The New York Times Book Review
The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spainby Paul Preston
Long neglected by European historians, the unspeakable atrocities of Franco’s Spain are finally brought to tragic light in this definitive work.Evoking such classics as Anne Applebaum’s Gulag and Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, The Spanish Holocaust sheds light on one of the darkest and most unexamined eras of modern/em>/em>/p>
Long neglected by European historians, the unspeakable atrocities of Franco’s Spain are finally brought to tragic light in this definitive work.Evoking such classics as Anne Applebaum’s Gulag and Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, The Spanish Holocaust sheds light on one of the darkest and most unexamined eras of modern European history. As Spain finally reclaims its historical memory, a full picture can now be drawn of the atrocities of Franco’s Spain—from torture and judicial murders to the abuse of women and children. Paul Preston provides an unforgettable account of the systematic terror carried out by Spain’s fascist government.
The New York Times Book Review
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Meet the Author
Paul Preston, author of The Spanish Civil War, Franco and Juan Carlos, and The Spanish Holocaust, is the world's foremost historian on twentieth-century Spain. A professor at the London School of Economics, he lives in London.
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Professor Preston's book is dense but quite absorbing. He called the killings under General Franco during the Spanish Civil War a 'holocaust', and I felt it appropriate after reading the book. Because it was limited to Spain while the bigger holocaust was being perpetrated by the Germans, this chapter in the Spanish history seems to have been buried and forgotten. It was eye-opening, disturbing, and heartbreaking to read about all the horrific killings and tortures against mostly innocent civilians, and I got the sense that the wounds are not yet completely healed in Spain. After all, General Franco was a revered figure well into the 21st century, and it's often harder to lay bare the open sores when the wounds are inflicted from within. And I felt there is a lesson for all of us. Just like it happened in Spain and more recently in other countries such as Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the freedom we often taken for granted can be easily swept away unless we are constantly vigilant and defend our rights to speech and freedom. And more often than not, it's the women and children who bear the brunt of the harm. Briefly mentioned were the cases of children being forced into orphanages and indoctrinated and/or adopted by their parents' murderers, much like the cases of the disappeared in Argentina. I've noticed a few other reviewers accusing the author of left-leaning bias. Since I am not familiar with the Spanish history, I can't comment on that, but I believe the book offers universal insight and lessons for all people, regardless of their political beliefs.
Paul Preston is the finest historian of modern Spain. This is a harrowing account of the brutality and sadism unleashed by General Franco’s coup against the elected Spanish government. In the resulting war, 200,000 people were killed on the battlefield. Another 200,000 were killed, either murdered or executed after the flimsiest of legal process, 150,000 by the rebels and 50,000 by Republicans. Franco lied that the Republic had killed 470,000 people. Preston contrasts the rebels’ programmatic violence with the Republic’s episodic violence. The rebels aimed to kill “without scruple or hesitation those who do not think as we do”, said coup director General Emilio Mola. Preston notes, “In general, Francoist ‘justice’ attributed all deaths to a deliberate policy of the Republican government and the Generalitat. This was simply not true and a projection on to the Republicans of the rebels’ own murderous intentions.” (Similarly, Franco accused the Republic of military rebellion!) Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode said that Franco “is worse than the Reds.” Preston writes of the rebels’ ‘programme of extermination’, of ‘Franco’s slow war of annihilation’ and of ‘the official encouragement of atrocities in the rebel zone’. Preston observes, “While the rebel authorities actively sanctioned atrocities throughout the war and after, it was precisely the Republican government’s opposition to them that limited them to the first five months of the war.” The Republic tried to control the anarchist checas, death squads. The rebel forces massacred peasants, workers, civilians and prisoners, raped working class women, mutilated casualties, and murdered the wounded. The rebels used atrocity stories - false of the Republic, true of the rebels - to whip up hatred and justify mass murder. The rebels killed priests and nuns who opposed them; they burned down churches, where Republicans were inside them. Many priests backed the rebels and joined in the repression. The Daily Express and the Daily Mail backed the rebels; the Daily Mail’s reporter was embedded with Franco’s forces. The Spanish communist party alleged that there were fifth columnists inside the anarchist trade union movement the CNT. Preston comments that the ‘accusation was in fact entirely justified’. Italian agents infiltrated the CNT and Nazi agents infiltrated the Trotskyist POUM. In March 1937 hundreds of CNT members abandoned the battlefront, went to Barcelona, and recruited 5,000 CNT members into a new body called the ‘Friends of Durruti’. Andreu Nin, head of the POUM, welcomed this treachery. Preston remarks on “the conflict between the advocates of revolution and those who believed that priority should be given to the war effort. The notion that its culmination in the so-called ‘May events’ was a carefully laid Stalinist plot has no basis.” Nin said that the working class had solved the problem of religion by not leaving a single church standing. Preston observes, “the assassination of priests and the burning down of churches were given an idealistic veneer by anarchists as the prior purification necessary for the building of a new world, as if it was that easy to eliminate religion.” Likewise, shooting the whole ruling class would not make a revolution. The border area La Cerdanya was run by an anarchist criminal. The anarchist FAI ‘presided over a network of terror throughout Catalonia’ and carried out massacres. Throughout the war, the British government pretended to be neutral, while assisting Franco as much as it could. Its ‘Non-Intervention’ policy enabled the German and Italian interventions which took Franco to victory. At the war’s end, Colonel Casado, the leader of the coup which ended the Republic, escaped to Britain on a British warship, along with the leader of Madrid’s notorious anarchist checa.
This book is very well researched, well documented and well written. It is a fascinating account of the murders and exterminations which occurred in Spain in the 1930s, as well as a detailed documentation of the individuals and characters involved. I recommend this for anyone interested in history.