Memoria Histórica | |
Publicado por ARMH

Who are we?


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The Association for the Recuperation of Historical Memory came into being with the location and exhumation of a mass grave which recovered the remains of 13 republicans civilians assassinated by a group of Falangists on 16 October 1936. This occurred in the locality of Priaranza del Bierzo, León in October of 2000. Through this momentous event various persons began to ask for help in the location of their missing and one group of people decided to create the association to provide this assistance.

Since then, through the collaboration of numerous individuals, we have been able to assist dozens of families to recuperate the remains of their loved ones and hundreds more to know the fate of their relatives. This is something that democracy has failed to provide the citizenry with. Since the death of Franco the transition was constructed around forgetting the past. With the votes of the left majority of the deputies of congress the Amnesty Law was passed in October 1977. Under Article 21 individuals were provided amnesty for acts committed by functionaries and agents of public order against the rights of others. This instrument continues to provide amnesty for human rights violations committed prior to 15 December 1976 and contained within the law.

Since 2000 we have worked towards dignifying the past and demanding justice for those who have not had a voice within our profound democracy.

The UN and Spanish enforced disappearance

Since our inception we have toiled to defend human rights and work in conjunction with legal advice which has led to cases in the Spanish Supreme Court, Chile, Argentina and Guatemala. In the spring of 2002 we commenced processing a case with the highest commission of the United Nations with respect to Human Rights, they called for the Spanish government to apply international law with respect to enforced disappearance. These actions led to Spain being included for the first time in the report of the UN Working Group Against Enforced Disappearance.

With this we have conducted many exhumations of mass graves. We have also managed to address the question of historical memory in the political agenda; including the condemnation of the civil war led by the Francoist state by the Constitutional Commission of the Congress of Deputies in 2002.


The repercussion of the exhumation conducted in Pirianza del Bierzo (Leon) resulted in hundreds of letters, phone calls and emails, which arrived for those responsible for the exhumation. To this point it raised the volume of cases of extrajudicial assassinations, disappearances throughout the nation and always through the same pattern kidnapping, assassination and disappearance. They decided to create a civil association in Spain for the first time to channel all these cases with the intention of answering the questions which the Spanish state had never answered (failed to answer to date). ARMH was officially registered as an association with the interior ministry of the state in December of 2000 and we have been working to develop a national archive of all individuals who are classed as missing due to enforced disappearance conducted by the Spanish state. The figures include:

1 Formal petitions to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance 1,300 cases. With all these cases well documented, that is to say legal documents of birth, marriage, military service, etc. are available…the treatment of these petitions by the highest commission on human rights in the United Nations. The dates of disappearance cover from the commencement of the Spanish Civil War

On 18 July 1936 to dates as late as 1956 for example, when a man was shot in the Cemetery of Almudena (Madrid) and supposedly buried in a mass grave in the aforementioned cemetery, which to date has not been confirmed.

1 Archive of cases of enforced disappearance held by ARMH and examples of details provided to the UN.

2 Letters handwritten by the relatives of the disappeared, which amount to approximately 200 cases. These letters relate the personal history asking to be heard were sent to our association from people who have known that there relatives were missing, however, more than 70 years later they have decided to attempt to locate their disappeared.

2 Letters received regarding the disappearances and information on diverse themes.

3 Emails since 2000 received by ARMH to the figure of more than 15,000 from relatives protesting against the disappearance and also informants from Spanish towns recounting cases of mass graves located in their towns. The work of ARMH is to piece together this information to provide a name to those buried in hundreds of mass graves in our country. Thanks to these informants we have related more than 400 mass graves spread throughout the Spanish state, many remain awaiting exhumation, with others for various motives and reasons have been destroyed.

4 Since our inception we have utilized new available technologies such as the internet and social networking sites to provide faster access to those interested in our association. We have created a web page and profiles in various social network media tools for this purpose.


