Remains of 18 Republican Civil War soldiers put to rest

Bodies exhumed from mass graves are reburied "with dignity" in central Catalonia

Containers holding the remains exhumed from the mass graves around Prats de Lluçanès, reburied on November 9 2018 (by Laura Busquets)
Containers holding the remains exhumed from the mass graves around Prats de Lluçanès, reburied on November 9 2018 (by Laura Busquets) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

November 9, 2018 06:19 PM

The remains of 18 soldiers who fought in the Spanish Civil War and who were unearthed from two mass graves in Prats de Lluçanès, in the county of Osona in central Catalonia, now rest in peace again in the town's cemetery.

On Friday morning, Catalan justice minister Ester Capella attended a solemn ceremony to rebury the remains of the soldiers in a grave with a tombstone that remembers them as "fighters for justice and freedom."

According to Capella, the ceremony breaks a "very long" silence and puts the focus on the events of the Civil War, so that "forgetting does not become the success of fascism."

But not all have been found

Agustí Santmiquel from Navàs in the county of Bages knows his father was one of the soldiers buried in Prats de Lluçanès, thanks to a letter that was never sent to his mother but that was found among the bodies executed by Franco's Nationalist forces.

Yet, Llorenç Santmiquel was not one of those buried today – his body still needs to be found. After the Catalan government began its Mass Grave Plan a few years ago, the victim’s granddaughter, Margarita, saw a chance to find her grandfather's remains.

While it has not yet come to pass, she remains hopeful for her grandfather not only to be found – but to be buried “with dignity.” “He was coming home. And just like that, they killed him,” explained Margarita about how Llorenç lost his life.

According to sources of the Franco regime, the fighting in Prats de Lluçanès left 250 Republican soldiers dead and 29 wounded. Under the Catalan government's initiative, two of the seven mass graves near Prats de Lluçanès were opened.

Remains of 18 soldiers found in two mass graves

What were found were the remains of 18 soldiers: four from a grave in Sant Andreu de Llanars, and 14 from a grave in Sant Sebastià. Also found were items such as zips, buckles, pencils, ceremonial buttons, bullets and even razors for shaving.

The soldiers' remains were sent to the Autònoma University. Despite cross-referencing the genetic material with the 2,000 samples in the government's DNA bank, the bodies could not be identified. The remains thus had to be reburied, although samples of their DNA were kept in case they can be identified in the future.   

The remains of the 18 soldiers were buried in the same grave as six other unidentified soldiers that were exhumed in 2004 from the Puigvistós mass grave in Prats de Lluçanès, the first to be opened as part of the Catalan government's program.

Some 505 mass graves have been located in Catalonia, although only 38 have so far been opened, beginning with an initial 14 in January 2017, when the government initiative became operational.

"We will never allow the fascists to win"

During Friday's ceremony, Capella said that reburying the soldiers' remains was important for recovering the past. "This ceremony shows that fascism, with its burden of misery, hate and violence did not win. We will never allow them to win," she said.

Capella also contrasted Spain's reluctance to come to terms with its dark past in contrast with other places, such as Germany, and she condemned the fact that fascism "is still present in some of the state's institutions."

Friday also saw the inauguration of a commemorative route to remember what happened on February 3, 1939, when Franco's forces arrived in Prats de Lluçanès. The next day, the 250 Republican soldiers defending the area where executed and buried in mass graves.

The new route aims to conserve the memory of those events with a memorial stone erected at the foot of the Sant Sebastià hermitage where some of the remains were found. Capella also presented the local authority with a document nullifying the life sentence that Franco's forces imposed on the mayor of Prats de Lluçanès at the time, Francesc Canal Juvanteny.