Professor Paul Preston at Bath LitFest

I’m slightly ashamed to admit I hadn’t been to Bath LitFest before.
I’ve picked up the brochures and read the programme with interest, but I never got around to booking tickets for the talks I had ear-marked.
Until this year.

wedding and events illustration - Bath LitFest, Professor Paul Preston

When I saw that Professor Paul Preston would be speaking about his new book, ‘The Spanish Holocaust’, I knew I had to be in the audience.
The title of his book is intended ‘to shock and accurately encompass’ what happened in Spain during and after the Civil War. The word is of Greek origin meaning ‘sacrifice by fire’ and by the 14th century ‘holocausto’ meant a great massacre.

Beginning with the military coup against the Second Republic in July 1936, the statistics for the killings and deaths during and after the Spanish Civil War are shocking in the extreme and the details of events are so terrible that I shy away from studying the subject in more detail.
But my maternal grandparents were amongst the 400,000 people who left Catalunya, arriving in England with no knowledge of the language in May 1938. With the help of the Red Cross, my grandmother’s two older brothers were found in French concentration camps and joined the young family in England.
My grandfather died before I was born, and the Civil War was a subject my grandmother would never speak of, so I knew very little of this history.
Increasingly, I have questions, but there are few people left in the family who I can ask.

Until Professor Preston’s talk, I thought that el pacto de olvido, ‘the pact of forgetting’, was an unspoken agreement throughout Spain, but there was an Amnesty Law in 1977, a promise that no one could be prosecuted for the atrocities carried out.

In 2000 the remains of thirteen Republican militants were found in a mass grave in León. One of these Republicans was the grandfather of Emilio Silva, a journalist who knew that his grandfather had been executed, but not where or how.
Silva is now the President of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, founded the same year as the exhumation.
It is a movement which looks for knowledge rather than retribution, and ‘the aim of which is to locate and identify the victims of the repression during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship’.
Although there has been no repeal of the pact, in 2007 an historical memory law was passed, recognising the victims on both sides.

It was a sobering talk at the church venue of St.Michael Without, but spellbinding too, to be in the presence of the foremost authority on this period of Spanish history.

In the words of the poet Marcos Ana, who spent 23 years in prison during Franco’s dictatorship, ”Amnesty is one thing, but amnesia is another.”

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2 Responses to “Professor Paul Preston at Bath LitFest”

  1. Pex April 17, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Sarah – thank you for such a clear summary of Preston’s talk and book.

    I have recently discovered the wonder of Kindle – it allows me to download Spanish books for a third of what they cost in the bookshops in Spain (I would feel guilty but it’s not my fault the Spanish government chooses to tax books).

    Very excited about finally laying my hands (virtually speaking) on the latest Javier Marias novel.

    ps. very impressed with your site!

    • martin casey January 2, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

      Dear Sarah Godsill,

      Thank you for posting the above re. talk by Paul Preston-I have read his book “The Spanish Holocaust” & it was deeply shocking to read about the atrocities that occurred during the Spanish Civil war-it was difficult to stay with the book & finish it-I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Mr. Preston to write it.He has done a great service to humanity.
      If you are aware of any public talks he plans to give I would like to hear of same.
      It most have been very painful for you to read this book as your ancestors were affected by the conflict..
      Thanks again,

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