Places of Violence: Places of Memory and Amnesia

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Itineraries Retracing the Violence of the Insurrection of 1936 and Its Consequences in Galicia

By Gemma Domènech and Saida Palou (Institut Català de Recerca en Patrimoni Cultural, Universitat de Girona)

Presentation

The history of the 1936 insurrection in Spain is written across the territory, and it has left its mark in different sites of violence. Prisons, army and militia barracks, concentration camps, execution and burial sites, mass graves… can be found all around Galicia, marking geographical landmarks that map a process of persecution and extermination tied to the violent seizure of power. To some extent, Galicia, which was taken by the insurrectionists before the end of July 1936, was a laboratory for the practices of violence that would later spread over Europe during the 1930s and the Second World War. Galicia was where the coup’s leaders first implemented the techniques to eliminate their declared enemies. Those same practices would be taken later to other territories and become institutionalized under Franco’s dictatorship.

The legacy of this heritage of violence became a traumatic memory of a past, which was initially exalted by the executioners themselves and their supporters, and later denied with discourses of reconciliation and letting the past bygone. A deliberate effort was made to push all those memories into oblivion through amnesia. However, the battered memories of the victims and of society as a whole refused to disappear, identifying precisely the subjects, actions and consequences of that process, while suffering continued under the violence of the dictatorship and, even after the Transition, under democratic rule. Then came the historical research and public policies on memory, with all their limitations and disappointments, which showed for all to see the need to identify, dignify and commemorate the past in sites of memory.

The History Workshop has consisted of an itinerary retracing the violence of the 1936 coup and its consequences in Galicia, guided by history and focused on identifying the sites of violence, which have now become sites of memory and amnesia. A number of significant examples were selected as representative of a much broader phenomenon, guided by historical research and accompanied by narratives emerging from popular memory. From the coasts of the A Mariña region in Ribadeo to San Simón in the Ría de Vigo, its participants have visited sites which have elicited both explanation and debate, gaining a clearer knowledge of an uncomfortable past which is still present and demands new narratives for a future that is drawing ever nearer.

 

Sites and Their Memories

Mondoñeo: Cemetery. Grave Sites for Residents of Ribadeo and Viveiro

By Xabier Buxeiro (HISTAGRA)

Mondoñedo is a municipality located in the northern half of the Province of Lugo, in the region of A Mariña Central. It currently has a population of around 4,500 people, but in the 1930s it had almost 9,000 inhabitants. In 1936, it was the most important town in the area and the capital of a judicial district that included the municipalities of Mondoñedo, Abadín, Alfoz, Foz, Lourenzá, Pastoriza, Riotorto, and Valadouro.

Unlike other neighboring judicial districts of Viveiro and Ribadeo, there was no armed opposition to the uprising in Mondoñedo, and none of the residents were officially sentenced to death and executed.

Mondoñedo was viewed by the insurrectionists as a calm, right-leaning town. In fact, one day before the arrival of the rebel troops, it was already under the control of the Falange militia. The database created by the project Nomes e Voces records 25 victims of persecution by the insurrectionists there, three of whom were murdered without having ever been convicted d. Graciano Paz Amieiro, Siervo González Rivas and Manuel Rodríguez Núñez were murdered on 11 January 1938 within the town limits.

Mondoñedo was also the site for the murder of Andrés Vale Blanco, one of the eight residents of Viveiro who were “taken for a walk”, as well as six of the 11 residents of Ribadeo who were executed without trial after the uprising: Bruno Martínez Fernández, Antonio María Martínez López, Jesús Longarela, Florencio Carballo Novigil, José Antonio Díaz Álvarez and Enrique Navarret García de Ribadel. All of these people, with the exception of Jose Antonio Díaz Álvarez, were taken from the municipal prison of Ribadeo the day before they were murdered, during the months of September and October 1936. Their deaths were justified as supposed escape attempts: the troops responsible for their transfer and custody (Guarda Civil and/or Falange) had been forced to open fire on them. Only in the case of José Antonio Díaz Álvarez did any such escape attempt actually occur.

According to the research group HISTAGRA, although Mondoñedo does not stand out for having a large number of victims  among its residents, it was often chosen by the insurrectionists to carry out their executions, primarily because of its geographical situation in Galicia and its natural function as a stopping place on the way to somewhere else. This helped give greater credence to the faked argument of the alleged escape attempts by the people who were murdered there and it also provided an optimal means for spreading fear among ordinary people, by leaving the corpses in places that were frequented by travelers.

