THIS book illuminates, among other things, one of the
least-known periods of Spain's turbulent 20th century history - the
repressive aftermath of the country's Civil War in 1936-39, after
the victory of General Franco. It is not one that will appeal to
the faint-hearted. Yet it is an engrossing read.
The provocative title, which raised eyebrows when the book was
published in Spain in 2011, is questionable. There were plenty of
horrifying incidents on both the Nationalist and Republican sides,
which recall Goya's shocking series of prints, The Disasters of
War, but these criminal and vindictive actions pale in
comparison with the magnitude of the Nazi Holocaust.
Nevertheless, Paul Preston, an emeritus professor at the London
School of Economics and a leading historian of 20th-century Spain,
contends that no other word aptly conveys the scale of the tragedy
comprising the Civil War, its aftermath, and the Franco
dictatorship. This is, in part, because of the anti-Semitic
discourse on Franco's side: Republicans had to be exterminated, as
they were instruments of a "Jewish-Bolshevik-Masonic"
Professor Preston puts the number of those who were killed in
battle during the three-year war at 200,000, after Nationalist
military rebels rose against the democratically elected Republican
government in 1936. A further 150,000 were killed by the
Nationalists after various flimsy legal processes (20,000 of them
after the Civil War ended in 1939), and an additional 50,000 in the
Republican-held areas. Thousands more died of disease and hunger
after the war, in prisons and concentration camps.
Victims in the Republican zone were documented by the state
investigation known as the Causa General, set up in 1940,
but the atrocities committed on the other side did not really come
light until after Franco died in 1975, in a flood of books, and,
more recently, exhumations of mass graves around the country.
There was no Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Franco's
death along the lines of Chile or South Africa. Post-Franco
politicians of all colours tacitly agreed to avoid a reckoning, in
order to smooth the transition to democracy under the so-called
Pacto de Olvido (the Pact of Forgetting). In the past
decade, however, various groups, often led by the relatives of
Republican victims, have unearthed the past - often literally.
Professor Preston, who does not hide his loathing of the rebels
and sympathy with the Left, argues, with impressive detail, that
the much greater repression in the Nationalist zones was largely
planned and institutionalised, while that in the Republican areas
was mainly spontaneous, and in response to the threat from the much
better armed and trained Francoist forces.
One of the worst atrocities on the Nationalist side was the
massacre, soon after thewar started, of more than 1000 prisoners,
mainly civilians, herded into the bull ring in Badajoz.
On the Republican side, Professor Preston deals in greater
detail than anyone before with the part played by the NKVD, the
Soviet secret police, in the Civil War, particularly in the mass
execution at Paracuellos of hundreds of imprisoned civilian and
military supporters of Franco.
The Spanish communist leader Santiago Carrillo, councillor for
public order in Madrid at the time, always claimed that he
personally had nothing to do with organising the killings.
Professor Preston believes otherwise, citing his working
relationship with Josif Grigulevich, a sinister undercover NKVD
agent, and later the godfather of one of Carrillo's sons. The NKVD
was also involved in the assassination of the Catalan Trotskyist
leader Andreu Nin.
One of the main victims of the Civil War was the Roman Catholic
Church, as a result of intense anti-clerical violence against an
institution that supported the status quo. The Church blessed
Franco's uprising, and called it a crusade, reducing the conflict
to a black-and-white struggle between good and evil.
Thirteen bishops, and 6832 priests, nuns, monks, and other
religious figures were murdered in the Civil War, compared with
about 900 clerics during the French Revolution. Historians have
called this the largest clerical bloodletting in the history of the
The consequences of Spain's fratricidal conflict still
reverberate bitterly today. This book will help readers to
William Chislett is the author of Spain: What everyone
needs to know (OUP, 2013).
The Spanish Holocaust is published by Harper Press at £10.99
(CT Bookshop £9.90); 978-0-00-638695-7.
THE SPANISH HOLOCAUST- SOME
What sort of knowledge did you have of the Spanish Civil War
before reading this book?
What emotions did you experience as you read? Was there a
particular scene that stood out for you?
Is Paul Preston justified in his use of the word "Holocaust"
about what happened in 1930s Spain?
How did Christians justify their anti-Semitism at this
What part did the Roman Catholic Church play in the
Should there have been a truth commission after General Franco
died? Would this have helped or hindered the move to
How and why did the fighting escalate so greatly?
Whom do you see as the greatest winners and losers in the Civil
IN OUR next reading-groups page, on 4 April, we will print extra
information about the next book. This is The Old
Ways by Robert Macfarlane. It is published by Penguin
at £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 978-0-141-03058-6.
Robert Macfarlane seeks out ancient tracks and pathways in
Britain and abroad. The Old Ways:A journey on foot is his
record of the landscapes he encounters, the people he meets, those
whohave inspired him, and the stories of the country-side through
which he passes. As he travels, he muses on the effect that his
journeys have on his inner life as well as his outer one, and on
howold and new are intertwined in deep ways. TheOld Ways
was chosen as a book of the year by15 reviewers in the national
press, includingAntony Beevor, Penelope Lively, and Andrew
Robert Macfarlane was born in Nottinghamshire in 1976. He was
educated at Nottingham High School, Pembroke College, Cambridge,
and Magdalen College, Oxford. He is a Fellow and Director of
Studies of English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he also
undertook his Ph.D. His book Mountains of the Mind
(Granta, 2003) won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset
Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the
Year. Besides producing books, Macfarlane writes for The
Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement.
Books for the next two months:
May: The Lifeboat by Charlotte
June: Learning to Dream Again by