Cuban Survivor of Guernica Massacre Tells the Story

Posted on January 7, 2008

December 26, 2007

Testimony of the only Cuban survivor
of the fascist massacre at Guernica

Text and photo: Julio Martínez Molina
December 26, 2007 00:00:44 GMT
A CubaNews translation by Ana Portela.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.


Seventy-year-old Jorge Eduardo from Cienfuegos who witnessed the barbaric
bombing of that town, concludes a book on the genocide.

Cienfuegos.— On April 26, 1937 planes from the German Condor Legion, with
the approval of dictator Francisco Franco, leveled the defenseless Basque
town of Guernica with several hours of bombings and more than 3000
incendiary missiles and 550-pound bombs.

A significant historical-cultural plaza in the Basque country, the city –
under control of Republican forces – at the time of the attack was a
strategic post containing the advance of the Franco forces during the
Spanish Civil War.

A famous South African journalist, George Steer, denounced the genocide two
days later on the front pages of the New York Times and the London Times.
As Ricardo Bada has said in his exceptional chronicle dedicated to Steer:
“Thanks to his truthful report, the false claims of the Nazi regime and
Franco propaganda failed: the Italian and German pilots were responsible for
the hecatomb by low flying machine gunning the fleeing population leaving
destruction in the sacred city of the Basques”.

Jorge Eduardo Elguezábal Martínez, was born in central Soledad, Cienfuegos
on October 22, 1925. He witnessed the attack on Guernica 70 years ago which
is excellently reflected in the famous painting by Pablo Picasso of the
total destruction of the town and as a call for peace.

Jorge Eduardo prepares a book on the genocide committed in Guernica.
— Why were you there that day?

—My grandparents, parents, brothers and I left for Spain in 1932 due to an
illness of my grandfather who was born in La Coruña, Galicia. He was
suffering the effects of the hard work as a blacksmith which was important
at the time and solved a lot of problems.
“Work with the forge and the hammer are very violent. The doctors
recommended a cold climate and we remained in the United States for four
years before leaving for Europe. We stayed in a Galician town for three
years before arriving in Guernica in 1935. I was the youngest of the three
brothers and ten years old”.

—What was your life like in Guernica?

—Not really good. We suffered hunger and cold (real hunger and cold) for two
years. During that time I ate meat only once. We lived on chickpeas and
pieces of bread.

“My father walked the countryside looking for some greens and my mother put
them in the soup pot to make us believe that we were eating. Since I was the
youngest, I was the only one put to bed with something in my stomach…some

“My brother, Casimiro and my sister, Luisa, as well as my mother Maria Luisa
and all the rest went to bed every day with empty stomachs. We couldn’t
receive any help from relatives in Cuba because northern Spain was

— What were you doing at the moment of the bombing?

—Almost every day we went into our shelter when the alarms sounded. It was
more or less three blocks from home.

“That day, the 26th, was like any other day. We went into it in the
afternoon. It occurred during a fair in the city, although little was done
because of the very difficult economic situation. Sometimes a farmer would
bring a little animal and exchange it or if he was lucky, sell it.

“We arrived at the refuge with bombs falling. The farmers at the fair who
were caught in front of the plaza went in with us. The different refuges had
capacity for about 600 persons although ours had almost a thousand.

“Everything started shortly after four in the afternoon. We stayed there
holed up for three days although at seven of the 26th we went out to find
out what had happened.”

—What did you see? What was your impression?

— What I saw that day has been clearly stamped in my memory. The scene was
unbelievably cruel. I don’t remember seeing any life, just like that,
nothing. The people were screaming, crying, embracing and asking about the
whereabouts of their children, brothers or parents.

“It is easy to say, but the moment has to be witnessed, with dead of all
ages alongside of you, headless animals, human members ripped out, wounded
people all around; everything on fire, with everything burnt out. My mother
hugged me …

“I don’t think that there are words to really explain the massacre which I
have in front of my eyes right now, since it is something I will never
forget, not even for a single moment.

“Historians say that three quarters of Guernica was destroyed but I walked
the city from end to end after the catastrophe and I can clearly say that 99
percent was destroyed.

“Three buildings were left standing: the Casa de Juntas, the Santa María de
Guernica church and the Pistols and Silverwork Factory. The latter was the
property of a rich Franco supporter, the church supported Franco… clear as

— Did the Nazi bombs wound any of your family, or friends or contacts?

— It was a miracle that my brother did not die. That day he wasn’t at his
post, the press was destroyed forever and none of the workers survived,
friends of ours, and not even their bodies were found.

“There were more than 2000 dead although government sources claim 1600 and
others even mention less. With all this jumbling of figures no one will ever
know the truth.”

—Does this recall anything?

— With what is happening in Iraq I recall that massacre. I watch Guernica
repeated every night on TV. I put myself in the place of those poor people,
remembering that my family suffered nervous disorders for close to 20 years
after returning to Cuba every time they heard a siren or a bell.

— You have made an exhaustive historical study of the event. In a
documentary the television made you considered that Guernica was an
experiment and that also it was a symbol of German war concepts. Why do you
believe this?

—The bombing of Guernica was determined by the German high command who
ordered the Condor Legion in Spain to choose a town to see how women, men
and children reacted to the bombing.

“The intention was to check the manner of response of the people. In effect
it was an infernal Nazi experiment.

“The town had no defensive means whatsoever. A sadly and infamous Fascist
general, depraved to the point of delirium, joked in this manner: “We will
bomb the young women of Guernica with chocolates.”

“The Condor Legion had its base in the northern Spanish region of Vitoria.
That was where they had the hangars for their latest model planes that they
needed to test before the II World War.

“The US journalist, Herbert Mathews considered it a prototype of total

“According to professor Ludger Mees, historian and vice director of the
University of the Pais Vasco “Guernica was a test field of Nazi military
strategies, of its technologies, of its planes, of its bombs. In other
words, Hitler used this attack to prepare the war machine that he would
eventually unleash on the world.”

— It takes some time to write a book. How did you structure it, what can you
tell us about it?

— This year, on the 70th anniversary of the massacre, the Guernica Peace
Declaration was signed in which the text affirms that the event is a mirror
reflecting the injustice today’s bombings and allows us to have an insight
about the open wars in our planet.

“I think the newer generations should have more detailed knowledge, with
first hand information, of such a frightening experience like that one that,
unfortunately, has serious limitations in the actual context. The purpose of
my book is to keep alive the memory of the genocide of imperial wars.

“It begins in the central Cienfuegos town of Soledad where I lived my early
years. It is centered from the perspective of that Cuban family, mine, that
for the reasons explained needed to leave for Spain during the 30s although,
logically its nucleus is the prologue, development and events after the

“I also deal with the time prior to our arrival and includes many
photographs and original postcards of the main sites of the Basque locality
as well as many drawings of what I still remember.

“I also add the photograph of an oak that is still standing, after the air
attack that killed so many people including my schoolmates, and is a symbol
of the liberties of the villa.

“But, also, in a lighter touch, I refer to the way of life of the
inhabitants of the region, their customs (they ate a bread they made
themselves that could stay fresh from 15 to 20 days), their folklore, there
rural legends…”.

— What is the time period covered in the text?

—It concludes when we return to Cuba during the early 40s. I did not
consider necessary to add more.

Posted in: Cuba