This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 28: 22 – 29 January 1937

Week 28: 22 – 29 January 1937

January 22

The Nationalists forces have been constantly battling to take Madrid since early November and still not able to get into the city. Franco decides its time to change tactics and attempt to cut off the city  by crossing the Jarama river, south-east of the city. This will cut off Madrid’s communications with Valencia to the east, which is the temporary Spanish capital. Franco groups together General Mola, General Varela and General Orgaz, and plans an attack 7 miles south of Madrid, with 25,000 troops and heavy artillery. The German Condors are also called in to help, while Italian troops plan an attack on Guadalajara at the same time. They plan to attack in early February.

Nationalist forces in the Jarama region

January 25

The newly formed Army of the South is still marching towards Malaga in the far south. The city is still in Republican hands, but their inland areas are slowing being eaten away by incoming troops left and right, while Italian troops march in to meet them in Malaga. The troops will take the remaining 10 miles left inland around the city in every direction as they face no resistance from unarmed Republicans.

January 27

The Basque Statute of Autonomy in the north is still holding, after being formed in October. The city of Bilbao is filled with civilians who have fled to the far north to find safety from Nationalist forces. But the Nationalists have been striking the city from the air repeatedly, to outcries from both sides. The Basques/Republicans are mostly civilians trying to stay safe, and there are prison-ships parked in the city where Nationalists are being held, now in danger by their own side. Over January, 224 are killed.

January 29

The workers’ militia are still controlling Barcelona, and most of the Catalonia region; most workers belong to the CNT/FAI. These militias have been working with the Catalonian government since the uprising in July, though the workers unions have control of the area. They have around two million members, plus the allies from the UGT union with one million members, and the Communists have just a few thousand. Regardless of numbers, everyone has equal representation.

Through some of the Catalonia region, and through much of the neighbouring Aragon region, militias have established an anarchist-led movement based on freedom and lack of government, working with the locals. While these sides in Barcelona are opposed to the Nationalist invaders, the Republican government in Valencia also sees these people as enemies, as the movement promotes freedom from government. As the situation continues to evolve, the CNT maintain control, with some representation from the Communists. The anarchists have opposition to all supervisory positions.

But trouble is starting to brew as so many factions working together is running into constant problems. The anarchists cannot work closely with the Socialists, Communists and Catalan nationalists (as in wanting independence from Spain, not the rebel Nationalists). Barcelona also has the communists splitting into different factions, some supporting Spain and the Soviet Union, the others supporting the Catalonian independence groups. Also now gaining traction are the Marxists, who formed the POUM (including famous writer George Orwell), who believe in war to gain social revolution, like the anarchists.  But the Marxists are also flaring up against Trotsyists. With all these groups working and living together, while trying to set up a new social order and hold back the Nationalist troops trying to conquer the area, things are getting heated and shaky in the northeast. They are more looking at each other rather than their common enemy.

XV International Brigade volunteers arrive in Barcelona, January, 1937

~~

This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are linked to source for credit.

This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 26: 8 – 15 January 1937

Anarchist supporters in Barcelona

January 8

The Popular Executive Committee of Valencia is dissolved. The Committee is one of eight main groups set up to look after regions (broken into almost smaller 600 collectives) which have been participating in the Spanish Revolution, an anarchist-driven change in way of life for workers of their regions. Aragon was the main driver of this movement, along with neighbouring Catalonia and Valencia regions. Workers unions were collectivised and land is redistributed between workers to create a new, more equal society. At its peak, between five to seven million people were involved in participating in this enormous and ambitious change. Now through three main phases of its operation, the end is coming to much of the programme, which is suffering for a myriad of reasons (this post could go on for months if I get too detailed). The Popular Executive Committee of Valencia, which set laws and rules in the region, is taken over by the Republican government, which can now take control of anarchist popular militias. The militias now have to join the Popular Army and fight officially for the Republicans and fight under the command of professional army officers (anarchist principles are against hierarchy). While the revolution is huge and successful many places, the collapsing of major collectives such as the Popular Executive Committee signals the beginning of the end for the anarchist revolution. (Click on the above or below photos captions to read more about the collectives and revolution)

Examples of anarchist money coupons issues in some collective areas. Other areas did away with money completely

January 9

The second battle for Corunna Road outside Madrid is coming to a close. In one day, the Nationalists take seven miles of the road between Las Rozas and Puerta de Hierro. The Republicans and International Brigades have all been killed, and a handful have managed to flee, leaving the Nationalists to control the critical supply road into Madrid.

