The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain

by Paul Preston

Paperback, 2013




W. W. Norton & Company


Long neglected by European historians, the unspeakable atrocities of Franco's Spain are finally brought to tragic light in this definitive work by Paul Preston, the world's foremost historian of 20th-century Spain.

Media reviews

An eminent and prolific British historian of modern Spain, Preston says this was “an extremely painful book to write.” It is also, unlike several of his other works, a difficult book to read. The newcomer to Spanish history will nowhere learn the difference between the Assault Guard and the Civil Guard, or between a Carlist and an integrist. Chapters roll on for 40 or 50 pages without a break. A blizzard of names of thousands of perpetrators and the towns where they carried out their tortures and killings overwhelms the reader. “The Spanish Holocaust” is not really a narrative but a comprehensive prosecutor’s brief. With its immense documentation — 120 pages of endnotes to both published and unpublished material in at least five languages, including corrections of errors in these sources — it is bound to be an essential reference for anything written on the subject for years to come.

User reviews

LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
The term 'holocaust' is one contentious, reserved solely now for the gravest of atrocities (with hyperbole notwithstanding). Although on a slightly smaller scale, Preston makes the assertion that the killings of the Spanish Civil War, and later the Franco regime, are systemic and deliberate in nature, comparable to Hitler or Stalin.

Spain, currently struggling with economic woes, still has some of the remnants and nightmares of the last Fascist regime in Europe. Only in the last ten years have steps been taken to make restitution to the victims and recognize his crimes. But there are still those who look up to him as a paragon of order, a modern Crusader, a paragon of traditional values. Some still make pilgrimages to his gaudy monument of 'reconciliation', Valle de los Caidos, partially built by prisoners and slave labor.

Preston's main thesis is as follows - The Franco regime, during the Civil War and after, knowingly and willingly committed atrocities on a large scale against political opponents, and civilians. More died behind the lines than on the front itself.

As for the leftist Republic of Spain, they are not wholly absolved of responsibility - there was considerable backlash against other elements of society - religious, and conservative alike. However, the left had no real centralized control over large areas of the country, and Preston condemns the Anarchist factions in particular. Although their crimes were done as retribution, or defiance, or more likely sheer desperation, he does not absolve them. The Francoists won, and therefore had more time and power to do as they wished. But the fact remains - the leftists killed 50,000 behind their lines in the civil war, and the rightists 150,000.

This is rather exhausting to read. X army moved to Y village, and massacred the inhabitants, looted, plundered, raped the women. In reprisal, Z army moved to Y village and attacked the X sympathizers in W village before being forced... and so on. Numerous figures are introduced only to die terribly shortly after. 500 pages of this at least. It is almost numbing. But one must continue.

Of course, the most frustrating thing is that Franco continued after this. Mussolini was hung on a hook, Hitler turned to ashes, the rest of the fascists all gone. He became a 'good dictator', an ally in the fight against Communism. Like Mobutu Sese Seko, or Pinochet, or Batista. Or Saddam. The hazards of ideology and intervention. Spain became a police state, and an oddly feudal relic of fascism, with democratization only occurring in the past three decades. Only recently has anything even been said against him.

This is a valuable historical work, an indictment of crimes against humanity, although I'm not sure if I can 'recommend' it. A general history by the author might have been a better place to go first.
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