Sandra Ott

Sunday, October 19th, 2008 3:30pm

The BEO is proud to present Dr. Sandra Ott of the Center for Basque Studies, who will introduce her latest book War, Judgment, and Memory in the Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945 at the San Francisco Basque Cultural Center on Sunday, October 19th, 2008 at approximately 3:30pm.


War and occupation anywhere test the resilience of local values and institutions and often undermine accepted standards of human conduct. The Basque communities in the Pyrenees of southwestern France were no exception. Between 1914 and 1945, two world wars and the turbulent interwar years had a profound impact on Basque society, affecting even remote villages and rural farmers. The Great War of 1914 to 1918 sent many young Basques into French military service and others over the mountains to Spain or the Americas in flight from conscription.

After the war, labor unrest, class conflict, worldwide depression, and the rise of fascism brought additional stress to these traditional, deeply conservative Pyrenean communities. So, too, did the arrival in France of thousands of Basque and Spanish political refugees from the Civil War in Spain. The fall of France to the invading Germans in 1940 brought an even more massive displacement of diverse people into the Pyrenees, a collaborationist regime in Vichy, and the unwelcome presence of German occupiers.

In this book, anthropologist Sandra Ott examines the impact of war and occupation on four Basque communities in the French Pyrenean province of Xiberoa. These communities were long accustomed to the exercise of ancient rights of self-determination and to unique forms of familial and vicinal interdependence. They had their own interpretations of what constituted legitimate private and public behavior and were normally reliant on their own forms of judgment, justice, and reconciliation to preserve social order.
Using archival documents, many of them classified, and interviews with numerous Basque witnesses, Ott recounts how these tightly knit communities reacted to wars, occupation, resistance, and denunciations, as well as to the upheavals of liberation. Often citing the candid observations of Basques who had direct experience with these events, she analyzes how war and occupation affected the Basques’ perceptions of themselves, outsiders, and the boundaries of their moral and social community. Finally, she reveals how Basque traditional culture responded to the violence and tumult of war and how ancient traditions helped restore intracommunity harmony following the divisiveness of occupation and liberation, and how these traditions shape private and public remembrances of these events.
War, Judgment, and Memory in the Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945 is an important contribution to our understanding of the ways a traditional community responds to crisis and change, and the way public and private memory is influenced by local culture and values. It is also a moving account of the effects of foreign occupation and military conscription on Basque communities in the Pyrenean borderlands between France and Spain.