Work begins in Spain to exhume bodies of 128 Civil War victims
Initial forensic work got underway on Monday to try and exhume the bodies of 128 victims of late dictator Francisco Franco’s forces, who are among tens of thousands of people buried anonymously in wooden boxes underground in a mausoleum.
The team of some 15 forensic experts, archaeologists, scientific police and odontologists will work on extracting samples of the remains at the Valle de Cuelgamuros mausoleum, formerly known as the Valle de los Caídos, or Valley of the Fallen, and try to match them with DNA of surviving relatives. A special laboratory has been set up within the mausoleum.
More than 30,000 Franco victims are buried without identification in the mausoleum. The 128 the experts are looking for are the ones whose families have so far asked for their bodies to be identified and returned. The experts do have some indications of where the boxes are that they are looking for.
The exhumations, if successful, will be the first for victims under Spain’s historical memory laws that are aimed at making reparations to Franco’s victims and changing the way the dictatorship is viewed in Spain.
“Finally, and perhaps too long overdue, Spanish democracy is providing an answer to these victims,” Government spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez said on Spanish National Television TVE.
The grandiose mausoleum -- with a towering cross that is visible from kilometres away -- was Franco’s burial place and has always been a revered shrine for his extreme right-wing followers. It was built with forced prison labour to commemorate the fascist victory in the civil war.
In 2019, the Socialist government ordered the removal of Franco’s remains under an amended historical memory law that banned the exaltation of the dictator at the site.
In April of this year, the body of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of Spain’s fascist Falange movement, was exhumed from the site and transferred to a Madrid cemetery.
The exhumation work is expected to take weeks, if not months. It will almost certainly not be finished before 23 July elections which could see the right-wing Popular Party, or PP, ousting the Socialist-led leftist coalition government.
The PP has long opposed the historical memory law and has said it will scrap it if elected.