by Peter Anderson
Brighton, Eng.: Sussex Academic Press / Portland, Or: ISBS, 2017. Pp. xvi, 262.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $74.95. ISBN: 9781845197940
Prisoners of the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War
Anderson, a Leeds University lecturer and author of several other works on the history of Spain in the period of the Civil War, examines the process which the Nationalist regime developed to deal with the vast mass of prisoners taken during the nearly three year conflict.
Anderson opens by reminding us that during the early stages of the war undisciplined mass killing was the common fate dealt out to prisoners – whether soldiers or civilians – by both sides. This gradually diminished.
As the war went on, the Nationalists established a complex system of vetting and classifying Republican prisoners – soldiers, political figures, ordinary citizens – to determine their degree of “guilt”, by Nationalist standards. This determined their punishment, which could range from none at all through “volunteer” service in the Nationalist ranks on to hard labor, imprisonment, or death.
Using many case studies, Anderson describes what was a very bureaucratic procedure by which the accused were investigated, usually by local officials, using testimony from “reliable” witnesses (e.g., local rightist leaders, clergy, military personnel), as well as an examination of documents that indicated the person’s political affiliations, and other associations, notably Freemasonry.
Anderson notes that political influences on verdicts at times yielded surprisingly just decisions. So we find at times that leftists who had taken risks to protect victims of Anarchist or Communist terror or men who had been forcibly incorporated into the Republican ranks, were dealt lenient sentences, while known rightists who collaborated too closely with the Republicans were often treated quite harshly.
Examining the cases of Basque nationalists, particularly Basque priests, Anderson finds that Nationalist desire for bloodshed ran into objections from the Vatican, and even Mussolini and Hitler.
Oddly, Anderson doesn’t mention any cases involving the many prewar Army officers who ended up in the Republican ranks, a great omission, since a few of these men were readmitted to the Army by Franco, either because they had clearly been coerced into serving or because they had deliberately served in order to sabotage the Republican war effort.
Despite the omission of the treatment of prisoners by the Republican side, Friend or Foe?, a volume in the impressive series Canada Blanch / Sussex Academic Studies on Contemporary Spain, is an important read for anyone with a serious interest in the Spanish Civil War.
Note: Friend or Foe? is also available in paperback and several e-editions