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Eulogies for Those Who Had None

March 31, 2011

Family members collect the remains of loved ones in Aranda del Duero. David Frey photo.

“I can’t handle the emotion of this,” a woman was saying as she accepted the remains of her father, “so many years being with the fascists trampling over us, insulting us, and it’s still going on. It’s still going on.”

The ceremony was already in process when we arrived. We rented a car and drove north to Aranda del Duero. Fortunately, we had better luck than Hemingway. When he came here, his driver fell asleep and drove the car into a ditch there. We found a parking place near the Casa de Cultura, a modern building downtown, and dashed inside the auditorium. Hundreds of people filled the auditorium. On the stage sat rows of coffins, each small enough to be a child’s, holding only bones.

They were the bodies of day laborers, school teachers, village mayors and town councilmen. Some were union organizers. Some were party activists. For these crimes they were taken to prison, executed and buried in a mass grave. The man who led the ceremony read a brief eulogy for each victim whose bones had been identified. As each story was told, sons and daughters came to accept the remains. They were gray-haired or bald themselves now, thinking about their own mortality. The grandchildren came, middle-aged, with children of their own: a generation that never knew a Spain without video games or democracy.

“I have here a letter from my father who was locked in the Burgos prison,” one woman said. “Let’s see if I can read it.”

She unfolded the letter in her hands and read: “None of us is suffering. They treat us well. We can buy everything we need. Don’t believe any of the rumors that are circulating. There are a lot of us detained here and we are all fine.” In days he would be dead.

She paused. “I almost know it by heart,” she said.