From a videotape in one corner of the exhibition a flickering newsreel shows Paul Robeson feted by Spain's Republican intellectuals in Valencia. Close by, a tape has shots of the international brigades marching through Barcelona to embark in retreat while crowds garland them with flowers and hug the departing foreigners.

On another screen, royalist troops cross themselves before going into battle.

Alongside, a showcase displays the religious buttons they wore on their fighting tunics: "Enemy halt there; the sacred heart is with me." Generalissimo Francisco Franco is on another tape and "La Pasionaria," the communist inspirational leader Dolores Ibarruri, is on another.

Against a backdrop of posters, uniforms, weaponry and assorted bric-a-brac, the drama unfolds, now five years after Franco's death, in newsreels that tell their story along the parallel lines of political propaganda. Spaniards, agog, are lining up to see an exhibition devoted to the Spanish Civil War.

Painstakingly put together by the Ministry of Culture, the impartial telling of the story has taken on a significance that transcends the multitude thronging to it. Spain appears with this exhibit to have learned to own up to its past and to its 1936-39 fratricidal war.

Seventy percent of Spaniards belong to the post-civil war generation. Ignorance of the war's politics, causes and actors is pervasive, especially among Spaniards under the age of 40. As a crowd grouped round a videotape chronicling the elections that swept the leftist Republicans to power in February 1939 and, say the historians, made the military rebellion inevitable, it was an elderly citizen who informed the impromptu audience of strangers of what was happening and who was who.

Young and old, most seemed affected by what they saw and none showed disinterest or cynicism. To judge by the reaction, it was for most a moment of truth.

Franco, who led the victorious rebellion and ruled for almost four decades, discouraged objective study of the civil war -- which for his Nationalists was a religious crusade against what was "un-Spanish" and against communism. After World War II, less was made in Spanish schoolbooks of the aid received from the German Nazis and Italian Fascists, although there was continuing emphasis on the Soviet aid to the Republicans. Dispassionate histories by foreigners were banned in Spain.

The exhibition, however, shows all the warts.On the religious and separatist issue, for example, one telling exhibit is the telegram sent by the then-Vatican secretary of state, cardinal Pacelli, later Pius XII, interceding before Franco on behalf of the Basques -- persecuted by the general for their regionalism that still haunts Spain.

The exhibition is in Madrid's Crystal Palace, a 19th century monument that is an architectural highpoint of the graceful Retiro Park in the city center. It opened last week and is due to run for two months. According to its prime mover, Xavier Tusell, of the Ministry of Culture, "This is not the exhibition of the civil war, but only one of the infinitely available possibilities.

Tusell, 36, is a member of the new school of civil war historians that attempts to avoid the mine field of ideological prejudices. To put the exhibition together his team called on the reserves of 18 public libraries and museums and received the help of another 21 private collectors who lent everything from photographs and letters to the ration books, currencies and stamps put into circulation by the two sides.

While modestly saying that future exhibitions could be much more comprehensive, the organizers have no doubt that what they have achieved is something of value.

"Today we can present, both publicly and with serenity, the drama of our Spain, because it was our drama. There is no sense now in either triumphalism or in revanchism. Because it is history, the drama of the civil war can be seen both with serenity and with an understanding bereft of hatred," reads the exhibition's catalogue.

"Naturally what we hope . . . is a greater awareness and knowledge of our recent past in order to avoid in the future a similar tradegy."

That the exhibition has captured public attention here is being taken as a sign of how Spain has traveled toward mutual tolerence since Franco was succeeded by King Juan Carlos and a parliamentary democracy.

Nevertheless, even the most dispassionate observer must feel a chill at the end of the exhibition as he passes along the blown-up photographs showing the triumphal 1939 Francoist victory parade in Madrid and the agonizing long line of exiles winding its way across the Pyrenees into France.

For the foreigner, there is the haunting anthem of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, broadcast on the videotapes. Sung to the tune of "Red River Valley," it goes: "There's a valley in Spain called Jarama, it's a place that we all know too well; for 'tis there that we wasted our manhood and most of our old age as well."