80th anniversary of Guernica

Nazi memorial removed from Madrid cemetery on Guernica anniversary

Dismantling of mausoleum timed for 80th anniversary of bombing of town in Spain’s north

At the request of the German Embassy in Madrid, Madrid City Hall has removed an inscription in the city’s largest cemetery commemorating German aviators who supported coup leader General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

The plaque to the German pilots.
The plaque to the German pilots.Cristóbal Manuel

The decision, taken on Wednesday, comes during a week-long series of events to mark the 80th anniversary of the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, in which Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe, or air force, played a key role.

Until just a few days ago, a piece of the facade of a mausoleum in Madrid’s Almudena cemetery – one of the largest in Europe – honoring the Condor Legion, made up of air force and army units, remained in place. Seven pilots are buried there.

The facade has now been removed, leaving only the names of the pilots on their graves.

Written in Spanish and German, the inscription read: “Here rest German pilots who fell in the fight for a free Spain. German aviators who died for God and for Spain. Present!”

The German embassy expressly asked for the plaque to be removed, and paid for the cost

The Condor Legion developed methods of terror bombing later used in World War II. As well as Guernica, German planes bombed Bilbao and took part in other operations in Spain, including the battle for Madrid.

The German embassy had expressly requested the removal of the inscription, although Madrid City Hall has recently begun taking down the last remaining street signs and other vestiges of the Franco regime, which ended in 1975.

In a country where the legacy of Franco remains hotly contested, monuments associated with the fascist regime are highly controversial. In 2007, the Socialist Party (PSOE) government of former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero passed the Historical Memory Law, which made provision for the removal of statues and the changing of place names connected to the Franco regime.

The mausoleum to the German pilots was the property of the German Federal Republic. In a letter to Madrid City Hall, the German embassy formally requested the mausoleum be dismantled before April 25, a day before the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica.

PSOE councilor Ramón Silva thanked the German embassy for its efforts to remove the plaque, including paying for it: “This is moment for celebration, because the Historical Memory Law has proved successful once again and another vestige lauding fascism and the coup of 1936 has disappeared.”

English version by Nick Lyne.

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