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There was nothing but heat and sun. And, from time to time, the young man forced himself to arch his neck just to feel the lines of sweat dripping down his back.
What had he expected, a German in Spain? It was his job to sweat and look sickly doing it. His cheeks had gone a nice pasty red, even through a three-day growth of beard. He wasn’t smelling all that good either, but then neither were any of the others in the row, staring across the plaza, cameras at the ready, cigarettes hanging limply from parched lips.
The young man had thought about keeping the beard, but he knew his wife would tell him to shave it off the moment he got back to Berlin. It would probably scare the boy anyway—"Where’s my papi! Where’s my papi!" ringing down the hall, screams and tears before all the presents came tumbling out of the suitcase. Presents were always good with a boy of four, even from a father he didn’t quite recognize.
It hadn’t been that long, he thought. Not this time—had it?
The young man kept his right arm on the crank of the movie camera, his eye at the viewfinder, as, with his left hand, he tried to grope for the can of water he had set down somewhere on the cobbled pavement.
He must have looked ridiculous doing it because a voice down the line blurted out, "You do juggling tricks as well, Hoffner, or is it just the balancing act?"
The words were Spanish, but it was a thick Eastern European accent that muddied the sound.
Georg Hoffner pulled himself back from the camera. He brought his long body upright, blinked the sweat from his eye, and stared down at a fat Bulgarian with a hand-held Leica strung across his chest. The camera looked twenty years old, cutting-edge for a Bulgarian.
"Why?" said Hoffner. "You have some balls that need juggling?"
There were a few laughs, those dry uncomfortable laughs that come with heat and sweat, but almost at once the line fell silent. Across the plaza, the doors to a vast building opened. Hoffner quickly repositioned himself behind the camera and peered through the viewfinder. He focused on the banner hanging above, hastily painted but still impressive:
people’s olympics, 19–26 july, 1936, barcelona for the people, for the workers
A line of young men and women began to pour out the doors, all dressed as workers, with red neckerchiefs and berets to signify their exalted station in life. To be a worker in Barcelona these days, a member of the proletariat—that was the stuff of dreams. To be a worker athlete—well, that was pure legend.
The fat Bulgarian snapped his shots as he tried to squeeze past the line of Guardia Civil: patent leather hats, patent leather boots—patent leather men with patent leather souls. How these soldiers were managing to stay upright in the heat was anybody’s guess. Still, Bulgarians were never much good at maneuvering through large Spaniards with cudgels. The Bulgar- ian pushed once too often and his camera went crashing to the pavement.
Hoffner heard the moans from down the line, but it wasn’t enough to draw his attention from the smart set of Germans striding across his lens. Hoffner cranked as they walked, his arm remarkably steady as he followed them along the plaza. There was something almost Soviet to the way these boys moved, triumphant and bedraggled all at once, their nobility protruding from the angle of their heads and the broadness of their chests. He recognized them from this morning’s press conference outside the Olympic Stadium. It had been a hell of a time getting the cameras into the funicular and up the mountain, where the smells of wheat and cow manure and maybe beets—he hadn’t been able to place that one—followed the tram all the way up.
It had been the German contingent on the podium this morning. The place of honor. After all, they were the ones protesting their own Olympic games—Hitler’s chance to show the world the best of Nazi Germany. Hitler, however, would have to wait another ten days before parading his Aryan ideals in Berlin. Until then, it was the worker athletes here in Barcelona—Germans, Swedes, Russians, English, on and on—who would remind the world that sport was pure and not meant to be used as a tool of politics. Hoffner suspected it was a logic only the Left could follow.
Truth be known, most of these boys hadn’t seen Germany in years. They were Jews and Communists and socialists—exiles living in France or England—but still they had come to compete as Germans. Proletariat Germans. Protesting Germans. Take that, you fascist bastards.
The boys reached the buses parked at the edge of the plaza. They turned and waved to no one in particular and then got on. Hoffner stopped the crank and stood upright. The Bulgarian was still yelling at the Guar- dia. The buses began to move and the Guardia, no less bored, headed off in various directions, leaving the Bulgarian to shout into the emptying plaza.
