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Monday, Aug. 6, 2012

The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain (W.W. Norton), by Paul Preston

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Paul Preston of the London School of Economics wasn't being glib when he used the holocaust word to describe the Spanish Civil War. Through carefully collating the records from the period, he is able to describe not a sequence of battle but a series of bloody massacres and mass executions. Civilian casualties fell far short of the Holocaust, but Preston identifies a racist angle to the killings. Many of the victims were peasants from southern Spain, described by their foes as “African” for their Moorish roots. Although the conflict soon devolved into a proxy war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, it originated, Preston reminds us, in a right-wing mutiny against a democratically-elected government trying to institute reforms—most of them just and reasonable. The Spanish left, especially the anarchists, were also guilty of atrocities, but for the most part, officials of the elected government and their socialist supporters tried to maintain the rule of law—at least until the regime fell into the clutches of the Stalinists. People of good will were crushed from all sides in the end, but especially by a military clique whose leaders acquired a taste for bloodshed while fighting Spain's colonial wars.