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Authors: Paul Preston

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Finally, there is the fact that a substantial number of deaths were not registered in any way. This was the case with many of those who fled before Franco’s African columns as they headed from Seville to Madrid. As each town or village was occupied, among those killed were refugees from elsewhere. Since they carried no papers, their names or places of origin were unknown. It may never be possible to calculate the exact numbers murdered in the open fields by squads of mounted Falangists and extreme right-wing monarchists of the so-called Carlist movement. It is equally impossible to ascertain the fate of the thousands of refugees from Western Andalusia who died in the exodus after the fall of Málaga in 1937 or of those from all over Spain who had taken refuge in Barcelona only to die in the flight to the French border in 1939 or of those who committed suicide after waiting in vain for evacuation from the Mediterranean ports.

Nevertheless, the huge amount of research that has been carried out makes it possible to state that, broadly speaking, the repression by the
rebels was about three times greater than that which took place in the Republican zone. The currently most reliable, yet still tentative, figure for deaths at the hands of the military rebels and their supporters is 130,199. However, it is unlikely that such deaths were fewer than 150,000 and they could well be more. Some areas have been studied only partially; others hardly at all. In several areas, which spent time in both zones, and for which the figures are known with some precision, the differences between the numbers of deaths at the hands of Republicans and at the hands of rebels are shocking. To give some examples, in Badajoz, there were 1,437 victims of the left as against 8,914 victims of the rebels; in Seville, 447 victims of the left, 12,507 victims of the rebels; in Cádiz, 97 victims of the left, 3,071 victims of the rebels; and in Huelva, 101 victims of the left, 6,019 victims of the rebels. In places where there was no Republican violence, the figures for rebel killings are almost incredible, for example Navarre, 3,280, La Rioja, 1,977. In most places where the Republican repression was the greater, like Alicante, Girona or Teruel, the differences are in the hundreds.
The exception is Madrid. The killings throughout the war when the capital was under Republican control seem to have been nearer three times those carried out after the rebel occupation. However, precise calculation is rendered difficult by the fact that the most frequently quoted figure for the post-war repression in Madrid, of 2,663 deaths, is based on a study of those executed and buried in only one cemetery, the Almudena or Cementerio del Este.

Although exceeded by the violence exercised by the Francoists, the repression in the Republican zone before it was stopped by the Popular Front government was nonetheless horrifying. Its scale and nature necessarily varied, with the highest figures being recorded for the largely Socialist south of Toledo and the anarchist-dominated area from the south of Zaragoza, through Teruel into western Tarragona.
In Toledo, 3,152 rightists were killed, of whom 10 per cent were members of the clergy (nearly half of the province’s clergy).
In Cuenca, the total deaths were 516 (of whom thirty-six, or 7 per cent of the total killed, were priests – nearly a quarter of the province’s clergy).
The figure for deaths in Republican Catalonia, according to the exhaustive study by Josep Maria Solé i Sabaté and Joan Vilarroyo i Font, was 8,360. This figure corresponds closely to the conclusions reached by a commission created by the Generalitat de Catalunya (the Catalan regional government) in 1937. Part of the efforts of the Republican authorities to register deaths, it was led by a judge, Bertran de Quintana, and investigated all deaths behind the lines in order to instigate measures against those responsible
for extra-judicial executions.
Such a procedure would have been inconceivable in the rebel zone.

Recent scholarship, not only for Catalonia but also for most of Republican Spain, has dramatically dismantled the propagandistic allegations made by the rebels at the time. On 18 July 1938 in Burgos, Franco himself claimed that 54,000 people had been killed in Catalonia. In the same speech, he alleged that 70,000 had been murdered in Madrid and 20,000 in Valencia. On the same day, he told a reporter there had already been a total of 470,000 murders in the Republican zone.
To prove the scale of Republican iniquity to the world, on 26 April 1940 he set up a massive state investigation, the Causa General, ‘to gather trustworthy information’ to ascertain the true scale of the crimes committed in the Republican zone. Denunciation and exaggeration were encouraged. Thus it came as a desperate disappointment to Franco when, on the basis of the information gathered, the Causa General concluded that the number of deaths was 85,940. Although inflated and including many duplications, this figure was still so far below Franco’s claims that, for over a quarter of a century, it was omitted from editions of the published résumé of the Causa General’s findings.

A central, yet under-estimated, part of the repression carried out by the rebels – the systematic persecution of women – is not susceptible to statistical analysis. Murder, torture and rape were generalized punishments for the gender liberation embraced by many, but not all, liberal and left-wing women during the Republican period. Those who came out of prison alive suffered deep lifelong physical and psychological problems. Thousands of others were subjected to rape and other sexual abuses, the humiliation of head shaving and public soiling after the forced ingestion of castor oil. For most Republican women, there were also the terrible economic and psychological problems of having their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons murdered or forced to flee, which often saw the wives themselves arrested in efforts to get them to reveal the whereabouts of their menfolk. In contrast, despite frequent assumptions that the raping of nuns was common in Republican Spain, there was relatively little equivalent abuse of women there. That is not to say that it did not take place. The sexual molestation of around one dozen nuns and the deaths of 296, just over 1.3 per cent of the female clergy, is shocking but of a notably lower order of magnitude than the fate of women in the rebel zone.
That is not entirely surprising given that respect for women was built into the Republic’s reforming programme.

The statistical vision of the Spanish holocaust is not only flawed, incomplete and unlikely ever to be complete. It also fails to capture the intense horror that lies behind the numbers. The account that follows includes many stories of individuals, of men, women and children from both sides. It introduces some specific but representative cases of victims and perpetrators from all over the country. It is hoped thereby to convey the suffering unleashed upon their own fellow citizens by the arrogance and brutality of the officers who rose up on 17 July 1936. They provoked a war that was unnecessary and whose consequences still reverberate bitterly in Spain today.


