Red Terror (Spain)
The Red Terror in Spain (Spanish: Terror Rojo) is the name given by historians to various acts of violence committed from 1936 until the end of the Spanish Civil War "by sections of nearly all the leftist groups". News of the rightist military coup in 1936 unleashed a social revolutionary response, and no republican region escaped revolutionary and anticlerical violence - though in the Basque Country this was minimal. The violence consisted of the killing of tens of thousands of people (including 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy, the vast majority in the summer of 1936 in the wake of the military rising), as well as attacks on landowners, industrialists, and politicians, and the desecration and burning of monasteries and churches.
A process of political polarisation had characterised the Spanish Second Republic – party divisions became increasingly embittered and questions of religious identity came to assume a major political significance. Electorally, the Church had identified itself with the Right, which had set itself against social reform.
The failed pronunciamiento of 1936 set loose a violent onslaught on those that revolutionaries in the Republican zone identified as enemies; "where the rebellion failed, for several months afterwards merely to be identified as a priest, a religious or simply a militant Christian or member of some apostolic or pious organization, was enough for a person to be executed without trial".
In recent years the Catholic Church has beatified hundreds of the victims, 498 of them on 28 October 2007 in a spectacular ceremony, the largest single number of beatifications in the church's history.
Some estimates of the Red Terror range from 38,000 to 72,344 lives. Paul Preston, speaking in 2012 at the time of the publication of his book The Spanish Holocaust, put the figure at a little under 50,000.
Historian Julio de la Cueva has written that, "despite the fact that the Church... suffer[ed] appalling persecution" in the Loyalist rearguard, the events have so far met not only with "the embarrassing partiality of ecclesiastical scholars, but also with the embarrassed silence or attempts at justification of a large number of historians and memoirists". Analysts such as Helen Graham have linked the Red and White Terrors, pointing out that it was the military coup that allowed the culture of brutal violence to flourish. Graham wrote of the coup, "...its original act of violence was that it killed off the possibility of other forms of peaceful political evolution". Others see the persecution and violence as predating the coup and found in what they see as a "radical and antidemocratic" anticlericalism of the Republic and its constitution, including dissolution of the Jesuits 1932, nationalization of virtually all church property in 1933, prohibition on teaching religion in schools, prohibition on teaching by clergy, and violent persecution proper beginning in 1934 in Asturias with the murder of 37 priests, religious and seminarians and burning of 58 churches.
- 1 Background
- 2 Early outbreak of violence
- 3 Death toll
- 4 Attitudes
- 5 Reported murders
- 6 Conclusion and aftermath
- 7 See also
- 8 References
The revolution of 1931 that established the Second Republic and the Spanish Constitution of 1931 brought to power an anticlerical government. The relationship between the new secular Republic and the Catholic Church, who resented it, was fraught from the start. Cardinal Pedro Segura, the primate of Spain, urged Catholics to vote in future elections against an administration which in his view wanted to destroy religion. Those who sought to lead the 'ordinary faithful' had insisted that Catholics had only one political choice — the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA): "Voting for the CEDA was presented as a simple duty; good Catholics would go to Mass on Sunday and support the political right".
The constitution was largely sound, generally according thorough civil liberties and representation, the notable exclusion being the rights of Catholics, a flaw which prevented the forming of an expansive democratic majority. The controversial articles 26 and 27 of the constitution, strictly controlled Church property and prohibited religious orders from engaging in education. Not only advocates of establishment of religion but also advocates of church/state separation saw the constitution as hostile; one such advocate of separation, Jose Ortega y Gasset, stated "the article in which the Constitution legislates the actions of the Church seems highly improper to me". In 1933, Pope Pius XI condemned the Spanish Government's deprivation of the civil liberties of Catholics in the encyclical Dilectissima Nobis (On Oppression Of The Church Of Spain )".
Historian Vicente Carcel Orti asserts that anticlerical Freemasons played a large part in the anti-Catholic acts of the government since they held key government positions, including at least 183 deputies in the Cortes (the Spanish parliament), and thus were instrumental in the making of anti-Catholic laws. As early as March 1933 Abilia Arroyo de Roman had declared at a rally in the Salamancan pueblo of Macotera that Spain was governed by Masonic lodges, intent on 'decatholicizing' Spain, while the Gaceta Regional blamed the Law of Congregations on 'an occult power' which had taken refuge in Spain 'in order to carry out its experiments'.
