HISTORICAL MEMORY

Forensic students flock to Falangist massacre site to gain field experience

Villagers knew all along that Civil War victims were buried among houses

The fragment of a comb that led the team to the women's grave in Espinosa.
The fragment of a comb that led the team to the women's grave in Espinosa. ÓSCAR RODRÍGUEZ

The exhumation of two Civil War graves that began on Monday in Espinosa de los Monteros, Burgos province, is being led by Francisco Etxeberria, a professor of forensics at the University of the Basque Country (UPV). Also participating is a group of 30 students from the UPV and the Autónoma University of Madrid, gaining their field experience in Criminal and Anthropological Physics.

The graves are the first to have been opened since a High Court panel ruling devolving responsibility to local courts for Civil War crimes. Thus far, no judicial visit to the site has been forthcoming.

Etxeberria has opened more than a hundred mass graves from the era but these are the first to be found in an urban area. Furthermore, the villagers have known for decades where they were. “To be present when a mass grave is exhumed is an experience that changes you forever,” says the scientist. “In this case, it had shown that the stories told, the memories that remain in the villages, are true.”

In the first grave, located between a front garden and a sidewalk in the village, lay 12 men executed by Falangist forces in 1936. In the second, just 200 meters away, are the remains of four women shot the following day. Tests are being carried out to discover if one of them is the aunt of Pedro Zorrilla, the president of the local victims’ relatives association.

“She was the wife of a prisoner who escaped from Burgos prison and who was assassinated in reprisal,” relate the students after hearing the testimony of family members. Zorrilla’s grandfather, Celestino, is also among the occupants of the male grave.

The area was urbanized some 45 years ago. Until then it was little more than a trail outside the village but it was known with such certainty that the victims of the Falangist massacre were buried there that every November 1, the Day of the Dead, families went there to lay flowers.

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