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12.7.1937: "Guernica" exhibited for the first time
The Condor Legion, a German air squadron, dropped some 1,500 kilograms of bombs and more than 3,000 incendiary projectiles on the small Spanish town of Guernica. Even though the Legion was the best trained Luftwaffe squad, it did not manage to hit even one of the presumed targets.

People who were not immediately killed fled to the fields, only to be confronted by machine gun fire. Approximately 1,700 of Guernica's inhabitants were killed or wounded. The attack took place amidst the civil war, which had been raging for two-and-a-half years.

The hard-pressed Republicans waited in vain for help from England and France, whereas Franco, who later emerged triumphant, had Germany and Italy as powerful allies.

The National Socialist propaganda apparatus, however, denied the bomb attack by stating: "These are the ruins of the ancient Spanish city of Guernica. The mendacious Jewish press claimed that German airplanes bombed the city. But the international press soon had to attribute the reports to Bolshevist press activities. They themselves burned down the city, building by building, before leaving."

The fascist lies, however, were much too blatant. Too many people had clearly seen the airplanes bearing German emblems. Furthermore, the songs of praise for the Condor Legion were much too loud. Franco's troops chose the holy Basque city to demoralize their Republican opponents. With Hitler as an ally, Franco wanted to test the potential of his modern airforce. Two years later, the world knew why.

Guernica became a symbol. This is where Nationalist forces turned terror against civilians into a norm. The German Condor Legion attack was the first mass bombing of innocent urban civilians in European history. The Spanish painter Pablo Picasso eternalized the horror in his world-famous war painting "Guernica." He painted it right after the bombing and it exhibited for the first time on July 12, 1937.

"Civilization was murdered in Guernica," raged the artist, who was normally not involved in politics. Picasso had gone into exile in France. The Republicans commissioned him to paint a huge mural for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 World Exposition in Paris. He filled 24 square meters of canvas within weeks, inspired and shocked by eye-witness reports.

"If you imagined a picture of the apocalypse, especially of the modern world as we know it, this is what it would look like," says New York art historian Robert Rosenblum. "It's a type of blaze that blinds us completely and then, the feeling of ultimate chaos. Screaming women and children, a bull, a horse, an image of shock and trauma that contains all the horror of an abyss. That is the image of Guernica: It is a proclamation more impressive and powerful than any other message about war, about the destructive potential of the twentieth century."

The Parisian art historian Werner Spies thinks that "Guernica" is the greatest and most significant historical painting of the twentieth century. "It is a picture drained of blood, a gray, a corpse-like image that contains no life," he says. "'Guernica' foreshadowed the bombings in Dresden and Hiroshima. 'Guernica' showed that humans were about to begin living most of their lives underground, in cellars and bunkers."

Never before had war been embodied in art with such universal validity. Picasso intentionally avoided the use of political symbols, yet the work was provocative enough to captivate the public at the opening of the World Exposition on July 12, 1937.

Today, the painting belongs to the Spanish people. It was mounted in the Prado Museum shortly before Picasso's 100th birthday.
   
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What was Kirsten Flagstad, Norwegian singer born on this day in 1895, famous for?
  Her knitting skills
  Her liaison with Henrik Ibsen
  Her Wagner interpretations
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