Civil War association told to return grant for unfinished exhumation

Government also demands payment of interest after association exceed timeframe at mass grave site

Volunteers working at a Civil War burial site in Málaga.
Volunteers working at a Civil War burial site in Málaga.JULIÁN ROJAS

The Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy is demanding a historical memory association give back a 58,200-euro subsidy awarded to it by the previous Socialist administration for not having completed the exhumation for which the money was requested within the planned timeframe. The government is also asking for the return of 4,000 euros in outstanding interest payments.

The association of relatives of prisoners who died in Valdenoceda, a small town of 61 inhabitants in Burgos province, managed to recover the remains of 112 of 156 inmates left to die of cold and hunger in a local jail by the Franco regime between 1938 and 1943. The remaining 39 bodies were unable to be recovered in time because they lay beneath some cemetery niches constructed later on and the association had to convince the owners of the niches, family by family, to allow them to move the tombs.

The prisoners had originally been buried outside the cemetery, but their graves ended up below the new niches when the graveyard was enlarged.

"We asked the Prime Minister's Office for an extension but it said no because the deadline to ask for one had also passed," explained José María González, president of the association and a grandson of one of the exhumed prisoners. "Now we only lack the consent of one family."

The government's demand for the money will come at González's personal expense. "I have asked for 200 euros from each of the 20 families to whom we have already handed over the identified remains, but to stop the interest from accumulating, I will have to put in money from my own pocket. And for me that is an economic disaster. We cannot avoid the feeling of defeat, of feeling that the exhumation of the 39 who remain down there is never going to be possible."

"They let them die"

With the help of forensic scientists and archeologists from the Aranzadi Society of Sciences, plus two grants of just under 120,000 euros from the former Zapatero government, the association recovered the remains of 112 prisoners from the unmarked graves. It has now given back 21 of those to their families, identified by their DNA.

"Valdenoceda was an extermination prison to where they sent prisoners from other jails to die," said Isaac Arenal, one of the few survivors of the penitentiary, upon handing over the remains of some of his fellow inmates to their families in March 2012.

"They didn't execute them, they let them die," said Jimmy Jiménez, of the Aranzadi Society of Sciences, during the exhumation.

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