25 April 2010

Guernica

I have just finished reading Guernica - a historical novel by David Boling, set in the Basque town of Gernika (Guernica in Spanish). It is a fascinating first novel by Boling that encapsulates the horror and sadness of war. The interesting thread for me was the inclusion of the artist Pablo Picasso.

The Picasso painting – which is on display at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid – shown below is the artists’ impression of the bombing of the town. After reading the violent account of the bombing and taking a closer inspection of the painting, the horror is plain to see.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Below is an excerpt from the Times, which – according to the book - Picasso is said to have read and which inspired him to paint Guernica, published in The Times on April 28th 1937:

The Tragedy of Guernica
Town Destroyed in Air Attack
Eye-Witness Account
Bilbao, April 27th 1937

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers and Heinkel fighters, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000lb. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machine-gun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields.

The whole of Gernika was soon in flames except the historic Casa de Juntas with its rich archives of the Basque race, where the ancient Basque Parliament used to sit. The famous oak of Guernica, the dried old stump of 600 years and the young new shoots of this century, was also untouched. Here the kings of Spain used to take the oath to respect the democratic rights (fueros) of Vizcaya and in return received a promise of allegiance as suzerains with the democratic title of Señor, not Rey Vizcaya. The noble parish church of Santa María was also undamaged except for the beautiful chapter house, which was struck by an incendiary bomb.

At 2 am today, when I visited the town, the whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end. The reflection of the flames could be seen in the clouds of smoke above the mountains from 10 miles away. Throughout the night houses were falling until the streets became long heaps of red impenetrable débris. Many of the civilian survivors took the long trek from Guernica to Bilbao in antique solid-wheeled Basque farmcarts drawn by oxen. Carts piled high with such household possessions as could be saved from the conflagration clogged the roads all night. Other survivors were evacuated in Government lorries, but many were forced to remain round the burning town lying on mattresses or looking for lost relatives and children, while units of the fire brigades and the Basque motorized police under the personal direction of the Minister of the Interior, Señor Monzón, and his wife continued rescue work till dawn.

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