The Volunteer http://www.albavolunteer.org Founded by the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:56:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Adam Hochschild on Spain’s court of memory http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/04/adam-hochschild-on-spains-court-of-memory/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/04/adam-hochschild-on-spains-court-of-memory/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:56:35 +0000 Sebastiaan Faber http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9975 José María Galante, one of the Spanish torture victims who brought his case to the Argentine judiciary. Photo Jorge París.

José María Galante, one of the Spanish torture victims who brought his case to the Argentine judiciary. Photo Jorge París.

“In most countries, there is no statute of limitations for murder. Should there be one for torture?” Adam Hochschild asks in a New York Times op-ed today;

In Spain, neither charge can be brought against anyone who worked for the harsh, long-lasting regime of Francisco Franco, because of an amnesty law that eased the country’s transition to democracy after the dictator’s death in 1975. But the case of Antonio González Pacheco, a notorious torturer from the last years of Franco’s military rule, is raising thorny questions. A former prisoner named José María Galante was startled last year to discover that Mr. Pacheco, alive and spry enough at 67 to be a long-distance runner, was living not far from him in Madrid.

Read the whole piece here.

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In the Lincolns’ footsteps, continued http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/04/in-the-lincolns-footsteps-continued/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/04/in-the-lincolns-footsteps-continued/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 12:25:48 +0000 Sebastiaan Faber http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9967 following in the Lincolns' footsteps for The Volunteer, sends this video (with English subtitles) of her recent journey re-tracing the night time retreat between Batea and Corbera over the 1st and 2nd of April 1938.]]> Anna Martí lays flowers in honor of the Lincolns.

Anna Martí lays flowers in honor of the Lincolns.

Anna Martí, who has been following in the Lincolns’ footsteps for The Volunteer, sends this video (with English subtitles) of her recent journey re-tracing the night time retreat between Batea and Corbera over the 1st and 2nd of April 1938.

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Book Review:Henry Buckley: The inside story http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/book-reviewthe-inside-story/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/book-reviewthe-inside-story/#comments Sat, 22 Mar 2014 11:07:20 +0000 Richard Baxell http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9767 The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic: A Witness to the Spanish Civil War. By Henry Buckley (London: Tauris, 2013).]]> This article appeared in the 36th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

Buckley_Life_Death

The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic: A Witness to the Spanish Civil War. By Henry Buckley, with an introduction by Paul Preston (London: Tauris, 2013).

The reissue of Henry Buckley’s long-lost memoir, “The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic”, is an event which anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War should celebrate. Buckley’s classic eye-witness account of the eight years of the second Spanish Republic from 14 April 1931 to 31 March 1939 is, I think, one of the best accounts of the period penned by a Briton.

Knowledgeable, insightful and beautifully written, Buckley’s memoir possesses a rare sense of immediacy that immerses the reader deep within Spain’s turbulent 1930s. Spain is “a poor country with many rich people”, struggling to cope with a difficult transition, where “new ideas, as well as motor-cars, raced along these fine broad roads which now intersected Spain”. A devout Catholic, Buckley was nevertheless objective enough to recognise the Church’s failings and its complicity in creating and supporting a deeply unequal society. In fact the text is astonishingly fair-minded and objective: while he became deeply sympathetic to the Republican cause (even toying with the idea of joining the International Brigades), he was not blind to its failings, arguing that the Republic needed not just to aspire to be good, but to actually raise the pitiful living standards of the poverty- stricken peasants “[who] still form[ed] the majority of the nation’s population”.

Unlike foreign correspondents who arrived at the outbreak of the civil war, Henry Buckley had been in Spain since 1929. He spoke the language fluently and knew the country well. He was acquainted with many of the key figures in the Republic, including La Pasionaria, Francisco Largo Caballero, Manuel Azaña and Juan Negrín. And his observations of many key figures are not written in the polite banalities of politicians and diplomats. For example, while Buckley has good things to say about many of the Republic’s political and military leaders, especially Negrín and La Pasionaria, he is not always as enthusiastic about the socialist leaders Largo Caballero and Julián Besteiro.

There are occasional factual errors in Buckley’s account, though surprisingly few when one remembers how deeply immersed in the situation the author must have been. And any errors are more than compensated for by the astute observations and intelligent, grounded analysis. The account of Largo Caballero’s own contribution to his fall from office in 1937 is one good example, as is Buckley’s sorrowful analysis of the doomed attempts by the Western democracies to restrict the war to Spain’s borders. Buckley fully understands the inevitable conse- quence of the French and British governments’ determination not to come to the Republic’s aid.