The Origins of Hatred and Violence

Social War Begins, 1931–1933

On 18 July 1936, on hearing of the military uprising in Morocco, an aristocratic landowner lined up the labourers on his estate to the south-west of Salamanca and shot six of them as a lesson to the others. The Conde de Alba de Yeltes, Gonzalo de Aguilera y Munro, a retired cavalry officer, joined the press service of the rebel forces during the Civil War and boasted of his crime to foreign visitors.
Although his alleged atrocity was extreme, the sentiments behind it were not unrepresentative of the hatreds that had smouldered in the Spanish countryside over the twenty years before the military uprising of 1936. Aguilera’s cold and calculated violence reflected the belief, common among the rural upper classes, that the landless labourers were sub-human. This attitude had become common among the big landowners since a series of sporadic uprisings by hungry day-labourers in the regions of Spain dominated by huge estates (
). Taking place between 1918 and 1921, a period of bitter social conflict known thereafter as the
trienio bolchevique
(three Bolshevik years), these insurrections had been crushed by the traditional defenders of the rural oligarchy, the Civil Guard and the army. Previously, there had been an uneasy truce within which the wretched lives of the landless day-labourers (
) were occasionally relieved by the patronizing gestures of the owners – the gift of food or a blind eye turned to rabbit poaching or to the gathering of windfall crops. The violence of the conflicts had outraged the landlords, who would never forgive the insubordination of the
they considered to be an inferior species. Accordingly, the paternalism which had somewhat mitigated the daily brutality of the day-labourers’ lives came to an abrupt end.

The agrarian oligarchy, in an unequal partnership with the industrial and financial bourgeoisie, was traditionally the dominant force in Spanish capitalism. Its monopoly of power began to be challenged on two sides in the course of the painful and uneven process of industrialization. The prosperity enjoyed by neutral Spain during the First World
War emboldened industrialists and bankers to jostle with the great landowners for political position. However, with both menaced by a militant industrial proletariat, they soon rebuilt a defensive alliance. In August 1917, the left’s feeble revolutionary threat was bloodily smothered by the army. Thereafter, until 1923, when the army intervened again, social ferment occasionally bordered on undeclared civil war. In the south, there were the rural uprisings of the ‘three Bolshevik years’. In the north, the industrialists of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Asturias, having tried to ride the immediate post-war recession with wage-cuts and layoffs, faced violent strikes and, in Barcelona, a terrorist spiral of provocations and reprisals.

In the consequent atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety, there was a ready middle-class audience for the notion long since disseminated by extreme right-wing Catholics that a secret alliance of Jews, Freemasons and the Communist Third International was conspiring to destroy Christian Europe, with Spain as a principal target. In Catholic Spain, the idea that there was an evil Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity had emerged in the early Middle Ages. In the nineteenth century, the Spanish extreme right resurrected it to discredit the liberals whom they viewed as responsible for social changes that were damaging their interests. In this paranoid fantasy, Freemasons were smeared as tools of the Jews (of whom there were virtually none) in a sinister plot to establish Jewish tyranny over the Christian world.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, such views were expressed with ever increasing vehemence. They were a response to the kaleidoscopic processes of rapid economic growth, social dislocation, regionalist agitations, a bourgeois reform movement and the emergence of trade unions and left-wing parties. An explanation for the destabilization of Spanish society and the attendant collapse of the relative certainties of a predominantly rural society was found in a deeply alarming, yet somehow comforting, assertion that shifted the blame on to an identifiable and foreign enemy. It was alleged that, using Freemasons as their willing intermediaries, the Jews controlled the economy, politics, the press, literature and the entertainment world through which they propagated immorality and the brutalization of the masses. Such views had long been peddled by
El Siglo Futuro
, the daily newspaper of the deeply reactionary Carlist Traditionalist Communion. In 1912, the National Anti-Masonic and Anti-Semitic League had been founded by José Ignacio de Urbina with the support of twenty-two Spanish bishops. The Bishop of Almería wrote that ‘everything is ready for the decisive battle that must
be unleashed between the children of light and the children of darkness, between Catholicism and Judaism, between Christ and the Devil’.
That there was never any hard evidence was put down to the cleverness and colossal power of the enemy, evil itself.

In Spain, as in other European countries, anti-Semitism had reached even greater intensity after 1917. It was taken as axiomatic that socialism was a Jewish creation and that the Russian revolution had been financed by Jewish capital, an idea given a spurious credibility by the Jewish origins of prominent Bolsheviks such as Trotsky, Martov and Dan. Spain’s middle and upper classes were chilled, and outraged, by the various revolutionary upheavals that threatened them between 1917 and 1923. The fears of the elite were somewhat calmed in September 1923, when the army intervened again and a dictatorship was established by General Miguel Primo de Rivera. As Captain General of Barcelona, Primo de Rivera was the ally of Catalan textile barons and understood their sense of being under threat from their anarchist workforce. Moreover, coming from a substantial landowning family in Jérez, he also appreciated the fears of the big southern landowners or
. He was thus the ideal praetorian defender of the reactionary coalition of industrialists and landowners consolidated after 1917. While Primo de Rivera remained in power, he offered security to the middle and upper classes. Nevertheless, his ideologues worked hard to build the notion that in Spain two bitterly hostile social, political and, indeed, moral groupings were locked in a fight to the death. Specifically, in a pre-echo of the function that they would also fulfil for Franco, these propagandists stressed the dangers faced from Jews, Freemasons and leftists.

BOOK: The Spanish Holocaust
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