Unpublished photographs of the Condor Legion discovered at London flea market

Joan Maria Thomàs, professor of Contemporary History at the URV, has verified the importance of the images and recommended they be donated to the Documentary Centre of Historical Memory

One of the unpublished photographs of the Condor Legion found in a London flea market

An astonishing story featuring a URV professor and the Civil War as a backdrop. A year ago John Knowles, an English collector and history enthusiast, found several tins containing old rolls of 35-millimetre film in a London flea market. He realised that the film was of the Spanish Civil War and identified several German officers. He contacted an expert in the field, Joan Maria Thomàs, professor of Contemporary History at the Rovira i Virgili University, who verified that they were photographs of the Condor Legion, the German air force responsible, among other things, for the bombing of Guernica. Because of their historical importance, he advised him to donate them to the Historical Memory Documentary Centre, which depends on the Ministry of Culture.

“They are important photographs because they are unusual. They show everyday life, the members of the Condor Legion during moments of rest or recreation during the Civil War”, explains Joan Maria Thomàs. They show another side, a broader view, of the role played by Hitler’s air force during the conflict. There are around 200 of them and they belonged to a German bank executive living in England, the grandfather of the person who sold them to John Knowles for around 40 euros. Knowles has been unable to get back in touch with him.

Joan Maria Thomàs, professor of Contemporary History at the URV

It is not known who took them or for what reason, and this is precisely what is now being investigated. The images are currently being processed at the Historical Memory Documentary Centre, where they were recently sent by diplomatic bag from the Spanish embassy in London, which organised the meeting with Knowles and the subsequent donation. The fact that the material is sensitive and of great historical importance meant that the reels could not be sent by ordinary mail.

Knowles first contacted the German historian Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, a specialist in the Civil War and the Condor Legion, who advised him to talk to Thomàs, who has done a great deal of research in these fields. The URV professor also asked him to notify the Peace Museum in Gernika and the Democratic Memorial of Catalonia. Joan Maria Thomàs is now preparing a podcast with images on this story that will be made available on the website of the Virtual Museum of the Spanish Civil War, with which he collaborates.

Another of the unpublished photographs of the Condor Legion

Some of the photographs show officers sightseeing, talking to Spanish commanders and killing time at the headquarters, but some are more war-related and show the destruction of the Aragonese town of Belchite, aircraft and even a submarine. It seems clear that the photographs were not taken by a professional, as some of them are out of focus and badly framed, and it cannot be ruled out that the German officers themselves were passing around a camera they had, which was unusual at the time and in these contexts. But this is precisely what makes this graphic testimony so valuable.

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