FROM THE HISTORY
TO THE MEMORY
FACTS, SILENCES AND REHABILITATION
As Joanna Bourke writes, “The first major hint of the power of the flying machine in destroying masses of people came with the bombing of Guernica”.
(La Segunda Guerra Mundial. Una historia de las víctimas. Barcelona, Ediciones Paidós Ibérica, 2002, p. 29).
Drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart, 13 years old. Centro Español de Cerbère (possibly 1937–1938).
© BNE (Dib/19/1/881)
On the reverse of the photo:
“This scene represents a bombing
when the people in a refuge
raise their fists and yell curses.”
In late March 1937, the Northern Army initiated a campaign against Bizkaia where the majority of iron, coal and steel production as well as the chemical industries in the country were concentrated.
The offensive against the Basque Country began on 31 March and the same day Durango was bombed by airplanes of the Italian Legionary Air Force and the German Condor Legion. The open, defenceless population was subjected to “carpet bombing”. There were precedents for this in the bombardment of the civil population of Madrid in November 1936, and in February 1937, when a column of civilian refugees were fleeing along the Málaga highway towards Almería, among others.
The campaign persisted with the advance of the Francoist troops towards Bilbao and a blockade around the city, control of which was essential both for its strategic position and its armaments factories and heavy industry. It was taken in June 1937.
The spring offensive was restarted against Bizkaia on 20 April. On 26 of that month, Guernica, then situated 15 kilometres from the nearest fighting front, was bombed persistently by the German and Italian air forces. It harboured 5,630 inhabitants as well as refugees, patients in its hospitals and soldiers in retreat. It was an open town without anti-air or land defences.
Guernica after the bombing of 26 April 1937. © CDBG-FMPG
The town centre was engulfed in flames, but not the Casa de Juntas (General Assembly), the church of Santa María or the remains of the old oak and young tree, some distance from the centre. The three armament factories on the outskirts were not damaged either because the air command decided to spare them. One of them manufactured incendiary bombs similar to those launched against the city – one more paradox among many that the barbarism inherent in any war entails.
The number of dead due to the bombing is difficult to determine. According to the Basque Government the official death count was 1,654.
The attack had immediate international repercussion and was used as propaganda by both sides. For years its motivations and responsibilities have been clouded in polemic and historians have differed in interpreting the facts.
The bombing of Guernica became a symbol of the horrors of modern war, which used aviation to massacre the civilian population and demoralise the enemy military fighting at the front.
“Bombing”. A drawing by Carlos García, nine years old. Puebla Larga Family Colony (Valencia) (undated: 1937–1938). © BNE (Dib/19/1/724)
This bombardment also helped to accelerate the process of children’s evacuations to colonies in safe zones in the rearguard or overseas, with the support of the Government of the Republic and the Basque Government along with national and international humanitarian aid organisations.
Obverse and reverse of a photo of a group of Basque girls in the North Stoneham camp, Great Britain (undated: 1937). © BNE (GC Carp/228/1/14/3)
Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, was created to reflect on the massacre that “total war” implied. The Spanish Republic acquired it in 1937 to be exhibited in the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris Exposition Internationale, held in June that year. The painting, a plea against all war, has become an icon of twentieth century art.
Guernica hanging in the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale in Paris. Before the painting, a mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder that bears the name Almadén. Calder was the only non-Spanish artist with a work in the Pavilion. © MNCARS
In 1998, the Gernika-Lumo Town Council decided to convert the building housing the Courts and Post Office into the Gernika Peace Museum.
In 2003 it opened its doors to the public as the Gernika Peace Museum Foundation with the aims of helping to disseminate a culture of peace and defence of human rights in the world. It also aims to educate and preserve the memory of the Spanish Civil War, in particular, the Civil War in the Basque Country, which suffered over 1,000 bombing operations from July 1936 to August 1937.
Gernika Peace Museum © FMPG
THE TEREZÍN GHETTO
In the city of Terezín, German authorities established one of the ghettos and transit camps of greatest death and suffering, first for the Jews of Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and later for Jews from other European countries.
This occurred in 1941, in the context of the anti-Semitic and extermination policy implemented by Nazi Germany during World War II. They created ghettos, concentration and death camps for the Reich’s enemies, according to racial, ethnic, religious, political, genetic or nationality criteria.