The Garabaldi battalion, part of the XII International Brigade

January 10

The XII International Brigades (mostly Spanish volunteers, along with Italian, Franco-Belgian and Albanian volunteers) enter the region from Madrid to start the third Corunna Road battle. The next five days of fighting shall see them fight to recapture the northwest Madrid areas of Majadahonda, Villanueva, Pozuelo and Boadilla, all areas taken during the Corunna Road battles. The heavy fog has dropped on the region again making fighting cold, wet and difficult.

January 11

The Nationalist forces, which have only just finished the battles killing so many Republicans, have lost up to 15,000 men themselves (the same as the Republican side) and take cover in trenches in the under siege Madrid areas, as they are suffering from their casualties and lack of supplies.

Republican forces lying in ambush in a village near Madrid

January 15

The third battle of Corunna Road ceases. The Nationalists have convincingly won the first and second waves of battle, and now both sides are exhausted. The XII International Brigades do not have the men or supplies to take back any of the northwest Madrid areas, and the Nationalists can’t get any further with their numbers. Both sides are now exhausted and give up in their plans. The Corunna Road route is still technically open and supplies still have a chance of getting through to Madrid, though now the city will have to rely more on the roads coming from Valencia and Aragon in the east/northeast.

~~

This is not a detailed analysis, just a highlight (lowlight?) of the week’s events. Things get lost in translation – Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. The more the world remembers, the better. All photos are linked to source for credit.

This Week In Spanish Civil War History – Week 1: July 17 – 24 1936

Here is the first installment of a new series, a weekly post chronicling the Spanish Civil War, 80 years after the uprising in July 1936. The Spanish Civil War is a complex subject, but if you are new, here is a super simple round-up.

A country with a rocky past, but the more recent Spanish troubles started in 1931, when the monarchy was exiled, creating the Second Spanish Republic. Left-wingers won an election, but as people tried fighting for basics, like fair wages, workers’ rights, women’s rights, education etc, nothing went well, no one agreed, and right-wing conservatives and the church resisted in every which way. Power switched in every direction, but when the Republican left-wing Popular Front took power in February 1936, the military considered an uprising to restore conservative control. Tensions ran high for several months, and when several prominent left and right-wing leaders were murdered in Madrid in July, the match was lit for battle.

The Republicans, the Spanish left, consisted of the Popular Front government, combined with socialists, communists, anarchists, workers’ unions, Marxists, leaders of autonomous Spanish regions like Catalonia and Galicia, and later the International Volunteers. The Spanish right consisted of the military, the Falange fascists, the religious Carlists and the monarchists.

People quickly had to decide which side they were on, though this would have been obvious in most people’s lives already. Within days, thousands were killed for being on the ‘wrong’ side, depending on the consensus of their town or city. What happened next was three years of bloody murder, fighting and executions.

Week 1 – July 17-24 1936

July 17

A military rebellion starts in Morocco, with the Spanish Legion soldiers killing or imprisoning their Generals. Guardia Civil police try to hold back the military in Tetuán and  Larache, resulting in bloody battles. Within a day, Spanish Morocco has fallen to the rebel soldiers. Three Generals – Franco, Mola, and Sanjurjo, all recently demoted within the army, have set up much of the plans. Franco declares a state of war, a call for soldiers to rebel all over mainland Spain and take control of their towns and cities. Anyone who resists gets a bullet.

The Prime Minster, Santiago Casares Quiroga, does nothing to arm the population of Spain, instead spending all day on the phone, ensuring no military barracks decide to rise up in support of the angry Generals.

Armed workers’ militia in July 1936

July 18

Word has spread and the socialists, communists, anarchists and workers’ unions are ready to fight to preserve the Republican government. By dawn, Pamplona, Segovia, Cadiz, Avila, Salamanca and Zaragoza are already overcome by the military, with many deaths. Zaragoza was a stronghold of the anarchists, so it is a huge blow to the Republicans.

The rebel Nationalists already have 1/3 of the country under their control and systemic executions start as other locations rise to protect themselves. Unions offer to help if given weapons, but are refused. Workers strike and start building barricades in the streets.

July 19

By dawn, the prime minister has resigned, and after negotiations, José Giral takes over, giving weapons to the population to defend themselves after formally disbanding the army.

tof-02-035aWeapons handed out to the populace

Seville fights but is defeated by the rebels. Much of southern Spain is invaded and executions begin. Navarre in the north falls to the rebels in a bloody massacre. The city of Burgos has no fighting, totally in support of the military.

