Author: Leah Pattem
Eighty-three years ago to the week, in 1938, Franco began bombing Madrid with bread whiter than anyone had seen before. A report in the newspaper Diario de Cadiz published at the time read:
“During the day yesterday, the national aviation was throwing sacks of bread on Madrid. In total, there were twelve planes that Franco ordered to launch sacks of bread with their corresponding parachutes. There were 110 bags with 180,000 rich loaves of bread. The planes launched their precious merchandise from the Telefónica building to the Vallecas bridge.”
The people of Madrid were starving, having endured harder rationing during the Spanish Civil War than many other Spanish cities. The bread, whiter than anyone had seen in their lives, was widely welcomed. However, the report continues and mentions a warning to citizens against eating it, believing it to be bioweaponry:
“The most curious of all was the response of the ‘marshal’ Miaja. At eight thirty at night he announced to the locals by radio that the breads contained microbes capable of causing serious disorders. According to Miaja, the Franco zone has no wheat because everything has been sent to Germany in fear of a conflict breaking out throughout Europe. Miaja asked the people of Madrid to distrust the humanity of the nationals.”
In March 1938, the diet of the people of Madrid only covered 50% of the necessary minimum and, by December, it had fallen to just 36%. In mid-March of 1939, infant mortality rate in Madrid was twelve times higher than the prewar average. Children fainted in queues to get bread and the population received no more than 800 calories a day.
Of course, Franco was aware of this and, contrary to the bioweapon theory, used bread as a propaganda tool. On 3 October, twelve planes bombarded Madrid with white bread. The buns were wrapped in crossed paper bags with the reddish-equal colours and with the following messages:
We do not care what you think, it is enough for us to know that you suffer and you are Spanish.
In the National Spain, “One, Great and Free”, there is not a home without fire nor a family without bread.
While your bosses export the crops and waste the gold in slanderous propaganda or in buying weapons with which to prolong your agony, National Spain feels the anguish you suffer, it sends you this sample of its memory, for the children, the women and the sick.
The bread was coined “the bread of treason” and those who could bare to not consume it were instructed to bring it to the police stations. It was said that, although it did not contain toxic substances, it did contain moral substances.
A quote from an elderly person written in the book Hunger in Madrid of the Civil War 1936-1939 reads,
I ran into the patio of my house where bread had fallen from the Nationals in bags, although they were saying that it was poisoned so that we wouldn’t collect it.
Another person from the book recounts how white the bread was:
We couldn’t believe that it was flour, how white it was, it was like cotton.
Franco’s troops repeated the bombardment over Madrid and then moved on to other cities such as Alicante and Barcelona. Bread wrapped in propaganda continued to fall from the sky for a further year, and people gradually began to consume it without fear that it was poisoned.
Today, white bread continues to be a staple in Spain and comes free with every traditional Spanish meal.