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Europe: Germany Considers Apologizing To Guernica For Bombing

Munich, 14 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- All the world knows Pablo Picasso's painting "Guernica," a stark expression of the horror he felt over the bombing of the Spanish town of that name by German bombers in 1937 in the early days of the Spanish civil war.

For many, Guernica became the symbol of both the horrors of war and the Nazi terror in Europe. The German bombers were part of the Condor Legion, a German air force unit which Adolf Hitler had sent to assist Francisco Franco and give the German air force training in warfare.

The attack on April 26, 1937 lasted three hours. The town of Guernica had no military value and there was no purpose in the raid. It was intended as a "warning" to those opposing Franco's assault on the Basque country in northern Spain.

The attack came in three waves -- first high-explosive bombs, then the machine-gunning of people in the crowded streets and finally a devastating shower of incendiary bombs. It was market day in Guernica and the streets were crowded with people. Hundreds died, hundreds more were wounded. All the victims were civilians, including patients in hospital. The town itself was virtually destroyed.

Now, 60 years later almost to the day, some members of the Federal German parliament in Bonn want democratic Germany to apologize to the people of Guernica and make a financial contribution to the rebuilt town, which is far from wealthy. The politicians -- all from the opposition Socialist and Greens parties -- will present their proposal in the parliament later this week.

In a statement today the group said the saturation bombing of Guernica was in effect training for the Nazi air raids a few years later on Rotterdam, in Poland and other parts of Europe. The group recalled that former Chancellor Willy Brandt had apologized to Poland for the atrocities committed there and said there should also be an apology to Guernica.

The form of the repatriation gesture has not been defined except for saying that it should be "appropriate." Guernica is one of the most historic sites in the Basque area of Spain. An ancient oak tree -- the tree of Guernica -- is where Spanish Kings once came to swear to respect regional rights. The tree -- which survived the German bombing -- remains the symbol of liberty to the Basques.

However German political experts are doubtful whether the Socialists and Greens will get far with their initiative. They recall that a previous initiative in 1987 -- the 50th anniversary of the attack -- failed because of opposition by the governing Christian Democrats, the same party which forms the government now.

Eventually, in November 1988, the German parliament agreed in principle on a "suitable" financial payment to the rebuilt town. But the parliament declined to acknowledge German responsibility for the war crime during the Spanish civil war. Nor did the financial payment materialize.

In 1991 German authorities suggested providing about 12 million marks for a job training center. But In September 1995 the government said it could not afford so much. In January last year a parliament's committee dropped the idea completely on financial grounds.

The idea of a financial gesture to Guernica was revived again in November last year with a proposal that Germany could provide three million DM to build a sports complex in Guernica. It was suggested that the money could be paid over three years as the building progressed, but so far nothing has happened.

The Socialists and the Greens who will be bringing the proposal to Parliament this week believe that Germany has a moral obligation to make a retribution to the people and the city of Guernica. But it is far from certain whether others will agree.