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Guernica 80 years on

It’s 80 years since the Germans bombed the Basque town of Guernica in what was effectively a dress rehearsal for the Luftwaffe air strikes of World War II. The town was decimated by the bomb strike on Monday 26 April, 1937. It was market day, and everyone was out in the open. Contemporary estimates said that around 1,650 people lost their lives or were badly wounded, out of a population of around 10,000, but modern historians believe that the true figure for fatalities is nearer 200. The atrocity was commemorated in Pablo Picasso’s famour mural, Guernica, which has attained iconic status for its stark representation of man’s inhumanity to man.

Before that, hardly anyone outside Spain had heard of the town, but in late May, around 4,000 children sailed into Southamptom, refugees from the devastated town in which hardly a building was left standing. Incredibly, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was reluctant to receive the children, stating that ‘The climate would not suit them.’ However, public outrage led to a rethink, and the children were admitted to the UK on the understanding that the refugee councils in charge of the evacuation paid for their upkeep while they were in the refugee camp in Eastleigh, Hampshire.

Survivng children told how the German planes would circle just above trees where families were trying to shelter from the bombs, scaring them so much they broke cover, then they would gun them down. Even the children were not safe from the carnage, and there were reports of sheep being machine gunned in the fields and crops being destroyed, so the survivors would be unable to feed themselves while they tried to rebuild their town.

Articles to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Guernica bombing compare it to the carpet bombing of rebel-held areas of Aleppo in Syria, and at the tome of the bombing, General Franco tried to place the blame on Republican troops. However, thanks in large part to Picasso’s art, Guernica has long been acknowledged as a blueprint of civilian warfare where no attempt is made to attack military targets.

The objective is to destroy morale by causing as much loss of life and disruption as possible in a short space of time, with no opportunity for retaliation. However, the Guernica bombing was counter-productive. Instead of forcing the Basques to capitulate to Franco’s Nationalist forces, it strengthened their determination to keep fighting, in a forerunner of the Blitz Spirit that gripped the UK at the heght of the air raids on London, Coventry, Portsmouth and Plymouth.

Image credit: By PICASSO, la exposición del Reina-Prado. Guernica is in the collection of Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.Source page: http://www.picassotradicionyvanguardia.com/08R.php (archive.org), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1683114

Published May 31st, 2017 by Sandra Piddock
Posted to Expat Blog

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