Last Saturday, 8th February the ARMH exhumed the body of a young boy from Ciudad Real. Killed on the 28th February 1943 in the provincial prison of Leon, his body was reburied later in the civil cemetery of Leon. According to the documentation gathered by ARMH researchers, José Almena Castro died from either a heart attack or tuberculosis, depending on which source is to be trusted. His family was contacted by the Association and applied for the exhumation of his body to a cemetery in his local area of Gargantiel. The family knew that José Almena had died in Leon but had never known the exact location of his burial.
The investigation began by looking into the list of victims buried during the dictatorship in the civil cemetery of Leon that had been made available by ARMH volunteers who had been working on research into the discovery of the remains of a teacher from las Omañas, Genara Fernández who had been exhumed by the ARMH in 2019.
The work lasted two days and was carried out by a multidisciplinary group of volunteers from the ARMH as well as the family of José Almena Castro.
José Almena Castro was born on 19th May 1922 in Chillón and in 1940 he was subjected to a show trial (case 8574/1940). On 23rd September of 1940 he was taken to the Party Prison of Chillon until the 20th March 1941 from then on he was kept at the Provincial Prison of Ciudad Real. He stood accused of handing weapons to guerrilla forces although a number of testimonies suggested that he may have been threatened to make such a delivery. Such information did not prevent the ruling of the 15th February 1941 that accused him of having conspired and collaborated with the guerillas.
The decision meant that he would be condemned to death for the crime of joining the rebellion although an immediate appeal was lodged meaning that he would instead face 30 years in prison. This prison sentence would be carried out not in Ciudad Real but in the Provincial Prison of Leon.
Within the Spanish prison system the bodies of prisoners were used as a means for learning about the limits of the human body as well as for punishment. Hunger was one of the most obvious manifestations of this concept. Scarce rations and bad conditions generated pain and suffering among the prisoners. Filth was added to these conditions reducing the incarcerated to little more than animals. Moreover, the dirty prisons created important health problems including fertile breeding grounds for all types of diseases and epidemics. These subhuman conditions were probably the reason why José Almena Castro contracted tuberculosis and died on the 28th April 1943.
Eventually he was buried at a site that was designed for the victims of the repression and for those disaffected with the regime such as Marcelino de la Parra, Genara Fernández or Lorenzo San Miguel or the guerrillas from El Bierzo Rafael Verdial and Severino Nieto.
The association has delivered the genetically identified remains of the Salamancan labourer Tiburcio Mateos Mateos to his family, he was assassinated by Falanagist gunmen on the 13th February August 1936. The day before he had been detained alongside three other men in their house and during a ‘transfer to Muñoz’ from their homes they were shot above the town of Boadilla (Salamanca).
Tiburcio was a day labourer and a union representative, when the Falangists entered his town he was just 26 years old. His remains were exhumed by a team of Association volunteers in the summer of 2018. The identification work was complicated due to the poor state of the conservation of the common grave which had been partly removed during previous burials in the cemetery nearby. Finally, thanks to anthropological work and genetic identification, Tiburcio’s remains can now rest in the place of his family’s choosing.
The ARMH is somewhat regretful of the fact that the 27th January Senate Act for Holocaust memorial comemorations did not recognise the participation of the families of the deported Republicans. Especially after taking into account that nearly 10,000 families have a relative that was deported to Nazi concentration camps with either the tacit or implicit knowledge of the Francoist authorities.
It is quite difficult to imagine an act of homage to the victims of terrorism in which the families of those affected are not the focal point and in which they don’t even particpate. But with the Republican victims, perhaps precisely because they are Republicans, they were marginalised during a commemoration that should have centered on their descendants.
Over the past two years, the Association has promoted acts of recognition for the descendendants of deported republicans in the autonomous parliaments of Spain and in the first few months of this year we have been working with the families of deportees to present their case before the Argentinian justice department (Querella Argentina) who have been investigating the crimes of the Franco dictatorship since 2010.
The ARMH also regrets that the Senate Act fails to condemn the Francoist dictatorship, the affiliated Nazism of the dictator and his alignment with Nazi authrorities during the deportation of Spanish Republicans, of whom close to 4,700 died in death camps and a large part of those that were liberated were unable to return to Spain.
The ARMH has applied to the Senate presidency as well as the Casa Sefarad (Jewish cultural centre based in Madrid) to work towards more inclusivity for the deported families in the Spanish Senate Act.
During the months of January and February reports from the deported families have been presented at the Querella Argentina for the first time. Twenty families from Galicia and another eleven from Madrid have taken part and we will continue the research and presentation of further reports in the following months.
Volunteers and researchers from the ARMH are spending months studying the cases of deportees to the German and Austrian concentration camps including: Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenchausen, Neuengamme.
We think that it can be some small comfort to the families that, for the first time, an official state department – in this case the National Judiciary of Argentina – is gathering so many previously unrecognised complaints from the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Victims whose terrible fates were well known by the Francoist state before they were sent to Germany. Their deportation took place even despite repeated attempts both by the German ambassador and the many families to change the destination of the Republican men and women.
The reports are being carried out by the families, researchers and volunteers from the ARMH alongside collaboration with experts Carlos Hernández, Benito Bermejo as well as the lawyer Ana Messuti.
In recent decades, politicians and political parties have been swept along by the symbolic power of mass graves, of disappeared people, of the democratic shame of having abandoned thousands of people that built democracy and universal suffrage with their bare hands. Thus politics has had to react to the past that is so painfully embedded in the present.
