Sunday, June 20

The filmmaker from the culture pit | Spain

He wore a “country” suit. He had a broad face, a narrow forehead, a straight nose, large ears, and brown hair. “I received the paper notebooks, which seems good to me, but see if the pad can be better, because it has more conditions.” Daniel Navarro was an artistic painter and an amateur silent film director. Seven days before being shot in the wall of Paterna (Valencia), he used the entire page in which he wrote to his family to tell them the drawings he was making and ask for more material to continue sending the memories that, surely, he knew that they were going to be the last they would have. “Receive the heart of this your father.” Gallery 1, cell 28, Valencia Model Prison, May 18, 1940.

Daniel Navarro, right, in one of his films.
Daniel Navarro, right, in one of his films.

Daniel Navarro was 49 years old. He did not die, as the tombstones that were placed in the sixties said next to grave 114 of the Paterna cemetery where his body was laid. He was assassinated for “aggravated aid to the rebellion.” His body showed “symptoms of certain death caused by small projectile wounds to the head and chest,” according to the certificate issued the next day by the adjunct medical lieutenant at the “shooting range” in Paterna.

The pit was opened 10 days ago. The first skeletal remains have already appeared, but still not enough so that the family association of the nearly 200 people who were put in the hole go to court to report that the bodies show signs of violence. Most likely, as on previous occasions, the coroner will go to the cemetery, ask when the deaths date and, in a few days, the case will be filed by prescription. It will not be possible to wield the Democratic Memory Law, which has not yet been approved and which provides for restorative justice for the reprisals, for those who, like the two hundred shot and thrown in what is known as culture pit, were victims of the crimes of the Franco regime. A law that will make it possible to make a map of graves, which will make possible the investigation of crimes and which will lead the State to take charge of the exhumations currently being carried out by relatives in a continuous fight against bureaucracy and financing.

“A few lines to express the pain I feel for having separated from your father (…) when it reaches your hands I suppose you will be aware and you will have collected the clothes and his latest drawings.” Mariángeles Navarro was never told about her grandfather Daniel. And that his father followed in his footsteps and dedicated himself to artistic painting. They didn’t talk about it at home. But Mariángeles carefully conserves each one of the few objects that link it to its history. Also the letter that their cellmate wrote them the day after the execution. The card in which his traits were described. Some drawings. The photo of a score of actors in which a cross on their torso marks who their grandfather is. And, framed, the certificate of repair and personal recognition that came to him after the approval of the Historical Memory Law. “We do not want to remove hatred or grudges, only that it is known that it existed and that it is not repeated,” he says.

Cover of one of Daniel Navarro's films.
Cover of one of Daniel Navarro’s films.

“My grandfather was a bohemian, he had an intrepid spirit,” she says, even without having met him and convinced that she had inherited part of his character. He was a corporal of the municipal guard of the City Council of Algemesí, a town in Valencia that, then, had about 10,000 inhabitants. But he was also a creator of sets, film director, screenwriter, actor and head of the first film school in the municipality. Mariángeles believes that he also participated in the pavilions of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. Too advanced for the time.

In grave 114 of Paterna between 180 and 200 bodies were abandoned, corresponding to five executions between May 9, 1940 and June 28 of the same year, almost 15 months after the end of the civil war. The passage of time has been decomposing the bodies and the loss of volume has caused the earth to intermingle. The excavation, started just seven days ago, is already more than two meters deep in which, after a lot of earth and a lot of lime, remains of the first corpses have appeared. They correspond to the executions of June 28, 40, which gave its name to the ‘culture pit’. But in it, predictably, will appear, above all, mayors and councilors, from a dozen surrounding towns. Also Bluff, the cartoonist for the satirical magazine La Traca, or the journalist Isidro Escandell, also secretary of the Valencia Mercantile Athenaeum, socialist activist and vice president of the Valencia Provincial Council, of whom no relative has yet appeared to claim his remains and, if he does not do so, he will return to the grave.

Daniel Navarro’s granddaughter will have to wait several weeks. The remains of his grandfather must be right in the middle of the grave, next to those of the third execution. From that moment on, identification will come through DNA. She had no problem contributing hers. But a certain conflict arose when they told him that it was better if it was a man. At home, his father never spoke of his grandfather. And although his curiosity and eagerness to repair his grandfather’s dignity has been evident for years, he never found much support. “In the end, one of my sons has provided the DNA that will allow us to identify him and bury him where he always should be, with my grandmother.”

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