The Tragedy of Gernika (de George Steer; aparegut al Times el 28 d’abril)

Quan ja fa més d’una dècada que els ulls de l’homo videns estan acostumats a veure bombardejos de països exòtics i llunyans en directe, en pantalles fosques on de sobte apareixen esclats verdosos a la televisió, és un exercici d’imaginació històrica imaginar com es va assabentar Picasso dels detalls dels fets de Gernika. Ho va fer, per exemple, gràcies a les informacions del periodista George Steer, que van publicar el Times britànic, el New York Times nord-americà i, més tard, l’Humanité: en aquest diari lligat al Partit Comunista francès va llegir el pintor la crònica de Steer, segons explica la revista History Today. En aquesta revista i a Euskal Telebista, per cert, també expliquen els esforços dels gabinets de premsa franquistes i les agències de l’Alemanya nazi per contradir les informacions de Steer, i el sotrac que va suposar que un diari alineat en la política d’appeasement com el Times publiqués una crònica tan descarnada de la barbàrie feixista. L’he recuperada de l’arxiu d’aquest rotatiu històric, i la reprodueixo aquí. No us perdeu el cinquè paràgraf: un periodista està explicant al món un fet “unparalelled in military history”: el bombardeig indiscriminat de la població civil. ” The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race”, diu Steer. Història del periodisme. I de la seva utilitat.

From Our Special Correspondent BILBAO, Apt. 27

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 1,0001lb. 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 Guernica 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 Maria was also undamaged except for the beautiful chapter house, which was struck by an incendiary bomb.

At 2 a.m. 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 debris.

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, wihile units of the fire brigades and the Basque motorized police under the personal direction of the Minister of the Interior, Seflor Monzon, and hi’s wife continued rescue work till dawn.

CHURCH BELL ALARM

In the form of its execution and the scale of the destruction it wrought, no less than in the selection of its objective, the raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective. A factory producing war material lay outside the town and was untouched. So were two barracks some distance from the town. The town lay far behind the lines. The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race. Every fact bears out this appreciation, beginning with the day when the deed was done.

Monday was the customary market day in Guernica for the country round. At 4.30 p.m., when the market was full and peasants were still coming in, the church bell rang the alarm for approaching aeroplanes, and the population sought refuge in cellars and in the dugouts prepared following the bombing of the civilian population of Durango on March 31, which opened General Mola’s offensive in the north. The people are said to have shown a good spirit. A Catholic priest took charge and perfect order was maintained.

Five minutes later a single German bomber appeared, circled over the town at a low altitude, and then dropped six heavy bombs, apparently aiming for the station. The bombs with a shower of grenades fell on a former institute and on houses and streets surrounding it. The aeroplane then went away. In another five minutes came a second bomber, which threw the same number of bombs into the middle of the town. About a quarter of an hour later three Junkers arrived to continue the work of demolition, and thenceforward the bombing grew in inten sity and was continuous, ceasing only with the approach of dusk at 7.45. The whole town of 7.000 inhabitants, plus 3,000 refugees, was slowly and systematically pounded to pieces. Over a radius of five miles round a detail of the raiders’ technique was to bomb separate caserios, or farmhouses. In the night these burned like little candles in the hills. All the villages around were bombed with the same intensity as the town itself, and at Mugica, a little group of houses at the head of 4the Guernica inlet, the population was machine-gunned for 15 minutes.

RH’YTHM OF DEATH

It is impossible to state yet the number of victims. In the Bilbao Press this morning they were reported as ” fortunately small,” but it is feared that this was an understatement in order not to alarm the large refugee population of Bilbao. In the hospital of Josefinas, which was one of the first places bombed, all the 42 wounded militiamen it sheltered were killed out-right. In a street leading downhill from the Casa de Juntas 1 saw a place where 50 people, nearly all women and children, are said to have been trapped in an air raid refuge under a mass of burning wreckage. Many were killed in the fields, and altogether the deaths may run into hundreds. An elderly priest named Aronategui was killed by a bomb while rescuing children from a burning house.

The tactics of the bombers, which may be of interest to students of the new military science, were as follows: -First, small parties of aeroplanes threw heavy bombs and hand grenades all over the town, choosing area after area in orderly fashion. Next came fighting machines wvhich swooped low to machine-gun those who ran in panic from dugouts, some of which had already been penetrated by 1,0001lb. bombs, which make a hole 25ft. deep. Many of these people were killed as they ran. A large herd of sheep being brought in to the market was also wviped out. The object of this move was apparently to drive the population underground again, for next as many, as 12 bombers appeared at a timie dropping heavy and incendiary bombs upon the ruins. The rhythm of this bombing of an open town was, therefore, a logical one: first, hand grenades and heavy bombs to stampede the population, then machine-gunning to drive them below, next houses and burn them on top of their victims.

The only counter-measures the Basques could employ, for they do not possess sufficient aeroplanes to face the insurgent fleet, were those provided by the heroism of the Basque clergy. These blessed and prayed for the kneelinig crowds-Socialists, Anarchists, and Communists, as well as the declared faithful – in the crumbling dugouts.