Since the left considered reform of the anticlerical aspects of the constitution as totally unacceptable, Historian Stanley Payne believed "the Republic as a democratic constitutional regime was doomed from the outset". and it has been posited that such a "hostile" approach to the issues of church and state were a substantial cause of the breakdown of democracy and the onset of civil war. One legal commentator has stated plainly "the gravest mistake of the Constitution of 1931—Spain's last democratic Constitution prior to 1978—was its hostile attitude towards the Catholic Church". The historian Mary Vincent, in her study of the Church in Salamanca in the 1930s, believes this Republican legislation, in affecting the devotional lives of ordinary Catholics, "greatly eased the task of its opponents".
Following the general election of February 16, 1936, political bitterness grew in Spain. Violence between the government and its supporters, the Popular Front, whose leadership was clearly moving towards the left (abandoning constitutional Republicanism for leftist revolution) and the opposition accelerated, culminating in a military revolt of right-wing generals in July of that year. As the year progressed Nationalist and Republican persecution grew, and republicans began attacking churches, occupying land for redistribution and attacking nationalist politicians in a process of tit-for-tat violence.
1933 election and aftermath
Leading up to the Civil War, the state of the political establishment had been brutal and violent for some time. In the 1933 elections to the Cortes Generales, the CEDA won a plurality of seats. It was however not enough to form a majority. Despite the results, then President Niceto Alcalá-Zamora declined to invite the leader of the CEDA to form a government and instead invited the Radical Republican Party and its leader Alejandro Lerroux to do so. CEDA supported the Lerroux government; it later demanded and, on October 1, 1934, received three ministerial positions. Hostility between both the left and the right increased after the formation of the Government. Spain experienced general strikes and street conflicts. Noted among the strikes was the miners' revolt in northern Spain and riots in Madrid. Nearly all rebellions were crushed by the Government and political arrests followed.
Lerroux's alliance with the right, his harsh suppression of the revolt in 1934, and the Stra-Perlo scandal combined to leave him and his party with little support going into the 1936 election. (Lerroux himself lost his seat in parliament.)
1934 murder of priests and religious in Asturias
The murder of 37 priests, brothers and seminarians by leftists in Asturias marks what some see as the beginning of the Red Terror. In October 1934, the Asturian Revolution was strongly anticlerical and involved violence against priests and religious and the destruction of 58 churches, actions that had been rare until that time.
Turón, one of the locales of anticlerical violence, a coal-mining town in the Asturias Province, was a hub of anti-government and anticlerical agitation. The De La Salle Brothers, who ran a school there aggravated the leftists who ran Turón because of their exercise of religion, specifically their flouting of the constitutional prohibition on religious instruction. On October 5, 1934, the agents of the local rebel government invaded the order's residence on the pretext that they had concealed weapons. A Passionist priest, Fr. Inocencio, now Saint Innocencio of Mary Immaculate, who had arrived the evening of October 4 was about to say Mass for the brothers. He and the brothers were taken and held without trial, then summarily shot in the middle of the night in the cemetery.
1936 Popular Front victory and aftermath
In the 1936 Elections a new coalition of socialists (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, PSOE), liberals (Republican Left and the Republican Union Party), Communists, and various regional nationalist groups won the extremely tight election. The results gave 34 percent of the popular vote to the Popular Front and 33 percent to the incumbent government of the CEDA. This result, when coupled with the Socialists' refusal to participate in the new government, led to a general fear of revolution. This was made only more apparent when Largo Caballero, hailed as "the Spanish Lenin" by Pravda, announced that the country was on the cusp of revolution.
Early outbreak of violence
Following the outbreak of full-scale civil war there was an explosion of atrocities in both the Nationalist and Republican zones.
The days of the greatest anticlerical bloodletting were at the beginning of the civil war, in the aftermath of the generals' rising, and large areas of the country fell under the control of local loyalists and militias. A large part of the terror consisted of a perceived settlement of accounts against bosses and clergy as they lost their powerful position in the social revolution and move towards extremism that took place in the first months of the civil war. According to historian Antony Beevor: "In republican territory the worst of the violence was mainly a sudden and quickly spent reaction of suppressed fear, exacerbated by desires of revenge for the past" — in contrast with, "the relentless purging of 'reds and atheists' in nationalist territory". After the generals' coup d'état on 17-18 July 1936, the remaining days in July saw 861 priests and religious lose their lives, 95 of them on 25 July, feast day of St James, patron saint of Spain. August saw a further 2,077 clerical victims. After just two months of civil war, 3400 priests, monks and nuns had been murdered.