His eloquent account of the final dark days of the Spanish Republic and the dashing of the hopes of those fighting in support of the Republic are heart-rending. Yet, despite all, Buckley’s conclusion is as clear as it is uplifting: “Their courage and efforts were not in vain. No sacrifice like that ever is” – a sentiment that, I suspect, many will feel is as true now as it was 75 years ago.

The paperback version of Richard Baxell’s “Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War” is published on 1 April by Aurum Press for £12.99.

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Remembering Margaret Powell http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/remembering-margaret-powell/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/remembering-margaret-powell/#comments Sat, 22 Mar 2014 11:02:51 +0000 Ruth Miller http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9760

This article appeared in the 36th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

NURSES: Top, back row, left to right: Margaret Powell, Susan Sutor, Anne Mur-ray and Patience Darton; seated: Agnes Hodgson and Mary Slater, at Poleniño Hos-pital, Aragon, in 1937. Bottom: Margaret Powell in Barcelona Hospital No.7 in 1938 with Dr Gonzalo Aguiló Mercader (left) and unidentified other person.

NURSES: Top, back row, left to right: Margaret Powell, Susan Sutor, Anne Mur-ray and Patience Darton; seated: Agnes Hodgson and Mary Slater, at Poleniño Hos-pital, Aragon, in 1937. Bottom: Margaret Powell in Barcelona Hospital No.7 in 1938 with Dr Gonzalo Aguiló Mercader (left) and unidentified other person.

Lily Margaret Powell was born in March 1913, one of nine children, at Cwm Farm, Llangenny, where her father farmed a small Welsh hill farm. She attended the village school, leaving home aged 16 to train as a nurse, first in Essex, later in London at St Giles’, Camberwell, and St Olave’s, Rotherhithe – areas as hard hit by the depression of the 1930s as was South Wales.

When Franco and his cohorts rebelled against the elected Republican Spanish government in 1936 Margaret was advised to finish her midwifery training before volunteering. She was accepted by the Spanish Medical Aid Committee and left for Spain in mid-1937.

Front-line

She was a front-line nurse in Aragon during the bitter battles of the terrible winter of 1937-38 when the wounded often froze to death before they could receive medical attention. Life-saving medication was in short supply and Margaret found herself, aged 25, having to “triage” the wounded as they arrived from the front – deciding who could be saved. Major surgery was carried out without anesthetics, the dark only redeemed by using cigarette lighters.

Often the team of nurses, a Spanish doctor and village girls rapidly trained as nurse-aides, had to move at a moment’s notice, setting up operating theatres in barns, stables, a disused slaughter-house and once a ruined medieval castle in Montclar, Catalonia.

Margaret assisted in thousand of operations, often working 72 hours or more at a stretch as the wounded poured in from an offensive. She was proud that during this time the team didn’t lose a man to post-operative septicemia – or a single piece of the precious surgical equipment sent from Britain.

During the occasional lulls in the fighting the team helped village people in Aragon who had never in their lives seen a doctor, giving ante- and post-natal care and minor surgeries where necessary.

Later, transferred to Barcelona, she worked in several hospitals, even as Franco’s forces closed in and bombs fell. In February 1939 Margaret and part of the team retreated into France where she was promptly imprisoned with other Spanish refugees in beach enclosures without any facilities. She was rescued after more than three weeks by a team of Quakers who’d been alerted to her plight.

Although she started work again in England after a few months, it was only in 1944 that she went abroad again, this time to upper Egypt to care for Yugoslav partisans’ families in the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) El Shatt desert camp.

Once the families returned home in 1946, she transferred to the American zone of Germany, working in the displaced persons camps of Amberg and Coburg. It was here that she encountered Jewish teenagers – survivors of the concentration camps – a number of whom committed suicide. These memories, combined with her experiences in Spain, were to haunt her for the rest of her life.

Poorest areas

After 1948, she worked as a health visitor in some of the poorest areas of north London, married International Brigader Sam Lesser, became a mother, spent three years in the USSR and worked at the City of London Polytechnic.

In 1976 Margaret was made a “Dame” of the Orden de la Lealtad a la República Española by the Spanish government in exile. She died in November 1990, aged 77.

