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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Learning Lessons from Spain and World War II



 A vintage poster from the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, created by the Spanish Labor Unions in opposition to General Franco. Franco has the face of death, wears the Nazi helmet and bears the swastika, while the Spanish military, monarchy/aristocracy, and the clergy  all follow on/carry his coattails.  Though labeled as propaganda by the Spanish government at the time (and since), it was actually pretty close to the truth, perhaps even more than they knew, at the time.


This post was influenced by two things - my reading more about the history of Spain before we visit there next year, as well as watching a documentary called "The Four Seasons Lodge" about the last of summer communities for Jewish Holocaust survivors in the Catskill Mountains.

(During the 1950s and 1960s, after being disallowed in the white-Christian only resorts in the Catskills, Jewish resorts  in general sprang up everywhere, as their own escape from city life - something they had never been afforded them before.)


Now - the history of Spain and this documentary of a community of Jewish Holocaust survivors may seem very different, at first, but they converge at a point - actually several points - throughout history.

(Forgive me if I get any details wrong, I'm still reading from various sources and learning.  I never just take the word of any one history book, I read several.  Thus, I will correct this post if I find that I've been incorrect. ;)


You see, once upon a time in Spain, up until the 15th century, Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived peaceably together for centuries. 

In fact, though a country full of Catholic-run monarchies, Jews and Muslims held very high positions in court, being very highly educated. 

However, when Ferdinand of Aragon of Isabella of Castile married - yes, that Ferdinand and Isabella, who sponsored Christopher Columbus's trip to the New World - their main goal was "reconquest" of Spain - to unite Spain and "protect Christianity" - which meant expelling all Jews and Muslims as fast as they could.  They also shunned education for the commoners, re-adhering them to the church's position on all matters.




Unfortunately, these were also the most educated of men.

Thus, despite having all the wealth riches of the New World at their disposal, since they shunned educating commoners and had expelled most of their lawyers,  judges, engineers, architects, accountants, bankers, physicians, authors, and artists, they had no one to manage it - the country of Spain remained a largely poor and sick country, with no new architectural, mechanical, or technical advancements, save  a few solely for the monarchy and the church.

Thus, "The Golden Age" of Spain wasn't so golden after all - and even the monarchy had to rely on the rest of Europe for banking and financing, at a heavy interest, having expelled most of the educated and experienced out of their own country for faith reasons.

After which, of course, came the Spanish Inquisition, which meant you forcibly converted to Christian Catholicism or you die - even after being tortured into confession and conversion.




Even after you converted, if were even suspected of adhering to your old faith or speaking Hebrew or Arabic in private, you were tortured into confession (regardless of guilty or not) -  and then you died.

This also applied to the Basques, the Galicians, and the Catalans, too, by the way, who spoke their own languages (the Catalans and Galicians having a Latin-based language, similar but separate from Spanish, and the Basques, who speak a language of origins unknown to this day - it is not Latin-based or Indo-European.   Both regions also speak Spanish today, too, but they have managed to hang on to their language and culture despite all efforts to "cleanse" them of it.


*That is NOT a condemnation of Catholicism itself - all faiths, regardless of denominations within those faiths, have performed similar shameful acts in history at some point - thus, it is a condemnation of any faith, or denomination or faction within that faith, that has engaged in such intolerance,  exile, mistreatment, forced conversion, or murder of those of other faiths and/or races.


(As for me, I am confirmed Episcopalian since 2007 - which was a good balance for me between the charismatic evangelical Christian chaos I was raised in and quiet, contemplative Catholic ritual ( after spending a few years as an atheist/agnostic first :)

Even after the Spanish Inquisition, though there was a brief period of Jesuit influence with a focus on education, Spain nevertheless reverted back to imagining themselves the "protectors of Christianity and Spain"  - which in actuality meant what it usually means - conquer, colonialize, forcibly convert, and kill -  but call it "self-defense" ;)

Regardless,  Spanish regions such as Galicia, Catalonia, and the Basque Country remained at odds with the Spanish government and monarchy, often resulting in conflicts, which ultimately resulted in not only terrorist attacks against one another, but eventually the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939).


Unfortunately, as is usually the case, whenever one political side becomes too extremist, too autocratic and dictatorial - whether communist OR fascist -  the other extremist political side gains power, and such was the case in Spain.


