Guernica Massacre Survivors Meet German Bombers' Descendants, 80 Years Later

Relatives of the attacking German soldiers met the victims of Spain's Guernica, the first mass targeted attack on civilians in modern history, this past week in a stunning gesture of peace and reconciliation

People hold candles during a ceremonial march to commemorate the 80th aniversary of the bombing the Spanish northern Basque village of Gernika on April 26, 2017.
AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEA

Elderly survivors of a savage air raid that destroyed the Spanish town of Guernica in 1937 met relatives of the attacking German soldiers this past week in a stunning gesture of peace and reconciliation.

Exactly 80 years ago, German Nazi supporters of Francisco Franco's nationalist forces struck the market town, dropping over 100,000 pounds of high-explosive and incendiary bombs, killing as many as 1,600 people in one of the first mass targeted attacks on civilians in modern history.

Luis Iriondo, who was a teenager at the time and now aged 94, said he now forgave Adolf Hitler's forces and compared Guernica's victims to those killed by Allied bombs at Dresden in World War Two. Guernica was, and remains, a Basque cultural center and the home of a sacred tree which symbolizes the traditional freedoms of the Basque people.

"We need to forget the enmity there was at that time and seek peace," Iriondo told Reuters. "But I was fourteen then and if I had had a gun I would have shot them!"

German government representatives stand behind bombardment survivors at the cemetery during the 80th anniversary of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by Germany's Condor Legion, in northern Spain April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent West
REUTERS/Vincent West

As part of anniversary celebrations in the northern Basque town, Iriondo met the descendants of two German soldiers who had served in the Condor Legion which attacked Guernica.

Dieprand von Richthofen, a distant cousin of the legion's leader Wolfram von Richthofen, and Karl Benedikt von Moreau, whose uncle was a pilot, chatted with Iriondo in French.

"We are just horrified by what happened here," von Moreau told Reuters. "The consequence of what happened should be that we take responsibility and we say no more of these catastrophes, no more war, no more violence." 

Tourists watch and take pictures of a mural depicting Picasso's painting "Guernica" in the Spanish northern Basque village of Gernika on April 26, 2017.
AFP PHOTO / ANDER GILLENEA

In addition to the descendants meeting in Guernica, Madrid's Reina Sofia museum is marking the 80th anniversary of Guernica with an exhibition devoted to Spanish painter Pablo Picasso.

The black and white mural, considered to be his finest work, takes its title from the nationalist Basque town that was destroyed by German bombers during the Spanish civil war in 1937.

To mark the 80th anniversary of the painting, the Reina Sofia has organized the exhibition "Piety and Terror in Picasso: the Road to Guernica".

Reina Sofia director, Manuel Borja-Villel, said the Guernica is in fragile conditions and the museum is deciding whether to remove a varnish which was applied to the painting in 1981 when it travelled from New York to Spain.

The exhibit that brings together around 180 works from the Malaga-born artist, will be on display for five-months.