Ruth Muller is the daughter of Margaret Powell and Sam Lesser.

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“And when I get another ship…” http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/and-when-i-get-another-ship-ill-sail-there-once-again/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/and-when-i-get-another-ship-ill-sail-there-once-again/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 21:32:18 +0000 Jim Jump http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9769

This article appeared in the 36th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

SUNK:HMS Hunter hit a mine laid by Franco’s navy.

SUNK:HMS Hunter hit a mine laid by Franco’s navy.

Exact figures are still hard to find, probably because they would have embarrassed the British government had they been compiled at the time. But two things are irrefutable: first, British ships and seafarers trading with Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War suffered serious casualties; secondly, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain – “Franco’s lackey” in Herbert L Peacock’s poem (see panel on left) – did virtually nothing about it.

A report published by the Republic’s embassy in London in 1938 calculated that, between July 1936 and June 1938, 13 British merchant ships were sunk by enemy action, 51 others were bombed from the air, two were mined, five were attacked by submarines and 23 seized or detained by Franco’s forces.

Thirty-five British seamen had been killed in these attacks and nearly 50 badly injured. The Royal Navy also lost eight killed when in May 1937 the destroyer HMS Hunter struck a mine laid by Franco’s navy south of Almería.

Victims of non-intervention

BOMBED:Stills taken from the film “Prisoners Prove Intervention in Spain”, showing the wreck of the Stanwell and two of the injured crew members.

BOMBED:Stills taken from the film “Prisoners Prove Intervention in Spain”, showing the wreck of the Stanwell and two of the injured crew members.

The attacks were being perpetrated by bombers, ships and submarines sent by Franco’s allies, Hitler and Mussolini. Underlining the farcical nature of the notorious international non-intervention agreement instigated by Britain and France during the civil war, the Italian dictator was entrusted with policing the agreement along Spain’s Mediterranean coast – while the Royal Navy patrolled the country’s Atlantic seaboard.

In fact, the figures put out by the Spanish embassy at the time appear to have understated the losses. According to a later study by historian Rafael González Etchegaray, 29 British ships were wrecked or lost during the civil war. Wikipedia, meanwhile, lists 26 British-flag ships destroyed by enemy action; see [http://en.wiki pedia.org/wiki/List_of_foreign_ships_wrecked_ or_lost_in_the_Spanish_Civil_War].

The total number of seafarers killed and injured is not known, but casualties were likely to have been substantial.

So alarmed was the National Union of Seamen (NUS) that it commissioned, along with the Committee of Shipowners Trading to Spain and the Merchant Navy Officers’ Federation, a film about the attacks on British ships and their crews. Made in 1938 by the Progressive Film Institute and directed by Ivor Montagu, “Britain Expects” was intended to be shown to cinema audiences in order to tell them what was happening in and around Spanish Republican ports. It also pointed the finger at Chamberlain for being the first British Prime Minister to deny the merchant navy adequate protection.

But the 16-minute film was banned for public viewing by the British Board of Film Censors, high- lighting the extent to which the authorities were prepared to go to suppress criticism of the government’s policy of appeasement towards the fascist powers.

Another film shot by Montagu in 1938, “Prisoners Prove Intervention in Spain”, showed footage of the bombed wreck of a British ship, the Stanwell, in Tarragona harbour, in which two British seamen were killed. Included is an interview with a captured German pilot of one of the planes involved in the raid.

Outraged at the British government’s failure to act, NUS General Secretary William Spence contrasted the Royal Navy’s blockade of Piraeus in 1850 in response to a mob attack on a single British national in Athens. “Where was the strong arm of England now?” asked Spence. Neville Chamberlain “faced by the pseudo Christian Spanish gentleman Franco, the murderer of thousands of defenceless women and children, was tragic in his futility. These things would be remembered by seamen in the next general election,” he wrote in June 1938.

The only time a credible threat to take retaliatory action was issued by the British government was in the summer of 1937 following a spate of attacks by Italian submarines – which immediately ceased as a result. Significantly, the British response was led by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who resigned a few months later in protest at Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.

Lest we forget

This piece of British history connected to the Spanish Civil War has long been largely overlooked. But some people are determined that we should not forget it.

One of them is Geoff Cowling, the former IBMT Trustee, who was Britain’s Consul General in Barcelona for many years.

