Around 4.30pm on April 26, 1937, a joint squadron of 23 German and Italian planes appeared in the skies over the historic, and undefended, Basque town of Gernika. Over the next five hours they would drop a total of 22 tons of high explosives and incendiary devices that would burn for days, destroying 70 percent of the town, and killing and wounding 1,600 people - around a third of the population.
Gernika became a powerful symbol of the atrocity of war. Unknown to the people of the town, they had been slated by General Franco and his fascist allies to become guinea pigs in an experiment designed to determine just what it would take to bomb a city into oblivion. Franco knew that the large number of outsiders attending the weekly market had swelled its population that day.
Three-quarters of a century later, the only survivors of the attack were children at the time, and they have carried the horror of what happened with them all their lives.
"I still get very emotional when I think about that afternoon," says Andone Bidagueren, who was aged eight at the time. "I can't help it."
After the airstrikes, fears mounted for civilians in nearby Bilbao. “We used to see the planes coming over constantly to bomb Bilbao,” recalls Martinez, who lived in the nearby village of El Regato.
The Basque authorities begged foreign governments to offer children temporary asylum. British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin initially refused, citing a non-intervention pact with other European governments. However, under pressure from the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, a group of civil society organizations and MPs from all parties, he caved in....
Chaos onboard the recommissioned cruise liner soon took his mind off the traumatic separation. Designed for 400 passengers, it carried nearly 4,000 children aged five to 16, along with 200 teachers, carers and priests. “Everyone was crying. We were sleeping on the floor and rolling about. We encountered a dreadful storm and everyone was being sick, one girl was screaming to be taken back to her parents.”
During WWII [Pablo] Picasso was quite a celebrity artist and Hitler being an art lover and an artist himself prominent artists were given some leniency. Yet the Nazis harassed him nonetheless. Once, Nazi officers came into his apartment in Paris and saw a photograph of Guernica. The officer remarked, “This painting, you did this.”