Tag: Spanish Civil War (page 1 of 2)

October 7, 1936: First Basque Government Formed

The first Basque Government was created on October 7, 1936, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The government was led by Jose Antonio Agirre and was based in Bilbao’s emblematic Hotel Carlton.

Agirre and other government members address crowd from balcony of Hotel Carlton

Given that holding elections was impossible on account of the outbreak of the civil war in July 1936, a transitional decree was approved whereby the councilmen of municipalities in territory not occupied by the military rebels would elect the first lehendakari or Basque president. They duly elected Jose Antonio Agirre unanimously at a meeting in the historic assembly hall in Gernika. Agirre subsequently formed the first Basque government from among his own Basque Nationalist Party as well as the other parties that formed part of the Popular Front, the democratically elected coalition governing the Second Spanish Republic that Franco’s military uprising was seeking to overthrow.

The importance of Agirre and the first Basque government were explored at a major international conference whose results were published in The International Legacy of the Lehendakari Jose A. Agirre’s Government, edited by Xabier Irujo and Mari Jose Olaziregi.

 

September 13, 1936: Fall of Donostia-San Sebastián in Spanish Civil War

On September 13, 1936, five columns of Navarrese troops marched into Donostia-San Sebastián, meeting with no resistance, to take the city in the name of the military rebels who had risen up two months earlier against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic.

Map showing the frontline in Gipuzkoa until October 1936 in one-week intervals, as of late evening every Sunday, by Dd1495, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That previous July, the garrison of Spanish troops stationed in Donostia had actually joined in the military uprising but it was put down by socialist and anarchist militiamen loyal to the republic. In August, however, Navarrese troops (the requetés or Carlist militias who sided with the military rebels during the war), aided by some Gipuzkoan Carlists, began a campaign to seal off the border at Irun, thereby cutting off a potential arms supply from France for the pro-Republic forces. After laying siege to the town, and with aerial support, the rebels took Irun on September 5,  effectively paving the way to march on toward Donostia. With the fall of Irun, a westward drift of refugees (those that did not manage to cross the border into Iparralde) began that would define much of the civilian experience of the civil war in the Basque Country.

Rebel troops entering Donostia

Having suffered bombardment from sea, and with rebel troops advancing into the city from both the east and inland Gipuzkoa, Donostia ultimately fell without resistance.

Be sure to check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a key work that among other themes examines the effects of war on ordinary people in the Basque Country. This book is available free to download here.

The Center has also recently published David Lyon’s Bitter Justice, an important study based on a wealth of primary material that examines the fate of Basque prisoners during the Spanish Civil War.

 

Map of civil war graves updated in Navarre

Historical memory–the recovering of previously forgotten (consciously or otherwise) events from the past–is a prevailing topic in contemporary Basque and Spanish society, especially in regard to the civil war of 1936-1939, which left a legacy of actively forgetting about crimes perpetrated against the “losers” of that war.

Excavation of common grave site in Dicastillo (Deikaztelu), Navarre

These reprisals were especially brutal in Navarre, and in an effort to regain this memory, the Foral Government of Navarre commissioned a firm to draw up a map of all know common graves (sites in which people killed during the civil war were unceremoniously buried, in many cases without their relatives’ knowledge). The discovery of these sites, and the closure such investigations brings to family members, is an important feature of the emphasis on regaining historical memory. An up-to-date map has just been released showing the sites of various common graves and classified according to those that have been excavated, those that have been initially explored, those that are yet to be excavated, and other potential sites of interest.

The updated map contains information on 22 newly discovered common graves, more information on 38 already studied sites, data on 21 newly identified victims of the Francoist repression, and information on the location of a further 49 bodies.

Check out the map of these sites here.

For more information on this initiative on the part of the Foral Government of Navarre (in Spanish) click here.

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, examines the wider impact on society of the momentous events that took place within such a short space of time in and around the Basque Country in the 1930s and 1940s. This work seeks to fully explore the effect of war and displacement on ordinary people.

Refugees Welcome, 1937

Today we are delighted to include a guest post by Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and keen observer of all things Bilbao. Thanks to contributors like Azkarraga and feedback from our readers, we hope to share the many stories and rich history of the Basques around the world. Eskerrik asko Iñaki!

In these times of sad wartime anniversaries, we come across some public gardens in Bilbao dedicated, precisely, to the memory of those people who reflect the best in humanity at the bloodiest of times. I am referring to Dame Elizabeth Leah Manning (1886-1977), an educationalist and sometime member of the British Parliament.