After the exhumation of the mass grave in Mondoñero, the remains were transferred to the municipal cemetery, where their memory was dignified.

Ribadeo: The Arquivo Municipal [Municipal Archive]

By Lourenzo Fernandez Prieto (Main researcher at HISTAGRA) and Fernando Suárez Barcia (Prior of Ribadeo).

Ribadeo is a municipality located in the extreme northeast of the province of Lugo, in the region of A Mariña Oriental. The archive’s rich documentary collections are in the process of being reviewed and digitized. Like any archive, its main function is to preserve, show, disseminate and give access to a wide variety of original documents. Through two occupational workshops, work is in progress to make the documents kept in the archive available to the scientific community through a website.

Among the extensive documentation preserved there, and specifically in relation to the uprising of July 1936, of particular interest are the municipal prison’s ledger book and the documentation related to the purging of municipal personnel.

Mañón: Ponte do Barqueiro

By Luis Real, Bernardo Penabade and María Jesús Castaño (Asociación Nordés Faladora).

Ponte do Barqueiro, over the Ría de Sor, was built in 1901, based on the design by the engineers Adolfo Pequeño and José Real from 1894. On 22 July 1936, it became the setting for a confrontation between the rebel military troops, coming from Viveiro, and a group of around 100 civilians from the town of Mañón. The episode, known as the “Feitos do Barqueiro” [the Barqueiro Events], ended with the military reaching the other bank and capturing the area. From that day forward, the bridge became the site for executions of Republicans who were “taken for a walk” by the insurrectionary forces, and whose bodies were dumped there. The bridge’s location on the provincial boundary contributed to its being chosen for that purpose since it hampered the bureaucratic process which in theory was to investigate the events.

The violence by the insurrectionists in Mañón also included the execution by firing squad of the mayor of Mañón, Jesús Castaño Galdo, and five of the town’s residents at Castelo de San Felipe in April 1937 (Manuel Ventosinos, Jesús Verdeal, Germán Cervo, Jesús María Fernández and José Rivera).

In vindication of the memory of these people and the more than 30 others executed in the municipality of Mañón or its environs, the Mañón Town Hall and the relatives of those who were executed installed a memorial plaque at one end of the bridge. In 2016, they were honored again, this time by the Asociación Cultural Amigos de Regal-Xunqueira (Viveiro).

Ferrol: Presentation of the Book Golpistas e verdugos de 1936. Historia dun pasado incómodo

By the historian Guillermo Llorca, with the participation of Bernardo Maiz, historiador; Jordi Guixé, EUROM; Xosé Manuel Soutullo, editor; Lourenzo Fernández Prieto, Antonio Miguez Macho, and Conchi López, representing the authors

The book Golpistas e verdugos de 1936. Historia dun pasado incómodo, the result of recent work by researchers from the HISTAGRA group, was presented at the Parador Nacional.

Ferrol: Archivo Intermedio Militar Noreste de Ferrol [Ferrol Military Archive]

Lourenzo Fernandez Prieto and Antonio Míguez (HISTAGRA).

This is one of the largest military archives of the Civil War and the dictatorship. Among the documents it holds, there are the court files of the people who were arrested, including the show trials, the convictions, and the despoliation. Since 2006, HISTAGRA’s group of researchers, led by history professor Lourenzo Fernandez Prieto and professor Antonio Míguez, have undertaken a thorough study of this documentation.

Ferrol: Reception at the Town Hall

The mayor of Ferrol, Jorge Suárez, welcomed the participants in the History Workshop at the Town Hall and expressed his desire to “disseminate historical memory”.

 

Ferrol: Military Arsenal

By Antonio Míguez  (HISTAGRA).

The military base and dockyards in Ferrol are one of the largest military facilities on the Cantabrian Sea. The Arsenal complex was built in the 18th century and declared a Cultural Heritage Site in 1994. The Arsenal was the scene of fighting between those of the military who rose up in July 1936 and those who remained loyal to the Republic. The Punta do Martelo, at the end of the road that runs around the installation, was the site of executions that took place after the military coup.

La Coruña: Monument to Victims O Portiño

By Comisión pola Recuperación da Memoria Histórica d’A Coruña.

Throughout 1936 and 1937, it was commonplace for people to attempt to flee secretly by sea. Hundreds of Republicans made attempts to escape the brutal violence after the military uprising in July 1936. On the night of 3 March 1937, a 100-odd people saw their hopes dashed after a tip-off to the Civil Guard that ended in death and imprisonment at the foot of Monte San Pedro. Pepe Galan’s monument to those people, known as the “victims of O Portiño”, was erected in 2008.