ARMH is organized through the management of more than 5,000 volunteers who have been in contact with the association since its inception in 2000. This includes the relatives, professionals from various fields (archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, documentary filmmakers), students. In summary, these individuals see the relinquishing of the commonly accepted obligations of the Spanish state in its defense of human rights. The institutionalized forgetting that has continued throughout the various different governments since the Spanish transition has changed the conscience of thousands of volunteers. One of the most important milestones for the association has been the recognition of the opening of mass graves in the Leones district by the international community in the summer of 2002. This reunited more than 20 volunteers from different countries in the world.

The management of this volume of human capital, contributed to the exhumation of more than 150 mass graves throughout Spain and more than 1,400 Francoist victims since 2000. This has provided the victims with identity, returning their remains to their relatives and bringing about institutional homage to those deserving and who were denied this for so many years.


ARMH is a not for profit and non-governmental organization. The association is legally constituted, offering annual membership subscription which assists in its functions economically. One of the paramount beliefs of ARMH is that the relatives should not be expected to pay any costs associated with the location, exhumation and identification of the remains. For example, those are the families which require this condition, for the volunteers it’s an immense matter of pride working in these difficult days, which is something that is beyond mere professionalism and becomes a matter of their shared humanity.

From 2007 to 2011, ARMH has received grants ranging from 45,000 to 65,000 from the ministry of the president for activities relating to the victims of the Spanish Civil War. This grant sufficiently covers the costs for the project of conducting 10 exhumations in Spain. These grants have been abolished this year. In reality these grants only covered 20% of the cost of the exhumations and the other 80% was covered through the work of hundreds of volunteers.

Relationship of entities receieving subsidies related to the victims of the Civil War and the Franco regime granted by the Ministry of the President 2006-2010. Breakdown of performance areas.


The purpose of ARMH according to article 4 of its statutes are as follows:


  • To collaborate in the development of a comprehensive (exhaustive) archive of the Spanish Civil War in an effort to preserve historical memory.


  • To encourage study and the dissemination of information regarding the victims of the Spanish Civil War.


  • To push, stimulate and support cultural activities, which are related to our mission and activities in the investigation of general archives of the Spanish Civil War.


  • Our work involves the investigation, exhumation and identification of those victims of the Spanish Civil War and Francoist repression.


  • Through the coordination and promotion of investigations in these areas, to impel the collaboration with all the national entities and foreign entities that occupy the field in which our association works.


  • To serve as a platform for the location of information for all investigators, associations, national and international entities related to our ambit of study.


  • To merge the various archives in support of the original or whichever aims support the production of a single archive dedicated to public investigation. With the preservation and custody of documents in the aforementioned archive, this would enable the establishment of regulating mechanisms for the norms and conventions, which assist in the divulging of established supports that manipulate the centers of documentation.


  • The association could in turn arrive to a concluding agreement to collaborate with other national and international associations with similar characteristics and objectives to ours.


  • We work for the search for the disappeared and devalued casualties of the Francoist repression.


  • The protest for justice for the victims of the Franco dictatorship, through available mediums found in law.


  • The development of public recognition for all persons who constructed the first democracy during the second republic, that is for all the men and women who protested against the dictatorship for the reestablishment of democracy.



Since the year 2000 all information provided to our association has been pertinently classified, digitalized and collected from various databases. As they are cases of the disappearances, notices of death, records of the repressed of the province X, etc. Once we receive notice from the relatives that they have a missing family member a search of the various archives such as military, municipal, public administration, historical, etc. Historians, investigators and relatives, who have realized the terrible repression of all the men and women during seven decades, consult these archives.

3 Notice of Death, Military Causes and notices of death sentence.


4 Database of cases received regarding cases of enforced disappearance in Spain

5 Database containing details of persons condemned and their corresponding number referring to the military cause in the Province of Leon.

5.2 Exhumation and identification of the victims of the Spanish Civil War and Francoist repression

With the passage of time and the dying out of the generation with first hand knowledge of the Francoist repression this has made the task of locating mass graves much more difficult. Thanks to the neighbors of the towns, investigative archives and in some cases the information obtained by the relatives, the door is opened to the possibility of locating of burial sites, which provides hope of recuperating some of the bodies more than 70 years after they were assassinated in that area.

