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44 Facts About the Spanish Civil War That’ll Surprise You 2024

If you didn’t know anything, or perhaps your knowledge is low about the Spanish Civil War, then you’ve come to the right place. 

There have been over 10,000 wars in the history of mankind. Some are huge and had an everlasting impact on civilization, like World War 2. Simultaneously, some are within the parameters of one country and are, therefore, often overlooked. 

This would explain why so many civil wars are shrouded in mystery and virtually unheard of. 

It’s time to break old habits and learn from the past, lest history repeats itself. These 44 facts about the Spanish Civil War will fill you in on quirky and shocking things you probably didn’t know before.

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44 Facts About the Spanish Civil War

To give a brief overview: the Spanish Civil War started on 17 July 1936 when generals Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco instigated an uprising against the current government. They aimed to overthrow Spain’s democratically elected republic and replace it with a conservative, fascist government.

No need to dust off those sleep-inducing history books; let’s dive right into these interesting facts about the Spanish Civil War. 

1. The Spanish Civil War Is Often Seen as a Prelude to WW2

Many scholars recognize the Spanish Civil War on 18 July 1936 as a prelude to the more destructive Second World War. Spanish troops, led by Francisco Franco, began their uprising to overthrow the democratic government of Spain. 

What started as a revolution ended in a civil war that continued for two years and eight months. Francisco Franco’s Republican Party, also known as Franco’s Nationalists, fought for a conservative vision. After joining a military coup and fighting ruthlessly in the civil war, he finally emerged as Spain’s dictator for almost 40 years. 

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Image by Dennis Larsen from Pixabay 

2. Many Famous Figures Supported the Republicans or Nationalists

Many prominent novelists, writers, and artists of the time sided with the current Republican government — and others wanted change. 

Celebrities like George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway supported the Republican party, while J.R.R. Tolkien and Gertrude Stein supported the Nationalist cause. Interestingly, they are all prolific writers/novelists who were inspired by political and social events such as these when writing.

Orwell’s renowned 1984 (with its concept of Big Brother) and Animal Farm was born during the Spanish Civil War. It’s safe to say that this conflict inspired some of the greatest allegorical novels in English literature. 

3. Franco Was Not the True Mastermind Behind the Coup That Overthrew the Democratic Government

If it weren’t for the untimely death of Franco’s rivals and equals, he wouldn’t have been in the position to be in charge of the rebels and, eventually, the new Republican government of Spain. His equal and technical mastermind behind the coup operation, General Emilio Mola, died in a plane crash in June 1937 allowing Franco to take over. 

Even the rebel’s first choice for head of state after conquering the Democratic government, General José Sanjurjo, also died in a plane crash a few days after the uprising. That’s a crazy coincidence, but it doesn’t stop there. Franco’s potential rivals from other political parties, like José Calvo Sotelo, Joaquín Fanjul, and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, were all assassinated by Republican forces. 

4. Both Political Parties Committed Atrocities and Destruction

Neither the left nor right parties had squeaky clean hands throughout the Civil War. The Republicans and Nationalists were so determined to gain control that even the loss of innocent lives wasn’t going to slow them down. 

Since the beginning of the war, the Nationalists sought to bring about a campaign of terror through which they tortured, killed, and shamed any opponent. One Nationalist was quoted saying, “I authorize you to kill like a dog anyone who dares oppose you.” In 1936 alone, the party gunned down about 4,000 alleged Republicans publicly in the town of Badajoz. 

On the other hand, the Republicans also committed a fair share of atrocities (perhaps not as extreme). They were responsible for mass executions of alleged fascists outside Madrid and for slaying thousands of Catholic priests, nuns, and monks. 

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5. The Rebels Expected to Gain Control Over Spain Quickly

The rebels expected to overthrow the current democratic government of Spain swiftly. After quickly winning over Spanish Morocco, the base for their 18 July uprising, and the conservative heartland, they were still one step behind the Republicans. 

At the time, the Republican government held on to two-thirds of the country, including most major cities. 

