Slaughter of 4,000 at Badajoz, ‘City of Horrors,’ Is Told by Tribune Man

Jay Allen

Chicago Tribune/August 30, 1936

[This article is a continuation of Mr. Allen’s remarkable observations on his recent flying trip to Portugal to report that country’s part in the Spanish civil war and events in Spain along the Portuguese frontier. The dispatch was written on Aug. 25 and sent to the cable office at Tangier, International Zone, Morocco. The dispatch disappeared somewhere on route or into the waste basket of a censor. When Mr. Allen discovered this he found another route by which to get his dispatch to Chicago.]


This is the most painful story it has ever been my lot to handle. I write it at 4 o’clock in the morning, sick at heart and in body, in the stinking patio of the Pension Central, in one of the tortuous white streets of this steep fortress town. I could never find the Pension Central again, and I shall never want to.

I have come from Badajoz, several miles away in Spain. I have been up on the roof to look back. There was a fire. They are burning bodies. Four thousand men and women have died at Badajoz since Gen. Francisco Franco’s rebel Foreign Legionnaires and Moors climbed over the bodies of their own dead through its many times blood drenched walls.

The Story of a Sobbing Woman.

I tried to sleep. But you can’t sleep on a soiled and lumpy bed in a room at the temperature of a Turkish bath, with mosquitoes and bedbugs tormenting you, and with memories of what you have seen tormenting you, with the smell of blood in your very hair, and with a woman sobbing in the room next door.

“What’s wrong?” I asked the sleepy yokel who prowls around the place at night as a guard.

“She’s Spanish. She came thinking her husband had escaped from Badajoz.”

“Well, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” he said, and he looked at me, not sure whether to go on. “Yes, and they sent him back. He was shot this morning.”

“But who sent him back?”

I knew, but asked nevertheless.

“Our international police.”

I have seen shame and indignation in human eyes before, but not like this. And suddenly this sleepy, sweaty being, whose very presence had been an added misery, took on the dignity and nobility that a fine dog has and human beings most often have not.

I gave it up. I came down into the filthy patio, with its chickens, rabbits, and pigs, to write this and get it over with.

Story Begins In Lisbon

To begin at the beginning, I had heard dark rumors in Lisbon. Everybody there spies on everybody else. When I left my hotel at 4 p.m., Aug. 23, I said I was going to Estoril to try my luck at roulette. Several people noted that down, and I hope they enjoyed their evening at Estoril.

I went to the Plaza de Rocio instead. I took the first taxi. I drove around and around and finally picked up a Portuguese friend who knows his business.

We went to the ferry that crosses the Tagus. Once on the other side we told the chauffeur, “Elvas.” He looked mildly surprised. Elvas was 250 kilometers [about 150 miles] away.

We streaked through an engaging country of sandy hills, cork oaks, peasants with sideburns, and women with little bowler hats. It was 8:30 o’clock when we pulled up the hill into Elvas, “the lock nobody ever opened.” But Elvas knows humiliation now.

Recalls Badajoz of Earlier Day.

We entered a white narrow gate. That seems years ago. I have since been to Badajoz. I believe I was the first newspaper man to set foot there without a pass and the inevitable shepherding by the rebels, certainly the first newspaper man who went knowing what he was looking for.

I know Badajoz. I had been there four times in the last year to do research on a book I am working on and to try to study the operations of the agrarian reform that might have saved the Spanish republic—a republic that, whatever it is, gave Spain schools and hope, neither of which it had known for centuries.

It had been nine days since Badajoz fell on Aug. 14. The rebel armies had gone on—to a nasty defeat at Medellin, if my information was correct, as it sometimes is—and newspaper men, hand fed and closely watched, had gone on in their wake.

Nine days is a long time in newspaper work; Badajoz is practically ancient history. But Badajoz is one of those damned spots the truth about which will not be out so soon. And so I did not mind being nine days late, if my newspaper didn’t.

We began to hear the truth before we were out of the car. Two Portuguese drummers standing at the door of the hotel knew my friend. Portugal, as usual, is on the eve of a revolution. The people seem to know, who “the others” are. That is why I took my friend along.

They whispered. This was the upshot—thousands of republican, socialist, and communist militiamen and militiawomen were butchered after the fall of Badajoz for the crime of defending their republic against the onslaught of the generals and the land owners.

Hundreds Sent Back to Die.

Between 50 and 100 have been shot every day since. The Moors and Foreign Legionnaires are looting. But blackest of all: The Portuguese “international police,” in defiance of international usage, are turning back scores and hundreds of republican refugees to certain death by rebel firing squads.

