As part of my research for City of Children, I’m reading Hijos de la guerra by Jorge M. Reverte and Socorro Thomás (Ediciones Temas de Hoy, S.A., Madrid, 2001). The book is a series of testimonies by different people who were children during the Spanish Civil War, from all over Spain, raised in diverse ideological contexts. It conveys the reality of war’s complexity, a far cry from the black-and-white simplicity of a film reel.
The children watch the adults executing their enemies against the white cemetery wall—both sides, always in retaliation for a previous crime. The daughter of a nationalist remembers Italian fascist troops straggling one by one into her village after their defeat at the battle of Guadalajara; the soldiers’ friendliness, offering her fresh-baked bread dipped in olive oil; but also her whole family’s horror when a judge, a friend of the family, is executed for being a freemason, and her father’s realisation, listening to Queipo de Llano’s discourses on Radio Sevilla, of the lies that the nationalists were propagating: “[Dad] told us he had a bottle of sherry at the radio. Sometimes he interrupted his speech, filled his glass, burped and said: ‘There, to the Pasionaria*’s health!’ My Dad didn’t like him at all.”
Other children remember spending days in bed, unable to venture outside because of the bullets whining past the house, forbidden to lock their doors by the nationalists, in case they are harbouring “reds”.
These children’s memories, retold by their adult selves, reveal the quotidian horror of war, mixed with a matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation. The horror is real, creating understandable trauma, yet these young people function, are capable of pushing the terror into the background, integrating it into their daily routine, and continuing their existence. It strikes me that despite how vulnerable children may be, they are also endlessly resourceful in their ability to overcome traumatic events and to go on. Maybe this is true of all human beings; that no matter how bad the horror gets, we are genetically incapable of giving up.
*La Pasionaria, Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, was one of the Spanish Communist leaders throughout much of the 20th century, a member of the Spanish parliament for Asturias, exiled in the USSR from 1939 to 1977, General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party in exile, and once more an MP after her return to Spain. She died in 1989.