Rene's recitation of events his people sustained at the hands of the German air force stimulated Katie's Hwéeldi outburst. It also triggered Picasso to paint his most famous piece.
“Guernica? There’s a famous painting by Picasso with that name, right?”
“It’s a large black and white picture about the bombing of the town just before World War II. It’s on display at the Reina Sofia Museum, in Madrid,” Ellen replied.
“Wait, it’s not just a painting about war. Isn’t it about an actual event from the war?” Katie asked.
“Yes, it happened,” René said. “My aunt and grandmother were living in Guernica then. Because of the bombing they left Spain and moved to the States. It was traumatic for them. They told me about it ten years ago, and they remembered every detail like it happened yesterday.”
“And this happened before World War II?” asked Rory.
“Yes, the Spanish Basques were persecuted by the Franco regime, which was taking over Spain and working in cahoots with Hitler.
My aunt said it was on a sunny spring day, market day in fact, and many people from outside of town were there. The ground was wet from a recent rain, but the sky was cloudless, and the sun was out. About four o’clock in the afternoon the sky filled with the noise of many propeller airplanes. My aunt and grandma were in their home. Suddenly the droning of the airplanes was overtaken by the sound of explosions.
First, they hid under the table, and then ran outside. The bombing went on and on. Buildings were burning and crumbling, the air filled with flames and smoke. After the bombs, the planes machine-gunned people, mowing them down, strafing cars and individuals with lines of bullets.
People fell dead and cars caught on fire. People were burned alive. My grandma said once you have smelled burning flesh you never forget it. They ran into a tunnel where many others were hiding. The planes saw people running into the tunnel and took aim at it. My aunt and grandma ran out of the tunnel before a bomb hit it, killing everyone inside, and waited for hours after the attack stopped before they went back into town. They passed a house that collapsed into its cellar. It was still on fire, and there were charred bodies of women and children who ran there for protection. The only things left standing were a church and the sacred oak tree of the Basques. During the war trials, German air chief Hermann Goering testified the bombing and strafing was an opportunity to put his new air force to the test, for his men to gain experience.
“The town of Guernica is our symbolic center. Under our oak tree, the early kings of the Castile and Carlist kingdoms swore to respect Biscayan liberties. The Lehendakari, all leaders of the Basques, still swear an oath to protect our ancient fueros, or laws, under the branches of this sacred tree. Although we have no national boundaries, our laws guarantee the democratic and territorial rights of the Basque people. Our oak takes the place of your chief justice during your presidential inaugurations.”
Katie erupted, spewing forth a simmering, seething tirade. “God dammit. What makes people so cruel? What makes them think they have the right to take life and liberty from others?”
Rory looked at her in surprise. Where did this come from? Something happened this morning; I know it did.
Katie continued. “They began by taking our possessions; then they took our land, then our livelihood, then our dignity. Now nothing is left of our beautiful culture but people whose entire identity is gone. And then, after any little bit of hope has been totally smothered, they take our lives away.”
“Katie, I didn’t…” René was at a loss too.
“At least your attackers went to trial. My attackers were never…”
“Be quiet, Rory. Remember the cultural grief I was telling you about? Well, here it is, this is where it comes from, and I don’t see how it is ever, ever going to be made right.”
“No, listen to me. Listen to what I’m telling you. You need to be quiet. You need to sit and listen.” Katie paused and composed herself. “In 1862 the ‘Indian Problem’ grew too big for the bilagáana to ignore. Now, a rumor was circulating throughout the greedy bilagáana world that gold was discovered in the Little Colorado River, the river running through the western part of Dinétah. Suddenly the Indian lands became too valuable to ignore; they had gold.
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Guernica! Butterfly Boy Chapter 31