Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Digging Up The Past: Civil War

They started digging for bodies on Monday. In an old part of the municipal cemetery in Sant Joan, an area of grey earth with a couple of palms and some shrubbery, partially enclosed by a low cloister with chipped pillars, they began the careful process of exhumation. DNA samples will be taken. They will confirm the discovery of the bodies of Miquel Salom, Joan Gual and Jaume Gual, three middle-aged farmers.

Puntiró in Palma has a golf course. It was designed by Jack Nicklaus. It lies next to the old road to Sineu. If you carry on from Sineu, the next town you come to is Maria de la Salut. In October 1936, the three farmers and three others walked from Maria to Palma. They didn't make it to their destination. They were shot in Puntiró. Victims of the Falange, they were Republicans who had been turned in by neighbours. Their bodies were buried in the cemetery in Sant Joan.

The three others who had been made to walk to Palma that night in October managed to escape. One of them was to later testify that it was a Llorenç "Llebro" who shot the three men. One victim had shouted out, "do not kill me". The bodies were left in a well in Son Fred in Sencelles. They were found and taken to Sant Joan, where the local justice of the peace registered them as "unknown". They were placed in what was a communal grave in Sant Joan, the one which now has an unremarkable collection of plants growing on it. Some weeks later, on 28 December, relatives of the dead men claimed their identification but the bodies were not disinterred in order that confirmation could be made. Seventy-eight years later, following pressure from the association Memòria de Mallorca, the digging began on Monday. It is the first exhumation of its kind in Mallorca.

Six years ago, Judge Baltasar Garzón ordered the exhumation of mass graves. He was searching for evidence of slaughter by Franco's Nationalists. Three of these graves were in Mallorca - one in Calvia and two in Porreres. For his trouble, Garzón ended up being disqualified as a judge. He had exceeded his powers and had broken the principle of the amnesty, the legal forgetfulness that prevents Spain from truly coming to terms with the truth of its past. Work on exhumation started but was then paralysed by court order. It still is paralysed. Despite this legal obstacle, the Sant Joan grave, because of the association's insistence, the wishes of the families and the support of the town hall, is being exhumed.

There are reckoned to be 44 mass graves in Mallorca which contain perhaps as many as 2,000 bodies. 24 of them are in cemeteries, such as those of Calvia, Porreres and Sant Joan. Twelve others are in ditches by the sides of main roads. Four are in wells. And four more are under beaches, one of them being in Sa Coma, near to one of the two landing places used by Captain Bayo for his ultimately doomed expedition to wrest Mallorca from the Nationalists.

Sa Coma is in the municipality of Sant Llorenç. Just a bit north of Sa Coma is the resort of Cala Millor, part of which is in Sant Llorenç as well but with the other part in Son Servera. In Son Servera, at the last elections before the coup of July 1936, a Republican Left candidate had been voted in. It is thought that this was the reason why cruelty which occurred in Son Servera was as it was to later be. It is also said that in municipalities on Mallorca's Llevant coast there had been traditions of leftism and Republicanism, a product of discontent with landowners and the "cacique" political bosses that had been evident for many years.

The story of what happened in Son Servera in the lead-up to the coup and between it and the Bayo landings and the consequences of those landings has been detailed by the Memòria de Mallorca association. In one particularly chilling passage, it speaks of the events of the night of 16 August when the Nationalist colonel Unamuno said that he wanted the "jails emptied". These were the jails of Manacor to which Republicans had been taken. Two hundred were shot that night. "In the morning heat, there was an unbearable smell of burnt human flesh." The bodies are supposedly in the Manacor cemetery of Son Coletes.

The number of men from Son Servera who were shot during the Civil War was 52. Others lost their lives in different ways, while many more were placed in concentration camps. The occupations of the 52 have been noted. A doctor, a teacher, a shoemaker, a carpenter. But most were simple farmers. Just like the three men from Maria de la Salut whose bodies are being exhumed in Sant Joan.

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