Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Franco's Holocaust

Francoism is today often apologized for. This has been particularly true in the United States – Eisenhower made agreements with Franco for military bases like Rota and the corporate press and gradually academia fell into line (see here). And there has been no accounting in Spain, no Truth and Reconciliation Commission as in South Africa. When Judge Balthasar Garzon heroically moved to investigate the stealing of some 30,000 babies from their families (“leftists”), he was removed from the Court and subjected to trial himself by the machinations of a corrupt proseuctor – Zaragoza – acting, in this respect, as an agent of the fascists, and, sadly, the Obama administration.*

In Spain, however, there is an increasing movement to recall in memory all of those murdered and kidnapped who have been denied. In January, 2011 in Barcelona, I wrote several posts on this issue, focusing on recent revelations in El Pais and the contrast of George Orwell, fighting on the Republican side and for decency and Carl Schmitt, ornamenting Franco’s Spain in analogy to Nazism. See here, here and here.

There is in Spain, just as in Nazism, stealing of children from their families and resettling them in “better” households (there is the sad contribution of the “psychiatrist” and military officer Antonio Vallejo-Nagera who thought “reds” psychically inferior and so “medically” advised and coordinated kidnapping their children – see here and here). But there is also an enormous murderousness finally told of in Preston’s Spanish Holocaust. Adam Hochschild’s review underlines the depravedly anti-modern character of Franco’s murders – they cut off the ears of their victims and paraded around with them on their guns as souvenirs, shot and buried large numbers of people and danced in their blood, sang of how fascists are in love with death (of others), murdered pregnant women from maternity homes, branded women’s breasts with fascist symbols…

There is something particularly odious about their ostensible manliness. The movies of Luis Bunuel, particularly Viridiana, capture the twisted, sadistic character – bent to the Church – of Spanish fascism. This is an extension of the cruelties of the Inquisition, of the genocide of indigenous peoples in the New World, an avatar of Espana negra, the “dark Spain.”

One might want to contrast some aspects of Italian fascism – its modernism and futurism, though of course Dali had this a bit in Spain - and the mechanized murders of Nazism. Describing a mass murderer in Berlin who sold the flesh of his victims on the black market as fancy potted meat in the early 1920a, Bertolt Brecht suggested presciently “He exhibited German industriousness, diligence, frugality. They should have given him a Ph.D.” Here, Brecht sensed the spirit of the SS.

As Picasso’s "Guernica" suggests in depicting the bombs, Franco depended on Nazi aid for his success. Since Spain was not overthrown in World War II and Franco ruled on for forty years, the imprints of Francoism in today’s democratic Spain are still very considerable. And in America, one is inclined to say (I did before spending time in Spain) that Franco was perhaps less murderous, less odious, than Mussolini or at least Hitler (Franco, like Mussolini, also lacked the anti-Jewish fixation).

Really, really, one might suppose knowing little, fascism, though murderous, cannot have been so bad, Nazism the exception. But one should be careful about such intuitions, particularly in an America where similar forces recently have exerted a terrible influence in eviscerating the rule of law and the Constitution, in making torture and surveillance normal, in denying science, and the like. Many believe that no new such thing can come to pass in America. But with the destruction of the American middle class and enormous militarism happening before our eyes, one might want to be careful about such judgments. The victory of Obama seemed to point a new direction. But with “Republican” unity against all decent measures, the rule of law, let alone decency** is hard to come by. Regimes which go bad can go very very bad.

As Preston’s book shows, underestimating the murderousness of American allies like Franco is also a terrible mistake.

Both Hochschild's review and Preston's book capture an important feature of the modern/antimodern character of the Spanish (and fascist) holocaust. In contrast, the most striking feature of Gandhi’s and King’s nonviolence is the recognition that opponents who do evil must be stopped by mass militant noncooperation but not killed. They recognize that oppressors, too, have souls and that being on the seemingly decent side can be thrown away by murderousness. But what is common in fascisms is the denial of the humanity of “subhuman” enemies – interestingly, Hochschild notes, the poor in Spain were deemed another race by the aristocrats and the Church who sneered at agricultural unionists as “Rif tribesmen” from Morocco and exhibited sheer murderousenss in dealing with them. Once again, only Bunuel perhaps gets the true spirit – the sadism, perversion, torture, murderousness and oddly, helplssness (a decadent elite did nothing well except murder) of Spanish fascism.

If one takes union leaders, militants and Communists in Germany, the idea that they were all Jewish is similar (in a medieval vein combined with modernity, that is, IQ testing – that pseudo-science is an instrument of racism, tracking every discrimination in public schools as “natural”; intelligence is, operationally and emptily speaking, “what IQ tests test”; the tests are actually designed, however, to predict who will do well in class stratified schools*** and Heidegger’s philosophy. See here, here, here, here and here.

No healing will occur for the victims and their families or in Spain as a whole until some genuine account of these matters occurs. Paul Preston’s book (and Hochschild’s review) are a step in this direction.

