This article was translated by John R. Bopp
We’re in a time of commemorations. As you might expect, we’re referring to the 80th anniversary of those terrible events that divided and destroyed the Land of the Basques below the Pyrenees.
We believe it to be very special, this 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War; the Constitution of the Government of Euzkadi; the bombing of Guernica; the taking over of the Basque territory that was controlled by the partisans of the Republic and democracy by Fascist troops (who had many Basques among their number); or the firing squad, jailing, and exile of tens of the thousands of Basques.
It’s very special because it will be one of the last ones for which we will be able to turn to the living memory of those who lived through those events.
Fotograma del documental Elai-Alai (1938)
For many years, this memory, by which we’re referring to the group who fought against Fascism, has been hidden, blocked, and chased away. Afterwards, for reasons we can’t seem to fathom, those men and women were never given adequate recognition, nor was their vision of what happened documented and distributed, nor their sacrifice for and commitment to the Cause of the Basque people.
Not long from now, thanks to the forces of nature, to find out about this part of history, we’ll only be able to turn to the documents that these people have left behind. And they will very unfortunately be far fewer that are necessary to understand what happened, and how they suffered, it full magnitude.
In this time of commemorations, here on our blog, we’ll be collecting documents that seem especially significant to us. We’ve been doing this since we started the blog, but now our commitment to keep spreading the word as far as we can is now part of our story, and we rededicate ourselves to it.
We’ve found, thanks to those on Facebook who are determined to record and spread our history, a documentary that is incredibly valuable to us.
Its name is “Elai-Alai”, and it was directed by Nemesio Sobrevila on the commission of the Propaganda Service for the Government of Euzkadi in 1938. It was never shown until 2012. That was thanks to the recovery work of the Basque Filmotheque after finding a copy of the negative deposited by the author at the French Cinematheque in Paris. Sound was added to some fragments later.
In this documentary, you can see a performance of the children’s group Elai Alai from Guernica, and the Eresoinka Chorus (organized by the Euzkadi Government to help spread the true image of the Basques around the world). Both culture groups acted together on several French stages in order to help spread the word of what was happening in the Basque Country and to raise funds to help the refugees.
The Euzkadi Football Selection did something similar with sports.
As Lehendakari Agirre himself explained in his book “From Guernica to New York via Berlin”:
We wanted to show abroad how that Basque soul that had been sacrificed at the altar of totalitarianism still vibrated, and we organized newspapers, magazine, and especially theatrical productions. When I was in Santander, three days before it fell, I called a notable Basque musician and said to him, ‘It’s possible that we can’t leave here, but for just that reason the struggle I want fought in the artistic field as well cannot be concluded.
Fotograma del documental Elai-Alai donde se pueden ver los resultados del Bombardeo de Gernika (1938)
This visual and spoken documentary, alongside the images of everyday life, also includes footage of the Basque war children being sent off, as well as the only footage of the aftermath of the Bombing of Guernica, filmed before the Francoist insurgents arrived. They were filmed by Agustín Ugartetxea just after the bombing. The footage is very short, as the German company hired to develop most of the film confiscated the material when they received it. But there is enough to get an idea of the magnitude of the bombing and its terrible consequences, like the death of 1,000 people.
Against the lies, more truth
Filmoteca Vasca – -Euskadi