"Come and have a drink," Hoffner said, as he began to fold up the legs on his camera. "We’ll let Pathé Gazette pay for it—what do you say?—and maybe we’ll find you a camera lying around somewhere."
The Bulgarian stopped squawking. He picked up the cracked pieces of his Leica and headed over. His smell preceded him by a good ten meters.
The bar was down in the Raval section of town, near the water and the docks, a good place for pimps and drunks and journalists. At two in the morning there was little chance of telling them apart; now, at four in the afternoon, it was primarily journalists. And one or two whores. They were big girls, with big chests, dark black hair like dripping tar, and tight skirts that hugged the thighs like two thick columns of flesh. The skirts were a kind of protective measure for men too eager to get a passing hand up and inside.
"The games are a joke," the Bulgarian said to Hoffner. Two others were sitting with them, all four drinking what passed for whiskey. "You’d think if they’re going to protest your Nazis, they’d have someone outside of Spain who actually cares that they’re protesting."
Hoffner was reading through one of the letters he had gotten from his wife. He liked reading them over and over, especially when he was sitting with Bulgarians and Poles and—he couldn’t remember what the dozing fourth one was, Russian or Czech. What did it matter? These types all got drunk the same way, spoke the same kind of broken Spanish, and tried to get the girls for cheap. But they all liked that Pathé Gazette picked up the bill for the first few rounds. Hoffner liked it as well. He would have to remember to put in for it.
The Bulgarian said, "You think Hitler cares that a few Communists decide to run the long jump? Or a socialist can throw a hammer?" The Bulgarian was fat and small, a winning combination. "I interviewed one of them. He’s here for the chess. Can you imagine it? Chess as Olympic sport? This one was terribly impressive after he cleaned his glasses and patted down his bald head. Now that’s an athlete."
Hoffner continued to scan the letter. "My son’s been reading the front page of the Tageblatt all by himself," he said. "Every word."
The Pole was pouring out his third glass. "He likes the news?" "Let’s hope not."
"How long has he been reading?"
"The last few months. He’s four and a bit."
"I’ve been reading much longer than that. Are you impressed?" "Only if you read better than you write."
The Pole smiled and drank.
The Bulgarian was leaning back over his chair and staring at one of the girls at the bar. She was staring back with just the right kind of indifference. The Bulgarian turned his head to the table. "She wouldn’t go for less than ten pesetas, you think?"
"She wouldn’t go for it when you asked her last night," said the Pole. "Or the night before. But don’t let that stop you from asking again."
The Bulgarian peered over at Hoffner. "Must be nice to have a wife who writes letters. And a little boy."
"Must be," Hoffner said distractedly.
"I have one somewhere. A wife. Not the writing type." He leaned for- ward. "So tell me, why is it that Pathé Gazette has a German working for them? It’s English newsreel. Shouldn’t you be with Ufa-Tonwoche or Phoebus? One of the German studios?"
Hoffner folded the letter and placed it in his pocket. "Phoebus never did newsreels."
"So why not Ufa?"
Hoffner took hold of the bottle. "Not too many Jews working out at Ufa these days." He poured himself a glass. "I’d say none, but then there’s always one or two who’ve managed to slip through the cracks. Too good at what they do for some government statute to force them out. I wasn’t that good in the first place." He drank.
"I’m a Jew," said the Pole.
Hoffner poured himself another. "Good for you."
The Bulgarian said, "And Pathé Gazette just happened to have an office in Berlin? How nice. I’m thinking they haven’t had time to set one up in Sofia just yet."
"Don’t sound so bitter," Hoffner said with a smile. "The girl’ll think you don’t really want her."
The Bulgarian shot a glance back at the bar. The girl was chatting up the barman.
The Pole pushed back his chair. "I have an interview with the Swedish fencing team," he said. "We’re very keen on fencing in Warsaw." He stood. "Anyone interested?"
"Are there women on the team?" said the Bulgarian. "I imagine so."
"My God. Swedish women in those outfits. And socialists to boot." The Bulgarian was on his feet. He piped his voice toward the girl at the bar. "No more negotiating, capitalist. I’m off to the Revolution."