This very day [Aug. 23] a car flying the red and yellow banner of the rebels arrived here. In it were three Phalanxists [Fascists]. They were accompanied by a Portuguese lieutenant. They tore through the narrow streets to the hospital where Senor Granado, republican civil governor of Badajoz, was lying. Senor Granado, with his military commander, Col. Puigdengola, ran out on the loyalist militia two days before the fall of Badajoz.

The Fascists ran up the stairs, strode down a corridor with guns drawn, and into the governor’s room. The governor was out of his mind with the horror of the thing. The director of the hospital, Dr. Pabgeno, threw himself over his helpless patient and howled for help. So he saved a life.

Deputy Handed Over to Rebels.

The day before the mayor of Badajoz, Madronero, and the socialist deputy, Nicelau de Pablo, were handed over to the rebels. On Tuesday 40 republican refugees were escorted to the Spanish frontier. Thirty-two were shot the next morning. Four hundred men, women, and children were taken by cavalry escorts through the frontier post of Caia to the Spanish lines. Of these close to 300 were executed.

Getting back in the car, we drove to Campo Maior, which is only seven kilometers [about four miles] from Badajoz on the Portuguese side. A talkative frontier policeman said:

“Of course we are handing them back. They are dangerous for us. We can’t have Reds in Portugal at such a moment.”

“What about the right of asylum?”

“O,” he said, “Badajoz asks extradition.”

“There is no such thing as extradition for a political offense.”

“It’s being done all up and down the frontier on orders of Lisbon,” he said belligerently.

Crosses Over Into Spain.

We cleared out. We drove back to Elvas. I met friends who are as much Portuguese as Spanish, and vice versa.

“Do you want to go to Badajoz?” they asked.

“No,” I said, “because the Portuguese say their frontier is closed and I would be hung up.”

I had another reason. The rebels do not like newspaper men who see both sides. But they offered to take me through and back again without complications. So we started. Suddenly we drove out of the lane onto a bridge that leads across the Guadiana river into the town where Wellington’s troops ran amok in the Peninsular wars, where now is just another tragedy.

Now we were in Spain. My friends were known. The extra person in the car [myself] passed unnoticed. We were not stopped.

Some Badajoz Notes

We drove straight to the plaza of Badajoz. Here are my notes: Cathedral is intact. No, it isn’t. Driving around the side I see half a great square tower shot away.

“The Reds had machine guns there and our artillery was obliged to fire,” my friends said.

Here yesterday there was a ceremonial, symbolical shooting. Seven leading republicans of the Popular Front [loyalists]. Shot with a band and everything before 3,000 people. To prove that rebel generals didn’t shoot only workers and peasants. There is no favoritism to be shown between the Popular Fronters.

We stopped at a corner of the narrow trafic. Through here fled the loyalist militiamen to take refuge in a Moorish fortress on a hill when the descendants of those who built it broke through the Trinidad gate. They were caught by the Legionnaires coming up from the gate by the river and shot in batches on the street corners.

Shops Looted by Conquerors.

Every other shop seemed to have been wrecked. The conquerors looted as they went. All this week in Badajoz, Portuguese have been buying watches and jewelry for practically nothing. Most shops belong to the rightists. It is the war tax they pay for salvation, a rebel office told me grimly.

The massive outlines of the Alcazar fortress showed at the end of the Calle de San Juan. There the town’s defenders, who sought refuge in the town of Espantoperro [“Frightened Dogs”], were smoked out and shot down.

We passed a big dry goods shop that seemed to have been through an earthquake.

“La campana,” my friends said. “It belonged to Don Mariano, a leading Azanista [follower of Manual Azana, president of Spain]. It was sacked yesterday after Mariano was shot.”

Telltale Marks of a Rifle.

We drove by the office of the Agrarian reform, where in June I saw the chief engineer, Jorge Montojo, distributing land, incurring naturally the hatred of the landowners and, because he was a technician following strictly bourgeois canons of law, the enmity of the Socialists, too. He had taken arms in defense of the republic, and so—

Suddenly we saw two Phalanxists halt a strapping fellow in a workman’s blouse and hold him while a third pulled back his shirt, baring his right shoulder. The black and blue marks of a rifle butt could be seen. Even after a week they showed. The report was unfavorable. To the bullring with him.

We drove out along the walls to the ring in question. Its sandstone walls look over the fertile valley of the Guadiana. It is a fine ring of white plaster and red brick. I saw Juan Belmonte [bullfight idol] here once and on the eve of the fight, on a night like this, came down to watch the bulls brought in. This night the fodder for tomorrow’s show was being brought in, too. Files of men, arms in the air.

Met by Machine Guns.

They were young, mostly peasants in blue blouses, mechanics in jumpers, “The Reds.” They are still being rounded up. At 4 o’clock in the morning they were turned out into the ring through the gate by which the initial parade of the bullfight enters. There machine guns awaited them.

