The man with the guitar is Basque poet and songwriter, José María Iparraguirre (1820 -1881)
Guernica is a place we did know something about. We knew of its horror … but not all of it.
It was grey the day we were there, as grey as Picasso’s painting that we’d seen in Madrid almost two decades earlier. His painting had been a response to this town’s devastation by aerial bombardment – the first town in history to suffer such a fate. The attack took place on April 26, 1937.
It was a Monday afternoon, when the aeroplanes came over. They belonged to Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, and were flying in support of their Spanish ally, Franco, who wished to destroy Basque resistance to his rule. The bombers’ mission was to obliterate the infrastructure of the town, and anything that moved.
Hitler was keen to see how well they did, and whether he might use similar tactics against other nations. He liked what he saw, and he did go on to assault others.
Author Mark Kurlansky describes that day, and its context, in his book The Basque History of the World. The details are shocking. It is almost impossible to believe that human beings could order, or carry out, such an attack. But they did. It lasted three hours, and included incendiary bombs, and bullets fired from above to kill anyone trying to escape.
The day we visited there were displays in the main square featuring photographs of the damage caused in 1937. It felt surreal to see the billboard reminders at the heart of what seemed to be a large and prosperous town.
The streets were busy, and some of the pintxos (bar snacks) in the cafes were the most creative and tempting we’d seen. We could not resist. We found an outside table, and had our lunch, surrounded by the to and fro – the business of being alive.
Here is a short clip, including English journalist George Steer’s account of the bombing of Guernica. He arrived in the town the day after the attack
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023