Thursday, December 20, 2012


Just two weeks ago in the London Progressive Journal I wrote of the hundreds of Republican supporters seeking refuge at La Sauceda who were rounded up by Franco’s forces and slain at El Marrufo in Andalucía in the Spanish Civil War. That Saturday the first 28 who were tortured and executed at the cortijo were buried with dignity 76 years after they were shot and dumped in mass graves.

Theirs were the first bodies to be found in the seven mass graves that are known to be at the estate in the Valle de la Sauceda. In 1936 the estate was converted in to a torture camp for the hundreds of families who had sought refuge at Sauceda from the advancing Franco troops. Up to 800 could have been slaughtered.

Today I report on another burial that took place on Sunday. This was of the “17 Rosas” of Guillena in the province of Sevilla: women who were shot in the Spanish Civil War for being family members of Republican militants. Their bodies now lie in a pantheon in the town, 75 years after they were slain and ten months after their remains were exhumed from a common grave in Gerena also in Sevilla.

The words “Truth, Justice, Reparation” are engraved on the pantheon along with the names of the “17 Rosas”. Their remains arrived at the cemetery in 17 boxes escorted by two enormous Republican flags to much applause and the singing of the “Himno de Riego”.

In the cemetery awaited the family and neighbours of Manuela Méndez, the sisters Rosario and Natividad León; Granada Garzón and her daughter Granada Hidalgo, the sisters Tomasa and Josefa Peinado; Manuela Sánchez Gandillo; Ramona Navarro; Trinidad López Cabeza; Ramona Manchón; Ana Fernandéz Ventura; Manuela Lianez; Dolores Palacios; Ramona Puntas; Antonia Ferrer and Eulogia Alanís – the “17 Rosas”.

The burials took place ten months after the exhumation of the remains from a common grave at nearby Gerena had been completed. The process of identifying each of the remains was undertaken using the DNA of family members and an anthropology report was also produced.

The Asociación Memoria Histórica “19 Mujeres”, a reference to the 19 women who were first taken prisoner but two of whom were later pardoned, has worked for over ten years to find where the women had been buried. Aged between 20 and 70 they all had been physically abused before being shot in the cemetery at Gerena.

During the exhumation the archaeologists made some grim discoveries. One of the women had received two mercy shots in the neck and was found face down. Amongst the bones was found various coins. One of these was a silver duro, worth a lot of money, which may have been used by a woman in an attempt to save her life. Other items found included a shoe, a bullet, a comb and even a finger around which was a ring.

It has also been established that one of the “17 Rosas” was over seven months pregnant when she was shot. Beside her bones were the skeletal remains of her foetus.
The “17 Rosas” were taken prisoner and abused when their families fled Guillena after the military uprising of July 1936. The testimony of an eight year old boy who saw them being shot from an olive grove nearby was key to the experts being able to locate their common grave.

That child, now over 80 years old, is José Domínguez Núñez who attended the interment. He expressed his happiness that the women had now been laid to rest in Guillena but lamented he had not been able to find his own brother who was shot at the age of 22. At his now advanced age - "Ya no puedo buscar más" – “now I can look no more.”

María José Domínguez, a niece of one of the shot women and president of the Asociación “19 Mujeres”, was angry that since the “Transition” after Franco’s death that no government had been capable of complying with the UN resolution to bring to justice those guilty of these crimes against humanity. She added that it should be the responsibility of the State to retrieve the remains of these victims who “are still lying around like dogs in ditches.”

Between cries of ¡Viva la República! the president of the Asociación “19 Rosas” recalled that the children of the assassinated women, the “hijos de los Rojos”, were marked out for ever and were barred from the social canteens set up to feed the starving even though they had not committed any crime.

Attending the ceremony was the president of the Andalucía Parliament, the socialist Manuel Gracia. At the end of the ceremony whilst speaking to journalists he praised the work of these associations adding that from the parliament and other public institutions there is an impulse to find these lost remains because “it is the task of all”.

