A couple of weeks ago Rufino Juárez was walking agilely through Villadangos del Páramo (León), in a meeting with families who, like his, are looking for the remains of 70 men and a woman murdered and disappeared in 1936. Among them, his father.
That day, he and other family members met with the mayor of Villadangos to ask him in writing that, “given the age of some relatives and the emotional and human significance for all of them,” he expedite the procedures required to carry out a prospecting in the place where he is the pit.
Lucid, cheerful, cultured and newspaper eater, Rufino Juárez, 86, gave an interview to elDiario.es in those days, at his home in Vegas del Condado (León). The publication of it does not arrive in time for him to read it. Rufino died this Wednesday in León, unable to witness the prospecting for the remains of his father, who was murdered when he was two years old: “I want to try to find his remains and bury them with those of my mother,” he explained.
“We are running out of time”
In 2018 Rufino Juárez placed a plaque on his mother’s grave with this phrase: “RUFINO. 1897/1936 … and we continue to wait for your return from such a long ‘walk’. Time is running out.” Despite the fact that he was in good health, Rufino was aware of his age, and this summer he transmitted it to the mayor of Villadangos del Páramo.
He insisted to the families that the exhumation project – already approved by the Junta de Castilla y León – had to be submitted to a vote in the neighborhood council, which owns the cemetery where at least one of the graves with the disappeared victims is found.
Rufino and other family members indicated to the mayor that this vote was not binding, because the law protects the right to search for the remains of the victims of the Franco regime. Even so, the vote took place and the first deputy mayor, Alberto González (PP), actively participated in it. Twenty-two people voted no, two blank, and twelve yes. Others chose not to participate, considering that “a vote on something like this contradicts the law, human rights are not voted on.”
With this result, there were those who claimed that the search for the grave should not be carried out. But both the vice president of the Junta de Castilla y León, Francisco Igea, and the Secretary of State for Democratic Memory publicly recalled that the law protects exhumations and that said vote had no value whatsoever. Therefore, the project to carry out a prospecting continues, through the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, of which Rufino was one of the first partners. But he will no longer be able to see it.
Time is running out for us like the water in my town’s pipe, which moans and whines in the face of the wind …
“Time is running out for us like the water in the spout of my town, which moans and whines in front of the wind …” Rufino Juárez wrote in 2018 in a comment published in the Diario de León. He also often told the other families of the victims of Villadangos del Páramo, whose disappeared came from different towns in the province and from the city of León itself.
“My father’s name was Rufino, like me, he was from Vegas del Condado, he was 39 years old when he was killed. He was married since 1920, he was a laborer, a farmer of small lands of his late mother and father. He was also president of the Board neighborhood of the town, “Rufino recalled two weeks ago in conversation with elDiario.es.
“In 1936, when the coup d’état took place, several men were arrested in my town. A teacher, the mayor. Another was hunted on the river bank, reading. Also the doctor. Weeks passed and things seemed to be calmer, but in October, on the 21st, someone told my father to report to the barracks immediately. They also called Epifanio Llamazares, who was a member of the Vegas County Neighborhood Board, as well as Custodian of City Council funds “.
“They were mounted in a vehicle and went to other towns to pick up more prisoners to take them to the San Marcos concentration camp. Both my father and Epifanio were from the Republican Union. Epifanio’s wife and my grandmother were cousins of Félix Gordón Ordás , leader of that party. As a deputy, Gordón Ordás had denounced the mistreatment of those detained by the coup leaders in León, “he recalled.
“We always knew that afterwards they took him to Villadangos to shoot him with others,” he added.
Rufino’s childhood was crossed by the murder of his father and with the feeling that he and his siblings were different: “When my mother became a widow, she went out as best she could, helped by my older brother, and cultivating a farm. I studied in the village school, there were about ninety of us, we sat on long benches. I remember my feet dangling at first. In my spare time I played with others in the stables, the only place that was warm. ”
“We felt different. Everything depended on the capital you had, even to hang out with girls. But we survived. When winter came the son of the murdered mayor organized comedies, plays, which gave us life. I also took refuge in reading. He apothecary gave me a book, The Black Indiesby Jules Verne. The number of times I read it… ”
Sometimes my mother called me an orphan, and then it seemed that the sun was setting in her eyes.
“My mother, Benilde, was born in 1900. She was open, with personality, with character, but sad, she had a lot to cry about. She knew how to read and write, which at that time was already a lot. She did not sow evil in us, only advice . Sometimes he called me an orphan, and then it seemed that the sun was setting in his eyes. He read a poem by Gabriel y Galán that I think was called that, Orphans, and when he read it aloud he emphasized that word. I enjoyed that energy of sadness. ”
When Rufino grew up and started working he went to Villadangos del Páramo one day in search of his father’s remains: “I remember that in the fifties I went to Villadangos. Before it was not easy, we had no car, there was no direct bus from here and my mother did not want me to go, I was afraid that asking about my father’s remains would cause me problems “.
I remember perfectly the Villadangos grave before the works to expand the cemetery: it was green, long, sunken.
“The pit was green, elongated, sunken, enormous, because it had many sleepers. I remember it as if it were today.”
“A few years ago I read in the press that in Jaén they had disposed of a grave in some expansion works, and had thrown the remains into a rubbish tip in an industrial estate. I thought how much lack of humanity. I want to know what happens with the Villadangos Trench. If it’s still there. They have built new tombs on top of one part, but remains may be found on the other part. ”
He is my father and I have the right to recover him and bury him with my mother, where I want, just as you place the bones of yours where you want.
“Someone once asked me why it was important to find my father. Because the terror prevented us from burying him then, recovering him and bury him in our town. Because he is my father, and I bury him where I want, with my mother, as well that you place the bones of yours where you want. Because there is dignity in the search process, “he explained two weeks ago.
Rufino was always concerned that someone had moved all the remains of the Villadangos grave to another hidden place: “I wonder if they moved them to another place, if they are still where they were before. Those doubts will not be cleared until we look, with the Prospecting project. It is like the families of the military who died in the Yak-42 accident, when they claimed all the remains and buried them with dignity. I empathized with them a lot. ”
Two years ago Rufino and other families of the disappeared in Villadangos began to get to know each other. They created a WhatsApp group, in which they have been communicating daily, sharing memories, tying up the dots, advancing in the search, forging friendships. On some occasion they also chatted by videoconference, to see each other’s faces.
“Rufino appeared smiling under the tree of his house and it was impossible not to love him,” recalled this Wednesday one of the relatives of the 71 missing people in Villadangos. “We have created strong bonds of affection between all the families, and that in itself is restorative. We will miss him a lot.”
And I thought, there in the middle of my wedding, that I was actually crying because I was missing a father, my father, the affection of the unknown father.
Rufino Juárez avoided the obstacles of orphanhood, of scarcity, of the pain of knowing that his father had been murdered, of the absence of a parent that for decades he could not claim. He grew up trying to be mildly happy, in Gijón, the city where he got a stable job, where he met his wife and where his daughter and son were born.
“The day I got married I cried. I don’t know if it’s because my older brother couldn’t attend that day or what. The feeling is that I was missing something. And I thought, right there in the middle of my wedding, that I was actually crying because I was missing a father, my father, the affection of the unknown father, who had died due to the violence of other human beings. In important moments of my life that emptiness has been present “, he confessed two weeks ago under the shade that he loved so much of his tree in County Vegas.
Now his children and nephews take over to continue the search for the grandfather Rufino Juárez Fernández, murdered and disappeared that sad October 22, 1936.