jueves, 12 de septiembre de 2019


Text and Indicated Photos : José Manuel Serrano Esparza

After a research of some years, elrectanguloenlamano.blogspot.com has been able to discover the authorship and location of three new photographs made by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner in Cerro Muriano (Córdoba) on September 5, 1936, 

                                                                                                             © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

in a reportage titled " Visages Tragiques " ( " Tragic Faces " ) published in the number 150 of the 39 x 28 cm large format Belgian illustrated magazine Le Soir Illustré of October 3, 1936, on its pages 14 and 15.

The names Hans Namuth and Georg Reisner, authors of the pictures, aren´t mentioned anywhere, and their credits don´t appear under the pictures either.

And there isn´t any mention about the place where the photographs were made, which was undoubtedly Cerro Muriano (Córdoba).

The images are surrounded by a general text, in French, explaining the dramatic circumstances of the Spanish Civil War in Seville, Córdoba and Talavera during the two first months of struggle until that moment.

There are six images, three of them already known, and other three whose authorship and location were unknown :

                                                                                                           Photo : Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner                                                                                                        

A) Picture of a mature woman wearing glasses and black colour clothes, walking hastily beside a telegraph post (Partially visible) on far right of the image.

This woman is fleeing quickly from Cerro Muriano village and advances with great difficulty, since she is grabbing a big frying-pan and a saucepan with her left hand, while holding holding between her left forearm and side a basket full of the belongings she has been able to save and a pillow on its top.

In addition, she is grabbing with her left hand a middle-sized pot with its cover on, some food inside and the back area of a metallic spoon protruding slightly and discernible thanks to the Mackie lines between high and low density created during the development with Agfa Rodinal, optimize to enhance acutance.

A few meters behind her you can see a man clad in black waistcoat and trousers, white shirt and black beret running in the same direction as the woman, captured while she escapes from Cerro Muriano village in the face of the increasing bombings by Francoist aviation.

Moreover, on the left upper area of the image a mother and her daughter together with their dog are beginning their flight with identic course, while on the upper left corner some of the wire wall and three of the wooden posts of the small farmyard can be seen.

The woman wearing glasses appearing in the image walks a bit upwards coming from that area, and passes next to a currently non existent telegraph post, towards the vicinity of the Córdoba-Almorchón railway stretch going approximately 50 meters on the right of this location, to start from there her walking march towards the Old Obejo Train Station and El Vacar.

Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner get the picture from a very near distance.

The countenance of the woman, with her haunting gaze and panic-stricken, has masterfully been depicted by the photographer.

                                                                                                          Photo : Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner

B) Picture of an Anarchist militiaman of the CNT or FAI from Alcoy (Alicante) walking fast and taking in her arms a baby wrapped in a small white blanket, trying to protect it from the sun, while on the right of the image appears a mature man wearing a traditional Andalusian hat, advancing behind him, also fast, terrified, with his left hand on his chin and lips, as a consequence of the stress, while taking hanging from his left forearm a dark blanket to spend the night out in the open.

The photograph made by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner of the militiaman from Alcoy (Alicante) taking the baby in his arms and with his grandfather behind him, was obtained close to the level  crossing of the Córdoba-Almorchón railway located in the south area of Cerro Muriano village and visible in this image of 2019. The three persons appearing in the picture made by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner were placed at that moment around four meters behind the lower border of the photograph. It wasn´t possible to get this picture more from behind to emulate the framing of the image made by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner on September 5, 1936, because the N-232 highway is just behind and cars pass constantly at great speed, so standing on it is dangerous, and besides, other cars very often enter and go out across the area on the left. The small white colour wall visible before the house didn´t exist in 1936, and there weren´t any little dark green plants on it either. © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

This picture was made by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner next to the grade crossing of the Córdoba-Almorchón railway.

                                                                                                           © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

In 1936, the whole area around the house and the tracks of the level crossing was earth. there weren´t the asphalted highway, the pavement with cobblestone and concrete or the sewer metallic cover near the track, which were built after the Spanish Civil War, the terrain was approximately half a meter under its nowadays level, and the track was in a high location, with a little sand slope on both sides, while presently it is almost at the same height as the pavement and part of it greatly hidden by concrete, in such a way that of the track section visible in the background, only the rails surface is visible in the left area. 

                                                                                                           Photo : Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner

It is a very dramatic image faithfully depicting the anguish lived in the village of Cerro Muriano at those moments, because Francoist aviation had already thrown some bombs, bringing about collective fright among civil population, who were fleeing from the village on masse, going north bound towards the Old Obejo Train Station and El Vacar, walking beside the Córdoba-Almorchón railway.

The facial expression of the militiaman, with his very opened mouth, the utterly unfastened shirt and his distorted face reveal the fear to an attack against the village at any moment by the Moroccan troops of the Army of Africa and the scorching heat during that September 5, 1936 in Cerro Muriano, with temperatures approaching 40º C.

