The Valley of the Fallen (el Valle de los Caídos), the pharaonic grave built in the forties and fifties by the Franco regime, holds about 33,000 bodies. Most of them are soldiers who died during the Civil War, who belonged to the Francoist side, but there are more than 10,000 bodies of unknown people, who were probably republican fighters from mass graves across Spain. The UB lecturer of History Queralt Solé leads the research tasks to give a name and surname to those bodies, now claimed by their relatives.
The State Secretary for Democratic Memory, from the Ministry of Presidency, has launched a project to resignify the monument of the Valley of the Fallen, built at the time to upraise the dictatorship. In this context, those families who wish so can exhume the remains of their buried ancestors.
To date, about sixty families have applied for this task, many from dead fighters from the republican side. It is not an easy process because "crypts have mixed bones, as if it were a shoebox storehouse", notes Queralt Solé. "The Franco regime wanted to fill up the Valley of the Fallen with bodies once it was built", notes lecturer Solé. To do so, civilian governors were asked, in collaboration with city councils, to find the bodies of the soldiers in towns to move them afterwards.
Although in the beginning the Valley of the Fallen was to be only for the dead bodies of the Francoist side, in the end the remains of the dead of the republican forces were also buried there. In the latter case, the families did not know that the bodies were being moved, and if they found out, they did not have the option to put up any resistance.
Once they were in the Valley of the Fallen, the only bodies that were buried in individual graves were those of José Antonio Primo de Rivera and, later, the dictator Francisco Franco. The others were put in anonymous wood boxes piled up inside the crypts. With time, many boxes ended up damaged, and the bones of the buried people ended up together, mixed up. This will harden the exhumation tasks to be carried out by the team led by the forensic surgeon Francisco Etxeberría.
Research to help families
Before removing the bodies, Queralt Solé and UB researcher David Tormo wrote a report for each person to be exhumed, a total of 65 people. In each case, they reconstruct the journey of the body until it was placed in the Valley of the Fallen. For this study, provincial and municipal archives, as well as those in the Benedictine community located in the Valley of the Fallen, were used. The purpose of these reports is to deliver them to the families.
"There have been many casuistries: from families who had done research on their own and the only thing we could do is to verify that, according to their documentation, their relative is buried in the Valley of the Fallen, to cases in which, after the research tasks, we see the person is not in this Francoist mausoleum, contrary to what we thought", notes Solé. The historian notes that the move and burial of bodies in the Valley of the Fallen was carried out "without any care" by the regime, even in the case of the Francoist side people. This resulted in having no information or imperfect data for the families.
"As a historian, this task helped me to focus on the research of this period of time: to focus on the detail and get deep into it", she says. The researcher dedicated the doctoral thesis to the mass graves of the Civil War in Catalonia and has as its research line the historical analysis of remains of the Civil War and the Francoist dictatorship in the 21st century.