Discovering What It Was Like To Be There

Last Thursday 9 February the Costa Press Club discovered what it was like living in Málaga during the Second Republic and Spanish Civil War. At a well-attended event held in Tenencia de Alcaldía en La Cala de Mijas, club members and guests watched the documentary “I Was There” and had the opportunity to ask questions about the era.

Held a day after the 80th anniversary of the bombing of thousands of citizens from Málaga fleeing the Nationalist troops on 8 February 1937, the event provided a rare insight into a harrowing period of Spain’s past. Fernando Arcas Cubero, lecturer of history at Málaga University, presented the documentary “I Was There” and gave a short talk on the background to the conflict behind the Civil War.

latest costa press club meeting

Members and guests listen to Fernando Arcas Cubero

Málaga Testimonials from the Spanish Civil War

The documentary included the testimonials of numerous Spaniards who were children or adolescents at the time of the Civil War. Aged between 80 and 104 when the recording was made in 2006, they came from all social classes and backgrounds, and their first-person accounts bring the years of conflict and reprisals vividly to life.

All clearly remembered the events and carried the scars decades afterwards. For those present at the Costa Press Club event, among the most harrowing testimonials was that of a woman who had her head shaved by Nationalist forces and was publicly humiliated in the village square for sewing the CNT Anarchist Trade Union flag. Another man recounted how, although he was a Communist, he was forced to fight for the Nationalist forces and do things he would never have imagined.

Book behind the documentary at latest Costa Press Club meeting

The book and documentary "I Was There"

The documentary also explained the social context to the Civil War and ended with photos of the exodus taken by the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune. His pictures are the only evidence of the tragedy in which an unknown number of people died, probably thousands. Significantly, his photos were not made public until democracy returned to Spain in 1977.

Questions and Answers about the Testimonials

After the documentary, those attending had the chance to ask Fernando Arcas Cubero questions. During the session he explained that, unlike the bombing of Guernika, infamous throughout the world thanks in part to Picasso’s painting, the mass bombing in Málaga in 1937 was virtually unknown for four decades afterwards because of censorship by the Franco regime.

Arcas Cubero also said that he thought the Law of Historic Memory introduced in Spain in 2007 was not a political move, but rather an essential way of healing the wounds of the past. In his opinion, Spain is still a long way from reconciling itself with the tragedy of the Civil War and this may not happen until the generation that lived through the events is no longer with us. He reported that there is still widespread fear among the survivors of talking about the events, particularly in small villages and communities where everyone knows everyone’s secrets.

The meeting then adjourned to El Gusto Restaurant in La Cala de Mijas where members and guests enjoyed a three-course meal and drinks.

Line-up at latest Costa Press Club meeting

Fernando Arcas Cubero (fourth left) with members of the CPC committee and Mijas councillors

(Photos courtesy of Mijas Town Hall)