Jaén, San Sebastian, Santander and Malaga manage to hold back the rebels. The important cities of Madrid and Barcelona have not yet been taken by the military. Madrid is on a knife-edge as workers are armed, ready to do battle, the assault guards personnel on their side.

General Franco leaves his post in the Canary Islands to take control in Morocco. Barcelona faces battle in the streets, with armed workers and police fighting the large military contingent. The police divisions could not hold the city on their own, and arms are given to the public to help with the siege.

July 20

After two days fighting in the streets, Barcelona is won by the Republican population. In Madrid, workers lay siege to the military barracks, killing many and saving the capital city with people power, as in Barcelona.

condorsMallorca, Coruña, Vigo, Bilbao and Granada are all won by the rebels. Valencia is still in confusion, when the army did not take sides. Fighting begins as workers strike and attack the military barracks.

The rebel military leader, General Sanjurjo, flies from exile in Portugal but is killed when his plane crashes due to plane overloading.

July 21

All chances of ending the rebellion is over, although Seville is the only main city controlled by the military.

SpanishCivilWar_DivisionOfSpain_193607endAreas controlled by Republicans and nationalists in the early days of the war

The Siege of the Alcázar starts in Toledo, south of Madrid. The Alcázar (castle/fort) is filled with rebels and their hostages as Republicans fight to free the women and children inside and defeat the rebels.

July 22

The People’s Olympiad, (an event held in protest against Germany holding the Olympics) get cancelled with the outbreak of war, with many athletes in the city at the outbreak. Many were trapped in Barcelona as fighting started; some choose to fight.

The navy is loyal to the government and the Republicans. Sailors got word of the uprising and defied and killed most navy officers, saving the navy from the rebels. The air force never intended to turn against the government, but didn’t have much in the way of planes or power anyway.

808-0001-001People’s Olympiad poster

July 23

The Nationalist rebels start their own military government, the Junta de Defensa Nacional, based in right-wing Burgos. General Miguel Cabanellas is their leader.

All areas are suffering from killings and prisoner-takings, regardless of who won the uprising.

July 24

The Durruti Column, led by leader Buenaventura Durruti volunteer to leave safe Barcelona and head to Aragon to start fighting back the rebels. About 3000 workers leave in their first group to begin  a take back of rebel-held areas.

~~

From now on, each weekly round-up will be posted on a Monday. All photos are linked to original sources for photo credit.

This is not an in-depth analysis, merely a weekly highlight (lowlight?) round-up. Comments on any extra details anyone wishes to add are welcome.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow of the Wind (La sombra del viento) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

CRZ

Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles. To this library, a man brings his ten-year-old son, Daniel, one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book and from the dusty shelves pulls The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. But as Daniel grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find. What begins as a vase of literary curiosity turns into a race find out the truth behind the life and death of  Julián Carax and to save those he left behind.

~~

With this number one bestseller, I will admit that I had high hopes when I finally sat down to read this book. Despite the the fact that the book has been available for several years in English, I only bought the book, along with its companions, The Angel Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, a few months ago. The Shadow of the Wind opens in 1945 in Barcelona, a city whose history I know well, and life under the regime of Franco is of particular interest to me. As soon as you begin to read, you get a feeling of darkness, of a life and time where things are tough, and people are simply getting by, the way they know best. Young Daniel Sempere finds a book, The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax, in a secret bookstore which changes his life. His father, a bookstore owner, introduces him to the larger-than-life Don Gustav Barceló, a book lover and buyer, which leads Daniel into a friendship and long-term crush on Barceló’s niece, Clara, a beautiful blind woman ten years his senior. Daniel reads to Clara and comes up with plenty of reasons to spend time with her over several years. At this point, I had to wonder where the storyline was attempting to take me, as the characters, while vivid, were not terribly endearing. I stopped reading at 100 pages and took a long beak.

But then the story beckoned me back. When Daniel is violently booted out of Clara’s life, he stumbles upon the book’s greatest character, Fermín Romero de Torres, a homeless man who comes to work in Daniel’s father’s bookstore. Fermín Romero de Torres, who is regularly identified with his full name, is a tremendous enriching character who always has the right thing (or, at least, the most amusing thing) to say. Daniel remains besotted with the books of Julián Carax, which sold poorly but somehow continued to be published throughout the 1930’s. Carax was shot dead in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona, and all copies of his books have been destroyed, most notably by a fire. Daniel has a remaining copy, and there is a man who is desperate to get it from him, a terrifying stalker with no face, just the charred remains of skin that hangs from his bones. Throughout the book he constantly appears, under a false name, as a gruesome and soulless person who is prepared to hurt people for the sake of novels.

