Mass Grave, San Rafael Cemetery, Málaga
This image shows the layout of bodies recovered from the San Rafael mass grave in Málaga. Exhumations of mass and common graves from the Civil War are perhaps the most moving and dramatic element of Spain’s turn to memory in the 21st Century. The predominant feature is an aesthetic of revelation, in which images of uncovered bones stand as evidence of an unjust violence and repression that has been silenced for decades. These recovered bones testify to crimes against humanity which have been largely disregarded in civic and public discourse until the present century.
The current practice of exhumation in Spain aligns with the global rise of human rights frameworks and demands for justice for historical crimes, but the excavation of Spain’s mass graves has been far from easy. Some early exhumations of Civil-War graves occurred in the immediate post-Franco period, but were halted following the 1981 attempted coup. In 2000, Emilio Silva and Santiago Macías founded the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, one of several civic groups which have promoted and enabled the recovery of remains that have lain, improperly buried, in ditches and pits since the time of the War. Nevertheless, despite the 2007 Law of Historical Memory’s recognition of the victims of Francoist repression, responsibility for exhumations has resided with regional governments, leaving it vulnerable to local political tendencies and funding cuts. The proposal of a new Law of Democratic Memory by Pedro Sánchez’s government should charge national authorities with restoring dignity to Spain’s Civil-War disappeared.
The mass grave at San Rafael Cemetery, Malaga, is the largest such war-time grave in Spain. It was the resting place of over four thousand victims of the Francoist repression, many killed in the brutal violence which occurred after the fall of the city to the rebel army in February and March 1937, although there are also remains of people who were murdered later. The Cemetery walls bear witness to thousands of extrajudicial shootings. Between 2006 and 2009 the remains of 2,840 individuals, in the majority male, were recovered. Some victims’ bodies were likely removed to the Valley of the Fallen by the Regime in the 1950s, and pits referred to in documents from the War have not been located. A pyramid-shaped mausoleum to house the remains of the victims of the mass grave was inaugurated in 2014 and bears the names of the 4,471 people documented as having been assassinated in the cemetery. The cemetery wall has been preserved as a reminder of the atrocities committed there.