In January of 1937, the Republican government, then mired in the Spanish Civil War against the Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco, commissioned renowned Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, to paint a large mural to be displayed at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Picasso, who had left Spain in 1934 and not returned, had toiled with different ideas for the mural, and abandoned his initial project when he heard of a significant Spanish and World history changing-event.
The 26th of April, 1937 was a market day in the Basque town of Guernica (Gernika in Basque and officially Gernika-Lumo) but this day would be like no other in its long history. At 16:30, air forces led by the Condor Legion of the German Luftwaffe with support from Mussolini’s Italian air legion, began an assault that would last three hours, and destroy or severely damage almost every building in Guernica. Although the number of dead has been debated for years, it is now accepted to be between 200 and 300 with many more being injured.
Why did the bombing of Guernica happen? From the perspective of Franco’s Spanish Nationalist government, it intended to demoralized and break the Basque people and the Republicans. It may be arguable, but Hitler and the military of Nazi Germany were not only looking to complete a favour for their ally, General Francisco Franco, but were looking for somewhere to “practice.” Hitler and the Nazis wanted to test and hone their new method of carpet bombing that would later be used in Russia and throughout Europe in World War II.