In 2008 he used his influence to see to it that the graves of nine British merchant seamen were repaired in what had been the near-derelict British Cemetery in Tarragona. They included the two crewmen of the Stanwell.

Coordinated by Cowling’s successor as Consul General, David Smith, the work was carried out by sailors from HMS Bulwark, which was on a goodwill visit to Barcelona at the time, and with the help of the Tarragona local council.

Cowling is still concerned that other graves might be in disrepair. “As far as I can tell, we still don’t know how many British merchant seamen were killed during the Spanish Civil War and whether they were properly buried.”

Another IBMT member who wants appropriate recognition for the seafarers is sculptor and artist Frank Casey. Frank’s interest in the subject developed after he heard an interview with WH Roberts, captain of the Seven Seas Spray, about how he ran the gauntlet of Franco’s blockade to bring food to the starving people of Bilbao.

He was also startled to learn that the search for the wreck of HMS Ark Royal, sunk by a German u-boat off Gibraltar in 1941, had been made especially difficult by the many wrecks from the civil war lying on the sea-bed in the search area.

Frank has made a maquette of a memorial to the British crews who faced great danger while sailing in and out of Spanish Republican ports. He has received backing for the project from rail and maritime union RMT. But an appropriate site for the memorial, plus adequate funding, still have to be found.

His research efforts have been helped by reading Paul Heaton’s “Spanish Civil War Blockade Runners”, which tells the story of the ships trad- ing out of Welsh ports, including the famous exploits of Captain David “Potato” Jones.

However, Frank, a Glaswegian now settled in St Albans, is quick to point out that it was not only Welsh ships involved. The Glasgow-registered Oakgrove, for example, took badly needed provisions to Republican Spain – and crew members waived their salaries as a protest at the shameful stance of the British government.

These are stories of heroism and sacrifice that the IBMT also hopes will be remembered in the form of a memorial to the seafarers involved.

For more information see: “La Marina Mercante y el Tráfico Marítimo en la Guerra Civil” by Rafael González Etchegaray (Editorial San Martín, Madrid, 1977); “The Seamen: A History of the National Union of Seamen” by Arthur Marsh and Victo- ria Ryan (Malthouse Press, Oxford, 1989); “Spanish Civil War Blockade Runners” by Paul Heaton (PM Heaton Publishing, Abergavenny, 2006).

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Assurances on Madrid Memorial http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/assurances-on-madrid-memorial/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/assurances-on-madrid-memorial/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 21:31:11 +0000 Jim Jump http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9758 IB_MonumentThis article appeared in the 36th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

Madrid Complutense University staff examine the latest act of vandalism against the International Brigade memorial, which took place last November. The red paint has now been removed.

Madrid Complutense University staff examine the latest act of vandalism against the International Brigade memorial, which took place last November. The red paint has now been removed.

We’ve been assured by our friends in Madrid that the International Brigade memorial in the capital’s University City is not in danger. As reported in our last issue, the memorial was deemed to be under threat following a Madrid court ruling in favour of a writ brought by a lawyer with far-right connections complaining that the memorial had been unveiled in 2011 with- out proper planning permission and should therefore be dismantled. The Complutense University authorities insist that they did in fact apply to the city council for the permit and have indicated that they have no intention whatsoever of removing the memorial from their campus.

Representatives of the AABI Spanish International Brigades friendship group say they expect the stand-off to deescalate, and would not be surprised if a retrospective permit duly arrived unannounced in the post.

All this, adds the AABI, is down to the world- wide protests in which the IBMT and its supporters played a prominent part, along with an effective campaign in Spain itself. Protests to Spanish ambassadors, press reports about the threat to the memorial, motions critical of the court’s decision in the House of Commons and Scottish Parliament and an international petition campaign have, apparently, taken the authorities in Spain by surprise. That’s why a quiet resolution to the crisis is expected. Let’s hope this is true; watch this space.

True patriots

Journalist Mark Seddon was spot-on when he invoked the memory of International Brigader Lou Kenton (1908-2012) in his blog on 3 October about the Daily Mail’s attack on the patriotic credentials of Ralph Miliband.

The father of Labour leader Ed Miliband was a man who “hated Britain”, said the newspaper, because of his disdain for the Royal Family and other parts of the Establishment. Like Kenton, Miliband Snr, a refugee from European fascism, fought fascism, in his case for three years during the Second World War in the Royal Navy.