Catalan, Basque, and Galician nationalists, wanting their independence from the Spanish-Catholic run  monarchy  and a separation of church and state - plus poor laborers and their unions, tired of poverty and poor working conditions versus the wealthy church and state - made the decision to seek help from communists -  and voila, you have a Civil War. 

Despite a popular election in 1936 putting the left extremists into power, the right extremists revolted - and unfortunately, the end result of which was to go full on far-right military-dictator fascist, with Francisco Franco being that guy.

Helping him into power, of course, were Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Fascist Portugal, who sent both supplies and men.




In fact, in 1937, in support of Franco, Hitler sent the Nazi air force to bomb the city of Guernica in the Basque country - wiping it completely off the map and from existence.





... saving one lone tree which is very sacred to the Basques now.




(The town now is a recreation of it's former Greco-Roman/Basque glory, now with Spanish influence.)

Thus was the subject for Picasso's famous grayscale painting "Guernica." 





After Picasso painted Guernica, he expressly stated it would take a world tour and would never return return to Spain until Spain became a full Republic.  Thus, the painting returned to Spain in 1981 (3 years after Spain became a constitutional monarchy), and though it was initially on display at The Prado, it now resides at The Reina Sofia (of modern art), both in Madrid - much to the chagrin of the Basques, who believe the painting should belong to them, especially after the Guggenheim was built in Bilbao in 1997.


In fact, any captured Spanish Republicans were sent to Nazi concentration camps, along with Jews, and in exchange, Franco reportedly gave Hitler a list of Spanish Jews and created a department of his government to monitor Jews and Freemasons (because of their complicated history with the Knights of the Templar, whom the church initially supported and gave carte blanche to do anything they liked, but later labeled heretics, but that's another complicated, messy story, that frankly, no one knows the truth on).  

As for Muslims, since Spain owned some North African cities and Islands as colonies, Franco had a strange alliance - they were not allowed to practice in mainland Spain and were considered lesser citizens.  (Also, he depended upon them to fight in his military versus Spanish Republicans. )

Additionally, it appeared that he and Muslims agreed as far as  extremely conservative social views, but I need to read more on this, as I'm not sure if that's more later white-washing of Franco by his apologist government or not ;)

Because the Franco government later scrambled to distance themselves from fascist alliances.

Non-Spanish people think that Spain was "neutral" during WWII, and this was "officially" the case "on the record,"  I guess -  but the reality and facts of the situation are that Franco wrote to Hitler offering to join the Axis powers and fight, which Hitler didn't take him up on, for reasons I'm unclear on (still reading on this, but my suspicions are because Franco, and Spain in general, were Catholic).


Now - you may be saying to yourself "But ... but ... Franco imagined himself protecting Christianity and Catholicism - how would he and Hitler have wanted to have supported each other, especially since Hitler despised Catholicism?

Aha, Ladies and Gentlemen - and that is the reason why right-wing extremists in the UK and America don't talk about 20th century Franco-era Spain much ;)

Because at the time, Spain was military dictatorship, and though no one tops Nazi Germany for how they treated those of other races, faiths, and political beliefs, like Italy, Spain was a pretty close third when it came to fascism and intolerance, maltreatment, and murder of others of other races, faiths, political beliefs, etc.

The only exception was, of course, Spain's particular brand of fascism also adhered to Christian Catholicism as supreme law - the church and monarchy being in charge (with Franco as executioner - erm - I mean enactor) - under the guises of "protecting Christianity." 


Now, though I'm still reading on why Hitler didn't take Franco up on his offer, what I do know is that Franco didn't actually want to fight the Allied powers because Spain was too dependent on the UK and the US for too much, and again, Franco and Spain itself were Catholic - and Hitler detested Catholicism, which may be the reason?

However, he DID eventually allow Spanish men to fight in WW2, but only on a voluntary basis - and only on the Eastern front against Communist Russia.




Franco ruled Spain with a Catholic-Spanish iron fist until his death in 1973.  (Well, he did chill out a bit in his later years, either due to his own mind change or illness and the people around him started to allow reform.)

He reinstated the church's authority as supreme law, alongside the monarchy, and of course, himself as military dictator to help enact it - and addition to the hundreds of thousands of casualties of the war itself, is estimated to have executed over 150,000 people.

