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  • 5 mins

Digging up Spain's dead: introduction

Updated Sunday, 7th November 2010

During Franco's dictatorship, many people who tried to stand against him were murdered and buried in unmarked graves. Over 30 years after his death in 1975, Spain is breaking its self-imposed silence - and we hear from three people, whose families were devasted when loved ones were killed by the Franco regime, as they try to find their relatives' remains.

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Caption (translation of voiceover):
"Fear generated such silence that it has been a horror, a horror... and now the only thing I want is for that silence to disappear."
Germán Martin

In 1936, a bitter civil war between the marginally elected republican leftists and the right-wing nationalist rebels, tore Spain apart, in a bloody struggle over class, region and religion.

A brutal authoritarian government was established by the victorious nationalists under General Franco. Franco ruled Spain through a combination of terror and oppression. Many people who tried to take a stand against Franco’s forces were imprisoned, tortured or executed.  Germán’s father was among them.

Germán Martín (in Spanish):
They were married, with four children. I was four years old. My mother lived in constant fear. She lost contact with everybody. Her social life vanished.

When Franco died in 1975, political parties of both the left and the right agreed to draw a line under the past, in order for Spain to undertake a peaceful transition to democracy. But today, Germán is breaking that pact of silence by searching for his father - one of the thousands, whose bodies were left in unmarked graves. The site where his body might lie was found with the help of a local man, Don Ignacio, who was a witness to the burials as a child. Germán is joined at the site by two friends, Juanjo and Angel, whose relatives were also killed. 

Juan José Aparicio (in Spanish): 
The first person to be shot in Ciudad Rodrigo was Germán's father. Then one of his father's brothers was shot. Then my father. Angel's great-uncle and grandfather, were also shot, as part of that criminal act. Our friendship was founded on that terrible fact. They all shared the last moment of their lives. A most terrible and tragic moment.

Ángel de Miguel (in Spanish):
I'm looking for neither praise nor glory. However, I will not allow this to be forgotten.

Germán Martín (in Spanish):
What I would like is a proper tribute to these people, who did not do anything to anybody. We'd also like them to have a decent burial and not be forgotten. What they had tried to do, by means of instilling fear, was to make people try to forget and not stir things up. Rather than stir things up, we want people to know what happened.

So why, now, is Spain breaking its self-imposed silence about its past? An estimated 113,000 republican victims of the civil war and subsequent dictatorship are still missing. This is just one of hundreds of sites across Spain where families are searching for their loved ones, in the hope of finally giving them a decent burial.

Germán Martín (in Spanish):
They haven't found anything and the digger can't come tomorrow. Now we have to make arrangements to find another digger, so that we can carry on tomorrow.

The next day, on June 1st  2010, the remains of 6 men were found under the tree where Germán, Juanjo and Ángel had stood:

  • Avelino Martín Cascón
  • Evaristo Pino Castaño
  • Emilio Martín Donoso
  • Olegario Niño Caballero
  • José María Sevillano Piñero
  • Alfredo Miguel Plaza





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