Eighty years ago, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Bilbao was being bombed and on the point of being occupied by fascist troops. The Basque government appealed for international help in evacuating the refugees accumulating in growing numbers the city. Numerous negotiations were successful and senior citizens, women, and children began to be evacuated by sea to France, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Mexico, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

Some of these states had encouraged a policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War, abandoning to fate a legitimate democratically-elected government. The British government position was paradigmatic in this regard. However, it was British public opinion, horrified at the news breaking about the bombing of civilians, which forced the government to take in Basque refugees.

This is the context in which the intrepid figure of Leah Manning emerged, a woman who stood up to both the British government and her own Labour Party–the cause of the “pro-Communist and anti-Catholic” Spanish Republic was viewed with some suspicion in many quarters in the UK–and became actively involved in the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief,  and presided over by another prominent woman, the conservative Katherine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Lady Atholl. A key factor in Leah Manning’s involvement was the fact that she had visited Gernika two days after it had been bombed in April 1937. This influenced her decision, definitively, to get involved in the evacuation of Basque children to her homeland, jointly with the Basque government’s Department for Social Assistance.

The task was by no means easy. The British government, with the exception of providing an armed escort in international waters for the humanitarian convoys leaving Bizkaia after March 1937, consistently refused to provide any public funding to help settle and support these refugees, entrusting all this to private initiatives. In order to do this, the Basque Children’s Committee was created with the aim of coordinating resources and raising funds through charity collections, donations by well-known people, and so on. Manning and others like her carried out a mammoth task. In the end, a camp was organized in Stoneham, Southampton, to receive 4,000 people. Thus, on May 20, 1937, once the corresponding official British government permission had been granted in extremis, the Habana ocean liner could set sail from the port of Santurtzi destined for the UK, with 3,861 children aboard, accompanied by medical, auxiliary, and teaching staff. This was one of the largest human convoys organized in one go at that time.

Once on land and after several days in Stoneham, the Basque children were sent off to different parts of the UK, in dozens of charitable groups and institutions that would look after them and monitor their health.

Barely a month later, on June 19, Bilbao fell into the hands of Franco’s army and from 1938 on, little by little, most of these Basque children gradually returned home. However, many also stayed on in the UK for the rest of their lives, or only returned as adults, like Raimundo Perez Lezama, who began his professional soccer career at Southampton and was later considered one of the best ever goalkeepers for Bilbao’s emblematic team, Athletic Club.

In sum, this is a story of solidarity and social mobilization during times of war.  Like today, there were refugees fleeing a conflict, but in the face of little action on the part of governments, they found a fitting response on the part of civil society and in the necessary leadership that, through people like Leah Manning, was capable of raising the humanitarian cause over any other consideration. I hope these words serve as a suitable tribute to this courageous person.

http://www.basquechildren.org/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leah_Manning

http://blogs.deia.com/historiasdelosvascos/2012/05/11/la-odisea-de-los-ninos-vascos-en-inglaterra/#more-102

https://errepublikaplaza.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/los-ninos-de-la-guerra-las-evacuaciones-infantiles-de-1937/

http://www.elcorreo.com/alava/sociedad/201705/07/ocho-dias-para-acoger-20170505173326.html

 

 

Santurtzi honors Basque refugee children on 80th anniversary of their evacuation

May 24 saw an emotional act marking the 80th anniversary (May 23) of the evacuation of more than 4,000 Basque children from the port of Santurtzi in Bizkaia as a result of the impending fall of Bilbao to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.  The act was organized by the Santurtzi City Council and Gogora: The Institute for Remembrance, Coexistence and Human Rights.

At around 1 pm the sirens of war once again symbolically sounded out in Santurtzi, as official representatives and the general public awaited the arrival of a group of people, all in their 80s and 90s and all former niños de la guerra,  aboard the Txinbito boat. As the senior citizens stepped ashore, local schoolchildren released a sea of white balloons as the public applauded.

Check out the BCA ’37 UK website, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of those children evacuated from the Basque Country.

Images courtesy of the BCA ’37 UK website.

See, too the following articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/the-reception-of-basque-refugees-in-1937-showed-britain-at-its-best-and-worst

https://theconversation.com/the-blockade-running-british-women-at-the-forefront-of-basque-evacuations-77676

May 22, 1938: The San Cristóbal Prison Break

On May 22, 1938, some 792 prisoners escaped from Fort San Cristóbal, on Mount Ezkaba, about 2.5 miles outside Pamplona-Iruñea, in what is estimated to be one of the numerically biggest prison breaks in history.  These inmates were prisoners of war who had been detained by Franco’s rebel forces during the Spanish Civil War. There were 2,487 inmates in total in 1938, most of them Republican sympathizers arrested during the war. Condition were brutal, with prisoners suffering torture, starvation, and death.