On the other hand, the baby´s right foot can be seen hanging outside the blanket.

Needless to say that the absence of the baby´s mother (who was probably collaborating in the countryside work with his husband and had left the little one being cared by its grandmother) significantly fosters the scene drama.

The very low Weston 32 (equivalent to iso 40) sensitivity of the black and white film and the probably diaphragm f/8 used to get as much as possible sharpness zone, meant a bit slow shutter speed, so the advancing right foot of the baby´s grandfather appears tremulous.

Though it is a shot made from a very short distance by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisnerm apparoaching as much as possible to the militiaman taking the baby in his arms (and being the main character of the image), in highly stressful circumstances and with a slightly out of focus attained image, the depth of field enables to discern the stretch of Córdoba-Almorchón railway in the grade crossing located in the south of the village.

Furthermore, albeit the image is slightly out of focus, the Agfa Rodinal developer optimized for acutance, has resulted in an image having enough sharpnes to distinguish the important details, including the mentioned railway tracks and even the railway signal visible on right half area of the picture.

It´s a very important photograph, because it was made inside Cerro Muriano village on September 5, 1936, and the people appearing in it, both the anarchist militiaman from Alcoy with the baby in his arms and the grandfather, walking quickly beside the level crossing following north direction, come fleeing from the most southern area of the village, probably from some of the cortijos near Las Malagueñas or Torreárboles, which are being attacked by the three Francoist columns under the command of general Varela and undoubtedly verifies the finding made by Mr Francisco Moreno Gómez in his book La Guerra Civil en Córdoba, published in 1985, in his chapter devoted to Cerro Muriano, in which he describes how when the Moroccan troops of tabor of Regulares belonging to colonel Sáenz de Buruaga´s right column tried to penetrate through a nearby ravine and assault the Hill of Las Malagueñas, the CNT and FAI anarchist militiamen from Alcoy defending the area, pounced on them, shooting at will and stopping their onslaught.

The unexpected attack like a whirlwind by the Alcoyanos stopped dead throughout many hours the advance of Sáenz de Buruaga´s right column (the most important one for the success of the Francoist offensive against Cerro Muriano devised by general Varela), and only the very high combat morale of the Moroccan troops, featuring a lot of previous experience in ruthless colonial war in Africa, enabled them to stand on their posts in a defensive position.

From a military viewpoint, this had a huge relevance, because general varela, on watching with his binoculars from the distance the great fierceness of the Alcoyanos attack on the Moroccan tabors of regulares very near the lower area of Las Malagueñas Hill, realized that Sáenz de Buruaga´s entire right column could be annihilated if Republican units from Cerro Muriano village (at a distance of 2 km) or El vacar (at a distance of roughly 12 km) arrived there to face the Francoist Moroccan troops (which were fighting frontally against the Alcoyanos) and fell on their back, taking them between two fires.

And to avoid that danger, general Varela, a veteran of countless battles in the War of Morocco during twenties and highly experienced in combat, ordered to intensify the bombing of Cerro Muriano by Francoist aviation, to make the Republican force in the area believe that they were about to assault the village, when reality was that general varela´s top priority was to conquer Las Malagueñas, Torreárboles and the Finca of Villa Alicia.

                                           Old airfield of La Electromecánica nowadays, 83 years later. © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

At those moments, Francoist aviation had very few available aircraft in Córdoba and its surroundings, above all obsolete Breguet XIX light bombing and reconnaisance planes that threw small 50 kg bombs, but general Varela ordered them to take off from the small airdrome of La Electromecánica (located in the west of Córdoba capital, very near Medina Azahara, and whose events between july and December of 1936 have been analysed for years by Patricio Hidalgo Luque, greatest military expert on the Spanish Civil War in Córdoba province) and bomb Cerro Muriano village.
Evidently, though there weren´t dead people, inhabitants of the village could have been killed, and the impact of the 50 kg small bombs brought about panic among civil population, who ran away heading north, following the Córdoba-Almorchón railway, where Robert Capa made his impressive reportage of the flight of Cerro Muriano refugees from the village, walking towards the Old Obejo Train Station and El Vacar.

But Franz Borkenau, a Swiss journalist who also was in Cerro Muriano that day together with the photographers Hans Namuth and Georg Reisner, comments stunningly in his book " El Reñidero Español " that he could see how some Moroccan artillery men approached trhough the left, from the other side of the railway, and had surpassed the left flank of government troops lines, without any opposition, so they could have entered the village at any moment, but they didn´t do it.

