Lost Spanish Civil War Photos Reveal Daily Life Behind Anti-Fascist Lines | Spain

Pphotographs by two Jewish female photographers who worked behind anti-fascist lines during the Spanish Civil War have been exhibited in Madrid after 80 years. For decades, negatives and prints, many of which were never published, were considered lost or destroyed. They are now on display for the first time in the capital.

As the Spanish Civil War drew to a close in 1939, anarchists from the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo and Federación Anarquista Ibérica (CNT-FAI) fighting in Barcelona took steps to preserve records of their struggle and achievements . Understanding the outcome of the war, they sealed documents and 2,300 photographs, 5,000 negatives and nearly 300 photographic plates in 48 wooden boxes, which they smuggled out of the city away from the fascist bombardments, intended for the refuge of the International Institute of Social History. (IISH) in Amsterdam.

Years later, having traveled via Paris, Harrogate and Oxford, the crates, known as Amsterdam boxes, duly arrived. They remained sealed as the anarchists led secret lives during the decades of the Franco regime. When they were finally opened in the 1980s, the archives and documents inside were inventoried, but the photographic material was neglected.

One of the Amsterdam boxes on display in Madrid

Today, thanks to the detective work of art historian and curator Almudena Rubio, who has been researching the IISH archives since 2015, it has become possible to identify the production of two foreign photographers, both Jewish, who traveled to Spain to take sides. in the war: Margaret Michaelis, of Polish-Austrian origin, and Kati Horna, from Hungary and friend of the photojournalist Robert Capa, a compatriot.

Anarchist fighters.  Photography: Margaret Michaelis / IISH / National Gallery of Australia

Michaelis had studied photography in Vienna in the 1920s and continued to work in Berlin until she and her husband, a prominent anarchist, were repeatedly arrested by the Nazis.

After her release, the couple moved to Barcelona in 1933, where she set up her own studio and worked as a portraitist and advertising and architectural photographer.

CNT-FAI street activity in Barcelona, ​​1936. Photograph: Margaret Michaelis / IISH / National Gallery of Australia

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Michaelis worked for the Anarchists’ Foreign Propaganda Office and provided footage for the new Catalonia Propaganda Commissariat, which sought to maintain morale while encouraging anti-fascist action.

Emma Goldman visits Albalate de Cinca in Aragon.  Photography: Margaret Michaelis / IISH / National Gallery of Australia

Among the recently released images of Michaelis, all taken with a Leica, are scenes of street actions in Barcelona by anarchist militants; views of daily life in Albalate de Cinca and Valencia; report of a visit to L’Alcora, a village which had abolished the use of money; rare photographs of veteran anarchist Emma Goldman (memorably labeled by J Edgar Hoover as “the most dangerous woman in America”); and the arrival of the British Red Cross in Portbou.

A collectivized church in Aragon converted into a carpentry workshop.  Photography: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte.  Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria

As Michaelis left Spain, Horna arrived in January 1937. She, too, was a trained photographer and had left Germany in 1933. Upon arriving in Spain after four years in Paris, she became involved in social revolution, working for foreign propaganda. office of the anarchists.

Anarchist vehicles in front of the CNT-FAI propaganda office in Barcelona, ​​1937. Photograph: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte.  Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria
Barcelona, ​​1937 Photograph: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte.  Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria
  • Left, CNT-FAI anarchist vehicles in Barcelona, ​​1937. Right, Children in Barcelona, ​​1937. Photographs: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte. Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria

She quickly established herself as the official photographer of SPA, an anarchist photo agency, and her photos were published in anarchist titles such as Umbral, Mujeres Libres and Tierra y libertad.

Horna’s work, like that of Michaelis, was designed to support social revolution and counter Francoist propaganda that attempted to discredit the anti-fascist movement. Rolleiflex in hand, she visits a camp set up to care for children removed from the war zone; it recorded the human and sanitary conditions in a Modelo prison; she imagined a collectivized church in Aragon converted into a carpentry workshop; she saw villagers get their hair cut for free in a collective barber shop; she crossed a trench on the Aragon front.

Combatants on the Aragon front, 1937. Photographs: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte. Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria
Combatants on the Aragon front, 1937. Photographs: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte. Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria

Rubio, whose painstaking research unearthed the photographs, has no doubts about their importance. “The legacy of the work of Michaelis and Horna is unique precisely because it shows us the revolutionary experience of the rearguard, neglected by official historiography, which was fomented by the anarchists of the CNT- ISP. At the same time, it allows us to reconstruct in more detail the life of the two photographers during the civil war, and to better appreciate their work in anti-fascist Spain.

In the trenches of the Aragon front, 1937. Photograph: Kati Horna / IISH / Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte.  Documentary Center of the Historical Memoria

Both photographers believed their work had been lost or destroyed in the ruins of Franco’s bombs. Today, for the first time, images are seeing the light of day.

The Amsterdam Boxes: Kati Horna and Margaret Michaelis in the Civil War is at National Calcography in Madrid as part of PhotoEspaña until July 27. The exhibition will travel to Huesca (Aragon) and Barcelona

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