To a certain extent, every human being is shaped by the historical events taking place around him. Our generation has been very much affected, for example, by the Viet Nam War, the assasination of President Kennedy, and the musical influence of both the Beatles and Motown. Pablo Casals' life was caught up into the whirlwind of the Spanish Civil War, and everything Casals did and said following the rise of General Francisco Franco to power in Spain, was directed and colored by that event.

King Alfonso XIII, a personal friend of Casals, was a weak king, and found his kingdom gradually falling away from him as the people of Spain began a grassroots movement toward a republic with elected rulers. By 1931 all but four Spanish provinces had voted to make Spain a republic, and Alfonso left the country. A new government was formed then, but there were problems with failed attempts to reform education, religious affairs, banking and agriculture. The government was alternately controlled by both left and right, and by 1936 Spain was dissolving into chaos.
General Francisco Franco
General Francisco Franco

The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936, led by General Francisco Franco, who quickly recieved large supplies of both materials and troops from Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler, who had come to power in 1933 in Germany. Casals quit playing his cello in Germany, as he realized what Hitler and the Nazis were doing to his Jewish friends and colleagues.

The Civil War lasted three years, and much of Spain was laid waste. H. L. Kirk, in his tremendous biography of Casals wrote: "The country was bathed in blood; it is estimated that some seventy-five thousand people were killed in other than military engagements in Republican territory in the six weeks between July 18 and September 1, 1936, and the number of murdered grew as insurgent forces moved inland..." (pages 399-400). By 1939 Franco was total dictator of a bloody totalitarian state.

Pablo Casals was devastated. He was a strong believer in peace, in freedom, and in the rights of the common man. Now it had all been trampled on, and even his beloved Catalonia was under the dictator's heel. Casals was forced to flee Spain with the other refugees, just steps ahead of Franco's army. He rented a hotel room in Prades, a small town in the French Pyrenees, just north of the Spanish/French border. There he personally helped to distribute truckloads of food and clothing to nearby refugee camps.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John