 

 

La Coruña: The Provincial Prison

By Asociación Proxecto Cárcere

The provincial prison of A Coruña opened in 1927. Designed by the architect Celestino Aranguren Alonso, the building incorporated the latest state of the art in health and comfort at the time.

The prison closed in 1999 and the site was occupied by a social integration center. When that was also shuttered in 2009, a lengthy debate ensued regarding future uses for the building: Parador, Technology Centre, the visitor center for the Tower of Hercules, etc. Meanwhile, in January 2011, the citizen platform Proxecto Cárcere – later a cultural association – was founded, with the aim of transforming the space into a place for social, cultural and educational uses, in which the place’s historic memory would be preserved.

Currently, the City Council has given the association Proxecto Cárcere responsibility for management and revitalization of the space. The structure’s deplorable condition only allows it to be used on very rare occasions. Worth mentioning is the open house, which took place in June 2018, when local residents were able to visit the facility.

San Simón

By Aldara Cidrás (HISTAGRA).

About 16 miles inland along the Vigo estuary, south of the Morrazo peninsula lies the inlet of San Simón. In it, there is a small group of islands, called, from north to south: San Bartolomé, San Antonio, San Simón and San Norberto. The first and the last of these islands, minuscule in size, do not have any type of construction on them.

Following the coup in 1936, the areas controlled by the insurgents were filled with huge numbers of prisoners, to the point that there was no room left either in conventional prisons or improvised jails. Other spaces were adapted urgently to act as concentration camps, including the San Simón Islands, which functioned as a penal colony until 1943. The military detail responsible for the custody of prisoners was located on the island of San Antonio. There was also a cemetery on that island and, although there is no record of burials taking place at that time, the exterior wall was used as a site for executions.

The prisoners, who were mostly in preventive custody and had yet to be sentenced, were held exclusively on the island of San Simón. There, in addition to its bunkhouses, there were kitchens, an infirmary, administrative offices, and a visiting area. Initially, the prisoners viewed their transfer to the new prison as an improvement, compared to the terrible conditions they had endured in the dismal detention centers they came from. However, the refurbished quarantine station soon lost its luster due to the overcrowding of the pavilions, the terrible living conditions and, particularly, the cruelty and corruption of the colony’s director and doctor (Fernando Lago Búa and Francisco Bustelo Bustelo). In fact, both men were eventually removed from their posts in November 1936 and sentenced to the death penalty by a court-martial on 21 December of that same year.

During the years that the conflict lasted, the population of the San Simón prison reached a total of 2,500 inmates, which made the living conditions practically unbearable.

With the victory of the pro-coup forces in April 1939, there was an increase in transfers of prisoners to other centers and in commutations of sentences. Even so, some sources indicate that in 1942 there were still more than 1,500 prisoners on the islands. The last prisoners would leave the prison at the beginning of 1943. During the dictatorship, San Simón was reclaimed as a state-owned tourist hostel for Franco’s guard to spend the summer holidays (1948-1950) and as an orphanage for the children of sailors (1955-1963). Later, the islands were abandoned, and none of the developments that were proposed ever saw the light.

In the 1990s, the archipelago fell into a process of ruin and deterioration, despite the fact that the bridge linking San Antonio and San Simón had been included on the list of heritage monuments for the province of Pontevedra since 1991. With the aim of increasing sensitivity on the part of the Public Administration, the residents of nearby areas engaged in various protest actions, including a day dedicated to cleaning the islands. As a result of this increased social awareness, the islands were declared a Cultural Heritage Site in 1999. In the following years, a plan was put in place to restore the island’s architecture, designed by the architect César Portela, a native of Pontevedra.

Today, the islands have once again been repurposed, continuing their long history, acting as a center for memory and a cultural center. Between 2005 and 2018, the islands were the venue for the award-giving ceremony for the Xerais Awards, Jules Verne and Merlín. In 2006, declared a Year of Memory, the Regional Ministry (Consellería de Cultura de la Xunta de Galicia) chose the San Simón archipelago as a symbol of the violence during the Civil War. Since 2011, the islands have also been the venue for an alternative, experimental Sinsal music festival. More recently, since 2017, the organization Iniciativa Galega pola Memoria holds annual events on San Simón to demand that the Administration acknowledge the islands’ past as a concentration camp.

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