Spain and the Shadow of the Civil War

The relationship between an ‘unquiet past’ and the concerns of the present has been a key feature of recent engagements with the Spanish Civil War.

'Stand up against the Italian invasion of Spain!', a Republican poster from the Spanish Civil War, c.1937
'Stand up against the Italian invasion of Spain!', a Republican poster from the Spanish Civil War, c.1937

When Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust (Harper Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize it confirmed a new phase in the historiography of the Spanish Civil War. Preston’s meticulous documentation of atrocities brought home not only the fearsome nature of the conflict but also the brutality of the Francoist repression. With its lists of obscure names and places Preston’s book illustrates how civil wars transform the ordinary. These unremarkable locations have for decades contained the unmarked graves of anonymous individuals caught up in momentous events. Neighbours, friends and relatives testified to the identity of victims whose ‘crimes’ were often simply those of political affiliation. The local community may not have wielded the gun – soldiers or militiamen usually did that – but it was complicit in the everyday repressive violence of the Civil War.

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