Truth is that the dreaded Moroccan troops of Tábor of Regulares had very strict orders of not trying to go into the village until they had captured Las malagueñas, Torreárboles and the Finca of Villa Alicia, and that the Tabor de Regulares de Melilla (under the command of major López Guerrero) and the squadrons of regulares of Ceuta nº 3 and Alhucemas (both of them under the command of major Gerardo Figuerola) were fighting tooth and nail at those moments against the militiamen from Alcoy who had been stopping their advance for some hours in the nearest area to Las Malagueñas Hill, which had also slowed down the progression of the other two Francoist columns (the left one under the command of major Sagrado and the middle one under the command of general Varela).

Even, to make Republican forces believe to a greater extent that Francoist troops were about to attack the village to conquer it, coloner Sáenz de Buruaga sent small contingents of Moroccan soldiers to the vicinity of the railway adjacent to Cerro Muriano left flank, with instructions to open machine-gun fire and small caliber artillery for the militiamen and loyalist to Republic troops defending the village to believe that they would be quickly attacked.

Piedra Horadada, a rocky quartz formation in the outskirts of Cerro Muriano, beside the Camino de los Pañeros. © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

And in the same way, from very early in the mornaing, they placed other small contingents of the feared Morocca soldiers next to Piedra Horadada, where they would show the whole day to the Republican soldiers and militiamen placed defensively at the washing places and foundries of the Cordoba Copper Company, in the area of their visual limit, to make them believe that they could attack them at any moment (something that wouldn´t happen until the following day) and fix them in their positions.

The aim was to fix at any cost the Republican forces defending Cerro Muriano in their positions and to avoid any movement of Republican troops from the village towards the surroundings of Las Malagueñas north slope, because the Alcoyanos had attacked en masse the Moroccan units of the right column under the command of colonel Sáenz de Buruaga, which were at those instants defesively stuck on their positions, without being able to advance or encircle, so if those Moroccan tropps were attacked by other Republican forces from different angles, the whole right column of the Francoist attack could be annihilated, preventing them from conquering Las Malagueñas and Torreárboles hills, which were being attacked upwards by the other two columns (the left and middle one) through their south slopes.

And this just discovered picture of the militiaman from Alcoy (Alicante) holding a baby in his arms within the village of Cerro Muriano, beside the level crossing, made around 15:00 h in the afternoon of September 5, 1936, clearly indicates that the village is not being attacked by Francoist infantry at those moments (if it were that way, the militiaman appearing in the image would be grabbing a rifle), though some 50 kg aviation bombs have already exploded, so both Republican forces and civil population of the village are distressed and believe that the assault is going to happen at any moment.

This way, everybody is leaving the village and overcome by panic, something apparent in the countenances of the two men appearing in the image, that in the same way as the baby, are hearing above all the shots of the tremendous clash that from roughly one o´clock in the afternoon is taking place between the Alcoyanos and the Moroccan troops of Sáenz de Buruaga´s right column.

                                                                                                                © Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner

C) Picture of an around 35 years old woman (though she seems to be approximately 50) wearing white attire, who is hastily fleeing from Cerro Muriano on seeing the intensification of the village bombing by Francoist aviation. 

Updating July 9, 2021 :

Photograph made in what is nowadays the Acera Eucaliptos Street in Los Llanos del Conde (approximately at 1 km from Cerro Muriano village).

                                                                                                           Photo : Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner

Hanging from her right forearm, she is wearing a very big wicker basket full of the few things she has been able to save, while she strenuously holds between her left arm and elbow a large baggage with her personal belongings.

The image is heartbreaking because of a number of reasons :

- The woman´s clothes are very worn out, with some holes and patches visible in the middle and right front area of the skirt, clearly indicating the extreme poverty of the rural population of the time, working from dawn to dusk for a paltry wages, immersed in a subsistence economy and using practically the same garment every day (except festivities and special family celebrations), since they lacked enough economical resources to buy more raiments.

- This woman has a huge overweight of more than 30 kg, stemming from a feeding deprived of proteins, fruit and different vitamins, being above all based on bread and legumes and a life working until she was exhausted, not only providing for her children and making foods daily, but also often collaborating in the countryside tasks, so her real labour journey has been 14/16 hours a day since her teens.

- She probably suffers from varicose veins, but she hasn´t been able to pay for a doctor.

- She is sweating buckets, with her mouth ajar, trudging under a scorching sun, with a temperature near 40º C, more and more slowly, because of the progressive fatigue, and a grimace of suffering is visible on her countenance.

The very strong shadows enhance the drama of the scene.

- The photographer has captured her just at the moment in which she begins to raise the apron tied to her dress towards her fae, to dry the sweat from her forehead.

This woman who is plucking up huge courage and will to keep on walking, has probably been surprised by the noise of the bombs dropped on Cero Muriano village by Francoist aviation few minutes before, while she was making lunch, and has started her flight as fast as possible.

- The footwear she is using are the slippers she was wearing when she began hearing the explosions of the bombs thrown on the village.

