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After 70 years in an unmarked grave, Italian freedom fighter gets to go home

Catalan authorities hand over remains of Elio Ziglioli, who was tortured and executed by Guardia Civil in 1949


02 May 2019 05:47 PM


ACN | Barcelona

The family of Italian Elio Ziglioli had given up hope of ever recovering the remains of their relative who in 1948, when he was just 21, left his native town of Lovere, in Lombardy, to travel to Spain to fight "for liberty" against the fascist regime of Francisco Franco.

Unbeknown to his loved ones back in Italy, who never heard from him again, Elio would a year later lie dead in an unmarked grave outside the walls of the cemetery in Castellar del Vallès, after being savagely tortured and then executed by Franco's Guardia Civil.

In fact, if it had not been for the research done by the historian Javier Argimiro, Elio's remains might have remained forever unidentified instead of being returned to his family, which they were on Thursday during a ceremony organized by the Catalan government.

After 70 years, a ship will finally take Elio home, where the family of the former resistance fighter will get the chance to say their final farewells in a special ceremony, something his descendent Roberto Ziglioli described on Thursday as a "miracle."

Identifying Elio's remains

Elio Ziglioli was identified thanks to the government's genetic identification program, after historian Argimiro had tracked references to a young Italian in the work of another historian, Antonio Téllez, and a local scholar from the Sant Lloreç del Munt area, Jordi Guillemot.

Argimiro also found a death certificate for an "unknown" man in his 20s who was buried in a mass grave reserved for enemies of the Franco regime outside the cemetery in Castellar del Vallès, and when archeologists opened up the grave in 2018, Elio's body was found.

Eight years earlier, Argimiro had managed to contact Elio's family, who were keen to help his research, and the dead man's niece, Enrica Volpi, signed up to the government's DNA database of missing persons, which is how Elio's remains were later identified.

The unmarked grave in Castellar del Vallès, where Elio had been buried alongside another victim who the authorities have been unable to identify, was one of the first to be excavated after the government passed its Mass Grave Plan in 2017.

Los Primos

Elio Ziglioli had joined a group of eight Maquis, as the resistance fighters who continued to fight against Francoist Spain in the aftermath of the Civil War are known. In September 1949, Elio's group - called Los Primos - were in the Sant Llorenç del Munt area.

Guillemot found that on September 28 Elio went to buy provisions, but was arrested by the Guardia Civil, who had been tipped off. The paramilitary police tortured Elio before shooting him in the face, destroying his jaw and killing him. His body was buried on October 4.

42 of 517 graves excavated

In the government's efforts to trace and excavate mass graves from the Franco period, some 517 graves have been located, of which 42 have so far been excavated, 17 in the last 18 months. As for its missing persons database, almost 6,000 people have thus far signed up.

At Thursday's ceremony, justice minister Ester Capella said "we open graves to bring closure to grief," and said the new historical memory law passed by the Catalan parliament will also allow the authorities to remove all Francoist symbology still left in public places.