In the shelter of Mount Abantos, in the winters it is a cold dog. Children play soccer with a leather ball kicked a thousand times, heavy as if it were a granite skittle, loaded with water from the Guadarrama ice pools, coated in the sandstone that carpets the Cuelgamuros valley, where there is no stone. .
The buried lives of the workers who made the Valley of the Fallen
There are 40 children. The little ones are nine years old. They always wear shorts, no matter the cold dog. The older ones, 12 or 13, look more serious, they are already tamed. One day a week they are taken for walks among the cliffs, it may already be August or January. Never mind the cold dog.
Pepe Galán, who studied at the Valle de los Caídos school between 1967 and 1970, remembers this and many other things. Of the grandeur of the monument seen from the height of a 10-year-old child. From the stone, from the stairs, from the echo that amplified any murmur. Of angels with swords. The only day they were allowed to climb to the top of the cross, into one of their arms, to celebrate graduation. From the pain of the leather ball loaded with water and coated in the sandstone when it hit a thigh. He remembers this and what he does not remember, too, because today, thanks to his anti-Franco militancy and his activism in memory, he is able to reconstruct his years with the Benedictines, filling in the gaps of what he did not know. and what I did not see then.
The Escolanía del Valle de los Caídos, a religious educational institution, a boarding school for singing children subsidized by National Heritage, is still in force and is not very different today from what it was in the late Franco period, as can be seen in practically the only documentary window to what happens in there, the movie In the shadow of the cross, by Alessandro Pugno, awarded at the Malaga Film Festival in 2013. In the interviews that followed its premiere, Pugno declared that what happens in there is not teaching but “indoctrination”. Although his evacuation seems imminent, the choir has open enrollment for the coming year and the inn continues to accept reservations for spiritual retreats.
The children sing the daily mass. They play tennis using the walls of the complex built with forced laborers as a fronton. The children pray. Foosball games are marked not far from a cemetery of thousands of dead transferred behind the backs of their families. The altar boys attend the altar service. They take out the liturgical objects from the sacristy and pass them in front of the tomb of José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Franco’s national Catholicism is still in force in the Valley of the Fallen.
“A child who is there should not experience that hostility in the environment, like the one I experienced when I was a child. The faces of the heads of the Falange, the traditionalists, the National Movement … were there as if sparing our lives. Those images I will never forget them. There was a lot of tension and contained violence. There, at the masses, there were many of those who were and those who wanted to be something in the Franco regime, “recalls Galán. “In Spain there are 50 provinces that almost coincide with the 52 weeks of the year. One day a week, the living forces of each province (the bishop, the provincial head of the Falange, the Civil Governor, businessmen, newspaper heads …) they were there, in the tribute to José Antonio Primo de Rivera. And we, the children, had to sing the mass in that weekly celebration “.
When the Francoist authorities left, the children rushed to the benches where they had been sitting. They collected the name cards so they knew who they were. Some, the ministers, recognized them from television. It was like playing cards. The more famous, the more value it had. Pepe remembers there Licinio de la Fuente (Minister of Labor between 1969 and 1975), Fernando Suárez (last Minister of Labor and Vice President of the Franco regime, accused in the case opened in Argentina), José Solís Ruiz (Minister Secretary of the Movement), to José Antonio Girón de Velasco (founder of the JONS) and, of course, every November 20, the so-called national tribute to the fallen, to the dictator Francisco Franco and Prince Juan Carlos, “although he was not card “, presiding over the act in the first line.
Nobody told them anything, but among the children they said to themselves: “There are dead people there.” Somehow they learned that they had buried people in the chapels of the nave, but never in those years were they aware, as Pepe recalls, that on both sides of the altar, behind the main chapels, even hitting the pipes of the imposing organ OESA from 1956, there were thousands of more bones. In its first two years there continued to arrive trucks with boxes identified or not, although much less than in previous years: a hundred in the spring of 1967. In 1968 they were also sent from Griñón, Chamartín de la Rosa and Villaviciosa de Odón in Madrid , Alcázar de San Juan in Ciudad Real and Gandesa in Tarragona. The dead arrive in silence and there the children know nothing, they see nothing.
“You are looking at a person who has erased a blackboard with his tongue” says Pepe. It happened one day when, without permission, the children began to draw scribbles on the blackboard. “Nonsense of children”. A friar came in and said “get on your knees.” He pointed to one half of the blackboard and the other half. “I’ll be back in a little while and I want it clean,” he told them. Pepe licked his part, as far as it went, picking up the chalk dust with his tongue. “You are before a person who in a leisure moment has entered a room where there was a piano and for sitting down to experiment with it, he has received a great beating,” he says.
