Friday, May 27

Tribute from relatives of victims of reprisals in La Almudena: “It would have been beautiful if Almeida had not removed the names”

After two years of pandemic, of contained tributes, the Memory and Freedom collective has once again convened an act of offering to the almost 3,000 victims shot by the Franco regime on the wall of the Almudena cemetery in Madrid. It is the first encounter with the worst of the COVID behind it, but also the first since the Madrid City Council withdrew the names of those repressed between 1939 and 1944 in the cemetery memorial, which had been conceived as a place of memory and tribute.

It was one of the first decisions made by the popular José Luis Martínez-Almeida upon his arrival at the town hall. The mayor tore down the plaques on which the identity of those murdered in the first years of the dictatorship was inscribed and halted the installation of other plaques such as the one that was expected to contain twelve verses by Miguel Hernández or the one that recalled the words of Julia Conesa , one of the Thirteen Roses, in a letter shortly before being executed against the cemetery wall: “May my name not be erased from history”.

The 2,937 names were replaced by 29 words to recognize “the victims of both sides.” The new text, placed shortly before the pandemic broke out in Spain, says: “The people of Madrid to all Madrilenians who, between 1936 and 1944, suffered violence for political, ideological reasons or because of their religious beliefs. Peace, mercy and forgiveness.” A phrase that the victims and relatives considered at the time “wrong, tendentious and empty”.

It rained, thundered and even hailed, but the relatives of the victims have not moved from the place where the wall is located. There has been luck, the downpour has stopped and has prevented the commemoration act from being suspended, the last one organized by the collective. Tomás Montero, founder and coordinator of Memoria y Libertad, has affirmed that it is time for the institutions to be responsible for paying homage to the victims, and not them, “because it is their duty” even though they have not done so until now. However, they will continue with their fight. “We still have things pending that seem impossible in the Community of Madrid, such as recovering the names of the memorial monument, and we are going to continue behind it,” Montero explained.

Montero has denounced that the institutions do not provide any type of help to the relatives of the victims. “A specific office has not been created to function at the ministerial level. But the Community of Madrid has not done anything for this work either. Everyone has to make a living or go to associations, but the institutions should take care of that,” added Montero, who does not speak only as coordinator of the group, but also as the grandson of one of those shot: “What I ask is that they assume that these people who were shot in the postwar period fought to maintain a democratic regime and justice.” “A society that tries to uphold these principles cannot ignore these people. There must be a recognition ”, he has sentenced.

A society that tries to uphold the principles of democracy and justice cannot ignore these people. There must be an acknowledgment

Faustino is also a member of the group and has spoken before all the relatives and before Fernando Martínez López, Secretary of State for Democratic Memory of the Government, who has also participated in the tribute act. Faustino has demanded the recognition that the victims and their relatives deserve, and has denounced the throwing of dirt on the past: “A democracy cannot be sustained in oblivion and even less so in an incomplete and false memory.” He has also mentioned the bill on democratic memory which, he has said, seeks to “contribute to promoting open and inclusive forms of citizenship” and to fill the “knowledge gap in the trajectory of our democracy”. From the collective they consider that this law is not enough, but that it is a great step that had not been taken until now.

The event was full of emotion, especially when the actress Lucía Álvarez remembered two women who fought for the recognition of the victims of Francoism for a long time: Pilar Bardem and Almudena Grandes. Álvarez has reread the speeches that the two women gave in previous tributes. “Wherever you are, I am already a few years older than you, so imagine how strange it is to call you grandfather,” said a common letter that Bardem read years ago, and that the actress has recited while the attendees held back tears.

“It would have been beautiful if Almeida hadn’t removed the names”

Family members gather every year in this tribute to remember the victims. Marisa Castañeda’s great-uncle was shot on May 19, 1943. She has attended the 16 tributes organized by the Memoria y Libertad collective. “We met on the Internet and we have grown and found many people who did not even know that they had their father, their brother or their grandfather in a ditch.” She is moved that families continue to meet to remember the victims and assures: “The tribute would have been precious if the mayor had not taken our names.”

Marisa wants to transmit the “pain” and that the “badness” of having your recognition taken away is known. “For the first time you are going to see his name written with surnames and you are going to go through it with your fingers and, suddenly, they take it away from you, break it and throw it on the ground.”

Nemesio Cano Palomo is one of the 2,937 names that the City Council removed from the Almudena cemetery. He was shot on July 12, 1939, a date that his daughter Celestina has not forgotten. “My daughter looked for it,” she explained. The granddaughter attempted to check the cemetery listings, but as her mother notes: “They said they didn’t have time to look, but she said she ‘had all the time in the world.’ And she found it.”

It has been 39 years since they knew where Nemesio was. Since then, mother and daughter ask for justice: “That it be recognized that they had not done anything wrong and that they were judged for what they believed.”