Culture: ‘Between Spain and Russia’

entre-espana-y-russia-cartel-casa-de-colonAn extraordinary exhibition in the Casa de Colón in Las Palmas started earlier this month, entitled ‘Entre España y Rusia’, recovering the story of the Spanish Civil War children.

The Exhibition aims to rebuild the story of those children who had to abandon everything because of the Civil War in Spain. It is not simply trying to recover the records from official documents and newspaper accounts of the time, but also to rewrite more accurately their history, prioritizing their own words, their oral and written testimonies (drawings, essays, letters, memoirs, diaries, autobiographies , etc.) with the ultimate purpose of making this historic time in Spain and Russia better known and understood and, at the same time, paying a sincere homage to its protagonists.

Between 1936 and 1939, Spain suffered the effects of a cruel fratricidal war that ended thousands of childhoods. Spanish children suffered, as did adults, the consequences of the conflict and were direct victims of hostilities. They had to cope with food shortages, unsanitary conditions and numerous diseases. They saw violence and vengeance take over the streets, which went from being spaces of play and recreation to dangerous and forbidden places. The sirens and the shelters became a day to day experienc due to the constant bombings that devastated the country. They stopped going to school. Many had no choice but to leave. Convinced that only in this way could they survive, their parents decided that their should be part of one of numerous evacuation campaigns organized by the Government of the Republic. These evacuations of children abroad constituted the first exile of the Spanish people derived directly from the Civil War.’

‘Of all the countries that welcomed the Spanish children, the Soviet Union was undoubtedly, the one that generated the greatest praise and criticism at that time, which most enlightened consciences and shook hearts. The 2,895 children who landed at the ports of Yalta and Leningrad between 21 March 1937 and the end of October 1938 aroused as much interest then as they do now, 75 years after their departure’

The exhibition can be visit with free admission until 5 January 2017
Casa de Colón is open from Monday to Friday 10:00-21:00,
Saturday 10:00-18:00 and Sunday and holidays 10:00-15:00 

Just over 80 years ago, on July 18, 1936, the Spanish Civil War began as a revolt led by right-wing Spanish military officers in Spanish Morocco and mainland Spain. From the Canary Islands, General Francisco Franco broadcast a message calling for all army officers to join the uprising and overthrow Spain’s leftist Republican government.

Within three days, the rebels had captured “Spanish Morocco”, much of northern Spain, and several key cities in the south. The Republicans succeeded in putting down the uprising in other areas, including Madrid, Spain’s capital. The Republicans and the Nationalists, as the rebels were called, then proceeded to secure their respective territories by executing thousands of suspected political opponents.

Meanwhile, Franco flew to Morocco and prepared to bring the Army of Africa over to the mainland.

 

Editor’s note:
Many these days do not know that the very first skirmish of the Spanish Civil war occurred on the streets of Las Palmas.  Nor do most these days really appreciate quite how bitter that war became for everyone in the country, no matter what side they were on.

Franco, then military governor of Tenerife, received word in Santa Cruz by secret messenger on July 16th 1936 that a Dragon Rapide aircraft had landed at Gando airport on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria.  The aircraft had been impounded, having previously made an unscheduled stop at a military base in north Africa for refuelling on its way to the islands.

Knowing that the aircraft’s arrival was part of an agreed plan, Franco cut communications from Tenerife, placing the island under military control and went directly to Las Palmas the following day to do the same.  The Republican Civil Governor on Gran Canaria had received information that something was happening and instructed his local “Shock Police” to resist any attempt to impose martial law.  Fights broke out on the streets of Las Palmas, briefly delaying Franco’s plans, but outgunned by the army, the city was brought under military control by the end of the 17th, and the entire island by the following day.

The then British Consul was a friend of the General, with whom he played golf, and on learning of the Dragon Rapide having been detained, requested that he release the plane which, according to him, had been chartered by a British subject, and had only British passengers.  Franco said he would consider it under legal advisement.  Few can have suspected that the aircraft had actually been chartered and sent from Croydon airport, by an aristocratic nationalist in London as part of the planned military uprising.

Years later, after, the now Dictator, Franco had taken power, his administration made great show of trying to have as many of the republican evacuated children repatriated to Spain, particularly from places like Russia, as a form of propaganda to bolster the fascist victory with the returning of Spain’s lost children.  Many of these children, however, never saw their parents again, and were instead entrusted to loyal nationalist families to be re-educated in the right wing doctrines of the day.

In this anniversary year, it would be well worth going to discover for yourself some of the stories of these children and their lives following the fall of the Second Republic…

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