Seddon wrote: “I didn’t know Ralph Miliband, although I knew many who did. But I did know Lou Kenton, of the same generation, also a Jewish Marxist, who distinguished himself as a volunteer ambulance driver with the International Brigades in Spain and doing successful battle with Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in Cable Street in London’s East End. This was at a time when Viscount Rothermere’s Daily Mail enthusiastically bellowed ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’, while prominent members of the British Establishment, including from the Royal family, were busy appeasing the Nazis and hunting wild boar with Herman Goering in the forests of East Prussia.” To read the whole piece click here.

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Ebro memorial unveiled http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/ebro-memorial-unveiled/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/ebro-memorial-unveiled/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 21:29:18 +0000 Jim Jump http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9755 This article appeared in the 36th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

The IBMT’s “Antifascistas” exhibition on show in the ruined church in Corbera d’Ebre, which has been preserved as a war memorial. The IBMT’s new plaque is located next to the church and overlooks the Ebro battlefield.

The IBMT’s “Antifascistas” exhibition on show in
the ruined church in Corbera d’Ebre, which has been
preserved as a war memorial. The IBMT’s new
plaque is located next to the church and overlooks
the Ebro battlefield.

A plaque to the British Battalion’s last stand in southern Catalonia in September 1938 was unveiled on 24 September 2013 by family members of those who took part in the fighting. Erected by the IBMT, it stands next to the old church of Corbera d’Ebre, which was ruined during the Battle of the Ebro and itself has been preserved as a memorial. Among the speakers at the unveiling were Jordi Palou-Loverdos, Director of the Catalan government’s Memorial Democratic agency, IBMT representatives, local dignitaries and family members of International Brigade volunteers.

In English, Spanish and Catalan, the plaque explains that 23 of the British Battalion’s volunteers were killed during those final three days of combat in the Battle of the Ebro, along with 175 of their Spanish comrades in the battalion. On 21 September 1938 the beleaguered Spanish Republic announced the repatriation of all foreign volunteers from its army. The move was a vain attempt to put international pressure on Hitler and Mussolini for the withdrawal of their troops and aircraft from General Franco’s rebel forces. The British Battalion elected to remain in its front-line positions until being stood down three days later. At the unveiling ceremony IBMT Secretary Jim Jump said the new memorial would inform future generations of the heroism, suffering and sacrifice of the International Brigades and their Spanish comrades. He added: “Seventy-five years ago, in September 1938, these volunteers were defending democracy and shedding their blood for the cause. “Let’s not forget that in that very same month, September 1938, the governments of Britain and France were shamefully doing a deal with Hitler and Mussolini in Munich. “Britain and France had already abandoned the Spanish Republic to eventual defeat. At Munich they sacrificed another democracy – Czechoslovakia – and made world war inevitable.” Jump also thanked Duncan Longstaff, the IBMT Trustee who had organised the memorial, as well as fellow Trustee Mary Greening and IBMT Patron Rodney Bickerstaffe, who gave generous donations towards the cost of the project.

A message from Bickerstaffe was read out by Dolores Long, IBMT Chair and daughter of Sam Wild, commander of the British Battalion during the Battle of the Ebro, and translated into Spanish by his grandson, Gideon Long.

The message said: “My thoughts are with the many International Brigade volunteers that I’ve had the privilege to know over the years, all of them, sadly, now gone. Among them was my good friend Jack Jones… Those brave men and women are now gone – but their memory and the lessons they taught us live on – thanks in no small part to memorials like this.” A slideshow of photos of the unveiling can be viewed here.

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Visualizing the war in Spain http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/visualizing-the-war-in-spain/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/visualizing-the-war-in-spain/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 21:18:02 +0000 Jane Rogoyska http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9762

This article appeared in the 36th issue of the newsletter of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and is reprinted here with the IBMT’s permission.

COVER PHOTO: Gerda Taro and Robert Capa in Paris in 1935. Fred Stein’s photo of the two young photographers who would soon go to Spain is on the cover of Jane Rogoyska’s illustrated biography of Taro.

COVER PHOTO:Gerda Taro and Robert Capa in Paris in 1935. Fred Stein’s photo of the two young photographers who would soon go to Spain is on the cover of Jane Rogoyska’s illustrated biography of Taro.