This means the Republicans still had quite the job cut out for them, especially since the Republicans wouldn’t back down without a fight. This political takeover took about three years to complete shows how resistant the Loyalists or Republicans were.

Read Next: 41 Facts About Spain’s History That’ll Surprise You. 

6. Roughly 500,000 People Died During the Civil War

A famous quote goes as follows: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”— George Santayana, 1922. This statement holds true no matter how big or small a war, and unfortunately for Spain, an estimated 500,000 dead saw the end of this one. 

Out of this staggering amount, roughly 200,000 people died at the hands of systemic murder, torture, mob violence, and other brutalities. Over 100,000 civilians died in the Francoist zone, cities, and towns under the rebel’s control, including Madrid. 

7. 16,000 Germans Fought in the Spanish Civil War

General Franco was backed up by powerful allies, which included Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. This allowed Germany to send about 16,000 citizens to help aid the Nationalists in their fight. These German allies provided tank crews, ground crews, artillerymen, and pilots and even acted as military advisers and instructors. 

Out of the 16,000 Germans, about 300 lost their lives throughout the Civil War. 

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Photo by Alex Andrews from Pexels 

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8. Many Women Were Raped and Tortured During the Civil War

As if killing innocent civilians wasn’t enough, the Nationalists committed heinous acts toward female Republican supporters. You’d think that fighting for political power would be just about that, politics. However, the Civil War brought out the worst of men, including raping women. 

Not only would they rape them in public, but they also humiliated these women by shaving their heads. Sexual violence is often deployed as a weapon of war or a type of psychological warfare to shame and break down the enemy. As despicable as it may sound, this tactic has been used throughout wars in human history. 

9. Josep Almudéver Mateu Was the Last Living Veteran of the Spanish Civil War

Imagine being the last person on earth to have lived through the Spanish Civil War. That was the reality for Josep Almudéver Mateu, who was born in 1919 and met his end just recently in 2021. He was the last-known survivor of the International Brigades who fought Franco.

Mateu died at the age of 101, and he was only a teenager during the Civil War. He was barely 17 years old when he lied about his age to sign up for the Republican government’s army. After joining a battalion to defend his hometown Alcàsser, Valencia, joining the front lines in Madrid, he was eventually sent back home in 1937 for being underage. 

10. There Was Severe Infighting Among the Republicans

Some would argue that the Nationalists won because they were well organized, with efficient communication and focus. In contrast, things weren’t going so smoothly for the Republican party. The numerous factions under the Republican organization were at each other’s throats, and it wasn’t just harmless scuffling. 

In May 1937, there was a massive brawl among Republicans in Barcelona’s street, resulting in hundreds of deaths. This became known as the civil war within the civil war, which pitted Soviet-backed communists against anarchists and anti-Stalin Marxists. 

soldiers-on-the-battlefield facts about the spanish civil war

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11. The Nazis Spent Millions Supporting the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War

As mentioned above, Adolf Hitler was one of the influential figures who backed up General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist cause. If you’re wondering why Nazi Germany would want to back up the rebels, you’re not the only one. Hitler had several reasons for his involvement, including using this war to train his men and test out equipment and tactics.

Another huge reason is that Hitler wanted to use the Spanish Civil War as a distraction from his central European strategy. The outcome of his support would also solidify a state-friendly relationship between Germany and Spain if Franco won. Apart from sending the Nationalists manpower and air units, Hitler supplied Franco with arms worth RM537,904,000 ($215 million). 

Read Next: 29 Facts About the Holocaust Many People Don’t Know

12. Thousands of Americans Joined the Fight for Democracy in Spain

While America also committed to staying neutral in the Spanish Civil War, thousands of U.S. citizens signed up as volunteers in the fight against fascism. To be more specific, there were about 2,800 Americans, including many famous writers like Hemingway. Nearly a quarter of these volunteers had sadly lost their lives in Spain, with many having no firearms experience. 

This group was called the Abraham Lincoln Battalion with a diverse unit including a rabbi, a vaudeville acrobat, and the first African-American to lead white troops.

