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Unearthing Franco's Legacy

Mass Graves and the Recovery of Historical Memory in Spain

Edited by Carlos Jerez-Farran and Samuel Amago

Publication Year: 2010

Unearthing Franco's Legacy: Mass Graves and the Recovery of Historical Memory in Spain addresses the political, cultural, and historical debate that has ensued in Spain as a result of the recent discovery and exhumation of mass graves dating from the years during and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). The victor, General Francisco Franco, ruled as a dictator for thirty-six years, during which time he and his supporters had thousands of political dissidents or suspects and their families systematically killed and buried in anonymous mass graves. Although Spaniards living near the burial sites realized what was happening, the conspiracy of silence imposed by the Franco regime continued for many years after his death in 1975 and after the establishment of a democratic government. While the people of Germany, France, and Italy have confronted the legacies of the repressive regimes that came to power in those countries during the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, the unearthing of the anonymous dead in Spain has focused attention on how Spaniards have only recently begun to revisit their past and publicly confront Franco's legacy. The essays by historians, anthropologists, literary scholars, journalists, and cultural analysts gathered here represent the first interdisciplinary analysis of how present-day Spain has sought to come to terms with the violence of Franco's regime. Their contributions comprise an important example of how a culture critiques itself while mining its collective memory.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page/Copyright/Dedication

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

We would like to express our gratitude to all those who made the publication of this book possible. Foremost, we wish to thank our contributors not only for the articles and commentaries that now comprise this volume but also for their generosity and patience through all stages of the editorial process. We thank them especially for taking time to share their thoughts and reflections on this important theme. ...

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pp. 1-27

In a lecture he delivered in Buenos Aires in 1933, Federico García Lorca, Spain’s most celebrated poet and playwright, observed that “a dead man in Spain is more alive when dead than anywhere else in the world: his profile hurts like a razor’s edge.”1 Although the remark was made somewhat flippantly, it carries more irony today than Lorca could ever have imagined. ...

PART I: Franco’s Mass Graves and the History of Forgetting

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pp. 29

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Violence and Silence: The Repressed History of the Franco Regime

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pp. 30-41

When Manuel Fraga Iribarne was minister of tourism and propaganda in the 1960s, he coined the well-known and cheerful slogan “Spain is different!” to attract foreigners to the sun and beaches of a country still scarred by its Civil War and under the reign of Franco’s authoritarian regime. The benevolent image promoted by the government was immensely successful in masking the socio-political reality of Spanish life...

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The Theorists of Extermination: The Origins of Violence in the Spanish Civil War

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pp. 42-67

In the first third of the twentieth century, Spain’s agrarian oligarchy, in an unequal partnership with the industrial and financial bourgeoisie, was menaced by a militant industrial and rural proletariat. In August 1917, the Left’s feeble revolutionary threat was bloodily smothered by the army. Thereafter, until 1923, when the army intervened again, social ferment occasionally bordered on undeclared civil war. In the south, there were the rural uprisings of the “three Bolshevik years.” ...

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The Spanish Church and the Civil War: Between Persecution and Repression

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pp. 68-89

The great historian Pierre Vilar concluded his closing remarks at a colloquium about the French and Spanish civil wars by saying: “We should remember that history consists of what some would like to forget and of what others cannot forget. The historian’s job is to figure out the reasons why some try not to remember and why others cannot help but remember” (Vilar). ...

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The Faces of Terror: Violence during the Franco Dictatorship

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pp. 90-120

The war ended April 1, 1939.1 With it ended not only the class struggle and political contests but also the secular Republic and revolutionary atheism: these demons were exorcised from the body politic by Franco, who claimed divine protection for his victorious army. Spain would begin a new era, which would be marked by its purity, free from the “corruption” of political pluralism, liberalism, and foreign philosophies, not to mention the “Reds,” all of whom would be disarmed and captured. ...

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Grand Narratives, Collective Memory,and Social History: Public Uses of the Past in Postwar Spain

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pp. 121-145

It is possible to speak of a “crisis of memory” in contemporary Spain, although the term is not used here to suggest a fundamental breach of state legitimacy. The democratic principles of the Transition to democracy, symbolized in the 1978 Constitution, are almost unanimously seen as fundamental and legitimate (Edles). A decisive turning point appears to have been reached, however, in formulating or renegotiating a shared sense of the past in Spain. ...

PART II: Documentary Filmmaking and the Recovery of Historical Memory

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pp. 147

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“El documental es un arma cargada de pasado”: Representation in Documentary and Testimony

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pp. 148-155

In her essay in this section, Jo Labanyi points to a curious contradiction in the recent attention to the pacto de olvido regarding the Civil War and Francoist past that occurred during the Spanish Transition to democracy. This pact of silence or oblivion has been constructed as “fact” precisely through the process of denouncing it. Frequent references to the pacto de olvido in the last six years have somewhat paradoxically transformed its secret or forgotten nature. ...