Undoubtedly, this woman had to suffer in an unutterable way to cover on foot the exceedingly hard 11 km under a blazing sun between the village of Cerro Muriano and El Vacar, walking beside the Córdoba-Almorchón railway, across the old path to Obejo Train Station.

In addition to its great historical, documentary and social value, these images are pretty meaningful from a photographic viewpoint, since they show the efficient synergy between two first-class photojournalists of that time like Hans Namuth and Georg Reisner, featuring a remarkable ability to get this kind of pictures from a very short distance.

On the other hand, the author of this article, after many trips to Cerro Muriano, has been able to find the exact location of another photograph also made by Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner in this little village 15 km in the north of Córdoba city, on September 5, 1936, an already known image, because it appears in the book Spanisches Tagebuch 1936, published in 1986 by Nishen Verlag,

Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner captured with a Leica III rangefinder camera coupled to a Leitz Summar 5 cm f/2 a decisive moment in which we can see an around 35 years old woman who has had to hastily abandon her home, leaving all of her past behind. That woman becomes the main character of an everlasting instant, appearing crying, with a handkerchief in her hand and visibly downhearted, walking northbound, while the young girl on the left (with her right side towards the camera, so her face is not visible) looks at her antsy, which enhances even more the commotion of the image. © Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner

in which a militiaman can be seen helping walk an around thirty-five years old woman with a handkerchief in her left hand, while she has got her right hand on her temple with gesture of apparent concern and sobbing, and a young girl clad in a white dress and black belt, probably her daughter, looks at her worried. 

                                                                                                            © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

This photograph as made in what is today the main commercial and restaurants area of Cerro Muriano, on the right of the downhill of the current Carretera Street, a stretch between 253 and 254 km of the N-432A Granada-Badajoz highway, at very few meters from the chemist´s of Licenciada Julia Rubias and El Grifo ironmonger´s.

A bit more downwards on the left are presently the Caja Sur branch, the Bar Bruno and the Bar Cinema.

In 1936, the highway was a little wider than currently, and it wasn´t tarmacked but mainly built with pressed earth.

On both sides of it, there weren´t buildings, with the exception of the white house visible in the background, on the middle area of the image, and the whitewashed stone blocks to signal the highway route.

The man helping the roughly 35 years old woman walk is a militiaman from the CNT of Alcoy, belonging to the Columna Alcoyana that had departured from that Alicante province village almost a month before, on August 7, 1936, made up by 534 soldiers and officers from the Vizcaya nº 12 Infantry Regiment with garrison in Alcoy, and 687 anarchist militiamen from the same village.

When arriving on August 9, 1936 in Pedro Abad (Córdoba), the column splitted up into two ones, and one part went to Cerro Muriano, under the command of the second lieutenant Melquíades Valiente and of Enrique Vañó Nicomedes (general secretary of the local federation of the CNT of alcoy, who was shot on August 29, 1939) as chief of militiamen, arriving at Cerro Muriano during the third week of August of 1936.

In the background of the image, on the upper right half of the photograph, you can see the area of mound with holm oaks located on the left of Torreárboles hill, the highest altitude of the northern mountain range of Córdoba, with a height of 692 meters and placed roughly half a kilometer on the right (out of image).

On the other hand, eighty-three years later, it has been possible to discern through selective reframing, that the vehicle whose half appears on the right of the image is a lorry with number plate of Alicante and its two first figures being 72, while the letters TOMÁS are printed on its top area.

The men appearing in the background, ready to go away, are members of the Column from Alcoy, both professional military (the one more on the left, probably an officer of the Vizcaya nº 12 Infantry Regiment with garrison in Alcoy, is looking at the photographer) and civilian militiamen belonging to the CNT and FAI of that village of Alicante province.

In addition, the great sharpness in contours obtained by the Agfa Rodinal developer has made possible to glimpse two trucks more in the background and a donkey also awaiting the moment of starting the flight, along with another militiaman who is walking some meters beyond him.

At the moment of that escape, few minutes after Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner got the picture, all the persons visible in the image advanced uphill towards the camera, northbound, crossing the stretch of the current N-432A Granada-Badajoz highway at its km 253, beside which are nowadays the Restaurant Bar X, Casa Rosario and the Bar Casinito.

On the other hand, this picture is important because though it is imperfect from a technical viewpoint, with a not completely accurate focus and abundant visible grain, inherent to the black and white chemical emulsion used, it dosn´t matter at all in this kind of photographs in which decisive factors are to be at the adequate moment and place, to approach as much as possible to the core of the action, to get the picture in a discreet way, capturing the decisive moment and to go unnoticed during the photographic act, something that Hans Namuth / Georg Reisner have utterly attained, depicting with great realism the atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty prevailing at those moments in Cerro Muriano.