Read Next: 17 Facts About the American Revolution You Might Not Know. 

13. Religion Played a Huge Role in the War

Religion played just as significant a role as politics, if not bigger, in the Spanish Civil War — the majority of the conflict centered around the Catholic Church. The division within the church served to exacerbate the matter even more. 

The Catholic Church saw the civil war as a holy act against the “godless communists” and called on Catholics in other countries to be Nationalists’ allies. 

Keeping Spanish ties with Catholicism was also a great motivator behind Franco’s revolt, as he and most Nationalists had very conservative ideals. Most of these right-leaning politicians were Roman Catholics, land owners, military officials, and businessmen, which coincided with conservative views.

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Photo by Jesús Esteban San José From Pexels

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14. Guernica by Pablo Picasso Was Inspired by the War

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica has a tragic story behind it. This world-famous painting expresses Picasso’s outrage against the Spanish Civil War, with many art critics deeming it one of history’s most powerful anti-war paintings. This moving piece is currently exhibited in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. 

The Guernica is an oil painting created between April and June of 1937. Its title refers to an ancient town of the same name that was bombed and almost entirely demolished during the Spanish Civil War. 

Read Next: 18 Interesting Facts About Pablo Picasso You Might Not Know. 

15. Spain Returned to Democracy After the Death of General Franco

The Nationalist’s ideology, dubbed the ‘Francoist regime’ by historians, died with General Fransisco Franco. After 36 years, between 1939 and 1975, Franco ruled as a fascist dictator until his death on 20 November 1975. He died from congestive heart failure.

Right after, Juan Carlos became king, who was actually the grandson of Spain’s most recent king, Alfonso XIII. King Juan Carlos ushered in a peaceful transition to democracy. Juan Carlos I would then rule Spain up until 19 June 2014. 

Although hailed for his role in reestablishing democracy, Juan Carlos I was later disgraced as his reputation began to suffer due to controversy surrounding the royal family. One of these public controversies encompasses an elephant-hunting trip during Spain’s financial crisis. Talk about reading the room. 

16. The Battle of the Ebro Was the Deadliest Battle of the Civil War

The longest and largest battle during the Spanish Civil War was undoubtedly the Battle of the Ebro. This battle was initiated by the Republicans and continued on for 116 days, involving enormous amounts of manpower, weaponry, materials, and logistics. This event took place on the banks of the Ebro River, resulting in 30,000 deaths, 75,000 injured, and 15,000 prisoners. 

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Photo by Lucy Thorn From Pexels

17. Many Children Became Orphaned During the War

The Spanish Civil War devastatingly impacted the innocent lives of many children. Some children were abducted from their Republican parents, some were sent off to other countries as refugees, and many lost their parents to the war through imprisonment or assassination. The orphaned children who lived during the war became known as the ‘Basque Refugees.’ 

18. The Town of Belchite Was Bombed to Shreds During the Spanish Civil War

Belchite was another site of one of the bloodiest battles. The Battle of Belchite happened between 24 August and 7 September 1937, leading to at least 5,000 deaths. The civil war so severely damaged Belchite that it is now a ghost town with little remnants of its former glory. 

Out of the ruins, you can imagine how things unfolded, with the scenery being similar to Guernica. Houses and churches were bombed to shreds, and townspeople were slaughtered. 

19. Albacete Was the Last City to Fall in Spain’s Civil War

Of all the cities that met a terrible fate thanks to the civil war, the historic town of Albacete was the last to fall. That’s because this city was the last important town the Republicans needed to conquer. There was no battle; the civil population stood up against the Republican troops and notified the city of Burgos that they’d receive General Franco’s troops. 

20. “No Pasáran!” Was a Famous Battle Cry Throughout the War

Every war produced many powerful and moving battle cries, and “No Pasáran!” became a notable call to resistance during the Spanish Civil War. The phrase translates to ‘They shall not pass!’ in English and was widely used after Dolores Ibarruri Gomez’s famous ‘No Pasaran’ speech of 18 July 1936. 

