Monday, 30 April 2007

Destruction: Basque Guernica town

Now this is just going to be a note about the Nazi Condor Legion's destruction of the Basque town of Guernica, around the date of the 70th anniversary of their bombing on the 26th of April 1937.

As war reporter George L. Steer recorded,
The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race.
While I was digging in Cyprus, I had a conversation with one of the other archaeologists about the destruction of cultural heritage and, at one point mishearing me saying "mosque" as "Basque", he started talking about the bombing of the Basque tree of life (whereupon I misheard his "Basque" as "mosque"). Looking around after I got back home, I think he must have been talking about the oak tree in Guernica that was a source and embodiment of nationalist pride and a site for its promotion.

In the Los Angeles Times, Mark Kurlansky wrote that,
Three hours later [after the church bell air raid siren], the planes were gone, the historic town had been reduced to burning rubble and the Basque government estimated that 1,645 civilians were dead out of a population of 7,000. It's hard to know just how accurate that number is. The only ones who had a chance to accurately count the dead were the rebel troops of Francisco Franco - on whose behalf the German and Italian planes had swept in in the first place. They at first denied that the attack had taken place; later, they admitted to only 200 deaths. The records of what they actually found have never been released. But given the intensity of the attack, reports of survivors and the number of missing relatives, the Basque government figure has been recognized as at least being closer to the truth.
In the der Spiegel article "practicing Blitzkrieg in Basque Country", Jörg Diehl presented the death toll differently:
The number of victims can only be guessed at. The Basque government said that 1,654 residents had been killed with a further 889 injured. Later investigations assume a much lower total -- 200 to 300 victims.
On the BBC, Danny Wood followed the academics and came down on the side of the lower figure for the civilian death toll:
The figures for the number of casualties in the bombing are still disputed, but most historians think between 200 and 250 people were killed and many hundreds wounded.
Jörg Diehl detailed that:
Almost three-quarters of the city's buildings were destroyed and the center was almost completely wiped out. "When I entered Guernica after midnight," [George L.] Steer wrote in his report, "houses were crashing on either side, and it was utterly impossible even for firemen to enter the center of the town. The hospitals of Josefinas and Convento de Santa Clara were glowing heaps of embers, all the churches except that of Santa Maria were destroyed, and the few houses which still stood were doomed."
The BBC article is the only one I've seen so far that actually mentioned the Gernika Peace Museum and its Foundation, which does work on history, memory, peace, the culture of peace and reconciliation. Danny Wood relayed that:
Iratxe Astorkia, director of Guernica's Peace Museum, says the permanent exhibition of the museum aims to make the visitor reflect on three things: the nature of peace, what happened in Guernica 70 years ago and what happens nowadays with peace in the world.
In 1937, the nationalists, fascists and Nazis used the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica as an experiment and an education in massacre and urbicide. In 2007, the museum provides us with the opportunity to use the destruction in education for a culture of peace; it's the least we can do to honour the victims.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. The Basque news channel made a magnific infographic about the bombing of Gernika: