Reuben Kadish and Philip Guston, Panel from The Inquisition, 1935, Museo Michoacano, Morelia, Mexico.
On April 26th, 1937 the world was shaken by the news of the destructive force that targeted Guernica – a town in the Basque Region of Spain, which fell victim to a brutal Spanish Civil War. The scale of the destruction and the unprecedented targeting of civilians broke the news in Western media, but it was art that ingrained Guernica’s story as one of the most vicious attacks of the 20th century.
The Destruction of Guernica
Why was this event so shocking? It was the first time the air raid on such a large scale targeted civilians. The horror experienced by the victims was publicized by foreign war correspondents covering the Spanish Civil War.
“A Government official, tears streaming down his face, burst into the dismal dining-room crying: ‘Guernica is destroyed. The Germans bombed and bombed and bombed.’ The time was about 9.30 p.m. Captain Roberts banged a huge fist on the table and said: ‘Bloody swine.’ Five minutes later I was in one of Mendiguren’s limousines speeding towards Guernica. We were still a good ten miles away when I saw the reflection of Guernica’s flames in the sky. As we drew nearer, on both sides of the road, men, women, and children were sitting, dazed. I saw a priest in one group. I stopped the car and went up to him. ‘What I happened, Father?’ I asked. His face was blackened, his clothes in tatters. He couldn’t talk. He just pointed to the flames, still about four miles away, then whispered: ‘Aviones. . . bombas’. . . mucho, mucho“ – the words of Noel Monks, the first war correspondent to enter the city of Guernica, Spain, on 26th April 1937 (Noel Monks, Eyewitness, 1955).
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