21. Entire Religious Communities Were Also Executed

By now, you’re aware of how many nuns, priests, and the hands of Republicans massacred monks during the civil war. However, putting things in perspective will show precisely how brutal it was. Almost 7,000 Catholic church members were murdered, encompassing 13 bishops 4,184 priests, and the rest were nuns and monks.

Nearly 20,000 churches were demolished during the war. However, Francoists forces were also guilty of killing religious communities, specifically the liberal-minded Republic supporters.

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Photo by Jesús Esteban San José From Pexels 

22. The Catholic Church Supported Franco’s Rebel Nationalists Forces

You already know that the Roman Catholic Church backed up the Franco regime. However, you might not have known why they chose the rebel side. One possibility is that the Francoist state helped restore and magnify the church’s traditional privileges. 

Franco’s fascist government ensured that the Spanish identity and the Catholic Church would align with an emphasis on Catholicism being present in schooling. 

23. Spain’s Basque and Catalan Regions Was Oppressed After General Franco Assumed Dictatorship 

Things were not sunshine and rainbows after Francisco Franco’s fascist government conquered Spain. As you’d expect, life under Franco was oppressive, with Catholicism being the only tolerated religion in the country. Military tribunals led thousands of Spaniards to death, and 26,000 political prisoners were held captive. 

On top of that, Catalan and Basque languages were banned from being spoken outside of the home. Catalan and Basque names were also forbidden for newborns. 

24. It’s Possible That MI6 Spent Over $200m to Stop Franco’s Fascist Government from Siding With Hitler

You read that right. The British secret service supposedly spent more than $200m in today’s money to stop Franco and, essentially, Spain from joining the war on Hitler’s side. The MI6 bribed Spanish ship owners, military officers, and other agents to keep them out of the war. 

25. A Book on the Financing Behind Spain’s Civil War Won a National Prize for Spanish History

After 20 long years of research and writing, José Ángel Sánchez Asiaín, an academic and former bank chairman, finally finished his book: The Financing of the Spanish Civil War. In Spanish, La financiación de la Guerra Civil española, this book showcases solid insight, research effort, and new documentary evidence. 

26. Traditional Gender Roles Were Broken During the Spanish Civil War 

Surprisingly, one good thing to come out of the Spanish Civil War is how it broke the traditional gender roles of the time. See, before this occurrence, women weren’t able to fight openly on the battlefield. In fact, this was the first time women set foot on the battlefield of all European warfare in history. 

What’s more, this civil war challenged and eventually led to the removal of the Catholic Church’s influence on gender roles on the Republican side. 

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Photo by Jesús Esteban San José from Pexels

27. About 5,000 to 6,000 Foreigners Lost Their Lives by the End of the War

This devastating Civil War did not only impact the lives of Spaniards but also the foreign beings who became involved in it. Towards the end of the war, a whopping 5,000 to 6,000 foreigners had lost their lives. There were about 35,000 volunteers, and some of these people were reported missing, apart from those declared dead. 

Italian volunteers made up the majority (4,000) of the foreigners who lost their lives, then 300 Germans, and the rest were all the other nationalities combined. 

28. Britain Would Not Intervene in the Spanish Civil War to Prevent Further European Conflict

Britain’s non-intervention policy towards the civil unrest in Spain was put in place to prevent a general European conflict. With countries picking sides and becoming allies, the entire continent would be at risk of war. 

To be more specific, Britain believed that Germany and Italy were gearing up for war, and an intervention of this kind could only ruffle some feathers. Many historians believe that Britain’s lack of involvement resulted from its anti-communism ideals. 

At the same time, others argue that Britain wanted to remain benevolently neutral to be in the good graces of whichever side had won. You know, in case of a future European war. 

29. France Also Didn’t Intervene to Avert Its Own Civil War

France also committed to a no-intervention policy during the Spanish infighting to prevent a proxy war. They were also concerned about things escalating into a second world war if they had to step in (which we know didn’t go as planned). 