When I entered Guernica after mid-night houses were crashing on either side, and it was utterlv impossible even for firemen to enter the centre 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. When I revisited Guernica this afternoon most of the town was still burning and new fires had broken out. About 30 dead were laid out in a ruined hospital.

A CALL TO BASQUES

The effect here of the bombardmcnt of Guernica, the Basques’ holy city, has been profound-and has led President Aguirre to issue the following statement in this morning’s Basque Press: – ” The German airmen in the service of the Spanish rebels have bombarded Guernica, burning the historic town which is held in such veneration by all Basques. They have sought to wound us in the most sensitive of dur patriotic sentiments, once more making it entirely clear -what Euzkadis may expect of those who do not hesitate to destroy us down to the very sanctuary which records the centuriesof our liberty and our democracv.

“Before this outrage all we Basques must react with violence, swearing from the bottom of our hearts to defend the principles of our pepple with unheard of stubbornness and heroism if the case requires it. We cannot hide the gravity of the moment; but victory can never be won by the invader if raising our spirits to heights of strength and determination, we steel ourselves to his defeat.

“The enemy has advanced in many parts elsewhere to be driven out of them afterwards. I do not hesitate to affirm that here the same thing will happen. May today’s outrage be one spur more to do it with all speed.”

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La sortida a la llum pública dels fets de Gernika va activar la maquinària propagandística feixista: els franquistes van difondre que l’atac a la ciutat basca havia estat obra de sabotejadors republicans. I les agències de notícies nazis van inventar una història rocambolesca: van descobrir que Times, al revés, és semit, segons explica Nicholas Rankin a EITB. El diari britànic va refermar la seva versió dels fets amb aquesta peça el 5 de maig del 1937 (font: arxiu del Times):

“‘The Times’ Bombs Guernica”

It was under this title that the official German News Agency gave the state-controlled Nazi Press its cue for a violent outburst against Great Britain, the British Press, and this journal in particular. Official Germany now alleges that The Times, selecting a town of which not one Englishman in a hundred had ever heard before, fabricated a circumstantial account of its bombardment from the air in circumstances of peculiarly cold-blooded brutality. It was left to the ingenuity of individual German newspapers to provide the motives for such singular conduct on the part of The Times. This was a formidable task; and the allegation, fantastic in itself, was rendered doubly so by various divergent efforts to convince the German public of its truth. The whole episode illustrates most poignantly the difficulties which beset inter- national relations in our time. The bombing of Guernica, which can have been foreseen by no one in this country, was reported by our Special Correspondent on the spot, and by his colleagues of other newspapers, as part of their ordinary journalistic duties. Since it was carried out by planes of German type, the publication of the news embarrassed Germany. But where is the wisdom, from Germany’s point of view, in allowing her embarrassment to inspire a Press campaign which is calculated to damage her relations with Great Britain and which, consisting as it does of a series of chimerical accusations, intemperately made, can only discredit her powers of self-control and-incidentally-arouse suspicions of her complicity in the bombardment? What is the destiny of a world in which no responsible organ of the Press can tell the simple truth without incurring charges of Machiavellian villainy?

Responsibility for the destruction of Guernica, and of some hundreds of its civilian population, has not yet been definitely brought home to anyone. But the truth is beginning to emerge. In an official communiqué from Salamanca, published in The Times yesterday, insurgent headquarters had noticeably shifted their ground. The communiqué dismissed the bombardment as “a comparatively minor event”; but it did not repeat GENERAL FRANCO’S original assertions that, owing to rain and mist, no Nationalist aircraft left the ground on the northern front during the afternoon of the bombardment. It did repeat former denials that the town was ever bombed at all; but these can hardly have been meant to be taken seriously. This morning comes a dispatch from our Special Correspondent with the insurgent forces (who, it should be remembered, is working, like all correspondents in Spain, under a political and military censorship) in which he describes a visit to the ravaged town. From his observations it does indeed appear possible that some part of the conflagration after the bombardment may have been the work of incendiaries. But for Nationalist headquarters to contend (to quote his message) that “incendiaries on the Basque side had more” to do with razing Guernica than General “Franco’s aircraft” is a very different matter from protesting that no bombs were dropped at all, and that all GENERAL FRANCO’s aircraft were on the ground at the time. Moreover it is now in fact admitted that the bombers were in action “intermittently over a period of three hours”‘; and this figure corresponds with the original account given by our Special Correspondent in Bilbao, which Berlin describes as a fabrication. Independent reports have also established beyond doubt that the aircraft engaged in bombing and machine-gunning the defenceless inhabitants of Guernica were of German make, and several unexploded incendiary bombs have been recovered bearing the stamp of a German factory. The identity and the nationality of the pilots are not yet known; but they can hardly remain a secret for very long. “‘The Times ‘ Bombs Guernica “

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  1. molt útil trobar aquesta versió original de George Steer. Estic preparant un PWP sobre el gernika de picasso pels meus alumnes de batxillerat d’art. enhorabona i gràcies. martí

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