Malmøhus Slot (Castle) and the Mexican Suitcase

We take in a little bit of Malmø history and visit the Malmøhus Slot, before heading north to our next Swedish destination.

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Originally built in 1434 Erik av Pommem, then King of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, this castle, aka Malmøhus Fortress, was important to Danish sovereignty at the time.  The Sound was a vital passage to the lucrative trade of the Baltic region. Rebuilt and renovated several times, in 1658 it came under Swedish rule. And by the end of the 18th century, the fortress no longer had any military significance so was converted into a prison, housing over 1,000 prisoners until 1914 when the prisoners were moved to a new location.

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As we head out the gate after being a little bored by this slice of history, we see a large poster advertising an exhibit inside. The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives. Perhaps not a topic of interest to many, but Las Chicas, having lived in Catalunya for two years, have developed an interest in Spanish history. Curious about this seemingly out of place exhibit, we pay the admission fee and head inside to investigate.

In December 2007, a Mexican filmmaker, Benjamin Tarver, discovered three boxes of negatives in the possession of his late aunt. These negatives had belonged to a family friend, General Francisco Aguilar González, a Mexican Ambassador to Vichy, France, in 1941-42. Apparently Aguílar managed to smuggle out the negatives in their twenty trunks of belongings on their return to Mexico.

Upon investigation, Tarver discovered the boxes contained 4,500 original negatives of the Spanish Civil War, negatives taken by Civil War photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, Fred Stein and David Seymour (Chim), that had disappeared 70 years earlier.

Pictured from left to right, Taro, Capa, Stein, Seymour (Chim)

Born Gerda Pohorylle, Taro was one of the first recognized female photojournalists. Of German Jewish descent, Taro was raised in Leipzig but fled to Paris in 1933, where she met André Friedmann. The two reinvented themselves as Taro and Capa, and worked together to photograph the Spanish Civil War on the front lines. Taro lost her life in only one year into her coverage of the war, during one of the fiercest battles, the Battle of Brunete. She was the first female journalist to lose her life on the front lines of war.

Robert Capa, aka Friedmann, was a prominent photojournalist in the 20th century. Born to a Jewish family in Budapest, he fled Hungary for Berlin at the age of 17, because of his leftist activities, and enrolled in journalism school. He then moved to Paris in 1933, where he met Taro and Stein.

Third in the crew was Fred Stein. Also born a German Jew, Stein fled to Paris in 1933, when he was unable to practice law in his home country. In Paris he worked as a photographer and kept company with intellectuals such as Hannah Arendt.

Chim was born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw Poland to a Yiddish/Hebrew publishing family. He took to photography early and traveled to Paris to attend the Sorbonne. Recognized for his political  photographs, he photographed the entire Civil War in Spain, but from a distance, centering in on the complexities of the political landscape of that time.

The photographs tell the story of war from a variety of angles: the soldiers and their families,

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the political climate, still not well understood by many today.

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Translation: Workers! There are only two ways to win the war. Fight with determination at the front, and work tirelessly at the rear. Comrades, work intensively and with enthusiasm! So we will win!

The suffering and destruction,

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People pressing against the gate at the morgue, waiting for news about their relatives.

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Following a major air raid in Valencia

and images of a proud people supporting their country. (Below: Soldiers working alongside farmers in the fields.)

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Taro’s photos depict some of the most hideous results of the war, including her photos from the morgue. They are a bit too much for me to photograph.  Instead, here is the comment attached to these photos,

“Taro showed the atrocious consequence of a new kind of war, in which the civilian population became the main target of enemy forces.”

The content of the exhibition was made into a documentary, “La Maleta Mexicana” (The Mexican Suitcase), available on Amazon. You can read more about the story and related information,  A Secret Archive: On the Mexican Suitcase

© Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds, 2018

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