José María Rodríguez (Valencia, 2004) read the comic during a school stay in Paris The grooves of chance by the cartoonist Paco Roca. This is how this student from the French Lyceum of Valencia discovered an unknown past.
“Of course, being in Paris, it was a super special reading, I was able to visit places I was talking about and, little by little, I became more interested in the Republic,” says the 17-year-old in an interview with elDiario.es during a pause in the exhumation work of the Arqueoantro specialized association in the Castellón town of Vistabella del Maestrat. “So”, the student continues, “I realized that in the Paterna cemetery they were doing a tribute on April 14 and I attended.”
On the occasion of a company school internship, Rodríguez chose to do them with the Arqueoantro association, the specialized group of archaeologists, anthropologists and historians that is dedicated to the exhumation of the graves of the post-war Francoist repression. With them he learned the complex process of exhumation of a common grave and, especially, how to work with the objects found next to the bodies. “Hearing the family and people of Arqueoantro speak and that they tell about their social work impacted me a lot,” says the student.
“The teachers loved it, they found it curious, because in the end the French Lyceum and the Paterna cemetery are very close, they were very shocked to know how close there had been more than 2,200 people shot and that I had been there working and investigating” remembers Rodríguez.
With the mass graves of the cemetery located barely two kilometers from his schoolyard, the young man takes advantage of the recess to get closer to the exhumation works. “I really like to go and see how they progress, I try to go during my breaks at the Lyceum, sometimes we have two hours free to eat and I pick up tapers with food and go to the cemetery with the scooter,” says Rodríguez. Thus, the student sacrifices recess to lend a hand at the foot of the pit between picks and shovels. “I have even gone to identify material and the situation of going from being in class to 1:30 pm to identify cartridges is curious,” he adds. His school, an emblematic French institution in the city whose roots go back to 1888, during the terrible postwar Franco repression became a real refuge, unusually secular in the wasteland of the dictatorship, which welcomed the children of republicans.
While the regime shot and carried out the meticulous repression, the French Alliance was an oasis for the survivors of the catastrophe. When the center moved in full transition from Isabel la Católica Street to Paterna, a town a stone’s throw from the city, a whole generation of teachers of Valencian origin but raised in France, children of the Republican exile, joined the teaching, framed in the Gallic educational system. Without being aware of it, José María Rodríguez, who is so young that he did not even meet that emblematic generation of retired teachers, has followed in the footsteps of those republican and Frenchified teachers.
In addition, the learning that Arqueoantro has given him has allowed him to focus on another of his passions: the search for war material in the trenches of the XYZ Line, the defensive line built by the Republic in 1938 to try to stop the advance of the rebel troops. . “I go to combat zones, with trenches and war objects, to see what happened there,” says the student.
“It is very different to see a trench and not know what is behind it and then find the material and realize that there is a warlike but above all human dimension: there are cans, cans of toothpaste, combs and spoons,” he says. “These objects bring you very close to the conflict, everything that is military takes you away because it is something we are not used to, but in the end a spoon is an object that brings people and that war closer together,” he adds.
When he finds an object of museum value, he photographs it (“The GPS location is saved automatically,” the young man details) and takes it home to clean and document it. “There are times when there are markings that can only be known once they are cleaned more clearly at home,” explains Rodríguez. After the process, he takes them to the Interpretation Center of the XYZ Line in Almenara, coordinated by the historian Lara Cardona. “I expose the objects that I have been finding with labels in which I explain what it is”, details the young man, who assures that it is necessary “to see a lot of material and investigate to be able to differentiate between one cartridge origin or another”.
What are the greatest treasures discovered on your excursions to the mountain? “It is a question that they ask me a lot and to which I do not always know how to answer”, the student answers. “I once found a Russian rifle firing pin and, of course, it is curious because that piece is the most important of the rifle,” he adds. The young man keeps a Instagram account (@frentedelevante) in which he hangs his findings.
“Objects speak to us a lot,” he adds. Another treasure from the collection: “A simple link from a machine gun, a very small piece that I found with the naked eye, like all objects.” “From the different markings and the reliefs that it had, you discover that it is part of the ammunition of an airplane that came from the Soviet Union. That allows us to say that an airplane passed over there, what model exactly and, in addition, who fired at that position. ”
Between graves and searches at the front, Rodríguez does not neglect his studies, much less. In fact, he even won the first prize in the historical memory works competition of the University of Murcia, in the category of secondary school students, with a research work on the objects of the XYZ Line. In the narration modality of the same award, he obtained a second prize with a work entitled The memory in the mist.
“The generation of my parents”, laments the young man, “was forced into oblivion, like so many others.” The experience of the exhumations has irremediably marked the young student, who is already one of the Arqueoantro team: “From the first moment they open the doors, they explain everything to you, as they always do when a person appears minimally interested in the subject of the exhumations “. “Seeing it in situ it impacts and marks you, both to a type of people with an ideal and to others “, he assures.
There is still a lot of work ahead and many graves to exhume: “This is done by the relatives, to give them back what they have not been able to obtain throughout the post-war period, not even in the Transition.”
“Ultimately this is about human rights,” says the young student.