A Cemetery Unites Winners and Losers in Zaragoza

November 1, 2010

Today is the first All Saints Day, the traditional day to visit the graves of loved ones who have passed away, that relatives of the 3,543 Republicans assassinated by Francoists either during or after the Civil War in the cementery near Torrero prison can visit a plaque with their name on it in the municipal cemetery of Zaragoza. Thanks to years of research by the historian Julián Casanova, this cemetery houses an enormous spiral made up of one plaque for each person who was killed there, with their name, age and the date they were murdered.

This memorial spiral, inaugurated on Oct. 20th, forms part of a larger historical site. The area devoted to those who died for “freedom and democracy” is right next to the monuments built by Franco to pay tribute to “the heroes and martyrs of Zaragoza, fallen for freedom” which are being kept as they were.

Casanova, the author of the texts that explain the different stops along this new route to visitors, and Pedro Villasol, who has worked in the cemetery for 53 years, gave a tour to Natalia Junquera, writing for El País. The first stop is the wall. “They didn’t stop shooting people one single day, not even on Christmas Eve”, according to Casanova. From July 19, 1936 til August 20, 1946 Francoists shot thousands of bullets at people lined up against that wall.

In 1979, the first democratic mayor since the dictatorship, Ramón Sainz de Varanda, decided to move the remains of 2,500 Republicans shot in the cemetery to a mass grave where a monument was erected “to all those who died for freedom and democracy”. They had been buried without caskets. The families had to pay 2,000 pesetas for their relatives to be moved, a fortune then.

Almost 4,000 National soldiers “fallen for the Crusade for Liberation at the front and in hospitals in Aragon” were buried in the cemetery, honored by an enormous cross erected in 1941. In order to comply with the Historical Memory Law, that cross should have been torn down. It was saved because it now forms part of a route that has placed it into a different context.

Of the 3,936 “fallen in the Crusade”, 3,560 were taken to the Valley of the Fallen in 1961. Casanova believes that the same thing that they have just achieved in Zaragoza could be applied to give new meaning to the Valley of the Fallen, that is, converting a Francoist memorial into a memorial for both sides of the civil war.

Among those shot in the cemetery were children, women and the elderly. Many belonged to the same family: fathers and sons, brothers, wives and mothers of “reds”. Zaragozas’s current mayor, Juan Alberto Belloch (PSOE) said:

Zaragoza was in moral debt to recognize and honor all those people who died for no other reason than that they belonged to the Republican side, and who were also punished by having been forgotten and ignored.

The decision to create this memorial route was approved unanimously by all the political groups in the city government.