Indeed it is but it largely falls to the families of those who were tortured and shot along with the various Memoria Histórica associations who are dedicated to recovering Spain’s historic memory of those times. The far right and even the centre right Partido Popular would prefer these bloody matters were put to rest and forgotten. However whilst those who perished “are still lying around like dogs in ditches” the work will go on to give them a dignified burial and to remind the world of the ideals for which they were tortured and died.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


The Spanish Civil War. It will always hold a special place in the hearts of those on the left of politics. Those on the far right would prefer you forgot it ever happened.

Internationally it is fast becoming another date in history: an event that happened before World War II and which for Germany was a practice run. Yet in Spain the memories are still raw nowhere more so than amongst the thousands of families who lost grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunt, nieces and nephews, assassinated by Franco’s forces and who to this day lay in massed or unmarked graves.

It was over a weekend at the end of March in 2009 that I found myself pitched in to tragedy of that conflict. In the Cádiz village of Jimena de la Frontera, my home for the past 15 years, they held a conference on the Spanish Civil War and how it affected the local community. It reached its climax on the Sunday with a visit to La Sauceda about 25 kilometres from Jimena.

I wrote at the time: “In November 1936 Lieutenant José Robles of the Instituto Armado led his troops from Ubrique to La Sauceda were they rendezvoused with other forces. La Sauceda was a small mountain top hamlet that for generations had been a refuge for bandits. Now apart from the local population it was a place of hiding for the many Republican and communist supporters that had fled the advance of Franco’s forces.

“Several hundred people were sheltering there and the Nationalist force made up of the army, Falange, Guardia Civil and Militias crept up on La Sauceda through the woods. After an aerial attack in which many men were killed or fled the troops moved in and took the inhabitants prisoners.

“The women and children were taken to the nearby cortijo of El Marrufo in lorries where they were held in the chapel. The men were taken on foot. Many of the women were raped before both they and the children were shot and dumped in a mass grave. The grave beneath one of the buildings is as of yet unexcavated but along with the men's graves nearer Puerto de Galis they are believed to be amongst the largest in the province with hundreds of victims.”

Well time has move on and at last excavations have started to recover the remains from the graves on what is a private estate. It is a daunting task. However on Saturday the first 28 of the hundreds of people who were tortured and executed by Franco’s troops at the cortijo were buried with dignity 76 years after they were shot and dumped in mass graves.

Theirs are the first bodies to be found in the seven mass graves that are known to be at the estate in the Valle de la Sauceda. In 1936 the estate was converted in to a torture camp for the hundreds of families who had sought refuge at Sauceda from the advancing Franco troops.

The Foro por la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar and the Asociación de Familiares de Represaliados por el Franquismo de La Sauceda y El Marrufo began the work last July to archaeologically excavate the cortijo. The 28 discovered were all shot. It is clear they had their hands bound with wire and were then shot in the head: all also have different impacts on their bodies. This all goes to confirm the horrors that had occurred at El Marrufo between November 1936 and February 1937.

The 28 bodies found in the first phase of the excavation were buried in the cemetery at La Sauceda. The village is now abandoned and the cemetery was in a semi-ruined state but has now been restored for these victims so they could be buried in dignity.

Andrés del Río of the Foro por la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar said it was important not only to recover their bodies but also to establish the Republican values and the ideas for which they died. The ceremony was attended by the director general of Memoria Democrática, Luis Naranjo Cordobés, who read a manifesto setting out the ideals for which these people were executed at the cortijo.

The studies have not concluded as the DNA of the victims has been collected so that their families can be traced. It will be difficult because between 200 and 800 people disappeared in La Sauceda and the historians have only located twenty families so far.

Back in 2009 I wrote these words about the ceremony I attended at La Sauceda. The same words ring just as true today after Saturday’s interments: “It is at these moments that the politics, the facts and the figures are stripped away. It is then you are faced with the raw emotion felt by those who suffered these deeds all these years ago. It was not statistics that perished but fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. It would take a stronger man (or woman) than me not to have been affected by their openly displayed grief and I have no shame in saying my tears mingled with theirs on this hallowed ground”.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on December 6 2012 and in other publications).