A democracy like ours cannot leave the disappeared in the ditches where they were buried, it cannot hide the pain of thousands of families who were constantly watched and punished by their repressors. This democracy should not allow the perpetrators of violence to benefit from silence, ignorance, the lack of public debate or the concealment of their actions in new textbooks in which the country’s true past is hidden. These are merely forms of tolerance for those who should be sat in front of a judge and should be made responsible for the atrocious crimes that they have committed.
But the elites of Francoism in Spain have maintained their strong grip over power in democracy, distributed across different spheres including politics, culture, economics, media and academia. The Law of Silence has acted like an invisible rule for decades and when reports from the disappeared weakened the silence, those in power argued that the Amnesty Law, passed in 1977, was a conquest and a victory for the opponents of the dictatorship when in fact it was simply protection for the executioners.
You can read Emilio Silva’s full article “Las urgencias de la Memoria Histórica (The necessity of Historical Memory)” in full at adeces.org
Camilo de Dios Fernández, the last Galician to fight against Francoism from the guerilla armed forces, died on the 17th December in his house in Sandiás at the age of 87.
‘The problems of others always affected me more than my own problems. I’ve been through so much, if i had got upset and cried for every bad thing that had happened to me in my life … and so many things have happened to me from torture to hunger to misery to cold… then I would have had to have taken my life forty times over. And we never had that option’, explained Camilio de Dios in the documentary ‘Camilio: the last Galician Guerilla’
He became a guerilla at the age of 15 when he escaped to the mountains where he connected with the guerilla movement. Like his mother, Carmen Fernández Seguí, he was an intermediary for the guerilla forces. His father, Jesus de Dios, was the founder of the PCE (Partido Comunista Espanol – Spanish Communist Party) in Sandiás but had been killed whilst on the run in the mountains. He was held captive in many prisons but he spent most of his time in the Dueso jail. It was here that he heard the news of the death of his brother, Perfecto, at the hands of the Guardia Civil in Ávila whilst he was trying to escape to join his mother in France.
65 years after the assassination of his brother, Camilio de Dios managed to recover his remains along with the help of the ARMH. He is now buried outside the Chaherrero cemetery alongside the body of his brother Perfecto.
‘The exhumation of Perfecto left a great impression on me. It was something that I had wanted for a very long time. I had promised to my mother that I would do everything that I could to make sure that it happened. It was, therefore, a great satisfaction when everything came together. People who offered me their condolences seemed to be giving me a joyful embrace for having achieved what I had wanted’
If you would like a deeper understanding of Camilio’s history you can listen to his story and his testimony in the Vidas Enterradas program on Cadena Ser.
A plaque and monolith are to be placed in Mosteiro de Ribeira in tribute to María del Valle y a Salud Torres, both victims of the Francoist repression and defenders of equality and social welfare in the years of the Second Republic.
María del Valle y a Salud Torres had been detained and taken to the Bande prison. On the 29th October 1937 they were taken out and assassinated on the road without a thought. Their bodies were collected by a neighbour and buried in the Mosteiro de Ribeira cemetery.
At the family’s request, the Association attempted to recover their bodies last July, but the poorly conserved state of the local cemetery made it impossible. After the fruitless search, together we decided that the creation of a space of recognition at the place where they had been buried would be the best option and could act as a site of homage and remembrance.
The Association has sent out a letter to all Spanish dioceses asking that they exempt themselves from celebrating Mass in exaltation of the dictator Francisco Franco that takes place every year on the anniversary of his death. The Foundation, that takes the name of the general at the head of the 1936 coup, announced on their website that various Mass celebrations would take place on the 20th November, the date that marks 44 years since his death.
Every year at least twenty Catholic Mass’ celebrating the life of Franco, that we know of, take place across Spain. These are treated as acts of exaltation for a dictator who caused enormous amounts of pain to Spanish society and who assassinated thousands of civilians that still remain lost in mass graves and ditches. He was also responsible for the extremely harsh treatment of homosexuals, for whom he created a concentration camp and also for lesbians who were imprisoned in psychiatric centres where they were subject to electric shock therapy. Francoism stopped millions of people from exercising their own personal freedoms and forced them to exile themselves, to hide or to stop being who they were.
It is for this reason that we have once again asked that the Catholic Church end its homage to the man who has caused so much damage to Spain. Moreover, that they publicly recognise the fact that those who were in charge of the church formed an integral part of the Francoist dictatorial apparatus, investing in that Caudillo (Spanish word for Mafia like boss) meant that Franco could use their money ‘by the grace of God’. Now they should work like any organisation in any democracy for the defence of human rights; and therefore, to help the families of their victims to heal their pain.
Last November the Association carried out a petition to discover the origin of a number of jewels that were auctioned at Charlie’s Auction House. In the auction catalogue it was mentioned that they had belonged to ‘an important Spanish family’, after seeing the jewels it was confirmed that they had come from the family of the dictator Francisco Franco.
The ARMH registered a request with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in order that the Spanish ambassador in London could discuss the matter with the auction house and facilitate the uncovering of the paperwork and documentation that the house had on the origins of the jewels.
We have also requested that the presidential ministry responsible for National Heritage investigates the aforementioned jewels to see if they had, at any point, been under state jurisdiction.
Eventually, the jewels were auctioned, they reached a much lower value than the family had hoped. The presidential ministry has told us that the jewels could not be found in the National Heritage catalogue.