Page 12, 1st October 1937

1st October 1937
Page 12
Page 12, 1st October 1937 — RELIGIOUS PERSECUTI Myself "
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Locations: Madrid, Moscow, Valencia

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RELIGIOUS PERSECUTI Myself "

By JOHN BROWN

[This is the third article on Spain by John Brown, one of the few journalists who has visited both Nationalist and Red territory in Spain. An expert on Russian Soviet methods John Brown is the author of " I saw for Myse?f," a book which describes the author's knpressions of the U.S.S.R. during a period when he was actually a soviet worker.] ACK in Catalonia, T investigated the church-burning and looting stories.

Requeta, the Catalan Minister of

of Propaganda, gave me a statement admitting that a third of the church treasures (sculpture, painting, silverwork, embroidery, tapestries, etc.), had been lost from the parochial and rural churches, and the burning of many Catalan churches during the first few weeks of war was formally admitted. But I should say that the onethird loss estimate was an under-estimate.

By government decrees, all private collections of religious ornaments and paintings were sent to the Art Museum of Catalonia, and the "Control Patrols " (of Anarchists and Red unionists) seized all objects " found in flats and premises abandoned by their owners "—to use an official phrase. As many of the unfortunate owners were killed in their homes or driven out by threats,.these operations can only be classified as robberies under arms, in spite of the Communist stories of " saving art treasures for the nation!"

Some of the self-appointed art protectors were shot by Communists on their own side, who mistook them for looters. Among those killed were Rafael Fuster Ribo and Enric Alexandrino, well-known anti-Fascists, who were on their way to the Generalidad Palace with a load of paintings and ornaments.

• Treasures Saved from Llerida At Llerida I found that the new Cathedral had been burned by the Communists, but the great tapestry collection and the famous illuminated Codex had fortunately been removed to a museum just before the destruction. The Gothic church of San Lorenza had also been burned, although much of the edifice is still standing. The old 12th century Cathedral is now a Red military barracks.

At Tarragona, where I had to fight with militia men for bread—there were only six hunks to serve fifty hungry men—the splendid Roman arch of Barus had been partly demolished by a bomb, but labourers were busy at repair work. The other mediaeval monuments here were intact, and the Episcopal Palace has been converted into a museum of pre-Christian art! A member of the Tarragona Control Commission emphasised this point with particular pride when he showed me the Cathedral. He regretted the blowing up of the Arch of Barus, which he said, was " quite unnecessary."

The magnificent Cathedral, whose treasures include works by many of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and Middle Ages, was being investigated by an " art commission "—one of whose members was an illiterate ex-porter—whose task was to decide the destination of the paintings and silver ornaments.

Vandalism of Militia Of the Aragon front I found that the militia had destroyed so many churches and paintings that the government had been obliged to step in and form a "Salvage Commission."

The members of the volunteer columns I met here and at Huescas were, without exception, atheists, and some boasted about the part they had played in defacing in scriptions and demolishing statues. The American and English volunteers had played no part in the anti-religious work, but none of them defended the Church against the attacks of their fanatical Corn m u n ist and Anarchist comrades—doubtless a consequence of the daily " propaganda ration " issued by the political officers attached to each unit, while there is also a continual stream of illustrated anti-God literature from the Communists, printed in English, French and Spanish, for the troops. This is paid for—and the cost must be considerable—by the party offices, which have been opened in every big city in the government area.

" Rather Like Russia"

I asked one English Red " political officer"—who did no fighting, but went among the various Madrid units making three speeches a day—why he was continually stressing the anti-religioui note in his talks. "Orders," he answered shortly. "don't you see, the situation is rather like what it was in Russia. The old Church, with the priests siding with the Whiter, and the people in a turmoil. It's a great chance to wipe out religion for good, and we'd be crazy not to take it. And we're doing better than I thought we would."

He stated that Russia needed a Red Spain as a counter in diplomatic bargaining with the western powers.

Why Trotskyists Were Banned

Government leaders in Valencia stated that their dependence on Russia had compelled them to refuse permission to the strong P.O.U.M. (Trotskyist) party to apply for Trotsky's aid on the Huescas front, where he has several thousands of supporters. Trotsky, hated by the Stalin government, would undoubtedly receive a warm welcome and a high command here if he was willing to leave Mexico, but the Spanish government refused a safe-conduct under pressure from Rosenberg, the Russian Ambassador.

At the expensively furnished Russian Embassy at the Hotel Metropol in Valencia I found that Marcel Rosenberg had left

for Moscow to report on the situation, and the new Ambassador, M. Gaikis, was receiving a government delegation. He was working a sixteen-hour day. I was informed by his secretary. Foreign ambassadors are normally barred from interference with a country's internal politics, but on the first floor of the Embassy was the office of a Spanish Communist group, while the walls were liberally plastered with party posters. The Ambassador's first Counsellor, Tumanoff, was in the '1 Basque country, I was informed, where his task was to reassure the Euzkadi government on the question of anti-religious propaganda.

How far he was successful in this mission I cannot say, as the Press Attaché, growing suddenly suspicious for some reason about the " correctness " of my views, refused facilities I had been granted previously, and my visits to the Metropol, which is always guarded by armed Red militiamen, ceased abruptly.

Picture for Reds Only Professor Gabriel Bonilla, of the University of Seville, a tall, smartly dressed young man now occupying a high position at the Propaganda Ministry, would say little about the religious position when I saw him, al

though he had much to say on other mat ters. While his chief, Senor Domencina, who offered to provide me with photographs of the war, was very anxious that these should not be used for " right " journals, as they might be " misinterpreted."

Everywhere in the capital ministries there was a desire to ignore the relig:ous question, and the English-speaking Reds employed at the Censura (censorship office) had orders to erase all references to the Church position from letters and telegrams.

No Franco, No Church!

But no one who stays even a short time in Red Spain can doubt that the Church would have small chance of survival in the eastern provinces in the event of a Franco

defeat. Russian pressure on the government and the efficient propaganda of the growing Communist Party would, indeed, ensure that, while the anarchists and syndicates could always be blamed for acts of violence. And it is significant that even on the walls of the Beni Carlo Palace in the Calle de Navellos, headquarters of the Coalition Premier, there are red Communist posters echoing the platform slogans: " DEATH TO THE INVADERS! DEATH TO THE FASCIST PRIESTS! To THE FRONT, COMRADES !




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