According to recent research, the Republican death squads were heavily staffed by members of the Soviet secret police, or NKVD. According to author Donald Rayfield, "Stalin, Yezhov, and Beria distrusted Soviet participants in the Spanish war. Military advisors like Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, journalists like Koltsov were open to infection by the heresies, especially Trotsky's, prevalent among the Republic's supporters. NKVD agents sent to Spain were therefore keener on abducting and murdering anti-Stalinists among Republican leaders and International Brigade commanders than on fighting Francisco Franco. The defeat of the Republic, in Stalin's eyes, was caused not by the NKVD's diversionary efforts, but by the treachery of the heretics."
"During the first months of the fighting most of the deaths did not come from combat on the battlefield but from political executions in the rear—the 'Red' and 'White' terrors. The terror consisted of semi-organized actions perpetrated by almost all of the leftist groups, Basque nationalists, largely Catholic but still mostly aligned with the Republicans, being an exception. Unlike the repression by the right, which "was concentrated against the most dangerous opposition elements", the Republican attacks were more irrational, "murdering innocent people and letting some of the more dangerous go free. Moreover, one of the main targets of the Red terror was the clergy, most of whom were not engaged in overt opposition".
Describing specifically the Red Terror, Stanley Payne states that it "began with the murder of some of the rebels as they attempted to surrender after their revolt had failed in several of the key cities. From there it broadened out to wholesale arrests, and sometimes wholesale executions, of landowners and industrialists, people associated with right-wing groups or the Catholic Church". The Red Terror was "not an irrepressible outpouring of hatred by the man in the street for his 'oppressors,' but a semi-organized activity carried out by sections of nearly all the leftist groups".
As early as 11 May 1931, when mob violence against the Republic's perceived enemies had led to the burning of churches, convents, and religious schools, the Church had sometimes been seen as the ally of the authoritarian right. The academic Mary Vincent has written that: "There was no doubt that the Church would line up with the rebels against the Republic. The Jesuit priests of the city of Salamanca were among the first volunteers to present themselves to the military authorities...The tragedy of the Second Republic was that it abetted its own destruction; the tragedy of the Church was that it became so closely allied with its self-styled defenders". During the war the nationalists claimed that 20,000 priests had been killed; today the figure is put at 4,184 priests, 2,365 members of other religious institutes and 283 nuns, the vast majority during the summer of 1936.
Historian Stanley Payne has called the terror the "most extensive and violent persecution of Catholicism in Western History, in some way even more intense than that of the French Revolution", driving Catholics, left then with little alternative, to the Nationalists even more than would have been expected.
Figures for the Red Terror range from 38,000 to 110,000. In his recent, updated history of the Spanish Civil War, Antony Beevor "reckons Franco's ensuing 'white terror' claimed 200,000 lives. The 'red terror' had already, according to Beevor, killed 38,000". According to Julio de la Cueva, the toll of the Red Terror was 72,344 lives. Hugh Thomas and Paul Preston said that the death toll was 55,000, and the Spanish historian Julian Casanova said that the death toll was fewer than 60,000.
Previously, Payne had suggested that, "The toll taken by the respective terrors may never be known exactly. The left slaughtered more in the first months, but the Nationalist repression probably reached its height only after the war had ended, when punishment was exacted and vengeance wreaked on the vanquished left. The White Terror may have slain 50,000, perhaps fewer, during the war. The Franco government now gives the names of 61,000 victims of the Red Terror, but this is not subject to objective verification. The number of victims of the Nationalist repression, during and after the war, was undoubtedly greater than that". In Checas de Madrid (ISBN 84-9793-168-8), journalist and historian César Vidal comes to a nationwide total of 110,965 victims of Republican repression; 11,705 people being killed in Madrid alone. Historian Santos Juliá, in the work Víctimas de la guerra civil provides approximate figures: about 50,000 victims of the Republican repression; about 100,000 victims of the Francoist repression during the war with some 40,000 after the war.
