The first, now aged 94, is one of the very few survivors of the aerial bombardment on April 26, 1937 that left the undefended market town in ruins, killing a still unknown number of people estimated at between 200 and 1,650. Iriondo’s two German friends, are relatives of two of the men responsible for the massacre: Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, the head of the Condor Legion, army and air force units sent by Hitler to support General Francisco Franco’s military uprising, and Rudolf von Moreau, one of the pilots who dropped the more than 7,000 bombs over the course of three hours that fateful day.
We all knew that the Guernica bombing was a war crime Dieprand von Richthofen, nephew of German field marshall Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen
EL PAÍS had brought the three men together for an emotional reconciliation – it featured hugs and drawn-out handshakes – during the week-long commemorations being held in Guernica that will include talks, concerts and public readings. Among the guests are the mayor of the Polish city of Oswiecim, remembered by its German name of Auschwitz, along with survivors of the US atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, who accompanied Luis Iriondo as he read out his account of the bombing of Guernica.
This is the second time Dieprand von Richthofen has been to Guernica. His father was a pilot who served under Wolfram von Richthofen. “My father knew him well, but he didn’t like him. He worked very hard and was ambitious when it came to his military career. But he was, above all, terribly loyal to Adolf Hitler and would never have been able to betray him.”
Dieprand von Richthofen had read about his uncle at school, but he says it was only in 2000, when the whole family gathered together to face up to its Nazi past that he learned about his uncle’s involvement in the massacre. “We all knew that the bombing was a war crime,” he says.
Von Richthofen says he feels no guilt about what his uncle did, but admits that his surname is a heavy cross to bear, both for him and his son, now aged 32. “In 2012, he read an article about Wolfram von Richthofen and had the same feeling as me. He felt he was being mentioned. That is why we first came to Guernica.”
He admits that during that first visit he was terrified. “The guilt was there, part of me. But when I saw how the people of Guernica received me I realized that there was no bitterness, and much less a desire for revenge. On the contrary, they wanted reconciliation. And today, to see how Luis Iriondo, a survivor of that horror that a member of my family took part in, has welcomed me with open arms, has been liberating.”
Karl-Benedikt von Moreau, aged 57, lives in Germany and is visiting Guernica for the first time. His uncle, Rudolf von Moreau, was a senior officer in the Condor Legion and took part in the bombing of Guernica. In 2003, he and his brothers wrote an open letter to the people of Guernica expressing their solidarity and pain with the survivors and relatives of the victims.
“My feelings are very strong, this is something that churns you up… but the most amazing thing is seeing how much people here want reconciliation with Germany, to shake hands, to hug each other. It is very moving,” he says.
“When I learned that my uncle had taken part that day, and that he had bombed Bilbao and other locations on the northern front, it had an impact on me. I want to accept that past, assume my responsibility. It is very difficult, it is sad, but I want to help find a better, peaceful, future for Europe.”
English version by Nick Lyne.