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.