Friday, December 14, 2012

Belchite VI

I spent just one afternoon walking the ruins of Belchite. The fog was heavy and I was the only person in the entire wrecked village. If there was a ever a place that I've been that felt haunted by it's past, it was there.

After Belchite I knew I was afraid to go into action again. I tried all this time to overcome my feeling of fear. I felt we were doomed and fighting futilely. I dropped out of line and made up my mind to desert and try and reach France.

-Paul White. White deserted the lines and was later court martialed and executed by his commanders

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Belchite V

Openly gay soldiers served amongst the ranks of the Lincolns. After sharp shooter Wallace Burton was killed at Belchite by a single shot from the church tower, his lover Millie Bennet wrote:  

It doesn't yet seem possible that my stout, vital, life-loving darling is part of the that barren Aragon mesa.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Belchite IV

Some of the Lincolns found it only fitting that the ultra-Catholic fascists tended to make their last stands inside of churches.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Belchite III

We had to go forward. Yet that seemed like suicide. On the other hand, if we stayed in the trench we'd be picked off like sitting ducks. And a retreat over bare ground would cost more lives than an attack. Therefore we had to go forward.

 -Steve Nelson, Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Nelson took bullets to the face and groin but survived the battle.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Belchite II

In his history of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade -a battalion of American's who fought in the war alongside the Republican army- Peter Carroll describes the role the Lincoln's played in the battle: 

The Americans fell under heavy sniper fire from the hovering church tower and immediately began to count heavy casualties. By the end of the first day, all the company commanders and many of the adjutants had been killed. 


...In one assault 22 men started towards the town. None made it; only two survived.


Sunday, December 9, 2012


For three weeks at the end of the summer in 1937, the full fury of the Spanish civil war was concentrated on a small farming village a few hours northwest of Madrid. Belchite.

The Republicans (ie: coalition of loyalists, socialists, communists, anarchists and many others) first attacked the town to take pressure off the Nationalist (ie:fascists, rebels, German and Italian military support all led by Franco) advance elsewhere across the northwest. Belchite was heavily fortified by 4,000 - 7,000 Nationalist soldiers, and it took days of siege warfare, finally ending in house-to-house fighting before the Republicans claimed the town.

A member of the International Brigade fighting alongside the Spanish Republicans, Bill Bailey described the fighting: We would knock a hole through a wall with a pickaxe, throw in a few hand-grenades, make the hole bigger, climb through into the next house, and clear it from cellar to attic. And by God we did this, hour after hour. The dead were piled in the street, almost a story high, and burnt. The engineers kept pouring on gasoline until the remains sank down. Then they came with big trucks and swept up the ashes. The whole town stank of burning flesh.

The Republican "victory" was to be short-lived. Days later, Franco's troops struck back and successfully dislodged the Republicans from Belchite with a combination of air and artillery fire. They also effectively destroyed the town.

This was not a unique outcome during the Spanish civil war, but for some reason Franco declared that Belchite was not to be touched after the war. By highest order, Belchite would not be leveled or rebuilt, rather it would stand as a reminder to the war.

Depending on your views of the war (and Franco), Belchite was preserved either as a reminder to the horrors of war, or a reminder as to what happens to villages that dare to cross Franco.

Almost 40 years after Franco's death and the remains of Belchite still stand, untouched since 1938.  The ruins are hard to find, and there are almost no markers along any of the twisting back roads that wind through the nearby agricultural plains.  But it is there, and you can visit, and you should.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Memento Mori.

"Good god, how time carries on; it passes us all. My husband and son are gone, but here I am."
While visiting an elderly woman being cared for by the municipal government. The sum total of her life's possessions fit on her bedside table.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Three different views of the beautiful cathedral on the banks of the river of Zaragoza. Pilar, the patron saint of the Americas, is the namesake of the cathedral. Inside are flags from all of the countries in the Americas with historical connections to the Spanish empire. This means the ol' stars and bars are in there, but definitely not any maple leaves.