Through a series of well-described and easy to follow investigations, Daniel and Fermín unravel Carax’s short life, in the form of his schoolmates – a group of boys with rich fathers, along with several downtrodden boys who have managed to get into a well-to-do school. Each of these boys go about intertwining themselves in each other’s lives, and a vendetta is placed over Carax when he falls in love with his friend’s sister, to the disgust of another schoolboy friend, who is a vile and vicious individual named Francisco Javier Fumero. Fumero is a real villain, first a troubled boy, then a double-crossing spy and killer in the civil war, and now a policeman in search of violence and revenge on none other than Daniel’s friend, Fermín Romero de Torres. Daniel and the dead Carax’s lives continue to be punctuated with many coincidences, both culminating in scary and life-altering moments in The Angel of the Mist, a haunted house that has many secrets waiting for those who are ready to find them out. I have to admit, I figured out the mystery and the twist about halfway through, but that may not happen for everyone.

This book is dark, no question, but also exceedingly intriguing, regardless of whether you understand Spain, its history and its way of life. The prose of this book had been described as ‘florid’, and it certainly is. You cannot go a single page without a lyrical metaphor and/or simile being thrown at you. At times,  it can be a little annoying, but some lines are genius. When Fermín speaks, you can imagine a light coming on, illuminating the dark world around him. When reading, you feel as if you are wandering the cold streets of Barcelona, with the feeling that something will jump out at you. You can feel the nervousness the damp, the worry and the angst. One character I loved is Nuria Monfort, one-time lover of Julián Carax, who endures a difficult life, knowing that she would not ever truly gain Carax’s heart, but my favourite character is Miquel Monfort, Carax’s best friend, and a tortured soul. This book is a love story, of Julián Carax and his Penélope, and of young Daniel Sempere and his Beatriz, whose love affairs take eerily similar twists despite being parted by time, and while romance has to hide in the shadows of much bigger issues, love comes to be one of the biggest dangers that these coming-of-age characters have to face.

I have read many reviews about this book, most praising the work, but I also took the time to read reviews from those who were disappointed. It is a long read at a shade under 500 pages, and there are slow points, particularly in the beginning. However, you cannot fault the quality of the work produced and attention to detail. In terms of the finer detail of the writing style, I read and felt as if I had come across something similar to my own, and that was unusual. I have yet to read something that feels so familiar in its approach (I’m not suggesting I’m as good as Zafón!). The characters all have back stories and personalities of their own, each has a part to play, and in turn, Barcelona is filled with an vast mix of people, all from different walks of life, all connected by a single book from a library that nobody ever visits.

Given the time periods and the lives portrayed this book, it is easy to feel the author’s political leanings, or at least, for what he envisions for the characters. Fermín Romero de Torres once worked for Lluís Companys, the Catalan leader during the Spanish Civil War, who is murdered and is seen as a martyr. Fermín is clearly a man who believes in the freedom of Catalonia, and Fumero, the blood-sucking officer who tortured him during the war, and now has murder in mind, is portrayed as a Franco loving right-wing fanatic (and a well-written one at that). However, anarchists, fascists and communists are all portrayed in a negative light, despite being vastly separate from one another on the political spectrum. There are references throughout the book, by multiple characters, that they hate Franco and fascist dictatorship, and that their lives have been harmed or destroyed by his reign, but they do not appear to be living in fear of him. There is no reference to the language spoken by the characters, which may be a by-product of the translation into English. The Catalan language was banned under Franco, so one might assume they spoke Castilian (traditional) Spanish, but perhaps not. We will never know.

Not only has Carlos Ruiz Zafón written a piece of art, but it has been translated in an excellent manner. There were certain things that I read and thought, ‘that’s not an expression that a Spaniard would use’, but it is what would be the best expression to use in a translation from the original, and as anyone who translates knows, literal translation would not make for an easy-to-read book. If you don’t have a keen understanding of Spain or the Spanish, you probably won’t notice this at all.

My rating for this book is 5/5. Lovers of 1950’s Spain will adore this, as will casual readers looking for a fine mystery.