(That is not to say the extreme left/communist party didn't also do their fair share of terrorist acts and executions, including clergy, during this time.)

Franco ruled Spain as its military dictatorial leadership until 1973, and when he had no successor, Spain then became a true democracy in 1977, and a true. constitutional monarchy in 1978.

Well, mostly lol. 

National Spain is still is very conservative and still very closely tied to the church, but the provinces largely ignore them and do their own thing lol. 

(In fact, politicians on both sides of been pretty corrupt in general, regardless of party, in Spain.)

Regardless, Galicians, Basques, and Catalans are now allowed to speak their own language, worship who or whatever they want, and adhere to their own cultural customs freely without fear of sanction or execution, and many provinces - particularly the further south you go - are quite liberal.

Catalans, however, would still like to be completely separate from Spain as their own country.


I have no opinion on any on independence on any of these regions, not being from there and not knowing all of the ins and out -  except  I will say that if a state, province, or small country really wants to be independent from you that badly -  you should probably let them, lest there be trouble.


I do, however, find it odd that the northern provinces now largely consider themselves "right wing"  nationalists as well, which makes no sense by modern definition - especially after Franco -  other than  pride in their own regions - but perhaps I should dig a little deeper into what this means to them.

Now, after reading this history, I became a little concerned with perhaps checking Spain off the list of possible retirement destinations - maybe a great place to visit, but I'm not so sure I'd want to live there, being that it's not that many years removed from right-wing theocratical-monarchial military dictatorship?


I mean, it takes a while to remove all of that cultural-rot crap out of a culture - just look at us.  It's been nearly 300 years and we still adhere to closely to a colonial idea of what a Christianity is - in fact, even a medieval idea of what Christianity is versus who Christ actually was.

Speaking of which, America is pushing dangerously close to Francoism, only evangelical-Christian rather than Catholicism, and they don't even know it - because they never talk about the theocratic/religious fascism of Spain and how closely tied it actually was to Nazi Germany.

I wish they would, because it's an important lesson in how closely related religious fascism actually is to Nazi fascism, as well as how Franco excused everything he did by claiming he was "defending Christianity." 

Hmm.  Well, it's one thing to read history books and another to visit there yourself and see what has changed, so we'll still take a visit next year and see for ourselves, how much has changed in Spain :)


Now - while taking a break from reading, I decided I was in the mood for a good documentary.

I chose to watch "The Four Seasons Lodge," which was filmed in 2007 (released in 2009), and was about one of the last communities of Holocaust survivors, who each year summered in the Catskill Mountains, to dance, drink, and to love each other - to celebrate their freedom and their survival.  Because, as they say, their survival and joyful congregating is the best revenge on Hitler :)








Unfortunately, the Four Seasons Lodge is no more, as most of the survivors have since passed (including a memoriam at the end for those who died after filming).

Most are reluctant to talk about what they experienced, at least in detail, but two of the survivors mentioned that they were at Auschwitz and had experiments performed on them by Mengele - and they survived only because Mengele sent them "to the right."

I had no idea what this meant until later.  It meant that they chose you to be sent to die or to work - and if they chose you to live, they sent you "to the right."

However, all of them lost their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and were left alone in the world. 

They were liberated, but now where to go, what to do?

Especially as a teenage girl in the 1940s - what options do you have?

Thus, many girls married young out of desperation, which wasn't always a good thing, and yet they remained married.

After one particular lodger briefly states she had a bad marriage, her sister-in-law (they married two brothers), who is her best friend, agrees and says, "When somebody has a bad marriage, we say Hitler was the matchmaker." 

Funny, and yet sad at the same time - and unfortunately true for millions of young Jewish girls and women after the Holocaust, having no other options  :/

And yet as another lodger described it, when they came to America, they searched high and low for remaining survivors and created a family out of them - every year to come together and dance.

They are of course free to talk about what happened during the Holocaust, but most don't, at least not in detail - because they are there to celebrate their survival.

Definitely worth a watch - in fact, I can't stop thinking about it.


Because I don't want this to ever happen again - never again.

We cannot allow extremism - either fascism of the right or  the oligarchical communism of the left - to take root and ever happen again - especially under the guise of "protecting Christianity" like Spain once did. 

Amen?  :)



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