any of them get further sent on to the country when English children were themselves being evacuated as well?

I imagine some were, but it looks like the settlements (the site calls them colonies) were often in the countryside anyway. Also, it seems some children were repatriated before the Second World War:
In April 1939, the Spanish Civil War was over and there was pressure from both Franco and the British Government to repatriate the refugee children. This was a difficult period as there were serious doubts concerning the fate of the ‘enemy’ children if they were returned to Spain. However Jim writes that some of our children got themselves jobs and were making good, others were adopted by friends and those left were taken into the Old Wing and finally sent back to Spain ……..
(link)
posted by paduasoy at 2:09 PM on May 10, 2012


This BBC article says that only about 500 children remained in Britain after 1939.
posted by paduasoy at 2:12 PM on May 10, 2012


Or 250 according to this link.
posted by paduasoy at 2:13 PM on May 10, 2012


There are some fascinating extracts from the Cambria House Journal, the newsletter of a Basque children's home in Caerleon. The final issue, November 1939, says that 25 of the 55 children in the home are going back to Spain:
Twenty-five boys are going home, and although they are going to a shortage of food, and to generally bad conditions, they are going to be re-united with their parents, and they are going to say Goodbye to 30 others for whom the joy of re-union cannot yet be. These 30 are the children of parents who still languish in the Fascist Gaols of Spain, or in some cases, are the children of parents who were in gaol but who have paid the full price of their loyalty to the cause of Democracy and Freedom. In other words their parents are in the Refugee Camps in France, and dare not return to Spain.

Some of these parents are writing to us, desperate appealing letters. They have read in some of the foreign papers the false reports which have also appeared in some of our own papers, - reports to the effect that all children are being sent back, and they are appealing to us not to let their children go.
Interesting post, thanks.
posted by paduasoy at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2012


official website for the Basque Children of '37 Association UK lists the known UK "colonies" and a bibliography.
Not directly involving the Basques - A short history of the republican exile: the big exodus of 1939
posted by adamvasco at 12:00 AM on May 11, 2012


See Also Portrait of the exile: images gallery
posted by adamvasco at 12:03 AM on May 11, 2012


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