No one begrudges the development of beautiful country villages, or works of art that can be seen by everyone in the world, only the fact that beautiful things can on occasion become horrible, and it is this horror that must not be repeated.–
Such is the case of Guernica, a small town in Biscay, Spain, known as an icon in the freedom of the Basque people because, before its famous oak tree, Spanish monarchs or their representatives swore to observe the local rights of the Basque people. But this story changed completely on 26th April 1937.
Like every other Monday, the farmers from the surrounding areas brought their produce to the market square, in spite of its proximity to the front line of the Spanish Civil War.
In the middle of the afternoon, the church bells rang to sound the alarm for an imminent aerial attack and, at 20 minutes to 5, Heinkels IIIs, the most advanced planes in the German army at the time, began their bomb attack on the town. Behind them came Junkers 52s, heavier bomber planes.
In a matter of minutes the town was wiped out, with 1654 people left dead and 889 injured, according to newspaper reports at the time.
The 43 German bombers were part of the Condor Legion, which Hitler sent to Spain to support Francisco Franco.
According to figures from German military archives in Freiburg, the order to attack was given by Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, commander of the Condor Legion.
Such barbarianism could not be silenced, and thanks to the determination and art of the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), it has been immortalised in his work “Guernica”, a canvas more than 25 feet wide which he exhibited a few weeks after the massacre, in the World’s Fair in 1937.
“Guernica”, the work of art, is the most amazing denouncement of the horror that is human warfare.
Some say that the bull represents the nobility of the Spanish town, while others claim that it represents the brutality and cruelty that ruled that era. The horse represents the innocent victim, persecuted and defeated.
The painting followed the artist to France where they met once again at a later date, after the fascist occupation. Once the country was freed, “Guernica” was sent by Picasso to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as a loan. It was there for more than thirty years before being moved to the Prado Museum once Franco’s regime had fallen.
Picasso was always reluctant to explain the meaning of his work, and when the Germans occupied Paris during the Second World War, on seeing the artwork, a German official asked him if he had painted it, to which he replied “I didn’t do this, you did this.”
Stamp-collectors worldwide have also collected this human work of art on different stamps from different countries, as if to remember that in spite of it, man has not learnt his lesson from Guernica, and there were many more examples to follow, albeit with different names: Lidice and the Warsaw Ghetto, to give two examples from the Second World War, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and then Vietnam during the 70s, and in the 21st century, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
It’s paradoxical that a beautiful reproduction is in the halls of the main building of the United nations in New York, and that representatives from important countries see it daily, when in the UN Security Council, they voted in favour of the destruction of countries, in a style similar to that of Guernica.
However, Guernica, the original work, keeps itself soaring, virile and in constant denouncement of the members of the Condor Legion then and now, while on the other hand, the stamps that reproduce it are being sent all over the world so that there are no more Guernicas like that.
*Juan Hernandez Machado: Merit Philatelic of the Cuban Philatelic Federation.
(Translated by Amy Carruthers)