The girl glanced over. She smiled and winked and went back to her barman.
"And yet she knows I’m a capitalist at heart. How it kills me." The Bulgar- ian picked up his rucksack from the floor. It was holding a new Zeiss Ikon, courtesy of the English Pathé Gazette Company. The Bulgarian had prom- ised to get the camera back in one piece. Hoffner wasn’t holding his breath. "Fifteen pesetas for an hour," said the Bulgarian, as he hoisted the strap over his shoulder. "It’s a crime."
"Enjoy the Swedes," said Hoffner. He picked up his own bag.
The dozing Czech or Russian opened his eyes. Hoffner stood. He left a few coins on the table and headed for the door.
His room smelled of wood polish and garlic and stared out at the expanse that was the Plaza Catalonia. His hotel, the Colón, stretched the length of one side of the square and seemed to be perpetually in direct sunlight. Eight in the morning, nine at night, there was no escaping the glare. Hoffner thought it must have been some sort of architectural coup, but all it did was make the room unbearably steamy.
He had worked his way through descriptions of the square, the view of Barcelona, the taste of the food—a letter each day required topics to fill it. Lotte had written back with things far more compelling: their four-year- old Mendy had remembered to flush the toilet twice in the last three days; Elena, their cook and nanny, had experimented with Spanish rice (a gesture of solidarity for an absent father—not a success); Sascha, his brother, had in- explicably come calling—it was three years since they had last spoken. Lotte reminded Georg that she had never been fond of his brother. And finally Nikolai, Hoffner’s father, had insulted the gardener. Something to do with the placement of a ladder. Lotte hadn’t been terribly clear on the details but, save for the appearance of his brother, Hoffner was glad to hear that things were moving along at their usual pace. He would be home soon enough. Until then, he would continue to live for her letters. He started to write.
Have I mentioned it’s hot? Very hot, and they seem to think that water makes you less of a man. I wouldn’t mind it so much, but I get thirsty from time to time and they offer wine or whiskey, and I find myself no less thirsty. Can you imagine it? (I hope you’re laughing. I need to know I’m still wonderfully funny and charming to you.)
I smell awful. There’s no reason to bathe (see water reference above). And yet, among the other journalists, I’m one of the few I can actually bear the smell of. There’s a nice Frenchman who I think has an unlimited stash of women’s perfume, and I’m coming close to asking him for some, but several Czechs have asked him to dance, so I think I’ll hold off for as long as I can.
I ate bull’s tail yesterday. Thick brown sauce. A little like brisket but stringier. And then apples, I think, in the same sauce. Not quite as effective. The whiskey was a help there.
I miss you—terribly. I’m amazed I’ve waited this long to say it. And Mendy. I try not to think about that. I suppose he’s still trying to be very brave, but I do hope there have been some tears. Selfish of me, I know, but at least that way I can think I’m not forgotten (yes, there are always a few lines of self-pity in here, so you’ll just have to bear with me—you always do).
Still, I am finding it fascinating here. All these idealists pretending to be athletes. I suppose it makes some sort of point. They’re all very kind to me when they find out I’m a German. "Brave, German," they say. "That’ll show Hitler." Of course I don’t tell them I work for an English company. I think it would deflate me a little in their estimation, and you always get a better reel of film and an interview when they think more of you than they should.
As for being a Jew, no one cares here. It’s almost as if I’d forgotten what that was like. You say you’re a Jew, and they say Oh and move on as if you’ve asked for the salt. There are the few who realize I’m a German, and the pieces start to click together, but for the most part there’s nothing more to it.
Can you remember what life was like when that was true? Can you imagine raising a son without having to explain that? They manage it here quite wonderfully, even with their aversion to water. Excuses aside, your father and I will have to sit down and have that talk when I get back. It can’t go on. Is he still thinking the racial laws will be recalled? Is he still trying to stay as quiet as he can? Does he still shake at night?
I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so shrill about your father, but you and I both know the time has come.
Did I mention it’s hot? And that I miss you—desperately? It is desperation. I love you beyond all measure. I’m a fool to go away as often as I do. So let’s all go away.
