We cannot, we must not forget. Historical memory is necessary, it is a debt to those who suffered the consequences of a way of understanding politics as the art of destroying the adversary, the different, the defenseless.
The writer José Luis de Villalonga was one of the few who agreed to tell the truth. His father recommended him to a Francoist military high command. At the age of 16 he was put in a firing squad on the Basque front during the Civil War and thus “he will get used to the noise of the shots.” Villalonga recalled, after the Transition: “we ended up shooting like someone who goes to the office.” The banality of evil as Hannah Arendt explained.
This coming Wednesday, October 13, marks the 80th anniversary of the massacre of Jews in Miropol (Ukraine), preceded a few days earlier by the Babi Yar massacre at the end of September, also in Ukraine, where in two days, on 29 and on September 30, the Einsatzgruppen The SS led the operations that killed nearly 34,000 Jews with gunshot wounds, which also involved German army soldiers, Ukrainian vigilante units and Kiev police.
In Miropol, all the Jews of the town, about 500, were killed by German soldiers, vigilante battalions, and the local police of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. That is, it was not only the Einsatzgruppen from the SS those who were in charge of killing all those “undesirables” who were in the occupied areas. The German army also participated in these massacres, which involves German citizens outside the SS, and Ukrainian citizens of the occupied territory.
The massacre of Babi Yar, a huge ravine near Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, was appalling for the number of murdered, but Miropol’s has the value of the evidence. A picture. A photo showing a Jewish woman falling into a grave after shooting by Ukrainian vigilante volunteers surrounded by armed and uniformed German finance officials. The woman tries to protect her young children, who will eventually fall with her into the grave where, along with the rest of those arrested and executed, some still alive, they will be buried to make them disappear from memory.
The photo is an exceptional document studied in detail by Wendy Lover in her book “The Ravine”. The Nazis prohibited taking photographs of massacres like these. They photographed everything, also the contempt and subjugation of the inferior race that had to be made to disappear. But the very fact of the disappearance, the massacre, the murder, was not graphically documented. Hence the exceptionality of the photo.
In that photo we see the grave that opens before the mother and her children, vilely murdered by Germans and Ukrainians who were not part of the death specialists who were the Einsatzgruppen of the SS. They were, surely, normal people, upright citizens with faultless conduct in their towns until the war came and they became the executing hand of ominous orders, of mass murders hidden in mass graves lost in a vast territory.
But the graves have remained there, as a symbol of the horror of that scorched earth policy for the enemies. And the graves, for years silent, cry out for justice.
“Who in my country knows this Holocaust with bullets today?”, Asked this past Wednesday, precisely in the area of the massacres in Ukraine, the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, along with the President of Israel Isaac Herzog and the President of Israel. Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the framework of the acts in memory of the massacre. One such act was the performance of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar) which is based on a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko about the massacre on Ukrainian territory.
The Nazis worked safe, the Third Reich was going to last a thousand years, so they had no problem carrying out selected massacres, one after another. There was going to be no retaliation. They were practically eternal.
Villalonga, who also participated in a pro-Franco firing squad During the Civil War, he explained that over time he understood what happened to the Germans. “Those stupid things were done for lack of responsibility. If they take responsibility away from you, they turn you into a beast. You do what they tell you and the matter is over. And what they send you you get used to … The terrible thing is not killing but becoming an office worker death. By becoming routine, killing a Jew or a million is the same. ”
In the Spanish Civil War the situation was different. To begin with, it was a civil war, that is, an armed conflict between different factions in the same territory. And, furthermore, those who had started the conflict, the Francoists, did not have the security of being eternal, although later they lasted longer than the Nazis. That is why Villalonga explained how they helped each other in the middle of the Civil War to be able to carry out the orders of superiority in such an inhumane task.
“At that time a lot of people were killed, many Basque nationalists, Basque priests, for example … Those who were in firing squads were given a huge bowl of brandy in the morning. Uncles volunteered for brandy. Because the first day, yes, it’s terrible, the second too, the third a little less and after eight days you do that just like if you killed rabbits or killed chickens. ”