The world knows Picasso’s famous mural painting (he did his monumental piece beginning from 42 sketches he made at the scene) in Madrid of the anguish of the brutal and unprovoked aerial attack by the Nazi’s on the civilian population this small town in the Basque country of Northern Spain, April 26, 1937. We visited the Peace Museum there — the town is locally spelled Gernika, its Basque name, not the more recognized French spelling used by Picasso.
What many don’t recall, if they ever knew it, was that spanish dictator Franco, then an ally of Hitler, gave his friend the Führer permission to test out his new carpet bombing technique on the little town during the Spanish Civil War, because the Basque people of the north of Spain were in conflict with Franco’s regime. To this day, many Basque’s seek political independence. The bombing took place in daylight on a market day, when the townspeople were outdoor in the streets, and more than 1.600 in this little town were mercilessly cut down. Journalists and then Picasso made Gernika a symbol for the complete breakdown of civilization signified by war.
The Gernika Peace Museum is tasteful, and a strong but calm reminder of the agony and inhumanity of war, and the challenges of reconciliation. It was not until 1987 that the Germans apologized for the bombing of Gernika. Franco never even acknowledged that the bombing took place. We were very moved by the town, now more modern than many others in the area, of some 16,000, and by the museum, which is very much worth a visit if you are visiting Bilbao and the beautiful, rugged Basque mountains of the North of Spain. Modern super highways make it easy to get there. As I was just revising this, our cat Cider stretched out across the keyboard — talk about symbols of peace!