“The Battalion of Death (Battalion Malatesta) was an Italian anarchist unit during the Spanish Civil War. The battalion was formed by a few hundred Italian anarchist exiles in France.  It was organized and funded by Diego Abad de Santillan and commanded by the Italian Camillo Berneri.

Late March 1937, the battalion made ​​its debut parading through the Paseo de Gracia and the Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona wearing their smart uniforms and brandishing the slogan “without God nor master”. It made quite an impression on the audience.

They wore black turtleneck jerseys, olive-green uniforms with ammunition belts and a black beret with a skull and a dagger badge. The battalion consisted of both men and women.” 

To celebrate May 1st/International Workers Day, I’ll explain a bit about this famous photography.

This picture was taken by Hans Guttmann (also known as Juan Guzmán) on the 21st of July, 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, at the top of Hotel Colón in Barcelona, Catalonia.

The girl is Marina Ginestà i Coloma (January 29 1919 - January 6 2014), at the moment aged 17. She was an antifascist militian, journalist, and translator. After this picture, she never held a gun again. Instead, she helped by translating international news and books, writing in newspapers, and by being a correspondent for foreign newspapers.

She was captured in Alicant, and moved to a concentration camp. After some weeks, she was liberated and escaped with her boyfriend to France, but he died while trying to cross the Pyrinees. In France, Marina found her family and all of them were taken to the internment camps of Argelès-sur-mer and Agde. When the nazis invaded France, they left on exile on a boat that said it was going to Mexico, but went to the Dominican Republic. In 1946, she left the Dominican Republic because of the persecution led by the dictator Rafael Trujillo, and went to Venezuela. She moved to different countries for the rest of her life, and in the end died in Paris when she was 94.

Even though this picture became one of the most famous from the Civil War, Marina Ginestà didn’t know about it until a few years before dying.

Did you know...?

- In Spain there are (still) 120.000 missing people (after all these years). Spain is the second country in the world for the number of missing people, only behind Cambodia.    

- There are more than 2000 known mass graves still to be opened. Not to count the unknown ones. Here’s a map. It’s horrifying.

- Fifty kilometres north of Madrid, in the granite mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is the tallest stone cross built anywhere in the world, it’s called the Valley of the Fallen. It’s more than 150 metres high, it stands guard over a vast basilica hewn into the rock below. It was built by republicans prisioner-of-war and victims of reprisals. The tomb of the Dictator is located here.

- Every year, diehard followers of Franco pay their respects around the anniversary of his death (November 20), either in the Valley of The Fallen or even worse, in the church of Los Jerónimos, in Madrid, where they sing the fascist hymn and there’s a priest celebrating a special mass in his honour. 

.The Popular Party (PP), the most voted political party in Spain, was founded by Ministries and personalities from the Regime. They have never been able to bring themselves to condemn Francoism. Their opinion is that although the wounds are still open, we shall remain silent and forget.

- There is a foundation called Francisco Franco, that gets public money every year. One of the main benefactors is the Popular Party. They organize acts and events defending the right of the uprising and subsequent war.

-After all these year, the government passed a controversial law called “Ley de Memoria Histórica”, calling for the removal of Franco statues and street names, and opening of war graves. The Popular Party, and the new right party ‘Ciudadanos’ (C’s) are constantly blocking any change in most towns where they are governing. They argue it’s “opening old wounds” and “threatening the tranquil co-existence”.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Republican soldier, 1936 | Гражданская война в Испании 1936 by Olga
Via Flickr:
Miliciana de La Guerra Civil Española The Spanish Civil War Photo: Hans Namuth

Guernica, Pablo Picasso. Completed 1937.

“The raid on Guernica is unparalleled in military history. Guernica was not a military objective. A factory producing war material lay outside the town and was untouched. The object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race.” – George L. Steer, The Times