Memorial to the German Members of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, Berlin-Friedrichshain
Society was deeply divided in the Spain of the 1930s. The Spanish Republic was proclaimed following the victory of the republicans and the socialists in the election of 1931. The king had left the country. The fascists, the loyalists to the monarchy, Catholic clerics, the military, and the bourgeoisie fought the establishment of the republic. As early as 1932, the first coup had been staged and had failed. A center-right coalition followed in 1933, and General Francisco Franco became Minister of War. In the fall of 1934, the miners of Asturias rose up against the policies of the government. Their rebellion was violently struck down. A people’s front, composed of politicians from the liberal republicans, the socialist PSOE, the communist PCE, and the Moscow-dependent communists POUM won the election on 16 February 1936. The first three presidents of the republic were members of the republican party IR. The PSOE provided presidents of the republic from September 1936 to March 1939: Francisco Largo Caballero and Juan Negrin. (The anarchist Federica Montseny [1905-1994] was Health Minister from 4 November 1936 to 17 May 1937).
On 17 July 1936, the military coup against the democratically elected government began with an “officers’ junta” under the orders and leadership of General Francisco Franco (1892-1975) in the garrisons of Spanish-Morocco and the Canary Islands. The military coup encompassed all of Spain. Unexpected by the rebels and the alliance of their supporters, supporters of the Spanish Republic (parties, unions, and “the masses”) defended themselves, democracy, and the republic. Thus began the “Civil War” in Spain in July 1936.
The Spanish Republic was isolated from other Western democracies, as their governments had signed a non-interference pact in August 1936. Only Mexico, so far away, helped with weapons. The Soviet Union began sending weapons and military counsel in October 1936. Yet the sympathies of a large portion of both the European and the global public fell with the republic. The political left but also liberal citizens, artists, intellectuals, men and women established aid committees for the financial support of the republicans. They were above all the republicans’ mouthpiece: The “war in Spain” was the first modern “media war”. Writers, journalists, and photographers traveled to the front, pictures becoming their weapon. Internationally well-known writers were among them, such as Ernest Hemingway, André Malraux, and George Orwell; German authors such as Gustav Regler and Hans Marchwitza, journalists (like Willy Brandt, later to become German Chancellor), and photographers (like the Jewish-German socialist Gerda Taro, 1910-1937, who left exile in France for Spain to die in an English hospital as the result of an accident during an attack of the [German] Legion Condor, later buried in Paris).
The Legion Condor, created in 1936 to be “Hitler’s flying fraternity”, waged the first air war against the civilian population. At the end of July 1936, German and Italian planes organized an airlift for rebels to the Spanish mainland. In August and November 1936, German planes bombed Madrid and on 26 April 1937, Legion Condor airmen destroyed the city of Guernica. Through Picasso’s painting, “Guernica” became an anti-war symbol around the war, uncoupled from the “War in Spain”. - Since the First World War, a particular mythos has surrounded “airmen”. Thus Legion Condor “airmen” were honored for quite some time in the Federal German Republic, had successful careers (such as the former squadron leader Heinz Trettner as General Inspector of the German Army), or lent their names to military facilities (such as the fighter pilot Werner Möldners).
In the war years of 1937 and 1938, the republic fell increasingly into a defensive position. With the help of the Italian and German intervention corps, the rebels finally won the large offensive on the Aragon-Front in spring 1938 and the battle of Ebo in fall of the same year. The conquest of Catalonia began in December 1938 and on 26 January 1939, Barcelona was captured.
On 1 February 1939, the Parliament of the Republic met for the last time in Figueras, Catalonia. Franco answered an offer to negotiate by bombing the city. On 28 March 1939 after a three year siege, Madrid fell. One April 1, the Spanish Civil War and the War in Spain were officially over. Defeat forced the republicans to flee over the Pyrenees mountains into France.
For many, the war continued - in opposition to the dictatorships of the home countries, Italy and Germany, and during the Second World War as resistance in France and in other occupied European countries. But persecution continued - in the concentration camps of the national-socialists, also in the prisons and forced labor camps of Francoist Spain. Many were handed over to the Germans and the Italians.
Franco’s dictatorship was to last until his death in 1975. Tens of thousands of his political opponents were murdered. The first free elections since 1936 were held on 15 June 1977. The country remains divided to this day.
Source: excerpts from the conceptual text by Dr. Dietlinde Peters