The escape was planned by around 30 inmates, who used Esperanto to communicate among each other. It started during dinner, when the guards were most dispersed, and different groups of prisoners managed to overpower them within a half hour. Thereafter, they began their escape, but, unbeknownst to them, a soldier had witnessed the events and rushed to Pamplona-Iruñea to inform the authorities there. Ultimately, it was not so difficult to capture the escapees. They were poorly dressed, malnourished, and without any specific plan beyond just breaking out of Fort San Cristóbal. Within a matter of days, of the 795 who originally escaped, 585 were captured, 207 died or were killed, and just 3 made it to the French border and safety. Of those recaptured, 14 were sentenced to death after being singled out as ringleaders.

*Image: Monument to those who escaped from Fort San Cristóbal on the southern slope of Mount Ezkaba. Photo by Jorab, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

William Smallwood Donates Testimonies of Gernika bombing to Basque Museum

US writer William L. Smallwood, aka Egurtxiki, recently donated the transcripts of more than a hundred personal testimonies he collected from eyewitnesses to the destruction of Gernika 80 years ago. His donation was made to the documentation center at the Gernika Peace Museum. Smallwood collected the testimonies in the early 1970s as part of research for his book on the bombing, The Day Guernica was Bombed: A Story Told by Witnesses and Survivors.

The 87-year-old former World War II pilot and biologist Smallwood, who was born in Iowa, studied in Idaho, and who now resides in Arizona, made the trip to the Basque Country to be part of the 80th anniversary commemorations of the event and formally hand over the testimonies he collected more than forty years ago. His work has also recently been translated into Basque.

From his book’s own description: This book is the result of a person who started learning Basque in the sheep camps of Idaho in order to research the story of the Gernika bombing. In Mountain Home (Idaho) William Smallwood was baptized “Basilio Egurtxiki” by Dr. John Bideganeta, a second-generation Basque and a distinguished citizen of the town. “Egurtxiki” is the literal translation into Basque of Smallwood and the Basilio came from the man who was more of a father than any other man in his life, Basilio Yriondo, an “amerikanua,” a Basque sheepherder in the American West. In September of 1971 Egurtxiki came to Gernika to research his book on the bombing and, after earning the trust of the people, in the spring and summer of 1972 he managed to conduct seventy-four interviews with survivors of the bombing. The following fall and winter, primarily through the efforts of Maria Angeles Basabe, the number of interviews was increased to one hundred and twenty-four. They both risked much, for a person could be arrested and tortured for mentioning the bombing. All the interviews had to be conducted in absolute secrecy.

See a report (in Basque) and photo of Egurtxiki here in Berria.

 

Documentary about Gernika bombing posted online

In line with several other events taking place this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Gernika bombing, “Gernika: The Story,” a documentary on this crucial moment in Basque and even world history is available to watch via the Basque doc channel on YouTube.

Directed by Alberto Rojo, the documentary, according to its description on YouTube, “offers the most complete account to date of the local, national and international dimensions of the events of that fateful day” by using “dramatised reconstruction and virtual imaging of some key incidents” as well as interviews with experts on the event and first-hand accounts from survivors, including Luis Iriondo, Andone Bidaguren, Pedro Baliño, Juan Miguel Bombín, Itziar Arzanegi, and Francisco García San Román.

Cecilia García de Guilarte: The First War Correspondent on the Northern Front

guilarte

Cecilia García de Guilarte (1915-1989). From ‘Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], a blog devoted to her life.

It’s a real pleasure to come across the life stories of people who don’t typically make it into the history books, as happened recently when I discovered the figure of Cecilia García de Guilarte. Born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, in 1915, she was the first journalist to cover the Northern Front after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

García de Guilarte was the oldest of four children born into a working-class family originally from Burgos. Her father worked at the paper mill in Tolosa, one of the most important companies in the town. Indeed, she also started her working life in the mill. There, influenced by her father’s labor union activities for the CNT, the confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, she took to writing for union publications. Her facility for writing led her, at age 20, to publishing articles for a Madrid weekly, Estampa, signing her name, as she would do thereafter, “Cecilia G. de Guilarte.”