As the Spanish Holocaust reveals, the fascists and their descendants must work hard to cover up their crimes – it is now 37 years since the death of Franco. Preston also makes the point that republicans were frequently barbarous (the setting in war with Franco helps to explain the crazed slanders and murders by Communists of anarchists, for instance, what is described by Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, though of course it does not even slightly excuse them). But as Hochschild also underlines, this conduct on the Republican side is atypical, is sometimes stood up against by individuals and newspapers, and is not something ordered from above.

Preston offers the story of Father Fernando Huidobro Polanco, a decent priest who stands up against Franco’s murderousness and is murdered for it. The Catholic Church thought about sanctifying Huidobro – he was an enthusiastic fascist who, nonetheless, protested murder - but did not because he was slaughtered not by republicans, but by fascists for calling them to account.

When I returned to Spain to teach in Cordoba in 2003, I was briefly sympathetic to the Pope who had opposed Bush’s aggression in Iraq. But one day, I read a column about his sainting those who fought for the fascists in Spain and realized the error of the sympathy. I later took students to the Valle de los Caidos, Franco’s tomb, surrounded by some 3,000 graves of fascists with a few republicans thrown in at the last minute to get the new democracy to keep it open.

There is a functioning Catholic church there with a small reliquary which contains a beautiful silver dagger sent by that fine “Catholic” Mussolini to that other fine "Catholic" Francisco Franco. It says a great deal about the Catholic Church that it failed to sanctify father Huidobro because of its pro-fascism.

There are myriad saintly Catholics, Dorothy Day, and the liberation priests who work with ordinary people, and the three nuns Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson who shed their blood on a missile silo in Colorado (at one of the 49 missile sites in Colorado where anti-Iraq war people went – as the signs read, “WMDs: Colorado 49, Iraq 0” as the signs read). They waited 45 minutes for Homeland ”Security” to arrive. A district attorney succeeded in getting them sentenced to four years (showing, once again, that the response of the state authorities in the United States, to those who value humanity and seek to preserve it is evil).

Today the Church protects priests who abused children. It bridles nuns who seek to defend medical care for the poor (and hence, Obamacare). And it defends and sanctifies fascists, and does not honor even a priest who gave his life to prevent such murders.

Such things need to be unearthed and spoken about, as Preston’s book does – it is the vocation of historians. Those responsible, including the Church, need to seek Truth and Reconciliation as in South Africa (Bishop Tutu’s No Future without Forgiveness underlines the possibility of healing). The Spanish Holocaust shows how heavy, even if only along a few of several dimensions (consider crimes toward indigenous people by the dark Spain) the shadow of evil extends into “Western” institutions…

Process of Extermination
‘The Spanish Holocaust,’ by Paul Preston

[the program does not reproduce photographs]
Photograph courtesy of ICAS-SAHP, Fototeca Municipal de Sevilla, Fondo Serrano
Miners captured by General Franco's forces in 1936, before their execution in Seville.

Published: May 11, 2012

In “Homage to Catalonia,” his memoir of the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell remarks that Francisco Franco’s military uprising against Spain’s elected government “was an attempt not so much to impose fascism as to restore feudalism.” Paul Preston’s magisterial account of the bloodshed of that era bears this out. Fascism may belong to the 20th century, but Franco’s grab for power evokes earlier times: the parading soldiers who flourished enemy ears and noses on their bayonets, the mass public executions carried out in bullrings or with band music and onlookers dancing in the victims’ blood. One of Franco’s top aides talked of democratically chosen politicians as “cloven-hoofed beasts,” and anything that smacked of modernity — Rotary Clubs, Montessori schools — seemed to draw the regime’s violent wrath. Echoing the Inquisition, Franco ordered particularly despised foes put to death with the garrote, in which the executioner tightens an iron collar around a person’s neck.

There’s also something medieval in the fierce class divisions of 1930s Spain, with its great latifundistas, whose estates were worked by landless peasants so hungry they stole acorns from pigs’ troughs. Preston describes the “near racist” loathing Franco’s officials had for the lower classes; one contemptuously referred to unionized farmworkers as being like “Rif tribesmen.” Indeed, Franco’s leading commanders were mostly, like him, Africanistas, veterans of Spain’s bloody colonial wars in North Africa. As a young man, the generalissimo himself led troops on a raid that brought back the severed heads of 12 Moroccan tribesmen.

With Hitler and Mussolini supplying arms to Franco, and the Soviet Union to the embattled Spanish Republic, the death toll of the 1936-39 war was enormous. Some 200,000 soldiers died in battle, and a further large but unknown number of civilians were killed by Franco’s bombing of Spanish cities and of vast columns of refugees in flight. But Preston’s subject is something else: the approximately 200,000 men and women deliberately executed during the war, the 20,000 supporters of the Republic shot after it ended, and the additional tens of thousands of civilians and refugees who died in concentration camps and prisons.

