24 Comments

  1. This is one of those photographic portraits that seems to capture the very essence of a moment in time, to be forever frozen for posterity. This is a certain evocative quality that can only be expressed in black-and-white.

    There is a weary acquiescence in that care-worn face, and eyes that have seen perhaps too much. Her smile touches her eyes, but underneath it is a sad smile borne of an understanding of life learned through the bitter lessons of war.

    • I think she looks positively jubilant! Genuinely happy to have some one take her picture, which was a big deal back then. I do not know whether it was because she was still alive, or for some other reason, but she is actually happy!

      • Stewart, I think you have a good point there — there is a real, if fleeting, happiness of the moment. One of the small but incredibly meaningful joys of life in the midst of so much adversity. However, the more I look at this photograph, the more I sense a deeper undercurrent of sadness as well. I guess we will probably never know the details.

  2. The photograph is probably staged by a professional photographer. The person is probably real but whether she actually fought or wielded the weapons in the photographs is an open question.

    The Soviets deployed a large (several hundred strong) propaganda team to Spain during the war. Their Stalinist morality allowed them fabricate and lie freely so they churned out lots of staged photos. Most of the highly evocative photos from the Spanish civil war are their work.

    Unfortunately, the Soviets also deployed a large team of secret police, assassins and torture experts to Spain as well with the goal of hijacking the Republican cause. Their actions destroyed the Republican cause from within giving the “fascist” the victory. In hindsight, Franco was probably the best outcome being really just a run of the mill military dictator with no particular ideology or attachment to an external power. The blood bath that would have occurred if the Stalinist had dominated is hard to imagine. Plus, Spain would have been drawn directly into WWII.

    The woman in the photo is probably a Spanish Stalinist. In that era, none but the most radical of women would wear men’s clothing even in the middle of firefight. The Stalinist developed an entire mythology about their supposed support for female equality so they heavily publicized real heroines and if they didn’t enough real ones, they just invented them.

    The positioning of the pistol suggest that it was placed there for dramatic effect. I don’t think anyone actually in combat would carry a pistol right across the hinge of their pelvis. If you have to run, crouch or hit the dirt, things could get uncomfortable.

    • “This machine kills fascists.” Woody’s granddaughter with the granddaughter of one of Britain’s great poets:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaMThR57Qik

      Ummmm, having studied the Spanish Civil War a wee bit, I think the lady is a POUMista. Nothing like, after a few centuries of oppression, like a spell of well-armed resistance to bring a smile to your face!

  3. She could be in the PCE/Communist “MAOC” Milicias antifascistas de obreros y campesinos, or she could be in the UGT Socialist militia, or, for that matter, the anarchosyndicalist CNT-FAI. If Madrid, probably the former. If Barcelona before the May 1937 repression of the CNT and Marxist POUM by the PSUC/ Socialist-Communist coalition, then the latter.

    That’s the trouble with the Spanish Civil War. You can’t tell the bad guys from the bad guys. 🙂

    Great photo, though. In SCW photos, the commies always seem to be having such a good time. Reminds me of Lehrer:

    Remember the war against Franco?
    That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
    Though he may have won all the battles,
    We had all the good songs.

  4. I agree that this picture is, at least up to a point, is staged.

    From reading a preview of Paul Preston’s book, I see that he does address that the Republicans killed 10,000s of non-combatant Christians. I might get a copy of this book to read. It’s one of modern civil wars that is very interesting to me.

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