Truth, Bones, and the Legacy of War
by Char Prieto, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
In the shadow of a Spanish monastery, surrounded by fields of sunflowers and wheat, anthropologists from all over the world dig for human remains, uncovering long-hidden evidence of murders from the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). The graves are dotted all over the country and, according to Amnesty International, they contain the remains of more than 30,000 soldiers, militants, American civilians, and other opponents of the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Although their existence has been known for more than five decades, only in the past few years have the mass graves been exhumed, often due to information in literature about the victims.
In July 2007, I, along with Patricia Black, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, will travel to Spain with four students, two from foreign languages and two from anthropology, and a CSU, Chico anthropologist. The Spanish language students will complete an intensive Spanish language program in Madrid and work with me researching the literary corpus of the disappeared and human rights violations during the Spanish Civil War; the anthropology students will perform forensic work in mass graves from the civil war and the dictatorship that ensued (1939–1975). The anthropology students will be assisting Dr. Francisco Etxeberria, director and team leader of the exhumations of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War.
Thousands of bodies, including 350 intellectuals from the Lincoln Brigade who wanted to stop fascism and fought in the war, are still scattered across the countryside in unidentified graves, victims of mass executions by the fascists. Motivated by a desire to give their loved ones an honorable burial, families are searching for bodies of people whose fates have never been disclosed.
The Spanish government of the eighties and nineties turned a blind eye to the mass graves, but recently, with the new president, the silence has been broken. As part of a belated reckoning with the crimes of the war, the international community is trying to locate hundreds of suspected graves to exhume and identify the remains of this ideological massacre.
Mass graves, bones, skulls, forgotten memory, and the legacy of the war are seeds of remembrance, and each one is a fragment of the collective memory of the world’s history. This experience in exhumation in Spain has the potential to greatly benefit the understanding of conflict situations in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the United States.
When the students and I return to Chico, we plan to present our research
at several venues (possibly an anthropology forum and a session for the
Modern Language Association Conference) and to collaborate on an article
for publication in the HISPANIA scholarly journal.