In Spain the democratic government has long since neglected to provide justice, little has been done other than to deprive (prohibit) family members from recuperating their missing and this has contributed to an ingrained fear, which was founded through the Francoist dictatorship which has not been dispelled to date. However, this nonchalance also influences the wider social framework that encompasses the localization and exhumation of the mass graves. This is often the case when ARMH worked in towns, neighbors have lowered their voice and looked around them as they provide testimony of the history that they know, highlighting that this fear has not been erased from their eyes through the passage of time and democracy.

This all creates difficulty in the task of locating the grave. The search of these graves consists of archaeological prospection of the entire area indicated through the testimonies of the possible place of burial of the bodies. Once the first skeletal remains appear, it opens up a perimeter of the action of the discovery of the skeletons, which is a meticulous work that must be well documented, both in the position of the skeletons and the objects that appear along side or near the remains. The principle difficulty is created by the overlapping of the bodies at the time of burial that was commonplace during the civil war. The victims were thrown in the graves with no apparent order, which requires meticulous archaeological methodology to individualize the remains for identification.


It should be acknowledged that the only people who come into contact with the crime scene and those who conduct the opening of the mass grave. Therein lies the importance of documenting all steps and actions undertaken during the exhumation of the remains, in order for a judicially valid report to be produced. Therefore in addition, fractures, the projectiles, or the holes that are discovered in the remains contribute to confirming the cause of death. During the excavation ARMH attends the nearest Civil Guard barracks (police station) to denounce the discovery of human remains with obvious traces of violence, with the intention of placing the responsibility of providing justice for these murders with the criminal justice system. The failure on the part of the judicial system and their consistent dismissal abandons the relatives of the victims, leaving the responsibility of recovery and identification of bodies in the hands of associations like ours.

Our association relies on the hundreds of voluntary collaborators who selflessly donate their free time to help these families, in most cases, these persons are not familiar with the archaeological methodology, therefore they depend upon the explanations and recommendations of the archaeologist directing the exhumation, which in turn controls their progress. The humanitarian activities of these volunteers seek to resolve the violation of human rights, which Spanish democracy has failed to resolve in more than 30 years.

The opening of the grave is intrinsically a pedagogical task. In all cases we seek to work in a public forum, the enable the meeting of neighbors, relatives and onlookers. The archaeological team pays attention to all persons who attend the site; this allows them to know first hand what the recovery of historical memory is and what its purpose is. The psychologists who have worked at the foot of the grave acknowledge the importance of making publically exhuming the grave, for the relatives this involved recovering their loved ones, and for the townspeople providing a ending to the history that they have heard throughout their lives.

The bodies of the grave are extracted in an individualized way, by placing the remains in a box with the nomenclature of the grave and the number of the individual for transfer to the laboratory with the proceeding forensic analysis, which contributes to the identification of the victims. The forensic anthropologists voluntarily attend the Association’s laboratory for altruistic reasons to contribute to the recovery of historical memory.

In cases where it is necessary, the Association has requested DNA tests to be conducted to identify the victims. This work consists of the removal of a fragment of the femur and two molars that, together with the saliva of a relative are sent to a private laboratory for genetic analysis. The Association covers the expense of these tests as these laboratories charge for their work. The expenses incurred in the opening of a mass gave are covered by the Association on the premise that the families should not have to pay for the search of their own victims, as it is the responsibility of the state. Thus the state should cover the repair human rights violations committed during the Spanish Civil War and Francoist dictatorship.

The work of historical research, search and exhumation of the grave, and identification of the remains are undertaken with a single purpose, for the delivery of those mortal remains to the families.

















































ARMH is founded on the established a need to pay tribute to those people killed during the Franco regime that have been recovered in the exhumations. The oblivion which the families and victims have been subjected to over the past 76 years must be repaired. It is for this reason that the return of the remains in the presence of the family members, neighbors and volunteers is an essential act providing recognition which is intended to be on the part civil and political institutions that is not always readily available to them. It is a debt to the relatives and victims that must be repaired.


Disclosure and dissemination are among our main objectives. To this end we organize and participate in congresses, conferences and courses in various Spanish and foreign universities.