I’ve been told I’m trying suquet tonight. No idea what it is. Maybe fish and potatoes. Think of me when you eat.
He folded the letter and placed a wrapped piece of chocolate inside for Mendy. He would post it on his way up to the park. He checked his watch. He had time for a nap.
The sun was low across the horizon as Hoffner set the camera on a narrow shelf of stone and tile. He had borrowed a car to make his way up to this particular park—Park Güell—Antonio Gaudí’s homage to sweeping curves and staggering colors and a mind unburdened by things of this world. It was like walking through a child’s gingerbread fantasy, except here all the garden walls seemed to be sprouting from trees or dripping from their branches. Hoffner tried to find a straight line somewhere among them, but it was pointless.
The city below looked equally untamed, pale stone and arching roofs, sudden openings here and there where a column or spire might rise from the disarray. The strangest and tallest was Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, his unfinished cathedral, whose towers looked to be made of sand, as if a spi- der were caught belly-up and struggling to right itself. Farther on stood the hills and Montjuïc, with its ancient fortress and the new Olympic Stadium. To the left, the sea.
Somehow, staring out, Hoffner felt a sudden rush of calm. It might have been the air of a Mediterranean night or the silence all around him. Or maybe it was just the genius of Gaudí. Whatever it was, Hoffner let himself take it in.
A couple stopped next to him. They stared out for a few moments and then moved on. Somewhere, a lute began to play.
The sun spread across the few clouds, and Hoffner bent over and began to film. It would make a nice opening shot, Montjuïc in the distance, the sky the rust of early sunset, and the first lights beginning to shimmer inside the buildings. Hoffner panned slowly across the city until he heard foot- steps on the gravel behind him. They stopped. He heard the flare of a cigarette lighter, then the snap of the top as it clicked shut.
Hoffner stopped the crank and slowly stood upright. He turned.
A tall man with a shock of white hair stood staring at him. The man let out a long spear of smoke and offered Hoffner a cigarette.
"Thanks, no," said Hoffner.
The man nodded once. The hair might have been white, but he was no more than fifty, and his arms in shirtsleeves showed lithe, taut muscle.
His name was Karl Vollman, and he was an Olympic chess player. A German. The two had shared a bottle of whiskey a few nights back. Vollman slid the pack into his shirt pocket and took another long pull.
"It’s a beautiful view," Vollman said. "Yes."
"Just right for your sort of thing." Vollman deepened his voice. "City of lights, city of dreams—Olimpiada Popular, and Pathé Gazette is there." He smiled to himself and took another pull.
"No chess tonight?"
"There’s chess every night. Later. Down in the Raval. Seedy and smoky. Just right."
"I met a Bulgarian who finds it rather silly—chess as sport." "I find Bulgarians rather silly, so I suspect we’re even."
Vollman had spent the better part of the past ten years in Moscow, teaching something, playing chess. He said he liked the cold.
"You just happened to find yourself in Park Güell tonight?" Hoffner said.
"They say you can’t leave the city without seeing it. Here I am. Seeing it." Vollman looked past Hoffner to Barcelona. "Peaceful, isn’t it? Sad how we both know it won’t be that way much longer."
Hoffner measured the stare. Whatever else Vollman had been doing in
Moscow, he had learned to show nothing in his face.
Hoffner said, "I’m sure they’ll have a wild time of it when the Olimpiada starts up."
Vollman’s stare gave way to a half smile. "Oh, is that what I was talking about? The Olimpiada." He finished his cigarette, dropped it to the ground, and watched his foot crush it out. Thinking out loud, he said, "I suppose it’s what you’re here to film, what I’m here to do. Much simpler seeing it that way."
Hoffner had felt a mild unease with Vollman the other night. This was something more.
Vollman said, "I don’t imagine either of us will be in Barcelona much longer, do you?" He looked directly at Hoffner. "All those fascist rumblings in the south—Seville, Morocco. Only a matter of time."
Again, Hoffner said nothing.
Vollman pulled out the pack and tapped out a second cigarette. He lit it and spat a piece of tobacco to the ground.
"Fascist rumblings?" Hoffner said blandly. "I hadn’t heard."