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Investigative Journalism as a Tool for Recovering Historical Memory

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pp. 156-167

In discussing the role of investigative journalism as a weapon for recovering historical memory in Spain, I will focus on my documentaries Franco’s Forgotten Children (2002), The Spanish Holocaust (2003), and 927 on the Train to Hell (2004), which have all been published in book format.1Many television and feature film documentaries on recovering historical memory have been produced in recent years, but they have not reached mass audiences for lack of good distribution channels and institutional support.2 ...

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Mass Graves on Spanish TV: A Tale of Two Documentaries

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pp. 168-191

In his book The Dominion of the Dead, Robert Pogue Harrison offers a reflection on the societal role of corpses that resonates with Spain’s recent engagement with restless memories of Francoist terror: “For all its grave stillness, there is nothing more dynamic than a corpse. . . . A corpse in itself is neither disquieting nor disclosive. Only in its genealogical, sentimental, or institutional relation to the surviving loved one does it become the personification of transcendence” (93). ...

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Testimonies of Repression: Methodological and Political Issues

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pp. 192-205

The number of historical studies on the Civil War and dictatorship published in Spain since General Franco’s death in 1975 is now massive; these have been published throughout the postdictatorship period. The mid-1980s additionally saw the emergence of a number of novels and feature films on the war (Labanyi, “Memory”), followed in the mid-1990s by a flurry of early Francoist memorabilia and related reminiscences (Harvey). ...

PART III: Speaking for the Dead

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pp. 207

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Toward a Pragmatic Version of Memory: What Could the Spanish Civil War Mean to Contemporary Spain?

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pp. 208-220

In contemporary Spain, a double process is developing in relation to remembrance of the Civil War. On the one hand, there is a legitimate debate with political, legal, and economic repercussions about what would constitute a responsible, authentically democratic treatment of the legacy of the Civil War. On the other hand (and these two processes cannot be entirely separated), there is a new wave of interest in cultural products regarding the period 1936–1939...

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The Weight of Memory and the Lightness of Oblivion: The Dead of the Spanish Civil War

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pp. 221-242

Death is the most powerful agent of forgetting. But it is not all-powerful. From time immemorial men have erected barriers against forgetting in death, so that clues suggesting remembrance of the dead are considered by specialists in prehistory and archaeology to be the surest indications of the presence of human culture. The rituals of worship of the dead with their pleas for intercession, sacrificial acts...

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Speaking for the Dead: History, Narrative, and the Ghostly in Javier Cercas’s War Novels

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pp. 243-261

A considerable number of novels dealing with the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath have appeared in recent years. Works such as Almudena Grandes’s El corazón helado (2007), Benjamín Prado’s Mala gente que camina (2006), Manuel Rivas’s Los libros arden mal (2006), Dulce Chacón’s La voz dormida (2002), Javier Marías’s Tu rostro mañana: Fiebre y lanza (2002), and Andrés Trapiello’s Una historia de Maquis (2001), ...

PART IV: Unearthing the Past

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pp. 263

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Memory Politics among Perpetrators and Bereaved Relatives about Spain’s Mass Graves

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pp. 264-278

Dozens of mass graves have been discovered and rediscovered in Spain since the much publicized exhumation in Priaranza del Bierzo, León, in 2000. These burial sites contain the skeletal remains of thousands of the seventy thousand to a hundred thousand Spaniards executed by Francoist troops during the 1936–1939 Civil War and in its aftermath. The significance of these mass graves has changed over the decades. ...

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The Rupture of the World and the Conflicts of Memory

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pp. 279-303

This essay addresses four main topics related with the repression of the defeated in the Spanish Civil War. First, it looks at the narration of the victims’ traumatic memories and the problems faced by both the narrator and the interviewer when attempting to recover these memories. Second, it focuses on the actual violence of Francoist repression in the areas controlled by the so-called Nationalists upon the breakout of the insurgency. ...

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The Intimacy of Defeat: Exhumations in Contemporary Spain

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pp. 304-325

Valdediós, Asturias, October 27, 1937. Just a few days after the city of Gijón was taken by the Nationals and the region of Asturias surrendered to Franco’s troops, a tragic event took place in a monastery that was at the time being used as a psychiatric hospital. It was only one in thousands of similar incidents taking place in the recently defeated Asturias and all throughout Spain...

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The Grandsons of Their Grandfathers: An Afterword

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pp. 327-344

On August 17, 1936, in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, Spanish army captain Juan Rodr

Works Cited

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pp. 345-371

About the Contributors

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pp. 372-374


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pp. 375-394

E-ISBN-13: 9780268083526
E-ISBN-10: 0268083525
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268032685
Print-ISBN-10: 0268032688

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Collective memory -- Spain.
  • Spain -- Social conditions -- 1975-.
  • Spain -- Politics and government -- 1931-1939.
  • Murder -- Spain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Franco, Francisco, -- 1892-1975 -- Influence.
  • Political violence -- Spain -- History -- 20th century.
  • Spain -- Politics and government -- 1939-1975.
  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939.
  • Mass burials -- Spain -- History -- 20th century.
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