ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE ARCHIVES, TAMIMENT LIBRARY, NYU
“Who could see you and not remember you?” Federico García Lorca wrote in 1926, describing the brutality of the Guardia Civil, Spain’s paramilitary police, toward his beloved Gypsies. Ten years later, at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, that brutality would be visited upon Lorca when fascist soldiers loyal to Gen. Francisco Franco executed the poet and dumped his body in a fosa común, a mass grave, near Granada. For decades, Lorca’s insistence on remembrance clashed with Spain’s post-Franco pacto del olvido, or pact of forgetting, an agreement between the government and the army that opened the door to democracy in exchange for a sweeping amnesty of the Franco regime. Recently, however, the pact has shown signs of unraveling. In 2007 Spain’s Socialist government enacted the Law of Historical Memory, which for the first time officially acknowledges the victims of Franco’s dictatorship. The law also allows anyone with evidence of a mass grave to ask the state for help in unearthing and identifying any human remains found in it. Last October, after a decade-long effort by Spanish human rights groups, the crusading judge Baltasar Garzón ordered the exhumation of nineteen Francoist mass graves, including the one believed to hold Lorca’s corpse. Yet more than seventy years after Lorca was killed, the resistance to excavating the country’s repressed memory remains fierce; a week after Garzón issued his order, Javier Zaragoza, Spain’s chief prosecutor, challenged it on the grounds that the judge lacked jurisdiction. Fearful that the country’s Supreme Court would agree with Zaragoza, Garzón tactically withdrew his order, referring it instead to Spain’s provincial courts in the hope of keeping the investigation alive.
By chance, around the same time last year an unexpected exhumation of literary remains dating to the Spanish Civil War was completed with the publication of War Is Beautiful, a long-lost memoir by James Neugass, a volunteer ambulance driver during the conflict. The book’s publication is remarkable for many reasons, not least the survival of the manuscript. In 2000, more than fifty years after Neugass died of a heart attack in a Greenwich Village subway station and nearly as many years after most of his papers were destroyed in a cellar flood, a book dealer discovered a manuscript of Neugass’s in a Vermont bookstore that was believed to have come from the collection of Max Eastman, onetime editor of the influential leftist magazine The Masses. It had most likely been sent to Eastman for review, and in the margins someone, perhaps Eastman, wrote, “The title, ‘War is Beautiful,’ is a Fascist slogan. If this is naïve and misdirected irony it is very dangerous.” Five hundred pages long, an incomplete copy of the typewritten manuscript wound its way to Neugass’s son Paul, and then to Peter Carroll and Peter Glazer, historians of American involvement in the conflict. The pair edited the original manuscript, now housed in a university library, and shaped it into the book published last year.