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Synopsis

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.

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The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain
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February 2nd, 2014
The Spanish Holocaust is a masterful non-military history of the Spanish Civil War. Professor Preston begins by justifying his choice of title, and then gives an account of the tensions within Spanish Society prior to the Military coup whose lack of immediate resolution degenerated into the Civil War. The initial chapters take the reader into a society that was, between the World Wars, both socially and economically backward and in the throes of industrialisation and emergence from semi-feudal agrarian organisation and experiencing those changes through a condensed period. In this way he accounts for the radicalisation of the participants, and the the alienation from the democratic process that was felt by a significant section of working people. It was the success of the organisations which believed that change could be wrought through democracy that resulted in the Popular Front government in 1935 against which the coup was delivered early the following year. The meat of the book details the progress of the subjugation of Spain by the Military conspirators, and the elected government’s marshalling of what military resources remained for resistance. The Government’s effectiveness was challenged by elements of the organised working class stepping into local power vacuums at a time when unity in the Republican zone was essential. When foreign aid was delivered to the Republic, solely by the Soviet Union, the rebel generals’ anti-Communism was finally justified by the presence of Communists with some influence in the Republic. When the Soviet influence delivered a more united effort (at a cost) it was too late. On the Military Rebels’ side, the use of the brutal Foreign Legion and its North African mercenaries enabled a systematic and calculated use of atrocity for the dual purposes of wiping out those on the Republican side who, in the words of initial rebel leader General Mola, “do not think as we do”, and as a warning of the consequence of resistance to anybody else who stood in their way. Preston shows how (eventual rebel leader) Franco’s policy was to use the cover of the Civil war to complete the work of liquidating liberal and proletarian opponents, and he deliberately prolonged the war to maintain that cover. In the rhetoric of the rebels their opponents were dehumanised, or at best decivilised; in their vocabulary their Republican opponents were the equivalent of the untermensch who were later to be treated in a similar way by Franco’s Nazi ally. Extra-legal executions, however, were not the exclusive domain of the rebels, and Preston makes this clear in the chapters about the Republican zone, and he neither pulls his punches nor seeks to justify one or another side’s actions. He relates the considerable risks taken by some individual Republican leaders who sought to put an end, with some success, to the systematic executions carried out by one or more of the armed factions in the zone. Needless to say, such humanity was not reciprocated during, or after, the Civil War. Throughout, the book is written in Professor Preston’s dense style and it is crammed with examples and accounts of individual acts; the scholarship is spectacular. Franco enjoyed more than a third of a century as Spain’s Dictator and thus had a long period to hide the evidence, to rewrite the history of the war, and to ensure that there were no voices within Spain to contradict his version or to challenge his standing abroad. For accounts, therefore, of rebel activities, many of the Spanish language publications referenced by Preston were, by necessity, published in South America; there are a huge number of contemporary accounts from newspapers or from witnesses whose stories have been passed down or recently unearthed. Sources of information regarding crimes in the Republican zone were more plentiful, a government trying to put an end to them, the presence of foreign journalists and diplomats plus the care taken by Franco to ensure that no act went unreported or unexaggerated. The notes and references run to hundreds of pages on the Kobo. It is astonishing and depressing; to acknowledge that the events in the Civil War took place in Europe in the 1930s and went largely unnoticed or misunderstood in the Democracies; that contemporary (liberal) journalists witnessed atrocities but these don’t seem to have received adequate publicity, (presumably through either the World being preoccupied elsewhere, or the journalists not wishing to prejudice access to rebel Officers). The book does not have a happy ending, it can’t. Franco’s self styled deliverance of Spain from the Communists, the advance of Soviet influence west of the Elbe in 1945 together with his part in the the strategic control of the Straits of Gibraltar resulted in Franco being, if not embraced, regarded as a sound associate for liberal NATO. The Franco regime’s war crimes continued into the 1960s, and went unpunished. It is almost as if, more than half a century later, the events are crying out to be acknowledged by a circle wider than the victims’ families, comrades and a handful of historians. One can only wonder how, when Franco died, Spain made a transition to liberal democracy without a second bloodbath. For anybody interested in 20th Century history, or in Spain, or even the current European debate, this brilliant book is essential reading. C Oldham
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