Toll on clergy
Estimates of the number of religious men killed vary greatly. One estimate is that of the 30,000 priests and monks in Spain in 1936, 13% of the secular priests and 23% of the monks were killed, amounting to 6800 religious personnel altogether.   The figures break down as follows: Some 283 women religious were killed, some of them badly tortured. 13 bishops were killed from the dioceses of Siguenza Lleida, Cuenca, Barbastro, Segorbe, Jaén, Ciudad Real, Almeria, Guadix, Barcelona, Teruel and the auxiliary of Tarragona. Aware of the dangers, they all decided to remain in their cities. I cannot go, only here is my responsibility, whatever may happen, so said the Bishop of Cuenca. In addition 4,172 diocesan priests, 2,364 monks and friars, among them 259 Claretians, 226 Franciscans, 204 Piarists, 176 Brothers of Mary, 165 Christian Brothers (also called the De La Salle Brothers), 155 Augustinians, 132 Dominicans, and 114 Jesuits were killed. In some dioceses, the number of secular priests killed are overwhelming:
- In Barbastro, 123 of 140 priests were killed, about 88%.
- In Lleida, 270 of 410 priests were killed, about 66%.
- In Tortosa, 44% of the secular priests were killed.
- In Toledo, 286 of 600 priests were killed.
- In the dioceses of Málaga, Minorca and Segorbe, about half of the priests were killed.
- May 1931: 100 church buildings are burned while firefighters refuse to extinguish the flames.
- 1932: 3000 Jesuits expelled. Church buildings burned with impunity in 7 cities.
- 1934: 33 priests murdered in the Asturias Revolution.
- 1936: one day before July 18, the day the war started, 17 clergymen were murdered.
- From July 18 to August 1: 861 clergymen murdered in 2 weeks.
- August 1936: 2077 clergymen murdered, more than 70 a day. 10 of them bishops.
- September 14: 3400 clergymen murdered during the first stages of the war.
- 1939: end of the war; a total of 7000 clergymen and 3000 religious people murdered for practicing Catholicism.[contradiction]
Attitudes to the "red terror" varied on the Republican side. President Manuel Azaña made the well-publicized comment that all of the convents in Madrid were not worth one Republican life. Yet equally commonly cited, for example, is the speech by the Socialist leader Indalecio Prieto on Madrid radio on 9 August 1936 pleading that Republican militiamen not "imitate" the murderous actions of the military rebels and also the public condemnation of arbitrary "justice" by Julián Zugazagoitia, the editor of El Socialista, the Socialist Party newspaper, on 23 August.
Julius Ruiz goes on to note, however, that "not cited [...] are El Socialista's regular reports extolling the work of the Atadell brigade", a group of Republican agents who engaged in detentions and frequently murders of (in the end) up to 800 Nationalists. "On 27 September 1936", Ruiz continues, "an editorial on the brigade stressed that its 'work, more than useful, is necessary. Indispensable.' Similarly, the Prieto-controlled Madrid daily Informaciones carried numerous articles on the activities of the Atadell brigade during the summer of 1936".
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The Catholic hierarchy believed that, on the cusp of the Civil war, the violence directed against it was the result of a plan, "a program of systematic persecution of the Church was planned to the last detail".José Calvo Sotelo told the Spanish Parliament in April 1936, that in six week of popular front government, from Mid-February 15 to April 2, 1936, some 199 attacks were carried out, 36 of them in Churches. He listed 136 fires, and fire bombings, which included 106 burned and Catholic Churches and 56 Churches otherwise destroyed. He claimed 74 persons dead and 345 persons injured. Shortly afterwards, José Calvo Sotelo was shot himself on July 13, allegedly by a socialist gunman, Luis Cuenca, apparently in retaliation for the murder of his colleague, Guardia de Asalto Lieutenant José Castillo earlier that night.
The attitudes of the Catholic side towards the government and the ensuing Civil War was expressed in a joint Episcopal letter from July 1, 1937. It was addressed by the Spanish bishops to all bishops of the Catholic world. Spain, so said the bishops, is divided into two hostile camps, of which one side expresses anti-religious and anti-Spanish terror, and the other side upholding the respect for the religious and national order. The Church is pastorally oriented and not willing to sell its freedom to politics. But under these circumstances, she has no option but to side with those who started out, defending her freedom and right to exist.