Her reputation as a ground-breaking war photographer long overshadowed by that of Robert Capa, Gerda Taro is the focus of a new book* that powerfully asserts the importance of her work in the Spanish Civil War, writes Jim Jump.

Author Jane Rogoyska describes how Gerda Pohorylles, a young Jewish émigrée from Germany, met and fell in love with the Hungarian André Friedmann, another Jewish exile from fascism in Paris. They rein- vented themselves as Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, penniless but politically committed photographers.

Taro was just 26 when she was killed on 25 July 1937 during the Battle of Brunete. Capa was heartbroken. Though her funeral in Paris saw thousands of mourners throng the streets and she became an instant hero of the left, her memory and legacy were soon forgotten. Capa, however, became a legend for his work in Spain – and also in China and the Second World War.

Then, 70 years later, came the discovery in Mexico City of the “Mexican Suitcase”. It contained thousands of negatives of photos taken in Spain by Taro, Capa and colleague David Seymour (“Chim”). Among them was a cache of previously unseen pictures taken by Taro at Brunete. But, most astonishingly of all, the newly discovered archive showed that many photographs that had been attributed to Capa were, in fact, the work of Taro.

Richly illustrated with Taro’s photos from Spain, including many rare ones, Rogoyska’s book tells the story of Taro’s short life and demonstrates her influence in shaping not just the way we visualise the war in Spain but the nature of war photography itself.

*“Gerda Taro: Inventing Robert Capa” by Jane Rogoyska (Jonathan Cape, London, 2013) £35 (hardback).

Jane Rogoyska was one of the speakers at the 2014 IBMT Len Crome Memorial Lecture in Manchester on 1 March. 

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Book Review : A Canadian’s revealing memoir http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/book-review-a-canadian-volunteers-revealing-memoir/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/book-review-a-canadian-volunteers-revealing-memoir/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 21:08:49 +0000 Reid Palmer http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9741 Mac-Pap: Memoir of a Canadian in the Spanish Civil War. By Ronald Liversedge. Edited by David Yorke. (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2013).]]> MacPaps

Mac-Pap: Memoirs of a Canadian in The Spanish Civil War. By Ronald Liversedge, edited by David Yorke (Vancouver: New Star Books, 2013), 224 pp.

With the exception of Norman Bethune’s introduction of mobile blood-transfusion units, Canada’s role in the Spanish Civil War has been largely forgotten by both Canadians and Spanish Civil War historians.  Although the largest number of International Brigade volunteers in proportion to their population hailed from Canada, few scholars have studied the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, often referred to as the Mac-Paps.  However, the recent publication of Ronald Liversedge’s Mac-Pap: Memoirs of a Canadian in The Spanish Civil War provides a fascinating and much needed contribution to the slowly growing number of books on Canada’s role in the Spanish Civil War.

Born in Bradford, England on 12 April 1899, Ronald Liversedge was forced to leave school at a young age to support his large family.  After enlisting in the British Army after the outbreak of the First World War, he quickly grew disillusioned with the country that seemed to care little for his life.  The war served as a political awakening for Liversedge.  In the summer of 1918, he met a German Prisoner of War, who converted Liversedge to communism in under two hours.  He later wrote “I will never forget that little man; he gave me something to live and fight for” (Mac-Pap 11).  After the war, Liversedge became deeply engaged in the British Communist Party, and, after emigrating to Canada in 1927, became a prominent Canadian communist, even helping to organize the famous 1935 On to Ottawa Trek.

When Liversedge heard about the Spanish Civil War, he knew that he had to go.  In the Spring of 1937, he said his goodbyes and sailed to France.  He vividly describes his struggle to make it to shore after his ship, the Ciudad de Barcelona, was sunk by an Italian submarine. Shaken by this dramatic welcome to the Spanish Civil War, Liversedge made his way to Albacete, where be began to advocate for the creation of a separate Canadian Battalion.  Many Canadians had either joined their American comrades in the Abraham Lincoln and the George Washington Battalions or had been scattered throughout the European brigades.  After a few tense conversations with their American comrades, the Canadians finally earned their own unit. Indeed, this memoir provides an alternative understanding of the war than offered by many American veterans and scholars:

“All attempts to get down to real discussion about the necessity for the formation of a Mac-Pap Battalion [with the Americans], . . . were met by barely concealed scorn, and a studied assumption of the patience of a father trying to explain to an ignorant, fractious child” (Mac-Pap 66).  Later, Liversedge gave up command of the Mac-Paps as “Bob Merriman had been after me for some time for my refusing to eat at the officers’ mess.  He charged me, and the Canadians in general, with making a fetish of democratism” (Mac-Pap 78).

