Gernika is the only town I know in the Basque Country that lacks of an old quarter. Everything, excepting some peripheral buildings, is new, built in the last seventy or so years.
Gernika and not Guernica, mind you, because Gernika is the Basque spelling and also the Spanish spelling Guernica is misleading in English, making people mispronounce Gwarnikah, when it is actually Garnikah – pronunciation is exactly the same in both languages: Basque and Spanish, only spelling changes.
74 years ago the town of Gernika, the historical capital of Biscay
, was totally destroyed by the systematic bombardment by the Nazi Condor Legion, sent to support the fascists in spite of the supposed international embargo to both fighting sides. This fact underlines that United Kingdom (more or less reluctantly seconded by France) supported the Fascist side in the Spanish Civil War, by means of impeding the legitimate government from getting international support (only some lesser, costly and highly conditional Soviet support arrived besides the enthusiastic but ill equipped international brigades), while the Fascists got all the support they wanted and more from Italy and Nazi Germany.
|Before the destruction (source)
In fact they were Italian brigades the ones that marched over most of Biscay after German airplanes bombed not just Gernika but also Durango and other localities. In fact it was largely an Italian and German full fledged invasion with the complacency of Great Britain, who forced France to accept this arrangement (and later used it as cannon fodder against Germany in WWII anyhow).
74 years ago, in April 26 1937, at 15:37, sirens scared the town. It was monday, market day. For the first time in history a town was totally razed by an air bombardment. Years later, as other cities like Dresden or Hiroshima were also totally razed in the course of WWII, Gernika would seem by comparison pecata minuta
, but in it its day it truly impressed the global collective psyche. It was not so much the few thousand dead (not many compared with the million who died in the whole war) but the fact that a civilian town had been so barbarically razed, looking to cause terror rather than military goals.
In addition the town, as historical capital of Biscay, held and still holds an oak tree that was symbol of Basque freedoms, under which the Parliament of Biscay had been gathering since memory exists, since at least the 11th century (eventually a building was built by the tree). and where the monarchs of Castile (later Spain) took oath of respecting the Basque self-rule. Then of course the painting by Picasso also helped to emphasize the horror and confusion that such a war crime caused all around.
A few days later the Italian columns took the whole district, marching on an ill defended Bilbao, from where I now write these lines, and from there westwards to Cantabria and eventually Asturias too. Eventually they would take the whole state, ending the Republic and suppressing the long-lived self-rule of Biscay and Gipuzkoa. The scars of this war and the fascist dictatorship that ensued for decades, effectively destroying two generations, still persist.
Because, Gandhi dixit, violence engenders violence.
|The “Guernica” to Gernika (in Gernika)