The attitudes of the people in the national zone were characterized fear, hope and by religious revival. Victories were celebrated with religious services, the separation of Church and State was abolished and religious education was reintroduced into the schools. Catholic chaplains were re-introduced into the army. The attitudes towards the Church had changed from hostility to admiration.
- Murder of 6,832 members of the Catholic clergy and religious institutes as well as the killing thousands of lay people.
- The parish priest of Navalmoral was put through a parody of Christ's Crucifixion. At the end of his suffering the militiamen debated whether actually to crucify him or just shoot him. They finished with a shooting.
- The Bishop of Jaén and his sister were murdered in front of two thousand celebrating spectators by a special executioner, a woman nicknamed La Pecosa, the freckled one.
- Although rare, it was reported that some nuns were raped by militiamen before they were shot. However, according to Antony Beevor, the 1946 nationalist indictment of Republican atrocities contained no evidence for any such incident.
- The priest of Cienpozuelos was thrown into a corral with fighting bulls where he was gored into unconsciousness. Afterwards one of his ears was cut off to imitate the feat of a matador after a successful bullfight.
- There are accounts of the people connected to the Catholic Church being forced to swallow rosary beads, being thrown down mine shafts and of priests being forced to dig their own graves before being buried alive.
- An eyewitness to some of the persecution, Cristina de Arteaga, who was soon to become a nun, commented that they "attacked the Salesians, people who are totally committed to the poor. There was a rumor that nuns were giving poisoned sweets to children. Some nuns were grabbed by the hair in the streets. One had her hair pulled out...".
- On the night of July 19, 1936 alone, 50 churches were burned. In Barcelona, out of the 58 churches, only the Cathedral was spared, and similar events occurred almost everywhere in Republican Spain.
- All the Catholic churches in the Republican zone were closed, but the attacks were not limited to Catholic churches, as synagogues were also pillaged and closed, though some small Protestant churches were spared.
- The Bishop of Almeria was murdered while working on a history of Toledo. His card index file was destroyed.
- In Madrid, a nun was killed because she refused a proposition of marriage from a militiaman who helped storm her convent.
Conclusion and aftermath
With the total 1939 victory of the Nationalists over the Republicans in the Civil War in Spain, the Red Terror ended in that country, although individual terror attacks seem to have continued sporadically, carried out by remnant Communists[dubious ] and Socialists, hiding in French border regions, but without great results. Throughout the country, the Catholic Church held Te Deums to thank God for the outcome. Numerous left-wing personalities were tried for the Red Terror, not all of them were guilty. Others fled to the Soviet Union, where a number of them "disappeared" in Joseph Stalin's Gulags. Franco's victory was followed by thousands of summary executions (remains of 35,000 people are estimated by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) to still lie in mass graves) and imprisonments, while many were put to forced labour, building railways, drying out swamps, digging canals (La Corchuela, the Canal of the Bajo Guadalquivir), construction of the Valle de los Caídos monument, etc. The 1940 shooting of the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, was one of the most notable cases of this early repression. Although leftists suffered from an important death-toll, the Spanish intelligentsia, atheists and military and government figures who had remained loyal to the Madrid government during the war were also targeted by the repression.
The new Pope Pius XII sent a radio message of congratulation to the Spanish Government, clerics and people on April 16, 1939. He referred to the denunciation of his predecessor, Pope Pius XI, who described past horrors and the need to defend and restore the rights of God and religion. The pope stated that the victims of terror died for Jesus Christ. He wished peace and prosperity upon the Spanish people, appealing to them to punish criminals but to exercise leniency and Spanish generosity against the many who were on the other side. He asked for their full participation in society and entrusted them to the compassion of the Church in Spain.
- Communist terrorism
- State atheism
- Spanish Civil War
- White Terror
- Red Terror
- Persecution of Christians in Mexico
- Persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union
- Paracuellos massacre
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- Anticlericalism Britannica Online Encyclopedia
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- The estimate of 35,000 by the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory is based on recent searches conducted with parallel excavations of mass graves in Spain. See for example Fosas Comunes - Los desaparecidos de Franco. La Guerra Civil no ha terminado, El Mundo, 7 July 2002 (Spanish)
- Schmidlin, 222
- Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di sua Santita, Primo Anno di Pontificato, Tipografia Poliglotta, Roma 1940, p. 54