Seventy five years ago today Franco permitted the German air force to bomb the Basque town of Guernika. It was market day; lots of people came in from outside of town for the day
Apparently there had been warnings about the possibility of this happening but the town council decided to go ahead anyway. After all you can’t put your life on hold because of threats from an enemy. Besides the town had a fair number of air raid shelters and the people where accustomed to using them. Many people had already fled the town for fear of air raids however. It was thanks to that that no more than around 150 people were killed.
5,771 bombs were dropped on the town. That’s almost one per inhabitant: the 1937 population of Guernika was 6,000. Around three quarters of the town was destroyed but, ironically enough, the armaments factories in the outskirts escaped unscathed. This, of course, may have been because the main aim was to frighten the Republicans who were resisting Franco’s forces, not just in Guernika but in the whole of the Basque country.
It was the first time that civilian targets had been attacked in that way. Some say that it was a kind of training for the German airforce for what was to come only a few years later.
We visited the town a few years ago. The tourist office provides a map showing which buildings were destroyed, a scary-looking document. The old part of the town had been rebuilt as it was before the raid, largely, I understand, with money provided by a German benefactor.
The museum of the town is worth a visit: lots of photos and an interactive room where you can “experience” the air raid. Otherwise, Guernika is just an ordinary small town in the Basque Country.
Today there are ceremonies in the town to remember that fateful day. Survivors of the raid, old people who were only children when it happened, will be there. They say that they don’t want the event to be forgotten.