Campo de Rusia
Campo de Rusia is a set of buildings outside Belchite, Aragon, constructed during the Spanish Civil War (1938 ) , initially intended as a military outpost , but ultimately served as housing for civilian personnel. These included Republican families who were rehoused in more appropriate social housing only when they were ‘corrected’, ie embraced the doctrines of the Franco administration. Today the buildings are used as store rooms for animal and agricultural purposes.
I would like to suggest that a new photograph of a resting Republican officer taken by Gerda Toro has been discovered in a suitcase of negatives until recently lost somewhere remotely. Sadly, the truth is this is a photograph taken on the International Brigades Archaeological Project I attended in August 2015 and portrays Alan Warren as the group rested in shade at a site near Belchite, Aragon.
Alan, who offers expert Spanish Civil War tours of the battlefield sites of Catalonia, Aragon and Spain in general, joined us for several days, dressing in costume for some of it. His website is here .
The mention above to a lost suitcase is a direct reference to photographs indeed being found in a suitcase in Mexico. In December 2007, three boxes filled with rolls of film, containing 4,500 35mm negatives of the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and Chim (David Seymour) which had been considered lost since 1939 arrived at the International Center of Photography. These three photographers, who lived in Paris, worked in Spain, and published internationally, laid the foundation for modern war photography. Their work has long been considered some of the most innovative and passionate coverage of the Spanish Civil War.
An exhibition of this work is currently running in the Central European University, Budapest ( Robert Capa was Hungarian born ) and a film , directed and written by Trish Ziff, is also available.
The invitation of Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal to venture down an archaeologist’s rabbit hole into a dimension of reverse-engineered history is surely appropriate for the journey he and his colleagues have made both this year and last. Belchite, a town in the northern Spanish province of Zaragoza, is one of the locations in Spain where the ghost of General Francisco Franco can still be felt on the wind, in the air and within the decaying ruins of a town he ordered to remain as a ‘living’ memorial after its total destruction in the Spanish Civil War. Alfredo has returned for 2 consecutive years to do battle with this singular ghost, assembling his own army of like minded archaeologists, anthropologists and volunteers.
I am travelling to Spain in early September to assist with an archaeological dig featuring a previously undisturbed Spanish Civil War site. Arranged through the International Brigades Memorial Trust of which I have been a member for a number of years, a group of Spanish archaeologists, volunteers and students from across the world will be working with Dr. Alfredo González-Ruibal, archaeologist, to excavate a ruined house in the ghost town of Belchite. It is a house which has not been excavated before, although the same organisation has undertaken research at Belchite on a number of occasions previously.
The Spanish Civil War was a prelude to the 2nd world war. Starting in 1936 when a group of army generals rose up against the democratically elected government the conflict lasted for almost 3 years until the Spanish Republic’s forces were finally defeated in 1939. The generals essentially represented the traditional values of a society where the Roman Catholic church, rich landowners and other associated organisations had long dominated but were feeling undermined by a liberal, progressive and modernising Republican government. General Franco was unlawfully appointed by his peers to lead the coup, supported initially by his African Army troops from Morocco, and eventually strengthened by logistical support from Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. Both ground troops, armaments and air support were provided, and strategies were practiced and developed which were later to be used to maximum impact in the global conflict to follow. The Republican Government received support from Russia, troops from it’s own political movements, including the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo anarchist movement and, importantly for propaganda as much as for military reasons, from the International Brigades.