An eminent and prolific British historian of modern Spain, Preston says this was “an extremely painful book to write.” It is also, unlike several of his other works, a difficult book to read. The newcomer to Spanish history will nowhere learn the difference between the Assault Guard and the Civil Guard, or between a Carlist and an integrist. Chapters roll on for 40 or 50 pages without a break. A blizzard of names of thousands of perpetrators and the towns where they carried out their tortures and killings overwhelms the reader. “The Spanish Holocaust” is not really a narrative but a comprehensive prosecutor’s brief. With its immense documentation — 120 pages of endnotes to both published and unpublished material in at least five languages, including corrections of errors in these sources — it is bound to be an essential reference for anything written on the subject for years to come.

In quashing democracy and timid agricultural reform, and in restoring the traditional hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the army, big landowners and an authoritarian state, the Spanish version of fascism was very much a fundamentalist movement. And like so many political and religious fundamentalisms, it had a particular ferocity toward women. Franco’s troops practiced gang rape to frighten newly captured towns into submission, and until media-savvy superiors silenced them, his officers even boasted about this to American and British correspondents. Tens of thousands of women had their heads shaved and were force-fed castor oil (a powerful laxative), then jeered as they were paraded through the streets soiling themselves. Many had their breasts branded with the Falangist symbol of yoke and arrows. In Toledo, a United Press correspondent reported, Franco’s soldiers shot more than 20 pregnant women from a maternity hospital. Much larger all-female groups were executed elsewhere. Troops marched through one town waving rifles adorned with the underwear of women they had raped and murdered. “It is necessary to spread terror,” one of Franco’s senior generals declared. “We have to create the impression of mastery, eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do.”

Although Preston’s sympathies are clearly with the doomed Republic, to his credit he is equally thorough in exposing the killings committed under that government. Many supporters of the Republic had their own version of class hatred, murdering large numbers of captured army officers, other right-wingers and, most notoriously, nearly 7,000 members of the Catholic clergy and religious orders, who were seen as accomplices of the reactionary landowners. Among hundreds of other atrocities on the Republican side, Preston details the evasions of the longtime Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo regarding his involvement in the massacre of more than 2,200 rightist prisoners in Madrid; the operations of some Soviet “advisers” who, supposedly on hand to aid the Republican Army, devoted themselves to hunting down anti-Stalinists on the Spanish left; and the harshly sadistic prisons operated by the Republic’s military intelligence service. Of the 200,000 estimated civilian wartime executions, more than 49,000 took place in Republican territory — a much smaller toll than that taken by the fascists, but still enormous.

There were crucial differences, however. Most, though by no means all, Republican killings were by mob violence, not deliberate policy, in the first six months of the war, as popular outrage welled up after air raids and news of fascist atrocities. But — sometimes effectively, sometimes not, and often at great personal risk — certain Republican officials managed to restrain and sometimes even prosecute killers of civilians. Unlike the tightly controlled press in Franco’s territory, some newspapers condemned the killings. And the Republican government saved many lives by evacuating from the country more than 10,000 businessmen, priests and other right-wingers thought to be at particular risk. Nothing similar happened on the Falangist side.

Franco’s rule became less murderous in later times, but in the early years he ranks morally with Hitler and Stalin. In such a regime, I always wonder, were there any decent people who tried to stop the slaughter? Yes, it turns out. Preston gives one brief but haunting example. Father Fernando Huidobro Polanco was a 34-year-old Jesuit who enthusiastically volunteered as a chaplain for Franco’s troops. But he was dismayed to see them routinely shooting all their prisoners. He sent protests to high-level army officers and finally wrote to Franco himself that “many are dying who do not deserve such a fate and who could mend their ways.” To Franco’s adjutant, he protested in despair that “we are falling back into barbarism. . . . I do not want the new regime to be born with blood on its hands.” He was wounded but then returned to the front, ever more vocal. In 1937, he was killed in battle, supposedly by shrapnel from one of the Republic’s Soviet artillery shells. Ten years later the Jesuits began the lengthy process to have him canonized as a saint. But in the course of the investigation, it came out that he’d been shot in the back by a soldier from his own unit, “tired perhaps of the preaching of his chaplain,” Preston writes. “When it was discovered that Huidobro had been killed by the Francoists and not by the Reds, the Vatican shelved his case.”

Adam Hochschild is the author, most recently, of “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.” He is writing a book about Americans in the Spanish Civil War.

Here is a poem of mine about the period and its heritage:


city in the mountains

summerpalace cool with waters

caliphs employ catolicos and judios

ciudad fascista

lost paradise

Columbus from the Alhambra




Lorca its song



murdered its poet

*Bush and then Obama worked to suppress any investigation or legal proceeding in the murder by American troops of Jose Couso, a Spanish photographer, at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003.

**I except Ron Paul who often stands up for civil liberties and against militarism though he is, sadly, an unreconstructed Scrooge on the economy and a “loyalist” of an imperial, authoritarian party.

***In a traditional Jewish community, intelligence has a correlation of 1 with being male, of 0, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl” notwithstanding, with being female

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