Guernica, Pablo Picasso
From the World Socialist Website.
During the afternoon and early evening of Monday, April 26, 1937, the German and Italian air forces destroyed the Spanish town of Guernica in a raid lasting three hours. The war crime was ordered by the Spanish nationalist military leadership and carried out by the Condor Legion of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria. Designed to kill or maim as many civilians as possible, Operation Rugen was deliberately chosen for a Monday afternoon when the weekly town market would be at its most crowded. Guernica, in the Basque country where revolutionary sentiment among workers was deep, was defenseless from the bombers, which could fly as low as 600 feet.
The airplanes made repeated raids, refueling and returning to drop more bombs. Waves of explosive, fragmentary, and incendiary devices were dumped on the town. In total, 31 tons of munitions were dropped between 4:30 in the afternoon and 7:30 in the evening. In the aftermath of the raid, survivors spoke of the air filled with the screams of those in their death throes and the hundreds injured. Civilians fleeing the carnage in the fields surrounding the town were strafed by fighter planes. Human and animal body parts littered the market place and town center, a horror soon immortalized by Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.
Guernica was effectively wiped off the map. From a population of 5,000 some 1,700 residents were killed and a further 800 injured. Three quarters of the buildings were razed to the ground. Farms four miles away were flattened.
The savage and barbarous attack was a deliberate attempt to terrorize and intimidate the workers of Republican Spain. Spanish nationalist general Emilio Mola had spoken of destroying the industry of Barcelona and Bilbao in order to cleanse the country. In other words, the Nationalists would endeavor to destroy the industrial proletariat. As the historian Paul Preston has recently written in Spanish Holocaust, the Nationalist forces had launched a scorched earth policy during their rapid advance through Spain, most notably in Badajoz, where many hundreds of revolutionary workers were machine-gunned to death in the city’s bullring.
The fascist governments of Berlin and Rome were only too glad to assist Franco in his “cleansing” of the Spanish population, as both a geo-political necessity and as a test of their military command, new military technology and fighting forces. At his trial for war crimes at Nuremberg, the leading Nazi Hermann Goering would tell the tribunal that he had urged Hitler to send German forces to stem socialism in the Iberian theatre and to test out the Luftwaffe.