Toledo and Faces of the Spanish Civil War

While in Toledo, Spain, I rushed to  the Museo del Ejercito, the Museum of the Army. I had barely a half hour. As I went, I asked attendants where I could find things having to do with the period 1936 – 1939. The Spanish Civil War. “There’s very little,” said one woman. I watched carefully to see whether she was also expressing an opinion one way or another as to whether that was a good or bad thing. Eight or ten years ago, I went through the Catalonia Museum in Barcelona., again looking for the civil war. There was one small room with a few photos on two walls. People in that museum’s book store told me they had very little written on the war; and that it depended on who was in power when it came to choosing a version of history. If any at all.

In Toledo, it appeared to still be  something of a stalemate. I found a few rooms. I also intended to look for photographs that would speak to the war and to events made up (from research) in my third novel, The Queen of the Pánuco. I did run across a photo and took out my camera. I was alone, but a group of visitors, led by a guide, was approaching. I could hear them just around the corner. I clicked and put my camera away, turned and left.

I knew I had a good photo of a photo taken more than eighty years ago—thinking it was going to speak to the Republican (non-fascist) narrative that occurs in my novel. But I’m afraid that’s not the case. Since being in Toledo, I’ve learned the museum itself was the site of a heroic nationalist/fascist defense of the Alcázar, a stone fortress at Toledo’s highest point. (Earlier, the site of a Roman palace; then residence of Spanish monarchs after the reconquest from the Moors; and a place where Charles I received Hernán Cortés, after his conquest of the Aztecs. Heinrich Himmler visited General Moscardó in the ruins of the Alcázar in October 1940)  The fortress suffered shelling and bombing and Republican ground attacks from July 21 – September 27, 1936. The latter were ultimately unsuccessful.

The people in the photo have to be nationalist defenders (the 500 women and 50 children were not allowed to participate in the defense) The Republican militias were never able to breach the defense and get close enough to eat things in calm with women amid the rubble.

At one point, the Republican officer in charge of the siege, Commissar of the Workers’ Militia, Candido Cabello, telephoned the defending officer Colonel Moscardó and said he would execute Luis, the Colonel’s captured sixteen-year old son, if Moscardó didn’t immediately surrender. At least, that is what www.wikipedia.org claims as history. According to this history, Moscardó told his son “that he should die like a patriot, while he shouted ‘Viva Christo Rey!’ and ‘Viva España’ and ‘The Alcázar does not surrender.'”  “That I can do,” he is said to have replied.Supposedly, he was shot immediately; or “maybe a month later.”

It has the ring of legend. Definitely of slant. The ww.wikipedia text also suggests the Republican militias shot nationalist/fascist prisoners. According to much historical research since the war, both sides executed prisoners. The fascist more so, right up until Franco’s death in 1975. It is probably fair to say that www.wikipedia, at least, has added a pro-nationalist/heroic fascist slant. The article also suggests that the defense of the Alcázar (then relieved by fascist General Franco’s Army of Africa) was an important propaganda victory for the nationalists, and disheartening for the Republican attackers, who didn’t have enough forces left to stop Franco’s race toward Madrid, which he held under siege for three years, before the final fascist victory.

2 thoughts on “Toledo and Faces of the Spanish Civil War

  1. Hi, Tony! Thanks so much for your comment. There’s a little organization here in Madrid called Across Madrid. They have arranged 2 one-on-one five-hour tours in and outside Madrid for me in the last few years. One, battle sites inside Madrid; another, hillside sites south and outside of Madrid. For my third novel, The Queen of the Pánuco. As you know, I love to track down and come as close as I can to historical truth—a virtually impossible task.

  2. Since the Spanish Civil War is one of my favorite historical events, along with the Mexican Revolution, I found your version of the Toledo-fascist legend intriguing. Both conflicts brought out the worst and the best of the combatants and also revealed the hypocrisy in American foreign policy. While researching for my biography of Siqueiros, I learned more about both, since he participated in the Mexican Revolution and as a Lt. Colonel in the Army of the Republic, providing a unique perspective on these chapters in recent history.

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