Until a short while ago, the only association I had with the name Guernica -- or Gernika, the town’s official Basque name -- was the famous huge painting by Pablo Picasso. I first saw it on our trip to Spain in February 1999, at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. It was awesome in the original sense of the word, i.e., truly awe-inspiring. And scary and heartbreaking. The kind of art that can give you nightmares if you look at it carefully, at length.
Then, just recently, we watched Season 2 of the TV series Genius. The 10 episodes of this season were dedicated to Pablo Picasso. Though I’m sure some will find fault with the series, I found it interesting and well-made, and it filled a few gaps in my education. Though the series didn’t go into the story of the bombing of Gernika at great length, it did provide some background, and even made me curious to find out more.
Anyway, when we were planning our trip, the first company we consulted (but ended up not hiring – too expensive) suggested popping over to the town of Gernika-Lumo as part of our route. So we did.
|Gernika, Oct 2018|
|Gernika, Oct 2018|
We were given to understand that the main point of going to Gernika was to visit the Museum of Peace. So we parked our rented car among all the other cars on one of the main streets, and went to the museum.
|Museum of Peace, Gernika|
|Museum of Peace, Gernika|
War museums are designed to be unsettling, I suppose. But the trick isn’t to say that war is hell; that’s been said and shown in countless novels, documentaries, and movies – War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Longest Day – to name but a few well-known ones; and more recently, the TV series Sharpe which, though riveting, caused me to leave the room every once in a while, when the cruelty and bloodshed got too much for me. (My son dissuaded me from reading the books, saying they are even more gory…) Here’s the series’ theme song. (Apologies. I’m a Sharpe fan.)
In January 2017 we toured Vietnam. When in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we went to the War Remnants Museum. Keep in mind that, if you Google “Vietnam War Museum” you’ll reach an American website of a museum in Texas… For the Vietnamese, it was “the American War”. A matter of perspective, obviously. Anyway – I’m afraid I didn’t have much patience for all the blood-curdling photos and relics. (Unlike my American cousin who felt morally obligated to scrutinize and contemplate the displays.) I know what war is. I was born on a kibbutz in pre-State Israel and lived through all of Israel’s wars. In fact – I’m lucky to be alive: the nursery that housed the kibbutz babies was bombed by Egypt the very day after we, the babies, were evacuated…
|Babies' nursery, kibbutz Hatzor, 1948|
|Kibbutz Hatzor dining room, 1948|
|Kibbutz Hatzor living quarters, 1948|
|Kibbutz Hatzor public toilets, 1948 (there were no private toilets!)|
Later, in the IDF, I didn’t serve on the front lines… But my then-husband did; and some of my school friends never made it back alive. I’d like to believe that anyone who has lived through a war would be ardently pro-peace. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.
But I digress. The whole idea of the Peace Museum is not to commemorate war, but rather to encourage and extol peace. As one visitor wrote: “I was touched by the initiative to promote peace rather to condemn war”.*
Which doesn’t mean that the Museum completely refrains from touching that [exposed] nerve called The Horror of War. They have a short audio-visual show that places you in the pleasant, comfy home of a family, where you sit listening to a very convincing narrator representing the mother of the family… when suddenly the siren sounds, the bombers fly overhead, the bombs fall, and the next moment you’re sitting in a pile of ruins. It made me sick to my stomach.
It also reminded me of a TV series we watched recently, based on Terry Pratchett’s Johnny and the Bomb, a novel for young readers. Though the main theme may be time travel, the parallel theme is war, and the way it affects civilians: ordinary people living in an ordinary town. You know – like Gernika, or Coventry, or [insert city name of your choice.] I think a film like that is perfectly in keeping with the Peace Museum, whose entire objective is to encourage people from all over the world to work for peace. One cannot travel in time; we can’t change the past. But changing the route that leads to a future of war is still a possibility. Or is it simply an ineradicable feature of the human race?
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* Thing Thing Lee, contributor to Google Maps