You don’t want to say who he was, but you qualify him as a renowned organist and musicologist. “He accused me of pounding on the piano and hosts fell on me like bread. They weren’t fooling around there. Some of the priests had a bit of sadistic streak. As in all these places where they have impunity and they know that the most they are going to to receive is a reprimand from the superior father or the abbot. ” These are not the only stories of violence. There are more, many more.
“One night, in the common bedroom of small children, a bat came in. We grabbed the pillows to give it, I did not, but there was a commotion. The watchman came out, sleeping in an adjoining room. He said that everyone who we would have gotten out of bed, got down on our knees. ” The forty children knelt on the floor, twenty on each side, leaving a hallway in the center. The friar sent one of the children – Pepe still remembers his name – to look for a wooden hammer that they used in the chapel to soundly mark the indications. When he comes with the instrument in his hand, the Benedictine stands next to the first in line and hits him on the head. “Go to the next one. Knock! The one who was hitting him put his hands to his head. He cried. You could see that he was getting closer. When he hit me, I closed my eyes, everything went blank with pain.” The punisher had reached the end, there was not a child left without hitting. Everyone scratched their heads in pain. “And then, he starts to take a second lap,” Pepe remembers, as if it had happened yesterday, clutching his head. “Your soul was falling to your feet. You prayed that it didn’t hit you in the same place. When the second hit me, it hit me in the same place.
The true story
“My father did not have a conception of what the Valley of the Fallen really was,” says Pepe. How a child from the Orcasitas neighborhood ends up in a place like that, Japan is to blame. Currently Pepe is working on a documentary, it will probably be the last of many that he has produced with his partner, Julieta Pérez, who tells her own story. It all started with envy. Cousin Jesús, who was studying boarding school in a priest’s college, came on a musical tour of Japan and had to be picked up in Barajas. “Cousin Jesus, the one from the town, who had never seen a locomotive in his life, turned out that the first thing he saw was the shinkansen bullet train,” he says. Pepe was fascinated. All his illusion was to travel the world, see others Japanese, ride all the bullet trains, record records, like his cousin Jesus the town. For this reason, like Jesus, he ended up entering the choir of the Valley of the Fallen. The furthest Pepe went was to sing Christmas carols in English at the Torrejón de Ardoz military base.
Despite the mistreatment, Pepe endured. “My mother was very ill and I had a kind of pride, a self-esteem that I later compared with that which immigrants have when they fail. I did not want to return because I did not want to admit that I had not endured or give my mother a job. in the situation I was in, “he recalls.
Many years later, when that boy grew up and began to understand where he had lived, he could not prevent that image of children in line waiting to be attacked, knowing that they can do nothing to prevent it, remind him of the shooting of your uncle.
The farce in which Pepe had lived begins to uncover the day when, browsing in Madrid’s Cuesta de Moyano, he comes across a book entitled The true story of the Valley of the Fallen. What true story will that be, he wonders, if he already knows everything, if he has lived it all, if he has seen it from the guts of the granite of the mountain. He began to read Daniel Sueiro’s book and to understand that he knew nothing about anything.
Years later, his father convalescing from an illness, father and son spend many hours together. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero governs Spain. On television, historical memory is spoken openly for the first time, open trenches are excavated digging pits, the earth is removed, bones appear. The father loses his fear and, timidly, opens his own grave of memory. Pepe knows then that his grandfather had been imprisoned. That his father did forced labor in a battalion, drying out the Lugo de Llanera marshes. That his uncle Tiburcio was missing. The boy who left the choir school decades ago begins to investigate, until he finds out that Tiburcio Galán Crisóstomo was shot in 1940 against the wall of the East Cemetery. He was one of the 2,936 executed in the immediate repression of the Franco regime in Madrid.
He will never be able to prove it, but to this day, Pepe is haunted by the idea that the remains of his disappeared uncle Tiburcio were there, behind the walls next to which he sang, among the boxes of the 1,643 victims, many of them unidentified, which were transferred from the Eastern Cemetery to the Valley of the Fallen between 1959 and 1961. The mere probability makes your hair stand on end. “My head cracks thinking about it,” he says.
“That is why I have come to the conclusion that the Valley of the Fallen is a place to erase traces of crimes. Everything you put there, disappears. It becomes invisible. In a certain way, that closure of the Benedictine community prevents us from knowing why they did not warn of the deterioration of the ossuaries, something that was part of their work according to the initial agreement. They have not even been able to do that. It was not just a matter of keeping the record book, “he warns. “This is someone’s responsibility, the priests or the National Heritage. They have not done their job.”
The intervention in the Valley of the Fallen will come soon. The Democratic Memory Law calls for a future royal decree in which to create a new legal framework for the Valley, declaring the Foundation of the Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos extinct, which was the one-way ticket for the Benedictine Abbey of Silos it could be installed in Cuelgamuros at the end of the 50s. The return ticket will be something that is still to be negotiated.