“They will never find the grave”: the dignified burial for victims of Francoism that breaks the Falangist spell

“They will never find the grave,” said the local Falangist chief, Manuel Barroso. Wrong. Although he pointed out the difficulty of the task with the challenge. The exhumation of the illegal burial with Victims of Francoism in La Puebla de Cazalla (Seville) added eight years of archaeological work, and difficulties, which offer a positive result. Now, 86 years after the murders, 75 people receive a decent burial.

April starts with the transfer of the skeletal remains to the mausoleum built in the san joseph cemetery. The month that turns 91, the Second Spanish Republic attends the emotional funeral. The hands hold the boxes, full of bones, in a pilgrimage destined to close duels, to heal wounds. The total of exhumations – from 2006 to 2014, in the old quarry known as El Carnero, which had been converted into a landfill – amounted to 77 bodies. Two victims were identified by DNA and handed over to their relatives in 2020.

“We feel that a very long process is ending, very difficult at a technical and political level,” says the president of the Association for the Recovery of the Romance Historical Memory of Juan García, Maria del Carmen Spainin statements to Public. A pioneering challenge, “which was breaking silences”, and broke the ground in 2006 as one of the first large open pits in southern Europe. “If they were eliminated name by name, we are going to remember them name by name,” she stresses.

The coup plotters add up to more than 200 executions in the town, converted into forced disappearances, since July 31, 1936. The Moorish streets suffer the onslaught of the paradigm of fascist terror in Spain: the joint attack of legionnaires twinned with Rif mercenaries. The carnage exports the tactic of extreme violence carried out in the colonial war in North Africa, conquering every square with bloodshed.

Victims of Francoism in the grave of La Puebla de Cazalla. Juan Manuel Guijo/Archaeological team

extreme violence tactic

The genocidal company leaves in Andalusia a third of civilian deaths nationwide. With a figure that reaches at least 708 mass graves and 45,566 murdered, according to the official grave map. And more disappeared, therefore, than the State terrorism of the dictatorships of Argentina and Chile combined. Although in provinces such as Seville, Cadiz and Huelva, the rapid triumph of the rebels prevented the development of a conventional war.

The III Conference on Historical Memory of La Puebla de Cazalla frame the events, organized by the Culture delegation of the Moorish City Council “with the aim of valuing the history of our most recent past,” they point out in a note. After the inauguration of the tomb, the closing falls at the hands of the journalist Juan José Téllez and the singer-songwriter Lucía Sócam with the concert and recital Desexiliados. Beforehand, a discussion table analyzes the complex journey of the search and exhumation under the title The process of the pit of La Puebla de Cazalla (2006-2022) with the voices of María del Carmen España, José Santos and the archaeologist Elena Vera.

In that Rif War, coup generals like Emilio Mola, Juan Yagüe, José Sanjurjo and Francisco Franco, among others. Or Gonzalo Queipo de Llano himself, who directs the massacre of civilians in the south of the peninsula, with thousands of anonymous names on his list of murdered and other illustrious, from the poet Federico García Lorca to the father of the Andalusian country, Blaise Infant. The coup leader is still buried with honors in the basilica of La Macarena, in Seville.

In La Puebla de Cazalla, as in the region, the rebels act protected by the so-called africa army. With special offensive emphasis on the Moroccan Legion and Regulars, authentic shock forces. The Figuerola column, to attack this population, also added companies of cavalry, infantry, sappers, assault guards, requetés, an automatic weapons section and two artillery pieces.

The Moorish people can only offer lukewarm resistance. The humble shotguns of the locals do not give for more. The taking of the place, plus the subsequent repression, exceeds two hundred people killed by Spanish fascism. Among the dead are residents of nearby municipalities such as Lantejuela, Moron de la FronteraMarchena or Villanueva de San Juan.

enforced disappearance

The portrait of the events is written in books like Military repression in La Puebla de Cazalla (1936-1943)of the historian Jose Maria Garcia Marquez. OR On the path of Memory: the pit of La Puebla de Cazalla, by Maria del Carmen Spain Ruiz. “In all towns it is the same way of killing, a systematic repression against the civilian population,” says Spain.

Electric cable with which the fascists tied up some of the murdered.

Electric cable with which the fascists tied up some of the murdered. Juan Manuel Guijo/Archaeological team

“They couldn’t kill everyone because peasants were needed to harvest the crops, but the coup plotters applied a percentage of terror and it was a plan prepared with black lists since the proclamation of the Republic“, he explains. The criminal evidence is on the ground. “There are many Mauser rifle cases in the grave”, he says. And broken bones. The forensic anthropological reports certify fractures in the hands, in the face, in extremities… all at the butt.

“The fact that there are pits in Spain and forced disappearances at this stage of democracy is a shame, as is the Amnesty Law that leaves the crimes of Francoism unpunished”, laments the president of the ARMH Romance de Juan García. “The will of the State of get them all out, they cannot be buried like dogs, but like any human being,” he concludes.

“They are illegal burials,” he insists. Everyone. Hundreds scattered throughout the country. “And they are the result of 80-odd years of Francoism’s shadow, which continues to be very long,” according to Spain. The “difficulties” continue to curtail the rights of the relatives, leaving in the flesh the “weaknesses that our weak memorialist and democratic structure” maintains in the face of the crimes against humanity committed during “the misnamed civil war“.

As has happened in La Puebla de Cazalla. “It has been a very long process that began in 2006 in the aggregate extraction quarry known as El Carnero, which had been used as a dump, and this was one of the first causes that shamefully camouflaged the pit,” he summarizes. And the harshness of the postponements, of the recurrent “lack of funding”, of the obstacles, completed with the genetic identification of only two of the 77 exhumed people: Miguel Rodriguez Arroyo and Jesus Contreras Angorilla.

A flower, a republican flag, a body.
A flower, a republican flag, a body. Juan Miguel Baker

The archaeological work

The excavations in the cemetery add up to four campaigns since 2006. The first already locates victims of the coup repression. Two years later, he takes over Aranzadi Science Society and another archaeological team to the following exercise. The last intervention is dated 2014 and delimits the space of the old El Carnero quarry.

A hole almost five meters deep lets out the stacked bones. There are eight women among the 77 bodies recovered from the ground. The ages range between 17 and 60 years. Associated with the victims are coins, tinder lighters, a rose-shaped button, rings, belts… and Mauser rifle and handgun projectiles.

The archaeological task is carried out “in a rubble dump of the cemetery itself.” The place, also used as an ossuary, causes the remains thrown in the funerary processes and the mechanics of the cemetery to be mixed with the victims. A process, after all, “that breaks barriers” and, at the time, “is opening paths as a catalyst for the movement of historical memory“.

Genetic identification tests are another setback. “Families, faced with these meager results, feel sad,” says the president of the local ARMH, “but we have to settle, science stops us until we can move forward.” Each of the 75 victims lies in the mausoleum “in a little box, with a number, on shelves and the reports are in the hands of the forensic anthropologist,” he says. Juan Manuel Guijo, archaeologist of the Aranzadi Science Society. “Talking about numbers gives me a feeling of impotence but it is like that, they are now with a number”, he highlights.

“They will never find the grave,” said the local Falangist leader shortly before he died. He was wrong. The tenacity of the families twisted the challenge, broke the spell. “When I was nine years old, I found out that my grandfather, Manuel Spain Gilhe was missing, it was like a pact I made with him and now it’s like telling him: Grandpa, I’ve done my best to look for you. And perhaps he wants me to continue looking for other victims, other forced disappearances, as we continue to do,” in the words of María del Carmen España.

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