Liversedge’s memoir traces his actions at Fuentes de Ebro, his time with the Canadian Cadre Service, his service with the 35th Artillery Battalion, and his eventual repatriation to Canada in 1939.  An honest depiction of a prominent member of the International Brigades, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in North American participation in the Spanish Civil War.

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Book Review : Franco’s toxic legacy http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/book-review-francos-toxic-legacy/ http://www.albavolunteer.org/2014/03/book-review-francos-toxic-legacy/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 21:08:02 +0000 Richard Ryan http://www.albavolunteer.org/?p=9738 Shoot the Messenger? Spanish Democracy and the Crimes of Francoism: From the Pact of Silence to the Trial of Baltasar Garzón. By Francisco Espinosa Maestre. Translated by Richard Barker. (East Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2013).]]> Shoot_the_MessengerShoot the Messenger? Spanish Democracy and the Crimes of Francoism: From the Pact of Silence to the Trial of Baltasar Garzón. By Francisco Espinosa Maestre. Translated by Richard Barker. (East Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2013).

As Francisco Espinosa-Maestre illuminates in this newly translated and updated version of the Spanish original, the toxic mythologies of Francoism continue to reverberate in Spain long after the end of the dictatorship. In 13 case studies from 1981 to 2012, Espinosa-Maestre examines the record of the Spanish judiciary in dealing with investigations into the mass killing of civilians by the supporters of the military coup of 1936. His objective is “to reveal a series of conflicts, isolated and generally unknown, created precisely by the refusal to admit and recognize what took place in Spain as a consequence of the military coup.”

That objective focuses on the increasing blurring of the boundaries between judge and historian. It is an issue given emphasis by the role that the Spanish judiciary played in the consolidation of the Franco dictatorship. Constructed through a vast judicial system utilized as an instrument of terror, the central message of the dictatorship and its version of the civil war was that atrocities had been suffered only by supporters of the Franco regime, and that such atrocities had been committed only by the Republic and its supporters. As Espinosa-Maestre makes clear, those narratives were allowed to survive across the transition to democracy in the late 1970s, an afterlife of violence that was the product of a political brokerage driven by reformist Francoism in return for an amnesty law and a “pact of forgetting.” The 13 cases show the results of those decisions. Francoism’s victims remain the silenced and “defeated,” while victims of violence perpetrated in the wartime Republic had already been named, celebrated, and commemorated by the Franco regime itself. It is a state of affairs that emphatically challenges the long-accepted narrative of Spain’s transition to democracy as an exemplary success.

Emblematic of the silence imposed upon Franco’s victims across the transition stands the catastrophic reaction to Fernando Ruiz Vergara’s 1981 film Rocío from sectors of Spain’s political and social elite. Rocío was the first documentary on the Francoist repression that named those responsible for extrajudicial killing–specifically what had occurred in the small town of Almonte in the immediate aftermath of the military coup in July 1936. Despite ministerial and critical acclaim, a case was filed against Ruiz Vergara by the family of those his film had named as leading Francoist vigilantes. The court found in favor of the plaintiffs, leaving the filmmaker heavily fined and professionally ruined. At no point in any of the repeated court cases and appeals did anyone dispute that nearly 100 people in the village had been murdered by vigilantes. As Espinosa-Maestre shows, this was a warning to all those investigating the repression, an exemplary case that revealed the enduring influence of the Francoist establishment across the transition to demand that its version of the past was the only one that could be heard in public in the new democracy.

In the Ruiz Vergara case, the “right to honor” focused intensively on the denial of oral history as a legitimate historical source. And so in the series of court cases examined here against Ruiz Vergara, Isidoro Sánchez Baena, Marta Capín, Santiago Macías, Dionisio Pereira, José Casado Montado, and Ramón Garrido Vidal, the central issue involved the rejection of the personal testimony of those who lived through or otherwise experienced the repression that occurred in military-rebel-controlled territory. In various ways, attempts to name those responsible were silenced by these court cases, or more accurately, by the fact that Spanish judges trained and shaped by the Franco dictatorship supported the plaintiffs’ claims over the rights of those seeking to open the past. But as each of these examples of enforced silence illustrates, this was not about removing the civil war and dictatorship from public discourse altogether, but something more subversive: it constituted the active (re)filling of that vacuum of historical knowledge produced by Francoism with a highly selective version of the past.

