Next year will mark 70 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War but of course the legacy continued much longer under the Franco regime.
It is still very much with us today as communities seek to find out what happened in their midst or where their dead are buried all these years on. This is not just some rarefied action taken by senior judges such as Gárzon but involves even the smallest communities. Indeed as I write this my own village has seen a grant made to José Manuel Algarbani to investigate the Civil War and post-war period.
I have always viewed such sensitive matters as being for Spaniards alone. However the civil war was not simply Spanish but an international encounter involving Germans, Italians, Russians and all those who volunteered for the International Brigades including many Britons.
Looking back over all those years it now seems absurd that the US, British and French Governments stood idly by following a policy of non-intervention whilst the legitimately elected government in Madrid was attacked and overthrown. Had they acted would the Second World War been averted? Who knows? However we should remember that the US entered WWII late because of its isolationist stance so we shouldn’t be surprised that much of Middle American supported the Catholic crusader Franco against the Moscow aligned government in Madrid.
It was not only foreign fighters that were in Spain at the time but also news correspondents. I must therefore commend to you Paul Preston’s new book – We Saw Spain Die – Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War.
It is estimated that around 1,000 journalists and writers were in Spain during the conflict and five of those were killed. Those who reported from the rebel zone were threatened with death or placed on Gestapo lists if they were found to have reported objectively.
The Times correspondent, George Steer, reported that “the reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away.” He was witnessing the carpet bombing of Guernica by the Luftwaffe – a tragedy that was denied by Franco over the next 35 years.
Louis Fischer writing in the New York weekly ‘The Nation’ observed “it was not enough to write” and hence many correspondents became nurses, fighters, advisors and spies.
Herbert Matthews of the New York Times stated: “Spain was the melting pot in which the dross came out and pure gold remained. It gave meaning to life.” Indeed later he probably spoke for much of the international press corps when he wrote: “We left our hearts there.”
I leave the final word of this blog to Martha Gellhorn who wrote about the Republicans and their legitimately elected government: “They were fighting for us all against the combined forces of fascism. They deserved our thanks and our respect and got neither.”
These brave correspondents deserve our time in once again reading their stories and Paul Preston deserves our praise for putting together this fine book.