Until 1945, of the approximately 155,000 men, women and children who passed through the Terezín ghetto, close to 35,000 died of hunger, overcrowding, diseases and executions. Around 88,000 were deported to the ghettos of Riga, Warsaw and Minsk, as well as other places in occupied Eastern Europe and to the extermination camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek.
Charlotta Burešová, Transport, Terezín (1943–1945) © Památník Terezín (585)
Only around 3,800 returned. Others, such as the young Czech Petr Ginz, survived through their works, live testimonies of individual and collective tragedies:
“For a year I’ve been stuck in an ugly hole;
instead of your beauties, I’ve a few streets alone.
Like a wild animal trapped in a cage
I remember you, my Prague, a fairy tale of stone.”
Petr Ginz, Remembering Prague
In the most extreme ghetto conditions many adults, engineers, graphic artists, scientists, intellectuals and artists, tried to survive, maintain some hope, and cultivate and transmit their wisdom. The ghetto housed cultural and educational activities, likewise for children, who made 4,387 drawings through which their young creators’ lives – cut short – yet live on.
Watercolour created by Eismannová Zdenka (12 years old). Terezín, 1942-1943. © Památník Terezín (12345)
In 1944, the interns of Terezín were witnesses and heroes of an event unique to that date in the Nazi concentration system. Doctor Maurice Rossel, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), visited the ghetto. It was the first authorised visit of a humanitarian institution in World War II.
Children in the “paradisiacal” ghetto of Terezín (1944). Maurice Rossel. © ACICR (V-P-HIST-01160-32)
For this purpose, the ghetto was presented as an autonomous “Jewish settlement” where the Jews received “humanitarian” treatment, playing an important role in Nazi propaganda to mask the atrocities that the Third Reich was committing in Europe. After the visit, Rossel wrote his report, in which he indicated the generally satisfactory state of the ghetto, “a city with a virtually normal life”.
Before Germany’s surrender, the ICRC returned to the Terezín ghetto, in April 1945. Despite certain isolated actions, its work in favour of Jews and other persecuted groups during World War II was a failure.
After the ghetto’s liberation, in May 1945, the Czech Action for Help saved around 30,000 survivors and other prisoners, who had arrived in the war’s final days, mainly from the Buchenwald and Gross-Rosen camps.
Czech Action for Help, Terezín, 1945. © Památník Terezín (394, A 40/77)
In 1947 the Memorial of National Suffering was created on the Small Fortress at Terezín that functioned as a Gestapo prison during World War II. Later it was renamed Terezín Memorial, a place to preserve memory and commemorate the victims of Nazi political and racial persecution during the occupation of Czech territory.
Ghetto Museum. The Park of Terezín Children. © Památník Terezín
LA MAISON D’IZIEU
Brégnier-Cordon Monument. The bas-relief reproduces a fragment of John Donne’s Meditation XVII © Maison d’Izieu
“Crimes against humanity
do not expire”
“I want to express the idea that I have had since the start of what Izieu should be:
· A place that symbolises the denunciation of crimes against humanity
· [A place that symbolises] resistance to fanatical ideologies […], a unique medium of combating regimes that engender such crimes
· More than a simple memorial or museum, this house should be a centre to encourage those who fight with the passion that John Donne’s words convey”
Sabine Zlatin: Mémoires de la “Dame d’Izieu”. Éditions Gallimard, 1992, 95.
In April 1943 the sub-prefect of Belley proposed to Sabine and Miron Zlatin to move with the small group of Jewish children they had in their care, to a house that functioned as a holiday camp, situated in the village of Lélinaz, in Izieu, occupied until then by the Italian army.
So, la Maison d’Izieu hosted, from early June 1943 until 6 July 1944, the “Colonie d’enfants réfugiés de l’Hérault”.
Children and adults in the camp beside the pond, August 1943. © Maison d’Izieu (Collection Henry Alexander)
Sabine and Miron Zlatin in 1927. © Maison d’Izieu (Collection succession Sabine Zlatin)
During the war, Sabine, a Red Cross nurse, began to work as a social worker for the Œuvre de Secours aux enfants (OSE) and obtained authorisation to visit the camps of Agde and Rivesaltes where women and children were crowded together, separate from the men. Some of them were Jewish.
The OSE attempted to take Jewish children from the camps and take them to houses they had or else placed them with Christian families. When the Germans occupied the southern part of France in late 1942, the OSE began closing its houses.
