Spain Looks Back at Its Civil War (Exhibit/Madrid)

MADRID — It was “the golden age of foreign correspondents,” the historian Hugh Thomas wrote, a period in the late 1930s when the literary elite descended on Spain armed with a lust for adventure and belief in a cause.

The lure was the Spanish Civil War. In February 1936 Spanish voters elected, by a small plurality, a center-left coalition of Socialists, Communists, Republicans and Anarchists. Then in July, Gen. Francisco Franco led an uprising against the five-year-old Spanish Republic that plunged the country into civil war.

Mussolini and Hitler supported Franco, while Stalin sent advisers and arms to his opponents. The United States, Britain and France sat on the sidelines.

The writers and foreign correspondents who came to Spain invented a new kind of war journalism, reporting in first-person, eyewitness accounts the brutal feel of the battlefield.

Their two-and-a-half-year chronicle became something more, an intimate encounter with the great ideological battles of the time: between church and state; rich and poor; the aristocracy and the classless; democracy and fascism.

A traveling exhibition organized for the inauguration of the new headquarters of the Cervantes Institute in Madrid commemorates that journalism with original news clippings from publications as different as Esquire and Pravda. Titled “Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939,” it is part of a vast soul-searching throughout Spain over the terror of the 1936 uprising and civil war that brought General Franco to power and kept his dictatorship in place until his death in 1975. The exhibition, which runs until Feb. 25 in Madrid, was shown last year at the institute’s New York offices and in Lisbon. It will travel next to three cities in France, two cities in Poland and one each in Stockholm and Moscow.

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