This interview you are about to read was published at Cuban News Headlines. Here it is:
Testimony of the Sole Cuban Survivor of Guernica
A significant historical-cultural plaza in the Basque country, the city —under the control of Republican forces at the time of the attack— was a strategic post containing the advance guard of the Franco forces during the Spanish Civil War.
Seventy-year-old Jorge Eduardo from Cienfuegos, Cuba witnessed the barbaric bombing of Guernica, Spain, which he is detailing in a book.
On April 26, 1937, planes from the German Condor Legion, with the approval of dictator Francisco Franco, leveled the defenseless Basque town of Guernica after several hours of bombing with more than 3,000 incendiary missiles and 550-pound bombs.
Renowned South African journalist George Steer denounced the act of genocide two days later on the front pages of the New York Times and the London Times.
As Ricardo Bada said in his exceptional chronicle dedicated to Steer, «Thanks to his truthful report, the false claims of the Nazi regime and Franco propaganda failed. Italian and German pilots were shown to be responsible for the hecatomb by low-flying machine gunning against the population escaping the destruction in the sacred Basque city.» Jorge Eduardo Elguezábal Martínez was born in town of Soledad, in the central Cuban province of Cienfuegos, on October 22, 1925.
He witnessed the attack on Guernica 70 years ago, which is powerfully reflected in the famous painting by Pablo Picasso, symbolizing the total destruction of the town and making an appeal for peace. Jorge Eduardo is writing a book on the act of genocide committed in Guernica.
—Why were you there that day?
My grandparents, parents, brothers and I left for Spain in 1932 due to an illness of my grandfather, who was born in La Coruña, Galicia. He was suffering from the effects of hard work as a blacksmith, which was an important position at the time.
«Work with the forge and the hammer is very violent. The doctors recommended a cold climate, so we stayed in the United States for four years before leaving for Europe. There, we stayed in a Galician town for three years before arriving in Guernica in 1935. I was the youngest of the three brothers and was ten years old.»
—What was your life like in Guernica?
«Not really good. We suffered from hunger and cold —real hunger and cold— for two years. During that time I ate meat only once. We lived on chickpeas and pieces of bread. «My father walked the countryside looking for greens and my mother put them in the soup pot to make us believe that we were really eating something. Since I was the youngest, I was the only one put to bed with something in my stomach...some times. «My brother, Casimiro and my sister, Luisa, as well as my mother Maria Luisa and all the rest went to bed every day with empty stomachs. We couldn’t receive any help from our relatives in Cuba because northern Spain was blockaded.»
— What were you doing at the moment of the bombing?
Almost every day we went into our shelter when the alarms sounded. It was more or less three blocks from home. «That day, the 26th, was like any other day. We went into the shelter in the afternoon. The bombing occurred during a fair in the town, although little was done because of the very difficult economic situation. Sometimes a farmer would bring a little animal and exchange it or if he was lucky, sell it. «We arrived at the shelter as the bombs were falling. Farmers at the fair who were caught in front of the plaza went in with us. The various shelters had capacities for about 600 persons, although ours held almost a thousand. «Everything started shortly after 4:00 in the afternoon. We stayed there holed up for three days, although at 7:00 of the 26th we went out to find out what had happened.»
—What did you see? What was your impression?
«What I saw that day was clearly stamped in my memory. The scene was unbelievably cruel. I don’t remember seeing any life, just like that, nothing. People were screaming, crying, embracing each other and asking about the whereabouts of their children, brothers or parents. «It’s easy to say, but the moment has to be witnessed, with dead of all ages alongside of you, headless animals, people with parts ripped off, wounded people all around; everything on fire, with everything burnt out. My mother hugged me ... «I don’t think that there are words to really explain the massacre that I have in front of my eyes right now, since it’s something I’ll never forget, not for a single moment. «Historians say that three quarters of Guernica was destroyed, but I walked the city from end to end after the catastrophe and I can clearly say that 99 percent was destroyed. «Three buildings were left standing: the Casa de Juntas, the Santa María de Guernica church and the Pistols and Silverwork Factory. The latter was the property of a rich Franco supporter, and the church supported Franco... this was clear as water!»
—Did the Nazi bombs wound any of your family, or friends or contacts?
It was a miracle that my brother didn’t die. That day he wasn’t at his post, the press was destroyed forever and none of the workers survived; they were friends of ours, and not even their bodies were found. «There were more than 2,000 dead although government sources claim 1,600 and others even mention less. With all this jumbling of figures no one will ever know the truth.»
—Does this recall anything?
With what is happening in Iraq I recalled that massacre. I watch Guernica repeated every night on TV. I put myself in the place of those poor people, remembering that my family suffered nervous disorders for close to 20 years after returning to Cuba every time they heard a siren or a bell.
—You have made an exhaustive historical study of the event. In a television documentary, you said that you considered Guernica as an experiment and that also it was a symbol of German war concepts. Why do you believe this?
«The bombing» of Guernica was determined by the German high command who ordered the Condor Legion in Spain to choose a town to see how women, men and children reacted to the bombing. «The intention was to examine people’s responses. In effect, it was a damned Nazi experiment. «The town had no system of defense whatsoever. A sadly and infamous fascist general, depraved to the point of delirium, joked in this manner: «We will bomb the young women of Guernica with chocolates. «The Condor Legion had its base in the northern Spanish region of Vitoria. That was where they had the hangars for their latest model planes that they needed to test before World War II. «US journalist Herbert Mathews considered it a prototype of total bombing. «According to Professor Ludger Mees, historian and deputy director of the University of the Pais Vasco “Guernica was a field test for Nazi military strategies, for its technology, its planes and bombs. In other words, Hitler used this attack to prepare the war machine that he would eventually unleash on the world.»
— It takes some time to write a book. How did you structure it, what can you tell us about it?
This year, on the 70th anniversary of the massacre, the Guernica Peace Declaration was signed in which the text affirms that the event is a mirror reflecting the injustice of today’s bombings and allows us to have an insight into wars taking place around the world. «I think the next generation will have more detailed knowledge, with first hand information, of such a frightening experience as that one. Though unfortunately is has serious limitations in the present context. The purpose of my book is to keep alive the memory of the genocide that occurred in imperial wars. «It begins in the central Cienfuegos town of Soledad where I lived my early years. It is centered from the perspective of that Cuban family —mine— which, for those reasons explained, needed to leave for Spain during the 30s.
«I also deal with the time prior to our arrival and include many photographs and original postcards of the main sites of the Basque town, as well as many drawings of what I still remember. «I also added the photograph of an oak that is still standing after the air attack that killed so many people, including my schoolmates. The tree is a now symbol. «But, also, in a lighter touch, I refer to the way of life of the inhabitants of the region, their customs (how the bread they made themselves that could stay fresh for 15 to 20 days), their folklore, there rural legends...».
— What is the time period covered in the text?
It concludes when we return to Cuba during the early 40s. I didn’t consider it necessary to add more.
.... ... .