Almudena Cemetery

Almudena Cemetery

by Nathan Hoback

General Introduction

The size of Almudena Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Madrid, perfectly reflects the scope of its contents, containing more graves than there are citizens in the city. However, there is definite evidence of who were the victors and losers of the Spanish Civil War, something Francisco Franco made well-known throughout his dictatorship.


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There are several imposing monuments to commemorate the Nationalist dead. There is a monument to the División Azul, those Francoist soldiers sent to fight for Hitler against Russia in World War II. The visitor will also find the graves of members of the German Condor Legion, the division that bombed the town of Guernica in 1937, inciting Pablo Picasso to paint his famous Guernica for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.

W&M at Almudena

W&M Group at the Almudena Cemetery

The commemorations to the Republican dead are modest, including the site of the deaths of the “13 rosas rojas.” These 13 young women were incarcerated shortly after the end of the civil war for their involvement with the Communist Party of Spain (the PCE) or the Unified Socialist Youth (JSU). They were pulled from Ventas Prison in the middle of the night and executed by firing squad in Almudena Cemetery in August of 1939. The site, a simple wall, is marked by several plaques, including one that that says, “They gave their lives here for liberty and democracy the 5th of August, 1939.”

Also in Almudena, one can find the grave of La Pasionaria, Dolores Ibárruri, who was a champion of workers’ and women’s rights through her positions in the Republican government and Communist party. Madrid fended off the three year siege by Nationalist forces with the help of Ibárruri’s famous cry “No pasarán!” (“They shall not pass!”). After the war, Ibárruri went on to become Secretary General and then President of the PCE. Also, after Franco’s death in 1975, she was appointed to the Spanish government as a representative of the Asturias electoral district.

These commemorations in Almudena Cemetery serve as an interesting counterpart to the veneration for Franco and his fallen at Valle de los Caídos, since the size of the cross alone physically dwarfs the commemoration for fallen Republican soldiers, which in one instance consists of a single photo against a cemetery wall.

Almudena Cemetery

Marcos Burgos will be turning 70 years old this May and he never knew his father. According to his wife, he talks often of his father, but quickly becomes overcome with emotion. We saw this emotion first-hand today when we visited Almudena Cemetery and saw the wall against which his father was executed.We met Marcos and his wife outside the cemetery and entered, stopping by the capilla (chapel) and a small gravesite for the soldiers of the División Azul, those Francoist soldiers sent to fight for Hitler against Russia in World War II. Marcos also showed us the graves of the German Condor Legion, which bombed the town of Guernica in 1937 (this was especially remarkable, having just seen Picasso’s Guernica yesterday). Marcos’s wife commented that there was so much there to commemorate the Nationalist dead, but as for the other side: “nada”. All these graves were fascinating because of their historical significance, but the emotional center of our visit was the visit to the wall where Marcos commemorates his father.

The father of Marcos Burgos was a captain in the Republican army. During the war, he was captured and brought to the wall in Almudena Cemetery and killed on July 12, 1939. Marcos was born two months before and never knew his father. As Marcos grew in age and in curiosity concerning his absent father, his mother would only say that he died during the war; she knew more, but she said nothing out of fear caused by Franco’s oppression. Many years passed, taking with them both the mother and sister of Marcos. While sorting through his sister’s things, Marcos found a letter that detailed how his father died and so began an investigation into this mystery that had been left unsolved for too long in Marcos’s life. He traveled to the Archive of Salamanca and found official documents concerning the last years of his father’s life.

Now, Marcos visits this wall with his wife, decorating it with red, yellow, and purple flowers (representing the three colors of the República) and a small photo of his father. They also visit a similar wall a few paces along the hundreds of sepulchers: the site marking the deaths of the 13 rosas rojas. These 13 girls were young political prisoners who were incarcerated and later executed in Almudena Cemetery. The wall is marked by several plaques, one saying, “They gave their lives here for liberty and democracy the 5th of August, 1939.” For Marcos and his wife, the story of the 13 rosas rojas is like that of his father: part of the broken lives and families left by Franco. As Marcos read poetry beside the 13 rosas site and began to cry, one must remember the suffering of many children of other executed Republican soldiers and prisoners (one of the 13 rosas rojas had a young son). His wife says that his emotion comes quickly, as it did today in Almudena Cemetery. After almost 40 years under Franco’s dictatorship and decades of leaving the past alone, the emotions of many are finally being released.

Bibliography

Alvarez, Miguel. Cementerios de Madrid. Memoria sepulcral de la ciudad. Madrid: Ediciones la librería, 2006.

Trece Rosas Rojas

Cuevas, Tomasa y Mary E. Giles. Prison of Women: Testimonies of War and Resistance in Spain, 1939-1975. Trans. Mary E. Giles. New York: SUNY Press, 1998.

Fonseca, Carlos. Trece rosas rojas. Madrid: Temas de hoy, 2008.

Fundación Trece Rosas. 19 Oct. 2008. <http://www.trecerosas.es/>.

García, Jorge y Fidel Martínez. “Ballad of Ventas Prison.” Trans. Anna Kushner. Words Without Borders: The Online Magazine for International Literature. http://wordswithoutborders.org/graphic-lit/ballad-of-ventas-prison.

Hernández Holgado, Fernando. “Las trece rosas, Agosto de 1939: Un diálogo entre el documento y la fuente oral.” Las prisiones franquistas. 32-47. <http://www.cefid.uab.es/files/comunicIII-3.pdf>.