It was then that Montpellier Prefecture asked Sabine, in her capacity as a Red Cross nurse, to host 17 Jewish children who were alone in Campestre. With the help of Secours National, the Zlatins reached Chambéry with the children and contact the sub-prefect of Belley. In June 1943 the children settled in Izieu. Around a hundred minors passed through the centre. The goal was to seek families or institutions that would take them in or try to get them to Switzerland.
Children and adults in front of the house, summer 1943. Most of the children died in Auschwitz. © Maison d’Izieu (Collection succession Sabine Zlatin)
In March 1943 the Zlatins were aware of the urgent need to close the camp. On 1 April Sabine travelled to Montpellier to try to arrange the children’s departure. On the 6th, the evening before “Operation Spring”, the Lyon Gestapo by order of its commander, the SS official, Klaus Barbie, burst into the camp and carried off the 44 children and seven adults they found there, including Miron Zlatin. The youngest was Albert Bulka (Coco) aged four.
From left to right: Marcel Bulka, his brother Albert, and Alec Bergman. Alec Bergman escaped from the camp just before the raid and survived. Summer 1943. © Maison d’Izieu (Collection succession Sabine Zlatin)
On 8 April all of the captives were registered in the Drancy camp. From there the children and four of the adults were taken to Auschwitz extermination camp where they died in the gas chamber. Only the carer Léa Feldblum survived.
Miron Zlatin and the adolescents Théo Reis and Arnold Hirsch were deported towards the Baltics. On the journey, any trace of the two adolescents was lost. Miron was shot in Reval (current-day Tallin) on 31 July.
Meanwhile, Sabine attempted to find out what had happened to the children and adults, particularly her husband, and joined the Resistance. After the Liberation she took charge of organising the arrival of deportees to Hotel Lutetia, which had been converted into a reception centre. After its closure in 1945, she moved to Paris. From then until her death she never ceased fighting against oblivion.
A plaque installed on 7 April 1946, on the building where the children were housed, in memory of them and the adult victims of the raid on 6 April 1944. © Maison d’Izieu
On the long road to recovering the memory of events at la Maison d’Izieu, Klaus Barbie’s trial is of crucial significance. After the war, Barbie managed to escape under the protection of the US Central Intelligence Agency. However, thanks to the determination of a lawyer, Serge Klarsfeld, and his wife Beate, his whereabouts were revealed in Bolivia and he was extradited to France. From May to July 1987 he was put on trial in Lyon. It was the first case of a crime against humanity to be judged in France.
After the trial, the idea arose of creating a memorial in Izieu. It was unveiled on 24 April 1994 by the president of the French Republic, François Mitterrand.
THE FOSSOLI CAMP
Anti-Semitic policy reached its peak in Italy with the creation of a system of camps, the result of the policy of persecution, detention and deportation of Jews and anti-fascists, developed by the Italian Social Republic (1943–1945), with the policing and administrative collaboration of the Nazi occupier. One of these camps was at Fossoli, implemented by the Italian government in December 1943.
Fossoli, national deportation camp of Italy. © Archivio storico comunale di Carpi. CRE
Through Fossoli passed the Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi, along with over 5,000 political and racial interns, women, children and men, deported to Nazi concentration and extermination camps, like Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg and Ravensbrück.
I know what it means not to return
Through the barbed wire
I saw the sun go down and die.
I felt the words of the old poet
Tear at my flesh:
“Suns can go down and return.
For us, when the brief light is spent,
There is an unending night to be slept”
Primo Levi, Sunset at Fossoli.
One of the interned women was Ada Michelstaedter Marchesini, later deported and assassinated in Auschwitz. Her tragedy was survived by the letters she wrote to her husband, which narrate life in the Fossoli Camp, marked by painful distances, hope, fear and uncertainty. In her last, she wrote:
My Beppi, how I would have loved to see you once more before my departure! How I would have wished to know of our treasure, and of all my family and of yours! This has not been granted me and I go with my thoughts and my heart heavy with you, my loved ones, who knows if I will return or when.
Letter from Ada Michelstaedter Marchesini, 31 July 1944. © Fondazione Fossoli
At the end of World War II, the Camp was transformed into a reception centre for foreign refugees, other civilian victims of a war that left millions of people wandering through a Europe in ruins.