Vollman’s smile returned. "Really? A German, working for the English, in socialist Spain just at the moment the fascists are thinking of turning the world on its head, and he hasn’t heard. How remarkable." He gave Hoffner no time to answer. "What are you, Georg, twenty-nine, thirty?"
Hoffner was twenty-five, but why give Vollman more ammunition? "Something like that," Hoffner said.
"Then you’re still young enough to take some advice." Vollman spat again. "We both know why you’re in Barcelona. Which means the Spanish know why you’re here. And if the Spanish know—well, wouldn’t you think the Nazis would know as well?"
Hoffner didn’t like the shift in tone. "And do the Nazis know why you’re here?"
Despite himself, Vollman liked the answer. Again he smiled.
"English, Russians," he said, "Italians, Germans. Aren’t we all just waiting for the Spaniards to figure it out for themselves? And when they do"—Vollman shook his head with as much pathos as a man like him could muster—"that’s when we take sides. And that’s when the real games begin." He took a last pull. He was oddly quick with a cigarette.
Hoffner said, "You mean when they start killing each other."
Vollman hesitated even as he showed nothing. He tossed his cigarette to the ground and then bobbed a nod out at the city. "You keep on getting whatever it was you were getting. When you need more, you know where to find me."
Vollman started off.
"It’s Paris," Hoffner said. Vollman stopped. He turned.
"The city of lights," Hoffner said. "Not good to be confusing Paris and Barcelona these days."
Vollman waited. There was no telling what he was thinking. He said nothing and moved off. Hoffner watched as Vollman stopped for a few moments by the lute player, dropped a coin in the man’s hat, and headed for the stairs.
Back at his room, Hoffner was finishing his third glass of whiskey when he placed an empty sheet of paper on the desk. His head was spinning—from Vollman, from the booze—but there was always one place he could go to clear his mind.
He began to write.
Brilliant, Papi. Make sure the gardener doesn’t take a shovel to your head the next time.
It’s past eleven. They’re all heading off for dinner, so you’re the best I can do for company. Don’t pat yourself on the back. I’ve had a few, and we both know what that does to my letters to Lotte. You won’t
I can’t promise coherence. Then again, there isn’t a lot about Spain these days that inspires it, so I think I won’t worry. Oh, and there’s nothing else to tell about the police, except that their hats are ludicrous. I’d try to draw you one, but it would come off looking like a dying bat or a headless peacock. Wonderfully appropriate but not terribly accurate.
So that leaves the politics. Yes, the politics. At last. Just for you. I can hear you laughing. I had a strangely unnerving conversation tonight—the place seems to thrive on strangely unnerving conversations—but there’s no point in going into that. Still, it put me in the frame of mind.
You’d feel right at home. It’s like Berlin after the Kaiser, except here the Lefties manage it without a dinner jacket or soap. They take the worker thing very seriously. Lots of shirtsleeves and bandanas. It’s Mediterranean Marxism, which has a kind of primitive feel to it— everyone sweating and opening shirt buttons and going without shoes. They have rallies all the time and write large, imposing posters with lots of dates on them. Women wear trousers a great deal, which seems to go counter to the whole heat-inspired politics of the Left. Wouldn’t a dress be cooler? It makes you wonder how much the cold had to do with paving the way for Hitler, but that’s for another time. (If the line above is blacked out by the censor, I probably deserved it, so don’t worry.)
I’ve met anarchists and socialists. I’ve eaten with Communists and anarcho-syndicalists and Marxist-nihilists, and something simply referred to as a non-Stalinist Soviet. I thought the person introducing me was talking about a kind of napkin until a very earnest young woman began to spew in a much-too-quick Spanish for me to follow. Best recourse is just to nod.
The bizarre thing is that they all seem to think they’re the ones running the show. Not together, of course. That would be asking too much. (At least Weimar got that right for a while.) The socialists hate the anarchists. The anarchists hate the Communists. And the Communists have no power whatsoever and seem to hate even themselves.