The final reason why they chose to keep their hands tied is that they were worried that Nationalist sympathizers would cause an uprising within France itself. 

To put that into perspective — France was also struggling with domestic-internal issues. The country was so deeply divided between Left and Right political affiliations that it was close to caving into a civil war. 

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Photo by Jesús Esteban San José From Pexels

30. Italy, However, Did Intervene in the Civil War to Support the Nationalists

At the time of the Spanish Civil War, Italy was a fascist state, which means their political scope aligned with that of Franco and his Nationalist party. Italy supplied the rebels with artillery, machine guns, tankettes, the Corps of Volunteer Troop (Corpo Truppe Volontarie), and the Legionary Air Force (Aviazione Legionaria). 

31. Roughly 4,000 Italians Died in the Spanish Civil War

The Italians not only provided Franco and his men with war aid but sacrificed the lives of nearly 4,000 citizens to fight for the fascist cause. This is the highest number out of all the foreign soldiers who volunteered to fight for the Nationalists. 

32. The Soviet Union Backed Up the Republicans Throughout the Spanish Civil War

While the Nazis and Mussolini’s fascist followers backed up the Nationalist Party, the Republicans also had a powerful force behind them. The Soviet Union aided the Republicans with 806 planes, 362 tanks, and 1,555 artillery pieces.

The Soviet Union, under the leadership of Stalin, had its own hidden agendas behind its support of the Republican cause. Stalin exploited the war in Spain in order to gain support for his own regime. They thought that linking to the Loyalists (Republicans) would offer security for Soviet citizens in case of any future conflict. 

Read Next: 45 Cold War Facts Most People Don’t Know. 

33. There Are at Least 47 Movies Inspired by the Spanish Civil War

Numerous movies have come out since the 1940s that the Spanish Civil War inspired. Some of the best-known of these movies include: 

  • Freedomfighters
  • Hemingway & Gellhorn
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Valley of the Dead
  • The Devil’s Backbone
  • The Endless Trench
  • The Sleeping Voice
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls 
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Photo by Jesús Esteban San José From Pexels 

34. Many Infectious Diseases Broke Out in Numerous Towns During the Spanish Civil War

Imagine adding deadly infectious diseases to an already suffering country with so many people already injured and dying from the civil war. 

That’s exactly what Spanish civilians had to face as the devastating war ended. Diseases like diphtheria among children and typhoid fever started spreading like wildfire among towns and cities. 

Typhoid fever, especially, caused many deaths towards the end of the civil war. The spread of uncontrollable epidemics and re-infections was amplified by soldiers moving from town to town in their war efforts. In fact, typhoid fever was one of the major killers of American soldiers who fought in the civil war. 

35. Gold and Foreign Reserves Were Basically Wiped Out After the Civil War

Any war-torn country will suffer the consequences of the devastating event, especially its economy. And in Spain’s case, the civil war directly impacted its gold and foreign reserves, setting the country back economically. Not only that, but the agricultural and industrial sectors were reduced drastically in terms of productivity. 

After 1939, Spain’s economy was wrecked and remained in a state of severe depression under Franco’s reign. The rural regions, especially, experienced intense poverty. However, most of Spain was subjected to low wages and high unemployment. 

36. The Republicans Spent Nearly 40,335 Million Pesetas on the Spanish Civil War

It’s known that wars cost a lot of money, so much so that countries end up with inflation, famine, and unemployment for years to come. 

The Republicans spent about 40,335 million pesetas (roughly 269,738.31 US Dollars) throughout the civil war. They had spent almost $1 million a month on vehicles, machinery, and tires from America between 1937 and 1938. 

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37. Homage to Catalonia Is Orwell’s Autobiography of His Account as a Volunteer for the Republicans

Homage to Catalonia is a personal account of Orwell’s experience of the Spanish Civil War. He started writing this book by the end of December 1936 while in Barcelona. The book covers the atmosphere of the city as things begin to change. 

