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Josep's uncle returns from the war after more than 80 years

In a simple ceremony, Sabatés family receive the remains of a relative killed in the Civil War, thanks to government's genetic identification program


06 November 2019 04:19 PM


ACN | Barcelona

The vicious civil war that tore Spain apart in the 1930s may have finished exactly 80 years ago, but the remains of thousands of its victims still lie buried in unmarked graves waiting to be one day exhumed and reburied with the dignity they deserve.

While experts estimate that there could be as many as 100,000 Civil War victims still to be unearthed and laid to rest by their families, there is now at least one less, after the remains of the uncle of 85-year-old Josep Sabatés were finally returned to the family.

Josep was a baby when his father and two uncles went off to fight on the republican front lines. While Josep's father returned, his uncles were not so lucky, but on Tuesday the remains of one of the missing uncles were reburied in the cemetery of Torelló, in Osona.

In a simple and moving ceremony, the remains of Josep's uncle were handed to the family by justice minister, Ester Capella, who said while the government's genetic identification program could not tell which uncle it was, they would continue working to find out.

The uncle's remains were located in the Soleràs mass grave, in the western county of Garrigues, and Josep's participation in the program had allowed the authorities to determine which family the remains were from.

Largest mass grave in Catalonia

Josep's uncle is just one of 146 bodies killed during the Civil War that were found in the Soleràs mass grave, which was opened in 2017 thanks to the government's mass grave plan. It is the largest mass grave in terms of victims so far excavated in Catalonia.

Using a database made up of genetic profiles of family members who volunteer for the program, the authorities are sometimes able to match the remains that are found in mass graves with a particular family, as in this case.

So far eight people from the Soleràs mass grave have been identified, but another 138 remains are still to be claimed. The larger the database, the more chance of finding a match, which led Capella to call for more people to sign up for the program.

Locating and excavating mass graves, and the process of finding a match for the remains found in them, is a lengthy process. Yet, as with the Sabatés family, for people who have spent decades not knowing what happened to their relatives, it is a wait that is worthwhile.


  • Josep Sabatés looking at a photograph of his father and his siblings, one of the few records he has of his uncle (by Estefania Escolà)

  • Josep Sabatés looking at a photograph of his father and his siblings, one of the few records he has of his uncle (by Estefania Escolà)