Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It is 75 years since the start of the Spanish Civil War and in recent days the Ministry of Justice has published a graphic map on its website showing more than 2,000 burial sites of the victims of the war and the Franco repression to be found on the Iberian Peninsula, the islands and the north coast of Africa.

It is not a map of historic reference but an aid to those who still want to find or recover their family members. Visitors to the ministry’s website can key in regions of Spain or a person’s name to see if the common grave has been located. Advice is given on how recover these remains for reburial depending on the rules and regulations applying in the various autonomous regions.

The map of Spain is covered with green, red, yellow, black and white markers denoting the state of a specific common burial site. Some graves have been exhumed, others untouched, some have disappeared, there are zones with a number of burial places but there is a giant blue star in the centre of Spain indicating the Valle de los Caídos where many of the victims of Franco’s slaughter was transferred to.

The Valle de los Caídos – Valley of the Fallen – was started by Franco in 1940 supposedly as a national act of atonement. It took over 18 years to build, cost over 1.1 billion pesetas with much of the funds raised from National Lottery draws and donations.

Just who built the monument is a matter of argument. Certainly the paid workers were the poor from the land who had no other employment. “Red” prisoners were also used. The charge that the monument site was “like a Nazi concentration camp” refers to the use of convicts and Popular Front war prisoners. They worked in exchange for their convictions being lifted. Ten per cent of the workforce is said to have been prisoners but other sources claim up to 20.000 prisoners were used with dark references to “forced labour.”

The Valle de los Caídos is the final resting place of Franco. He also had interred there José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, the Spanish Fascist party that aided Franco’s propulsion to power.

The valley contains both Nationalist and Republican graves but apart from being the final resting place of Primo de Rivera and Franco, the tone of the monument is distinctly Nationalist and anti-Communist. Here you will find the slogan “¡Caídos por Dios y por España!” - “Fallen for God and Spain!” symbolising the close ties between Franco’s regime and the Catholic Church. Franco also chose to announce the creation of the monument on 1 April 1940, the day of the victory parade to celebrate the first anniversary of his triumph over the Republic. Franco announced his personal decision to raise a splendid monument to those who had fallen in “his” cause.

As the Ministry of Justice published its map, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, the Minister of the Interior, first vice president of the government and the favourite to succeed premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, said it would be practically impossible to identify thousands of the bodies at the Valle de los Caídos.

The Ministry of Justice’s map and website will have encouraged many people whose family members are interred there to try to find their remains. However Rubalcaba warned them the task would be extremely complex and practically impossible to achieve.

It is said that in the Valle de los Caídos are the remains of 33,847 victims of the Civil War from both sides. Between 1959 and 1983 491 bodies were removed and taken to their home towns and villages for reburial. According to the Patrimonio Nacional another 21,423 victims have been identified but the remains of 12,410 have not.

The events of 75 years ago plus the Franco era still haunt and divide Spain. The Ley de Memoría Histórica brought in by the socialist government aims to find the thousands of still missing graves so that grandparents, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters can finally be identified and laid to rest. It is a painful task.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on May 11 2011)

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