This world-renowned autobiography also dispels all the foreign press myths surrounding the street fighting and May Days occurring in Catalonia. 

38. The Spanish Civil War Marked the Full Integration of Airpower Into Warfare 

Technological advancements and innovation are a common outcome of warfare, with many countries producing their finest weaponry or machinery during this time. As for Spain, its three-year civil war created a complete integration of airpower and the latest developments in aviation technology

To put that into perspective, wooden biplanes were used in air-to-air combats during the First World War, whereas the Spaniards utilized metal monoplanes. 

Read Next: 33 Facts About Technology Most People Don’t Know. 

39. Nearly 500,000 Republicans Fled Spain After Franco’s Victory

After the Spanish Civil War ended, somewhat 500,000 Republican members fled to France. Many were placed in internment camps in the southern region, such as St. Cyprien and Les Milles. Those left behind had to face persecution at the hands of the victorious Nationalists. 

You’ll be surprised to find that an estimated 275,000 Spaniards went into exile during the civil war, with many never even returning. So not only did hundreds of thousands of Spaniards lose their lives on the battlefield and were slaughtered in the streets of cities, but many of them went into exile too. 

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Photo by Jesús Esteban San José From Pexels

40. The Military Uprising That Began the Civil War Occured in Spanish Morocco

The first uprising acted out by the Nationalists rebels took place in what was once known as Spanish Morocco. Today, you’ll know it as the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. 

The right-wing Spanish military officers, including generals Francisco Franco and Emilio Mola, began their revolt on 18 July 1936 — winning over Morocco and most of Northern Spain within three days. 

While spreading out to other areas and major cities such as Madrid, Franco flew back to Morocco to bring an ‘Army of Africa’ over to the mainland. 

41. Luis Carrero Blanco Was Meant to Succeed General Franco to Continue the Francoist Regime 

General Franco and his fellow patriots wanted the Francoist regime to continue even after his death. This led to Luis Carrero Blanco, who was appointed to act as Prime Minister, should Franco pass on.

 While this seemed like a solid plan, all hope for a fascist nation came to a halt when Blanco was assassinated by the Basque separatist group ETA. 

After Franco’s death on 20 November 1975, Juan Carlos became the new King of Spain. Then, the country started to transition back to democracy, crushing Franco’s vision for Spain indefinitely. 

42. Spain Regained Its Monarchy After the End of the Francoist Regime

Democracy was not the only thing gained by Spain after the Francoist regime came to an end. The monarchy ended with Franco’s dictatorship and was allowed to live on with the ushering in of King Juan Carlos. 

As mentioned above, if Blanco succeeded after France, Spain might not have a monarchy today, which means no King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. 

And though things didn’t turn out in the Nationalist’s favor, Franco declared in his later years that Juan Carlos, Alfonso XIII’s grandson, would be the heir to the Spanish throne. 

soldier-with-a-weapon

Photo by Jesús Esteban San José From Pexels 

43. Alcázar de Toledo Is One of the Best Military Museums to Learn About the Spanish Civil War

If you want to learn more about the Spanish Civil War, you can visit one of many fantastic museums in the country. And one of the best museums is the Alcázar de Toledo, a 10th-century stone fortification in the highest part of Toledo. This imposing building houses a library and a military museum. 

You can discover a trove of military and historical artifacts, walk through epic battles, and get to know the monarchical rulers of Spain. 

44. Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bells Tolls Was Inspired by His Experiences as a Reporter During the Spanish Civil War

For Whom the Bells Tolls is a highly-acclaimed war novel written by Ernest Hemingway and published on 21 October 1940. The book tells a story about a young American volunteer, Robert Jordan, who fought in the Republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. 

The story was inspired by Hemingway’s personal experiences as a reporter during the war. This compelling and moving novel wasn’t so well received by many countries at the time of its release. The book was banned under Franco’s rule and numerous other countries who opposed pro-Communist and pro-Republican ideologies. 

Next Read: 301+ Facts About History Most People Don’t Know. 

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