Text translated by Seth Brooks
Original article published on Historias de Arte y Guerra by Ángel Saiz
The Galician artist MaruXa Mallo was surprised by the outbreak of the Civil War in the city of Vigo. She had to hide in the home of relatives for six months until she managed to cross the border with Portugal via the Galician town of Tui. The fact that she received a telegram from Buenos Aires inviting her to participate in an “urgent statement” was an excuse that she used to leave the country and, thus, escape certain death. Likewise, the contacts of her father, a customs official at the border post of Tui, were useful. The final help came from the poet (and future Nobel Prize laureate) Gabriela Mistral, Chilean ambassador in Lisbon, who made everything possible for Mallo to embark without problems for Buenos Aires in December 1936.
A few years later, in 1938, she decided to publish first-person accounts, including those related by family and friends, of the first months of fierce repression and military uprising in Galicia. This text, titled A Truthful Account of the Reality of Galicia, was published in the newspaper La Vanguardia, divided into four parts, on the 14th, 16th, 21st, and 26th of August, 1938. The text was accompanied by reproductions of some of her works belonging to the series The Religion of Work, whose sketches were drawn the weeks before the coup and were finally painted in Argentina. Both the text and the works are reproduced below. (Text translated from Historias de Arte y Guerra)
In Galicia, as the rebellion broke out, in the early days of criminal attack, the era of terror began: unjustified imprisonment, executions without trial, mass killings. At that moment, farmers dedicated to their work of the splendid harvest of summer and sailors and laborers working peacefully were surprised at the proclamations from the radio: “Viva Spain! Long live the Republic! Defend the Republic!” All of the workers left their tools to take up arms to defend the Spanish Republic to save the legitimate democratic cause. This was the first deception the insurrectionists used to lure the masses. Thus began the cowardice of the armed forces of the nation against the unarmed civilian population of Spain. With the rebellion having just begun, it was necessary to praise the Republic and proclaim commitment to the government and motivate the workers when they came from the four provinces for the arms promised to defend the common Spanish cause. Ambushes are the most shocking when the people’s enthusiasm is the greatest and expanding. The weakness of the four governors who opposed arming the people, believing in the hidden message of the traitorous military that claimed to remain faithful to the established order, that expressed their commitment to the legitimate Republican government; the governors communicated these phrases to the citizens who came to them to express their concern about the sinister reality that was approaching.
The rebels maintained this ruse for a few days after July 18. At the end of every single transmission the rebels repeated, “Long live Spain! Long live the Republic!” The civilian population was shocked and alarmed by these stubborn repetitions because the restoration of order in Spain did not make sense because the only one that had overthrown order was the military itself. Now controlling the cities, the rebels began the first firing squad executions of the security, assault, and police forces that were mostly Republican supporters.
So began the era of terror: the order established by the common will of Spain was assaulted by the nationalist armed forces and the bloody hordes of Falangists. We were surprised when, after the 18th of July, we heard them say, “Today there is going to be a cleansing.” The reality of this phrase is that the organization of the Falange, at a certain time during the night, commandeered trucks in order to search for laborers in their homes. The Falangists carried a cross in one hand and in the other a gun that they shot at the moment when they made workers knell and asked them if they believed in God. They killed many teachers, workers, and doctors this way. The next day, their family members went to the prisons looking for them after they disappeared. After not finding them and asking where they were, the answer was always the same: “They do not need to eat anymore.” After days and nights of searching, their bodies appeared in the most unexpected and unsuspecting places. It was very common to find the dead on roads or road crossings. Broken and decomposing bodies appeared. Mutilated bodies also emerged from the sea. They called this type of murder, “removing them from jails and houses to take them for a walk”. “We must not leave even one red” the cold armed forces said with a deep grudge against the creative power of the people, against the historical reality of the workers. The struggles of the prisoners refusing to leave prison to be shot or killed were horrific; they are those who did not receive the coup de grace in their still warm bodies because the firing squad said they are “not worth it”. The day after these mass killings the fascists said: “Today there is fresh meat.” Some men, upon hearing of this bloody orgy, enrolled in the Legion because they wanted, “to die with hot blood.”
The boulevard of Tui is one of the places in Galicia where the slaughter was the worst. Portugal returned the Spaniards at Franco’s request when peasants and workers fled to take refuge on the border because of the brutal invasion of Badajoz by the Legion and the Moors. The boulevard of Tui is now called “the walk of death” by the people.
At noon, and when the sun is strongest, it is customary to remove prisoners from the jails to be shot; squads of workers from twenty to forty, in pristine health, sunburned by work in the fields, or beaten by the salt of the high seas, walked serenely down the prison stairs. Long lines of women follow them kneeling, kissing the footprints they left behind on the streets and sidewalks, while saying: “They destroy life for having ideas, but we are still here, and our comrades are in Madrid.” This exhibition is organized in broad daylight as a warning to those who believe in justice, for those who are building a new world, the creative and organized Spanish people. The majority of the accusations are made by the moustachioed devotees and toothless prostitutes that go to the civil government and military commands to testify. The higher-ups often make impassioned statements, after hearing these accusations: “These are very patriotic women.” After the effectiveness of the complaints they often say: “They died without confession, in mortal sin. We, who are the good ones because we go to church, we have to pray for them, so that they are not condemned.” The weak trash speak like this, while the names of streets like Columbus, Cajal, Karl Marx, Rosalia de Castro, and Concepcion Arenal are replaced by the names of bloodthirsty senior commanders.
The roads and the towns of Galicia, before July 18, were full of peasants who traveled loaded with wheat and wood and of sailors that flooded the beaches, filling them with nets and fish, singing their popular ballads and improvised songs. These same people do not sing anymore. Groups of women and homeless children seek justice on the roads and riverbanks. Men race towards the mountains chased like dogs, by the fierce assault of the Falangist, a brutal hunt by nationalists that fire at humanity.
The first recorded murals of the working-class that appeaed on the walls, or in chalk on barricades, representing the instruments of labor, the first proletarian artistic protests, have been covered by the signs of the insurgents. One of these posters depicting a clenched fist with a knife in a gesture of aggression, says: “This is the dagger the Falange uses against hunger and poverty”. Bloody hordes of the Falange say: “First the whip and then the bread.” This is practiced when workers refuse to work without pay, as in Galicia, where they have to “voluntarily” work for free once a week. The shop windows in A Coruña, Ferrol, Santiago, Tui, Vigo, Ourense, all of Galicia, are filled with the German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish monarchist flags. Large signs saying: “We will make a free, great, and unified Spain”. While nationalists shout these slogans, German spies cross the streets and weapons arrive from foreign ports.
Shopkeepers are subject to the force of arms and terror, covering their establishments with the flags and posters of invaders, filling the shop windows with chalices, communion hosts, and chasubles, donations from the devout and ladies who go to Mass in the prisons to see the mood of those sentenced to death and comment: “This guy does not have more than two days and is so fresh they should not wait so long. He did not pray throughout Mass and he really deserves it because he is a leftist”. “He should have seven lives to take, one by one”.
One of the activities the female Falangists do for the army is to raise “el día del plato único“, which is the first and fifteenth of each month. They go door to door, the ladies of the most distinguished families, with their monarchic insignia, rope-soled sandals, armed with batons to climb the most difficult roads and alleys, to extract “the donation” from even the poorest houses, “Today is el día del único plato“. In many households women and children dressed in mourning answer, “Here we have nothing except hunger and our dead”. In others: “Since the 18th of July we have not eaten in this house.” In others, they answered: “Ladies, here we cannot give more: every day is el día del único plato“.