Reception centre for undesirable foreigners, 1947. © Fondazione Fossoli
In 1947, the old concentration camp was transferred to the Work of the Small Apostles and renamed Nomadelfia. The site of development of a humanitarian, community utopia, the community sought to take in and give a future to the most innocent victims of war – orphaned or abandoned children and adolescents – with the help of the “mothers of vocation”. With the transfer of the community to Grosseto in 1952, refugees from Istría and Dalmatia arrived in Fossoli, now called Villaggio San Marco, living there until 1970.
The Nomadelfia community, “where fraternity is law”, 1947. © Fondazione Fossoli
A decade after the end of the war on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Liberation, the history of deportation began to be recovered thanks to the initiative of families, former deportees and organisations. In 1955, the National Exhibition on Nazi Camps was unveiled, the first of its type in Italy, with the aim of publicising the phenomenon of the deportation.
“Not one more concentration camp in the world ever”. National Exhibition on Nazi Camps, Carpi, 1955. © Fondazione Fossoli
The travelling show rekindled the memorialising process, creating fertile ground to provide a permanent structure for remembering the deportation. After years of work, in October 1973, the Monument to the Deportee Museum was inaugurated in Carpi, the first of its kind in Italy.
Inauguration of the Monument to the Deportee Museum in Carpi. © Fondazione Fossoli
This opening represented an important milestone in the system for memorial, which led to the gradual creation of an educational path to understand history, reflect on the past and on contemporaneity, based on the knowledge of emblematic sites, a labour to which the Fossoli Foundation has also contributed since its creation in 1996.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY HISTORY OF SLOVENIA
The National Museum of Contemporary History was established in 1948 as a Museum of National Liberation of the Popular Republic of Slovenia. Its aim was to make available to the post-war audience the materials, events and ideals of the fight for national liberation, for which it launched an exhibition. In 1962, the museum was renamed Museum of the Popular Revolution and began to compile material related to the Communist movement, the Communist Party, the popular revolution in Slovenia and the socialist establishment. In the 1980s, the museum widened the scope of its compiled materials to include in its collections a broader range of twentieth-century objects.
Partisan medical kit consisting of instruments for minor surgery such as clamps, scalpels and sounds © MNZS (Collection of partisan medical equipment, 284A9887 and Sanitetni pribor_01)
The collection comprises close to 400 objects related to the medical and hospital services undertaken in the partisan units. The partisan doctor Alexander Gale-Peter used this kit until the end of the war.
Delo, No. 3, June 1942, published by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovenia (above left). Prešeren’s Zdravljica, published by the Regional Committee of the Gorenjska Liberation Front, 1944 (above right) © MNZS (Collection of partisan techniques and print shops)
During World War II, the partisan press was an important part of the revolt in the cultural struggle. They inspired the fight for national liberation, providing moral support. Illegal presses produced books, pamphlets and periodical publications, posters, warnings, falsified pamphlets and documents of the occupiers, etc. They urged people to rebel, while informing, teaching, guiding, encouraging them and even indirectly saving lives.
Partisan marionette theatre created by the sculptor Lojze Lavrič © MNZS
Created after the liberation of Bela Krajina, consisting of 16 marionettes. Its first production, of propaganda theatre in the open air, Jurček in trije razbojniki (Jurček and the Three Bandits) premiered on New Year’s Eve 1944. Later, it toured the liberated territories
A tin dragon with bone ornaments, the work of Nande Vidmar, created in Rinicci © MNZS (Collection of objects from the concentration camps and prisons)
Nande Vidmar’work, carried out in the Gonars concentration camp, includes realist and documentary works, covering portraits and representations of the lives of the interns and the concentration camp, drawn mainly in chalk and pencil. In Rinicci, Vidmar worked in a workshop where the interns created decorative objects of tin and bone.
The Museum has several permanent exhibitions such as “Slovaks in the 20th Century” or the one examining World War II and its aftermath. In these and other exhibitions, as well as the objects, the photographic collections enable maintenance of the pace of the social processes that give shape to the historical vision of the past.
After the war both Yugoslavia and Slovenia were devastated. Their only hope lay in the foreign aid that arrived via the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In Slovenia, approximately 70% of the population depended on the aid the organisation provided, which continued until 20 June 1947.
In 1994, three years after Slovenia obtained its independence, the Museum changed its name to the Museum of Contemporary History, once more broadening the scope of its collections to encompass from early twentieth century to the present. In 2001, it was established as the National Museum of Contemporary History.
German 75-mm infantry canon ©MNZS