Unadulterated Lies Served Up to 47,607 Left Book Club Subscribers
By J. L. BENVENISTI
Spanish Testament, by Arthur Koestler, Left Book of the Month, is, quite simply, a disgraceful and abominable book. It is the more abominable through the fact that its author is a man with a certain reputation, and one whose training makes his repetition of unsubstantiated stories highly culpable. Yet there is no calumnY which Mr. Koestler seems unwilling to repeat, in most cases without even the pretence of proof or evidence.
Alcazar Heroes Traduced
Let me take as an example the chapter which will perhaps cause more resentment than any other, the chapter in which the author sets out to traduce and vilify the
defenders of the Alcazar. Mr. Koestler seeks to elevate to the level of serious history a preposterous canard that the defenders had with them large numbers of women hostages and that it was the presence of these hostages within the fortress that paralysed the beseigers and so saved the garrison.
"All accounts agree," says Mr. Koestler, " that the number of women and children amounted to 400 in all of whom 250 were hostages."
Now that statement is an absolute lie.
Not only is it untrue that all accounts agree on the matter of the hostages, but except for a vague and unconfirmed statement in one, Freach paper I e4nnot recall to mind any account by a proper investigator Which even takes this story seriously. Mi. Edward Knoblagh of the Associated Press, a careful and accurate correspondent if ever there was one, writes of this particular rumour.
" Extensive questioning in all quarters of Toledo during the siege failed to produce any testimony supporting these claims. The attackers, many of them residents of Toledo and farmer friends of those inside, told me the women were wives and relatives of the defenders who had accompanied the men rather than face their capture in the city itself."
It should be added that Mr. Knoblagh was according to his own statement a close personal friend of the then Mayor of Toledo, a Left wing republican, who would certainly have substantiated this story if there had been a word of truth in it, and would have been able to furnish the names and addresses of at least some of the "host
ages " concerned.
The Daily Mail correspondent similarly fails to supply a word of confiration, though he arrived in Toledo with the relief force.
Witnesses Still Alive
After all, these things can be investigated. The agents in this drama are in many cases still alive. There is for instance, Fr. Camarasa who visited the defenders on a famous occasion and baptized two children who had been born in the Alcazar during the siege. As the express purpose of his visit. was to persuade Colonel Mossardo to permit the evacuation of women and children (it was the women themselves who ultimately refused to leave) he should presumably know something about the hostages. Father Camarasa is, I sincerely hope, still alive and well and can be questioned. So far to the best of my knowledge there is no word about " hostages."
Finally there is the declaration of the Chilean Ambassador which with obliging naiveté Mr. Koestler quotes in extenso. Now this is a very interesting document. The Chilean Ambassador, it will be remembered, anxious to prevent avoidable sufferings offered his services as mediator. When the offer was rejected by Colonel Moscardo, the Ambassador stated: " That his proposal to the force besieged in the Alcazar was confined to the question of facilitating the evacuation of the women and children. whom it was proposed to accommodate in Madrid and place under the protection of the diplomatic corps."
There is then no mention in this document of there being two categories of women, viz. wives of the defenders and , hostages. The proposed steps were to be taken in respect of all women in the Alcazar. Yet if a substantial proportion of them were red " hostages " why did they require diplomatic protection in Madrid?
To be fair to Mr. Koestler he has contrived to dig up exactly two witnesses: a certain Antonia Perez Corroto, a tavern keeper " formerly residing at 6, Calle de las Sierpes Toledo," is one of them. In the course of a rambling statement she describes how she was forced to accompany some " fascists " into the Alcazar, where she and her daughter were for some quite inexplicable reason " put in chains " and one deserter Luis Ortega Lopez (Presumably of no fixed address) speaks vaguely of prisoners. That is sum total of the evi
dence which in Mr. Koestler's opinion justify the printing at the head of the relevant chapter of the following sentence from Ilya Ehrenburg's " Toledo."
" They called themselves the successors of the Cicl. They hid themselves from the people's wrath behind the skirts of the women they had ravished and the swaddling clothes of the children they had kidnapped."
Here is another excerpt which is typical of Mr. Koestler's methods.
" Until 1936 the tramway system in Madrid belonged to the Church. A number of typical Spanish cabarets, with their, to English ideas, very risque programmes, were controlled by holding companies with clerical capital. Among the ' big five ' banks of the Iberian Peninsula was the Amen Espiritu Santo, the ' Bank of the Holy Ghost,' which largely helped to finance Franco's insurrection."*
Note here the complete absence of any attempt at substantiation. There is presumably a Spanish equivalent of Somerset House where the full facts are recorded.
Mr. Koestler would have no difficulty in getting at them. His statement is unambiguous and specific. It does not mean that a few priests or institutions may have had a few tramway holdings it means that the Church had at least a controlling interest. He would have no difficulty in proving this if it were true, and the same-applies to the holding companies which own these cabal ets. If it were true it could be proved. Why does Mr. Koestler make no attempt to do so?
Banco Espiritu Santo I am shooting in the dark but I am willing to wager (simply because Mr. Koestler carefully refrains from stating the contrary) that the bank of " the Holy Ghost" is an ordinary Spanish batik, and that it is named as it is because it exists in a Catholic country. It is quite common in such countries, for perfectly ordinary concerns such as shops and hotels to bear such names. But Mr. Koestler here (and I think this deliberate) counts on his readers draw ing a quite faulty inference. Doubtless the average Left book club reader will promptly conclude that the Banco Espiritu Santo is the hoarding agency for fabulous ill-gotten wealth of the princes of the Church, wealth so enormous that a war can be " financed " with it
Mr. Koestler is a person of considerable intelligence who in pre-Nazi days held an important post with the house of Ullstein. He knows the trade of Journalism, and cannot plead mere ineptitude in the weighing of evidence.
He has been completely blinded by his passions, and is willing to dish up anything and everything that will enable him to discredit and vilify the thing he hates.
4(This nonsense has been refuted once and for all in the C.T.S. pamphlet, Is the Spanish Church Rich or Poor? by Fr. T. Sweeny [Price 2d.].—Catholic Herald note.)