I think there’s a central government somewhere, but Barcelona doesn’t like to admit that. The Lefties they elected in February— socialists calling themselves a Popular Front, which is bizarre when no one really likes them and they’re well behind the curve at every turn—are a kind of mythological beast that shouts at everyone from Madrid and tells them how to be proper Lefties—who to adore, who to hate. This week, I think it’s the anarcho-syndicalists—I still have no idea what that means—whom we’re all supposed to be burning in effigy. And that’s just the boys who are in their own camp.
It gets much easier when they turn to the Right. There it’s basically two groups that the Lefties scream at—hard-line monarchists and hard-line fascists, and both of them marching with crosses. Very big crosses. Vast crosses. Epic crosses. There’s a scent of the Crusades in all this.
The first call themselves Carlists. They want the king back. Very Catholic. Lots of pedigree. Spanish arrogance drunk on holy water.
The second are the Falangists, a version of Mussolini’s Fascisti, although I suspect they find Hitler just as inspiring. They’re relatively new. I think they invented themselves around the same time the Reichstag burned. Catholic (as long as the priests tell the people to follow them). Militarists. And hell-bent on rooting out anyone who even recognizes the name Marx.
Unlike the Left, the boys on the Right actually talk to each other. That makes them far more dangerous.
It’s only a matter of time before it all blows up. So it’s going to be news, and that means you’ll have to bear with me. You’ll also have to make sure Lotte can bear it as well. I need you for that. I’m asking you for that. Not for too long, I hope. But then there are always those unnerving conversations.
Anyway, I’m losing my train of thought. And I’m tired. That seems to be a constant.
I imagine most of this letter is blacked out. I know. My apologies. Watch the papers. It won’t be long. And Pathé Gazette will be there.
He was right, of course. The opening ceremonies of the Olimpiada Popular, slotted for the nineteenth of July, never happened. Instead, two days earlier, all hell had broken loose.
The first reports started arriving on the afternoon of the eighteenth. They were of no help, wires and rumors coming in from Morocco and the south: ten dead, then fifty. Something had happened in Melilla on the northern coast of Morocco; a colonel had arrested a general. The question was, was the colonel on the Left or the Right? More than that, whose soldiers were dying, and what were they dying for? By the time Georg made it to the consulate for confirmation, the number was at two hundred. A fascist group of officers—calling themselves rebel Nationalists—had secured all of Morocco, and another group on the mainland was heading for Seville.
Georg read the wire from the prime minister in Madrid—they’re rising? very well. i shall go and lie down—and knew the Lefties had no idea what they were in for. By 9 p.m., word had come through that Queipo de Llano—one of the more vicious generals in the uprising—had marched into Seville with four thousand rebel fascist soldiers and taken her in a matter of hours. Queipo was clever: he simply arrested and shot anyone who wouldn’t join him.
Hoffner took his camera and headed for the Rambla. Everyone was out. News never waited long in Barcelona.
There were already loudspeakers up on the trees, music for the most part—for some reason Rossini was getting the majority of the playing time—but every so often an announcement would come through:
"These are isolated incidents."
"The government has put down the failed military rebellion." "Do not take matters into your own hands."
"Anyone arming himself will be arrested."
The anarchists were not so convinced. Georg latched onto a small group who were more than eager to have a foreigner film their fight to save Spain.
Down at the harbor, while waiting for more men to arrive, Georg found a sheet of paper and began to write to his father:
11 p.m. The place is madness. They’ve already started putting up barricades, waiting for God knows what out of the barracks. An hour ago I saw thirty men armed with knives, bats, and guns that hadn’t been used for over twenty years. They broke into a police armory. The commanding officer handed out every last weapon before joining them.
These are anarchists. They know what happens if the army finds no resistance. Women are armed as well. I suspect I’ll be seeing children. They speak about the fascists as if they were an army of foreign conquerors—not Spaniards, not brothers. They have no shared history. They are the enemy.
We’re down at the docks. The smell of fish is overwhelming, nets abandoned, the heat suffocating. Food will be crucial soon enough, but it’s guns they need now. We’re crouching behind a pair of trucks. I’ve heard the crack of rifle fire from time to time, but everything is strangely calm. My group is after the ships. There’s a shipment of dynamite on one of them. No organization. They simply wait for critical mass and then run at what they need. They’ve told me where they want me to stand as I film. They want it filmed.
