Spain Begins Heartrending Mass Exhumations

Government seeks to identify 128 Franco victims buried anonymously at mausoleum
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 13, 2023 2:14 PM CDT
Spain Begins Heartrending Mass Exhumations
In this 2016 file photo, tourists walk near General Francisco Franco's tomb at the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), near Madrid.   (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, file)

Initial forensic work was to begin Monday to try to 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, archeologists, 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 lab has been set up within the mausoleum, reports the AP, where more than 30,000 Franco victims are buried without identification.

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 rep Isabel Rodríguez said on Spanish National Television TVE.

The exhumation work is expected to take weeks, if not months. It will almost certainly not be finished before the July 23 elections that 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. The grandiose mausoleum—with a towering cross visible from miles away—was Franco’s burial place and has always been a revered shrine for his far-right followers. It was built with forced prison labor 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 exaltation of the dictator at the site.

(Read more Francisco Franco stories.)

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