In this way, the contemporary political Right in Spain—spurred by the rise of conservative nationalism across Europe—continued to propagate the myths of the dictatorship, ensuring that the rhetoric of Francoism never left Spanish society. While Pío Moa stands as resurgent Francoism’s best seller, the work of apologists for the regime continues across Spain. The vicious accusations that emerged from Zamora in 2004/2005 and the attempts to distort historical reality of the incarceration and extrajudicial execution of Amparo Barayón in 1936 revealed how deeply Francoism inhabits people at all levels of Spanish society. Those involved in the posthumous assault on Barayón included the town’s official chronicler, indicating that historians too could be guilty of consolidating Francoist myths. Shortly after the publication of Espinosa-Maestre’s book, the newspaper La Opinión de Zamora returned to the story of Amparo Barayón, publishing details of the fate of the man responsible for her murder in what could widely be seen as an attempt to put the story to rest, a claim to “carry out the duty of historians” by revealing once and for all what happened to Amparo’s executioner. But as Espinosa-Maestre makes clear, this focus on the individual biography of “the murderer” diverts attention from the bigger picture of a military-sanctioned process of lethal “social cleansing” that saw certain categories of people targeted, including many women, who, like the young mother Amparo Barayón were killed for being independent modern women and for “having ideas” fundamentally at odds with Zamora’s conservative society. What the newspaper revealed in 2013 as in 2004/2005 was the Right’s continued efforts to secure its own version of the past instead of pointing a finger directly at those who were responsible for thousands of murders carried out in Zamora and elsewhere.

These 13 cases also illustrate that beneath the accumulated myths of Francoism, memory at the grassroots is consolidating new dimensions of democratic action, empowered by efforts of an expansive civic network. This work is embodied by Emilio Silva and Santiago Macías who, following the location and excavation of Silva’s executed republican grandfather, created the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH). Founded in 2000, the ARMH is now recognized at the forefront of initiatives to rediscover the civil war.

Despite some legal successes, the work of deconstructing the myths of Francoism remains the domain of a politically marginalized civic memory movement facing powerful obstacles: resistance across the political spectrum within the state apparatus and from a formidable Francoism that opposes the recovery of the memory of the dictatorship’s victims. In this battle Espinosa-Maestre points to small gains: Violeta Freedman, eventually successful in her challenge to the Belgian Nazi Léon Degrelle, resident in Spain; journalist Dolores Genovés and her documentary Sumaríssim 477 (1994) that named those who served as witnesses for the prosecution in the court martial of the democratic, Catalan Catholic politician Manuel Carrasco i Formiguera in 1938. The case against Genovés was dismissed by a Constitutional Tribunal with a verdict that stands at odds with what is still happening in Spain’s courts.

In 2005, Judge Baltasar Garzón declared–in a foretelling of the case that would be brought against him–that “when someone breaks this chain of falsehoods and inter-related interests he is accused of destabilizing the ‘new democratic reality’ so beneficial for all.” Garzón’s challenge is that Spain is not different: the disappeared and killed of Francoism are no different from those in Chile and elsewhere beyond Europe. They too must be identified and named by the successor democratic state if the toxic mythology of Francoism is to be destroyed. Since Garzón’s efforts to initiate a judicial investigation into the crimes of Francoism, the judge has seen his career in the Spanish judiciary destroyed. With the formal call from the UN in 2008 to investigate human rights abuses committed by the dictatorship also met with silence, the assault on Garzón demonstrates the widespread agreement within the post-Francoism political class not to expose the violence of the past.

Espinosa-Maestre offers a readable and closely analyzed introduction to Spain’s memory wars and the problematic place of the judiciary within these conflicts. The result is an important contribution to understanding the trajectory of historical memory in Spain, opening up events that have long been occluded by the European historiographical mainstream. Illustrating the stranglehold of Francoism on Spain’s future as well as its past and present, it is clear that only in the destruction of the “pact of silence” can democracy fully take root in Spain. Only a recuperation of historical memory will overcome the toxic mythologies of Francoism that the transition allowed to survive.

Richard Ryan is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London where he also teaches courses on twentieth century Spain.

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