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  • Brilliant, detailed, frank

    The Spanish Holocaust is a masterful non-military history of the Spanish Civil War. Professor Preston begins by justifying his choice of title; and then gives an account of the tensions within Spanish Society prior to the Military coup whose lack of immediate success degenerated into the Civil War. These initial chapters take the reader into a society that was, between the World Wars, both socially and economically backward and in the throes of industrialisation and emergence from semi-feudal agrarian organisation; experiencing those changes through a condensed period. In this way he accounts for the radicalisation of the participants. It was the success of the organisations which believed that change could be wrought democratically that resulted in the election of the Popular Front Government in 1935, against which the coup was delivered early the following year. The meat of the book details the progress of the subjugation of Spain by the Military Conspirators, and the elected government’s struggle to mainyain the rule of Law in the physically and politically divided Republican Zone. On the Military rebels’ side, the use of the brutal Foreign Legion and its North African mercenaries enabled a systematic and calculated use of atrocity for the dual purposes of wiping out those on the Republican side who, in the words of initial rebel leader General Mola, “do not think as we do”, and as a threat to others of the consequence of resistance. Extra-legal executions, however, were not the exclusive domain of the rebels, and Preston makes this clear in the chapters about the Republican Zone. He neither pulls his punches nor seeks to justify the actions of one or another side’s followers. He does relate the considerable risks taken by some individual Republican leaders who sought to put an end, with some success, to the systematic executions conducted by one or more of the armed factions in the zone. Needless to say, such humanity was not reciprocated by the rebels during, or after, the Civil War. Throughout, the book is written in Professor Preston’s dense style and it is crammed with examples and accounts of individual acts; the scholarship is spectacular. because Franco enjoyed more than a third of a century as Spain’s Dictator he had time to rewrite the history of the war, and to ensure that there were no voices within Spain to contradict his narrative. Therefore accounts of rebel atrocities have been sourced from Spanish language publications published in South America; and a huge number of contemporary accounts from newspapers or from witnesses whose stories have been passed down orally. Sources of information regarding atrocities in the Republican zone were more plentiful, the Government acknowleged and tried to end them, foreign journalists and diplomats reported them and Franco took care to ensure that no act went unreported or unexaggerated. The notes and references run to hundreds of pages on the Kobo. The book doesn’t have a happy ending. It can’t. Franco’s self styled delivery of Spain from the Communists, the advance of Soviet influence west of the Elbe in 1945 together, with Spain’s control of Cueta south of the Straits of Gibraltar resulted in Franco being, if not embraced, regarded as a sound associate for liberal NATO. The Franco regime’s war crimes continued into the 1960s, and went unpunished. It is almost as if, three quarters of a century later, the events are crying out to be acknowledged by a circle wider than the victims’ families, comrades and a handful of historians. One can only wonder how, when Franco died, Spain made the transition to liberal democracy without a second bloodbath. For anybody interested in 20th Century history, or in Spain, or even the current European debate, this brilliant book is essential reading. Fabulous. Clive

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