After the first night the blood was supposed to be palm deep on the far side of the ring. I don’t doubt it. Eighteen hundred men—there were women, too—were mowed down there in some 12 hours. There is more blood than you would think in 1,800 bodies.

In a bullfight when the beast or some unlucky horse bleeds copiously, “wise monkeys” come along and scatter fresh sand. Yet on hot afternoons you smell blood. It is all very invigorating.

Climb Over Bodies of Dead.

We were stopped at the main gate of the plaza, my friends talking to Phalanxists. It was a hot night. There was a smell. I can’t describe it and won’t describe it. The “wise monkeys” will have a lot of work to do to make this ring presentable for a ceremonial slaughter bullfight. As for me, no more bullfights—ever.

We came to the Trinidad gate through these once invulnerable fortifications. The moon shone through. A week ago a battalion of 280 legionnaires stormed in. Twenty-two live to tell the tale of how they strode over, climbed over the bodies of their dead, and, with hand grenades and knives, silenced those two murderous machine guns. Where were the government planes? That is one of the mysteries. It makes one quake for Madrid.

We drove back to town past the republic’s fine new school and sanitary institute. The men who built these are dead, shot as “Reds” because they sought to defend them.

Bodies Lie for Days.

We passed a corner.

“Until yesterday there was a pool blackened with blood here,” said my friends. “All the loyal military were shot here and their bodies left for days as an example.”

They were told to come out, so they rushed out of the houses to greet the conquerors and were shot down and their houses looted. The Moors played no favorites.

Back at the plaza. During the executions here Mario Pires went off his head. He had tried to save a pretty 15 year old girl caught with a rifle in her hand. The Moor was adamant. Mario saw her shot. Now he is under medical care at Lisbon.

I know there are horrors on the other side aplenty. Almendra Lejo, rightist, was crucified, drenched with gasoline, and burned alive. I know people who saw charred bodies. I know that. I know hundreds and even thousands of innocent persons died at the hands of revengeful masses. But I know who it was who rose to “save Spain” and so aroused the masses to a defense that is as savage as it is valiant.

Anyway, I am reporting Badajoz. Here a dozen or more rightists were executed every day during the siege. But—

Tale Of Two Brothers

Back in Elvas in the casino I asked diplomatically:

“When the Reds burned the jail, how many died?”

“But they didn’t burn the jail.”

I had read in the Lisbon and Seville papers that they had.

“No, the brothers Pla prevented it.”

I knew Luis and Carlos Pla, rich young men of good family, who had the best garage in southwestern Spain. They were Socialists because they said the Socialist party was the only instrument which could break the power of Spain’s feudal masters.

“They harangued the crowd that wanted to burn the 300 rightists in the jail just before the Moors entered, saying they were going to die in defense of our republic but they were not assassins. They themselves opened the doors to let these people escape.”

“What happened to the Plas?”



No answer.

There is no answer. All these people could have been allowed to escape to Portugal three miles away. But they weren’t.

Reds Get “Rigorous Justice.”

I heard Gen. Queipo de Llano announcing on the radio that Barcarota had been taken and that “rigorous justice” was dispensed with the Reds there. I know Barcarota. I asked the peasants there in June if, now that they were given land, they would not be capitalists.

“Non,” indignantly.


“Because we only get enough for our own use, not enough to be able to exploit others.”

“But it’s yours.”

“Of course.”

“What do you want from the republic now?”

“Money for seed. And schools.”

I thought then, “God help anybody who tries to prevent this.”

I was wrong. Or was I? At the casino here, which is frequented mostly by landowners and rich merchants, I ventured to inquire what the situation was before the rebellion.

“Terrible. The peasants were getting 12 pesetas for a 7 hour day, and nobody could pay it.”

That is true. It was more than the land could stand. But they had been getting from 2 to 3 pesetas from sun up to sundown before. Twenty Spaniards with red and yellow ribbons in their buttonholes sat around the casino and from the fact that they were here I assumed they did not feel Franco had yet made Spain quite safe.

On the moon drenched streets there was a smell of jasmine, but I had another smell in my nostrils. Sweet, too horribly sweet.

Love Song to the Moon.

On the foothill in the white plaza by a fountain, a youth leaning against the wall with his feet crossed twanged his guitar and a soft tenor sang a melting Portuguese love song.

At Badajoz in June boys still sang beneath balconies. It will be a long time before they do again.

Suddenly through the square shot a car with a red and yellow flag. We halted. Our drummers came to meet us.

“They are searching the hotel.”

“For whom?”

“Don’t know.”

We shall go away, as soon as it is light. People who ask questions are not popular near this frontier, if it can be called a frontier.

(Source: Chicago Tribune Archives,