Fifteen more arrive. They don’t look like revolutionaries. They wear trousers, leather shoes, well-shaved. Each has the red and black bandana around his neck. They, too, are glad I’m here.
We’re not the rebels, one of them tells me. We defend what is ours. The fascists are the enemy of Spain.
They ask me to film them as they crouch behind the trucks. They run and I film.
They’re on the ships now. Either they’ll come back or they won’t. I’ll give them another ten minutes, and then I have to get back up the Rambla. We’ll see where I sleep.
Throughout the night, the workers found guns and rifles and grenades and fitted trucks and cars with armor plate. And they waited. Georg stole two hours of sleep at a café, Tranquilidad, on the edge of the Raval. It was an anarchist stronghold. News kept pouring in until the first real shots came just after dawn.
10 a.m. I’m in a building across from one of the big fountains, I can’t remember which one. We’ve been on our feet, running from barricade to barricade for the last three hours. The smell of horse manure and blood comes up at you everywhere you go. Someone handed me a pistol. I haven’t had to use it yet.
The entire country is in it now. Madrid sends orders that aren’t orders. The Republican government—anarchists, socialists, Communists (imagine those meetings)—are letting everyone run free. The prime minister is gone. His replacement, Barrio or Barria (no one speaks clearly enough for me to catch the name), lasted for all of about two hours. The fascist generals are claiming control of a third of the country—it’s inconceivable how easy it was for them—and we’re focusing on taking the telephone exchange.
We’ve heard of churches pillaged, priests beaten (or worse). I saw something I couldn’t understand. A man next to me explained. Nuns, he said. Mummified corpses of nuns dragged out onto the streets. You could see the ripped cloth around the bodies, the bones. They were thrown across the steps to the church. I wanted to look away, but there’s no doing that through the viewfinder. My hand cranks and it all happens. I’ll burn the film.
We’ve just heard there’s a battalion of Falangist rebels getting ready to take the Diagonal (they’ll cut the city in half if they do). There’s also an artillery regiment of fascist rebels marching from the Sant Andreu barracks—90,000 rifles inside. Whoever gets the Diagonal takes Barcelona. My hotel is under rebel control. I suppose I won’t have time for a nap.
While Georg found another safe nook, a General Goded was arriving by seaplane from Majorca. He had been told to take the city for the rebels. He wasn’t counting on the Guardia Civil joining the workers, a column of four thousand men, eight hundred of whom were climbing the Via Lai- etana toward the Commission of Public Order. The crowds roared, rifles and fists reached to the skies, and the Republican fighters—with some crack sniper fire—retook the Ritz and the Colón, while the anarchists overran the telephone exchange. And all this by 2 p.m. It was now just a matter of time before the fascists were done for.
4 p.m. Only a few pockets left. Hard to think I would have been up in the stadium right now, seeing flowers and doves and hearing anthems for the games. It’s unimaginable.
I’m in the Avenida Icaria, down near the water. They’ve turned huge rolls of newsprint into barricades. It’s keeping the fascist regiment from the Sant Andreu barracks back. The other rebel soldiers are cut off.
There was a moment of remarkable bravery a few minutes ago. A rebel machine gun was wreaking havoc. Two workers stepped out from behind the barricade and, raising their rifles over their heads, began to walk toward it. It was startling to watch from the barricade. It must have been even more so at the machine gun, because the firing stopped. The two workers shouted to the rebels that they were firing on their brothers.
"Your officers have tricked you!" one of them shouted. "You must fight for Spain, not against her."
They continued walking, rifles over their heads. A minute later, the rebel soldiers turned their machine gun around and began to fire on the fascists. It was—I don’t know what it was. The rebels surrendered a minute later.
It gives me hope.
Two hours later, General Goded admitted defeat on the radio and was promptly shipped off to face court-martial. So ended the first full day of civil war in Barcelona. Six hundred lay dead, four thousand wounded.
As for the People’s Games, Spain was well beyond games.
After that, there were no more letters from Georg. There was nothing more from Georg. Nothing.
And his silence headed east.
Copyright © 2011 by Jonathan Rabb