Wednesday, September 27

‘Stolen Letters’: the letters of the prisoners and exiles of the Franco regime who never reached their families

“Dear dad: I don’t know what procedure to use to get my letters to reach your hands or to get one of yours.” It is one of the letters from prisoners in prisons, concentration camps or exiles that are cataloged in the Municipal Archive of Manises (Valencia), sent in the immediate post-war period and that never reached their recipients to the despair of their authors.

“It was a very interesting material about which little has been written in Spain,” says the historian Salva Espí, in charge of cataloging the Falange documentation in the Municipal Archives of Manises. The town council commissioned a documentary from the director and screenwriter Salvador Dolz that will premiere on March 28 at the Germanies Auditorium and that portrays the post-war atmosphere in small towns.

The vast majority of the fifty letters correspond to prisoners in prisons and concentration camps, as well as exiles, who wrote to their relatives in search of guarantees and to keep them informed of their uncertain destiny. “That some letters are stolen from you is not unimportant nonsense, in that context it was very serious and did a lot of damage,” Salvador Dolz, the director of the documentary, explains to Stolen cards. The papers of Manises.

The Falange archive was miraculously saved from disappearance and the historian Salva Espí has ​​worked for a decade cataloging the approximately 6,000 documents it contains. The material found “is extraordinary,” remarks Espí, who located among the thousands of documents the documentation on a high-ranking visit by the Hitler Youth to Valencia. Part of the archival material, which spent decades forgotten in the Café Arriba de Manises, local headquarters of the yoke and arrows party, was damaged by floods and poor conservation.

“For us it was exceptional to find them and their conservation exceptional because they were letters that had been censored to very specific people, the intention was to undermine morale and try to do as much evil as possible as a lesson to the relatives who were at home and who had no news of their relatives didn’t even know if they would be alive”, says the municipal archivist of Manises, Vicent Masó.

The father of the director of the documentary, a republican soldier, was imprisoned in the concentration camp of the Plaza de Toros de Valencia, one of the more than 300 that the Francoist side created in Spain during the postwar period. The discovery of the letters has served to trace in the documentary the small-scale history of Franco’s repression in small towns and the collateral effect on the families of those defeated in the Civil War. “This is a diffuse repression to which we have not given enough importance,” says Dolz.

For journalist Rosa Brines, executive producer of Stolen cards. The papers of Manises, the documentary “values ​​those micro-histories that are often relegated from the great historical accounts, the history of people who have been forgotten and anonymous.” And in this tighter plane, Brines highlights the “crucial role” of the local historian.

In the case of Manises, Salva Espí’s cataloging work has made it possible to trace the weight that the Falange had in the postwar period and, to a lesser extent, during the rest of the dictatorship. “There is a basic question and that is that these people confuse the town hall with the party,” says Espí, who highlights the “luck” that the material that was left abandoned has been rescued.

In total, 22 boxes that are currently in the Municipal Archives of the Valencian town, a stone’s throw from the capital. “That was the far west”, interjects the director of the documentary. “They had won the war and did what they wanted,” Dolz adds.

Stolen cards. The papers of Manises has the researcher Mélanie Ibáñez, specialized in the Francoist repression towards women, who specifies that in the post-war Francoist repression “many times she responded to complaints that could not be proven”. “That generates a paranoid state of mistrust,” adds clinical psychologist Enric Pons.

Who stole the cards?

The kidnapped missives show the desperation of the prisoners and exiles when they do not get a response from their relatives. “These letters”, explains Pons, “what they denote is a feeling of abandonment and lack of protection”. “The ideals are no longer there, there is no longer the illusion of changing a society and the only thing you are looking for is to survive, but you can only expect that survival from your closest relatives because nobody is going to give it to you.”

“Forgetfulness by your family is one of the deepest sufferings for any human being because it is equivalent to the idea that you no longer exist for your loved ones,” journalist Rosa Brines abounds. “One of the pillars of the documentary”, specifies its director and screenwriter, “is the absolute power that the Falange had in the towns”. The audiovisual producer also highlights the story about the experience of women, many with children in her care: “They suffered poverty and humiliation and were doubly victims, as they are in all wars.”

the stolen letters It is the story of the extent to which the Regime, or the Falange in this case, felt a deep contempt for the losers of the war, reaching the point of wanting to isolate families, to lose track of each other, to dismember them” Brines adds.

Who stole the cards? Although it is not possible to confirm it completely, the historian Salva Espí is convinced that it was the work of the Falange Information Service, very active in the detailed post-war repression. Two of the senders of the letters died in exile, another was captured by the Nazis in France and died in a concentration camp. Two other authors of the letters were shot in Paterna. No trace of the rest could be located.

“It is estimated that the duration of these traumas and experiences is up to the third generation”, concludes the psychologist Enric Pons.