A team of archaeologists has located in Belchite (Zaragoza) a Mass grave with 150 executed from the Civil War, killed by Falange militias that took over the town in the first weeks of the Civil War. Now they face the arduous task – and in many cases impossible – of identifying these remains to return them to the families, if there are any localized descendants who can provide DNA samples.
The excavation, financed with public funds from the Historical Memory, has made it possible to physically reconstruct the horrifying testimony given decades ago by those who lived those days. Among them, one of its protagonists, a Falangist who participated in that bloody purge, who was captured and interrogated by the Republicans. He said that the repression that was deployed in Belchite during those first days of the Civil War ended with about 400 murders, some mass shootings that took place in the local cemetery.
The skeletons that have now been found correspond to part of those around 400 victims who were buried in mass graves in the Belchite Cemetery. Many of those who have now been found have bullet holes in their skulls, evidence of shots de grace. There are those who were tied hand and foot.
The excavations, carried out during this month of October, have been co-directed by Hugo Chauton and Jose Ignacio Lorenzo. From now on, an attempt will be made to identify these remains, by means of comparisons of DNA samples that the descendants of those who were victims of that massive shooting can provide.
Identification is a very complicated job. Not only because of the complexity of the process but also because of the difficulty of finding descendants of all these victims. “The main objective now is to return the bodies to the families, but it is the most complicated problem we are facing now,” explains José Ignacio Lorenzo, a doctor in Anthropology who has worked on a wide list of research projects on mass graves. of the Civil War, “on both sides” – he specifies.
“So far we have about twenty people who have provided us with DNA samples to be able to compare them, and more are arriving,” he says. The figure is clearly very low for the number of bodies to be identified, a challenge that in many cases will be impossible to meet. “Of some of the victims there are no descendants, and in other cases the families went into exile” and their trace has been lost, explains José Ignacio Lorenzo.
The bloody Battle of Belchite
That brutal episode took place in the early days of the Civil War. The town remained in the hands of the Francoist side. Later, late in the war, the strategic enclave of Belchite was the scene of bloody battles between both sides and the Republicans managed to temporarily gain control of the municipality. Some sources speak of 5,000 deaths on both sides in
the Battle of Belchite, which has gone down in history as one of the bloodiest episodes of the Civil War.
The town was devastated, mortally wounded. The rest was put by oblivion. After the Civil War, the Franco regime chose to build a new town next to the ruins of the original Belchite. Its last inhabitants abandoned it years later.
The ruins of the Old Town of Belchite have remained as testimony of the tragedy. Now, the Government of Pedro Sánchez has promised 4 million euros to consolidate these ruins and prevent them from being lost. At least, that is the intention of the General State Budget project that is being processed in Congress. And it is that, despite the proclaimed Historical Memory from the years of President Zapatero, oblivion continues to erode those ruins and with each passing year there remains a little less than what was the Old Town.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism