Spanish refugee descendant speaks in America for first time

Carmen Kilner told of her parent’s evacuation from Spain in the first Basque Children Association presentation in the United States at Oswego State on Wednesday.

Georgina Whittingham, of the department of modern language and literature, invited Kilner, the treasurer and speaker of the Basque Children Association, to speak about the Spanish Civil War of 1937.

“We met in Poland,” Whittingham said. “We found out we were both interested in Spain. I was always interested in languages, and I am Hungarian by origin. She is a second-generation child of the Spanish Civil War.”

Kilner shared the history of her parents’ first-hand experiences through the evacuation process of the war.

Almost 4,000 Basque children were evacuated to England after the town of Guernica was bombed mercilessly by the Nationalist party, led by General Francisco Franco.

Kilner’s mother was a grade-school teacher that went with the students on a boat built to hold about 800 people. Her father caught rheumatic fever and was sent to live in England the day before the insurgents attacked. The two met through the Basque Children Association in the United Kingdom.

Before the bombing, England planned to simply remain neutral and not give any financial or military aid to any nation in Spain during the war.

“The response in England was a humanitarian response,” Kilner said. “Local miners gave a penny a day to the immigrant children. Today, you don’t see that anymore. You have many immigrants coming into America every day, and we turn our backs to them and say it’s the government’s job to deal with them.”

“It was interesting to hear that the 13th century women had rights in the Basque provinces as opposed to other nations where they had limited to none,” junior Mike Clute said.

Most Oswego State students never learned about the Spanish Civil War, as represented by only one raised hand when Kilner asked who knew anything about it.

“It was cool hearing about the Basque [region] because I’ve never heard of it before,” Aaron Lemay said.

Kilner said it is important for students to not only learn about the war, but to learn from the war.

“Each generation has to make its own mistakes,” she said. “But if we could remember some of them, it would help.”

5 thoughts on “Spanish refugee descendant speaks in America for first time

  1. I have no idea who Carmen Kilner is, apart from this article, so I don’t know if the writer of this piece received bad information or simply misunderstood what was presented, but, either way, some clarifications and corrections are in order.

    As an aside, “parent’s” should be “parents'”.

    Now, on to the Spanish Civil War:
    1) The SCW was fought from July, 1936 to April, 1939. Although the bombing of Guernica occurred in 1937, the event was merely a small part of a much larger war.
    2) There is no link between the bombing of Guernica and the arrival of Basque children as refugees in Britain in May, 1937. The Basque country had been losing ground to the Nationalists for several months, and plans were already underway to flee Franco’s forces. The bombing of Guernica, then, was just another example of the Republicans’ ineffectiveness at implementing a coherent military strategy.
    3) There was no such thing as a “Nationalist party”. The Nationalists consisted of men and women whose sympathies were with Franco. Their political leanings spanned the spectrum from monarchists to fascists (though there were very few fascists in Spain).
    4) Guernica was neither bombed “mercilessly” nor bombed by the Nationalists “led by General Francisco Franco”. The bombing lasted a few hours and was done by the Germans. It is difficult to believe that Franco knew that Guernica was a target for the Germans, but it really does not matter if he knew or not. Had he known, there would have been no reason to change the orders, since Guernica was a vital military target, with a small arms ammunition plant, was home to a district military command center, was a communications hub, and was occupied by Republican troops.
    5) England was part of a non-intervention pact signed as well by France, Germany, Italy, the USSR, and the USA, with the objective of preventing the SCW from spreading and involving the rest of Europe in an armed conflict. The British government (or any government) as well as civilians could donate money for aid relief during the SCW.

    Finally, Kilner’s comment regarding modern America’s treatment of immigrants reveals her utter ignorance of the topic. We certainly don’t put them in Gypsy tent camps like the British did to the Basque children.

  2. Firstly I would like to thank SUNY for the warm welcome I was given when I spoke, and for the positive report you have given above. It was difficult trying to fit so much into three quarters of an hour and I can see that this easily lead to misunderstandings! So I would like to clarify a few points (most of what I will say was in the lecture).

    The first is that in 1937 the insurgents, the rebels led by General Franco and others, were not formed into a party, they are generally referred to as the Nationalists; like those on the government side are referred to as the Republicans, both sides encompassed many groups with differing ideologies and allegiences. The Spanish civil war and it’s causes were complex.

    The bombing of Guernica was carried out by the German Condor Legion who were acting under the command of General Mola. (Other nearby towns like Durango and Eibar had been bombed by the Italian and Germans).

    The British Government remained neutral throughout the conflict as a signatory to the Non-intervention Pact, together with 27 other nations, including Germany, Italy and USSR who all broke the pact. Consequently the aid and support for Spain in UK came from non-governmental sources eg National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, International Brigades, other political and non-political groups and individuals.

    My comments about attitudes being different today referred to the UK! I would not presume to talk about the situation in the United States of America about which I know very little.
    I was referring to the change in community behaviour in the UK from the 1930s, when populations were less transient and there was generally stronger local community organisation. As a result communities could and did act more directly on issues that nowadays we would probably expect the government to deal with (again I stress that I am talking about the UK).

  3. A couple of PBS articles provide the following information on the bombing of Guernica:

    In spite of unlimited resources from his fascist allies, Franco was unable to break the spirited resistance in the mountainous Basque region of northern Spain. He turned again to Hitler for the loan of the Fuhrer’s latest bombers and fighters. This force would be known as the “Condor Legion.”

    In 1935, German General Erich Ludendorff published Die Totale Krieg (The Total War) in which he presented the view that in war, no one is innocent; everyone is a combatant and everyone a target, soldier and civilian alike. Italian General Giulio Douhet further suggested an enemy’s morale could be crushed by air-delivered terror. Such theories intrigued Nazi Germany’s new Fuhrer, but they needed testing. Spain seemed to be the perfect laboratory.

    The Commander of the Condor Legion was Lt. Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, cousin of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron of World War I. It was Von Richthofen who earmarked Guernica for bombardment, on behalf of Franco. At precisely 3:45 PM, Monday, April 26, 1937, the first German bomber took off. Three-quarters of an hour later, the first bomb fell on Guernica – a direct hit on the plaza at the center of town, a full quarter mile from the targeted bridge.

    Guernica is the cultural capital of the Basque people, seat of their centuries-old independence and democratic ideals. It has no strategic value as a military target. Yet some time later, a secret report to Berlin was uncovered in which Von Richthofen stated, “…the concentrated attack on Guernica was the greatest success,” making the dubious intent of the mission clear: the all-out air attack had been ordered on Franco’s behalf to break the spirited Basque resistance to Nationalist forces. Guernica had served as the testing ground for a new Nazi military tactic – blanket-bombing a civilian population to demoralize the enemy. It was wanton, man-made holocaust.

    Note: On May 12, 1999, the New York Times reported that, after sixty-one years, in a declaration adopted on April 24, 1999, the German Parliament formally apologized to the citizens of Guernica for the role the Condor Legion played in bombing the town. The German government also agreed to change the names of some German military barracks named after members of the Condor Legion. By contrast, no formal apology to the city has ever been offered by the Spanish government for whatever role it may have played in the bombing.

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