We also want to recognize the republican men and women who constructed our first democracy during the Second Republic; “to give dignity to those that never lost it”. In this regard we organize together with the Foundation to contaminate and collaborate with the municipality of Vaciamadrid concert as a tribute to “recovered memory”. On 24 June 2004 741 Republican men and women attended the concert with 25,000 people who wanted to pay tribute to them, that after the end of the Franco dictatorship had not occurred to date.

We also have two photographic exhibitions that are free of charge, explaining the nature of our work and brief history. One was made with the Aranzadi science society and the Basque government; the second was by Eloy Alonso a photographer.

We also actively collaborate with photographic works related to relatives and exhumations who have travelled to many places, for example the work of Gervasio Sanchez with the ‘disappeared”.

Many documentaries have portrayed the work of the Association since 2000. Journalists and documentary film makers have contributed in different ways provide a televisual medium to disseminate our work through cultural and cinematic works. From the classic documentary “Los Nietos” (The Grandchildren) by Marie-Paule Jennehomme to “The Wave” a modern and innovative film by Sara Vanght and Katrien Vermiere. Or simply through the collection of victims and family testimonies filmed on camera so that this valuable information will not be lost.

The participation of international volunteers from various academic disciplines has been invaluable to the dissemination of information pertaining to the work being carried out. The completion of thesis’s and other publications has contributed to knowledge of the experiences and difficulties observed during their collaboration enabling the Association to have a wider reach word wide. The presence of volunteer students from countries such as Japan, United States, Australia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Canada have arrived contribute to the movement. Thus forming a new and international humanitarian brigade.


Our Association collaborates with other prestigious national organizations, including The Centre for Superior Scientific Investigations (CSIC) and Aranzadi The Science Society, for the purpose of developing greater video graphic work in Spain pertaining to historical memory and the exhumation conducted since the year 2000.


A Decalogue of historical memory

  1. Ensuring compliance with domestic and international legal frameworks pertaining to the search for disappeared persons, both from the period of the civil war and the post-war period, officially promoting investigations, exhumations and identifications in accordance with international protocols developed by archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic specialists. It is a basic task that is our duty in the field of human rights.

  2. The development of a group of studies of the situation around historical memory pertaining to the civil war and dictatorship through the media and education system from dictatorship to democracy.

  3. The recognition of the role of Spanish Republicans who developed initial notions of democracy, through the first democratic and elections which provided universal suffrage in Spain to both men and women in November of 1933. A founding date, which we believe, should be commemorated in Spain as it is in other leading democracies of the world.

  4. The adoption of an urgent decree governing the removal of all Francoist symbols (monuments, plaques and official logos, names of streets, etc.) as soon as possible.

  5. The creation of a state museum of the civil war and Franco’s opposition. One initiative of the highest political status impels the development of a new official discourse that provides an end to the ideological notions of equality during the transitions. Comparing those opposed to the Franco regime to be similarly recalcitrant reactionaries to the old regime.

  6. Complete open access to the military archives through its digitalization, which would make it readily available and accessible to interested individuals through the Internet. It is a basic right of citizens to access official documents necessary to locate their missing relatives, which was prevented through many years of democracy.

  7. The annulment of all summary judgments, which led to the shooting of more than 50,000 republicans after the conflict of war, had ended, which were instructed by courts (tribunals) that lacked any legitimacy. An inescapable symbolic form of recognition would be the restoration of the good name of these citizens.

  8. The public recognition of all public and private works built by political prisoners through its signage highlighting their contribution. We believe that all the private companies who benefited from the work of forced labor should contribute to a compensation scheme to be provided to the remaining survivors. The monument of The Valley of the Fallen, we need to acknowledge the work of 12,000 political prisoners and explain whom they were, how and why it was built.

  9. The creation of a Commission of Historians to generate a major investigation into the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship to be admitted in an official version of events ratified by the Spanish Parliament for the purpose of creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

  10. There needs to be a public act of recognition for the men and women who fought in defense of democracy and liberty by the highest institutions of the State.

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