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The Wells of Caudé

April 2, 2011

Francisco Sanchez at the Pozos de Caude. David Frey photo.

The surrounding countryside was littered with the graves of Franco’s victims, Francisco Sánchez told us. Some had just two or three bodies. One had many more. Six miles from Teruel, sandwiched between fields and factories along a highway, rose a whitewashed monument. The red, yellow and purple flag of the Spanish Republic rose overhead. Below read a sign: “To our comrades shot here for defending liberty and democracy.”

“These are the Wells of Caudé,” Sánchez said.

Sánchez parked his car and walked with us to the monument. A row of gravestones stood for victims never buried in a cemetery. Instead, their bodies had been tossed 275 feet below to the bottom of the well.

“We will never know who was in here,” Sánchez said. The Pozos of Caudé had not been excavated, and because of the depth, they may never be. As many as 1,000 victims may have been tossed into the well over the course of the war. Many were shot here, at what had been a rest area for peasants on their way to and from the markets in Teruel. Women’s bodies were tossed here, too. Often their crime was simply being the wife, daughter or sister of the Falangists’ real targets.

“In my town, there are no lists, no documents, nothing,” Sánchez said.

He was an engineer, the former socialist mayor of Cella, a village ten more miles away. Like Silva, he’s part of the grandchildren’s generation that searched for the buried stories of buried ancestors. Sánchez headed up the Asociación Pozos de Caudé, dedicated to the victims who lay in those wells and elsewhere. Both his grandfather and his great-grandfather, members of a local worker’s cooperative, were believed to have been dumped in the well. Every member of that cooperative was killed, he said.

“Falangists went to their homes, they went to their bedrooms with their lists. They shot them all.”

I stepped onto the plastic that covered the well and looked into the depths. Only darkness looked back. Weeds took root on the walls.

What Sánchez knows of that night came from a young boy sent to kill his father. At 18, he joined the Falangists. They gave him a uniform and a gun and brought him on their nighttime raid. When they lined up the prisoners at the well, they told him to shoot. He looked at the prisoners and saw not enemies but neighbors. He couldn’t shoot.

“He took off his weapons belts, he gave up everything and he went on as the farmer he was,” Sánchez said. He never told anyone the story until he was on his deathbed. “That’s how we know with certainty that my grandfather is here. This man told us that he was here at this site that night.”