With the outbreak of the war, she continued her work as a journalist, writing for the union’s official publication CNT Norte and becoming the de facto first correspondent to cover the Northern Front (Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Santander, and Asturias), between 1936 and 1937. During this time she secured exclusive stories, such as her interview of the German pilot Karl Gustav Schmidt, who had crashed after the aerial bombardment of Bilbao by Nazi planes in the service of Franco in January 1937. At the same time she met and married Amós Ruiz Girón, the former chief of municipal police in Eibar, Gipuzkoa, who was at the time in the Cuerpo Disciplinario de Euzkadi, a policing force created by the Basque government during the war.

Following the fall of the Northern Front to Franco’s rebel forces, García de Guilarte escaped to Catalonia, from which fled fled to France in 1939 after it, too, fell. While in exile in France she wrote briefly for the newspaper Sud-Ouest before crossing the Atlantic to escape World War II and settling in Mexico with her husband. There she embarked on a productive career in journalism, writing for several journals and newspapers, including many connected to the community of Basque exiles. She was also editor of El Hogar and Mujer. She combined all this with a similarly active political life as a member of the Izquierda Republicana de Euskadi, and she also taught classes in art and theater history at the University of Sonora. As well as all this, she also published voraciously: novels, essays, biographies, and plays.

She was able to return to Tolosa in 1964, although she would have to wait over another decade, and the death of Franco in 1975, before he husband could rejoin her in the Basque Country. Back home, she became the theater critic for the Voz de España, a newspaper published in Donostia-San Sebastián, until it closed in 1979. She died in 1989, having taken an active part in the social and cultural life of Donostia both before and after Franco’s death.

Sources

See the bilingual Spanish/English blog Un barco cargado de…’ [A Boat Laden With…], which covers all aspects of her life and includes numerous photos and interviews: https://unbarcocargadode.wordpress.com/

See, too, an excellent blog post about her life at the following site: http://monografiashistoricasdeportugalete.blogspot.com.es/2014/02/celia-g-gilarte-periodista-de-guerra.html

Further Reading

War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott. This multi-authored work traces the impact of both the Spanish Civil war and World War II on people’s everyday lives, with a special focus on (but not limited to) the Basque Country. This work is available free to download here.  

Expelled from the Motherland, by Xabier Irujo. This is a book that, while taking as its central subject matter the life and work of the exiled Basque president or lehendakari, Jose Antonio Agirre, also explores the stories of many other Basque exiles in Latin America and beyond.

New online archive launched to preserve memory of Civil War in Bizkaia

On Friday, January 27, in tandem with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day on which we remember genocide in all its forms, the cultural association Durango 1936 Kultur Elkartea launched its new website to preserve the memory of the Spanish Civil War–and especially its effects on individual people–in the Durango district of Bizkaia: the area made up of Durango itself together with the towns of Abadiño, Amorebieta-Etxano (Zornotza), Atxondo, Berriz, Elorrio, Garai, Iurreta, Izurtza, Mañaria, Otxandio, and Zaldibar. As we have mentioned in previous posts (see here and here), this area was a particularly important target for Franco’s rebel forces (with the material support of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy) and witnessed civilian bombing on what was, to that time in European history, an unprecedented scale. It is the effects of this civilian bombing–death, injury, persecution, and exile–as well as the repression that followed that the association seeks to portray in the content of its new website.

As well as including a fascinating inventory of both primary documents and photographs, the website is also interesting for its inclusion of video interviews (in Basque and Spanish) with people who were directly affected by the war–first-hand witnesses themselves or the relatives of people who suffered during the conflict–and as such serves as an important database for preserving the memory of the civil war in this part of Bizkaia. These interviews can be accessed in four different ways: by the name of the person being interviewed, by the particular event with which the interview is concerned, by the name of the town from which the person being interviewed comes from, or by the name of a particular victim of the war. The video interviews can be accessed directly here and the list of people mentioned can be found here. Check out the sample interviews with Maite Andueza Zabaleta (Durango) and Joseba Angulo Tontorregi (Abadiño) below.

The site is still be developed but you can check it out here.  If you have a story to share about someone from the area and their experiences during the civil war, please do not hesitate to contact the association either via its contact form here, or via email at durango1936@durango1936.org.

Gernika, 1937: The Market Day Massacre, by Xabier Irujo, looks at the case of the bombing of Gernika, but many of the book’s findings are equally applicable to the impact of the civil war on the Durango area of Bizkaia as well.

Check out, too, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, which takes a broader look at the impact of war, particularly on noncombatants. It should be remembered that Basques were among the refugee peoples of Europe in the aftermath of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II and many Basques lived in exile and as refugees for many years following this, including our own professor Xabier Irujo. This book is available free to download here.

 

 

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