Fuencarral Cemetery

Fuencarral Cemetery

by Alex Wright

img_2225Fuencarral Cemetery was constructed in 1931-1932 as a decree by the Second Republic. Once the war began in 1936, the cemetery became a key location for the massive numbers of republican dead from the defense of Madrid.

During the battle of Madrid, the International Brigades played an ever increasing role in the defense. The largest brigades that were stationed in the Madrid area of operations were the 11th, 12th and 13th Brigades. These three units were key in prolonging the battle for Madrid, and had many casualties as a result of the intense fighting. By the 24th of November 1936, the 11th Brigade had lost 1230 casualties, with 900 dead, and the 12th Brigade had suffered 700 deaths. Because of the massive losses, the 11th Brigade was actually incorporated into the 12th in order to once again create a complete command.(ADEE, 7)

On the 24th of November 1936, the first mass burial of International Brigade deaths was carried out at Fuencarral, and on the 26th of December, by decree of the Fuencarral municipal government, there was a banner and inscription erected at the site to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Columna Internacional. (ADEE, 8 )

The large plaque that was put in place to commemorate the brigades is actually from an unknown date, however it is known that Franco and his regime had the original plaque removed once the war was over. It was not until many years after the death of Franco and the end of his regime that a similar plaque was put in place of the original.

During the mid to late 1980′s, the Soviets led the way in commemorating their fallen soldiers by placing a large monument near the entrance of the cemetery. This trend has been followed by several other countries who have built plaques and monuments to their respective fallen soldiers. (ADEE, 14)

The Disunion of Memory Recovery Within The International Brigades in the Popular Front

When one walks into the abyss of the Cementario Fuencarral, they are greeted with a maze of tombs, graves, statues, and urn walls. Amidst this scenery exists a story of battles, political struggles, and the recovery of memory that is barely imaginable in this peaceful place with its view of Madrid in one distance and the mountains in the other.     The cemetery was originally constructed as a gravesite for those members of the international brigades who fell during the Battle of Jarama in 1937. After the war, Franco destroyed the cemetery as a monument to these men, exhuming the bodies and placing them in a mass grave, as well as removing the large plaque that had been placed in their honor. What is interesting however is that the Fascists did not actually destroy the whole cemetery, rather the walls were left standing and the graves were replaced with those of Nationalists. With the end of the regime, the cemetery began to once again be recognized by the Spanish population as a place of memory for the battle which occurred there and for those brigadistas who died.      As the Spaniards were busy recovering the memory of their violent past, those veterans outside of the country were also working towards gaining a renewed sense of physical memory for their sacrifices in the Valley of Jarama. Today, in the cemetery of Fuencarral, there are two obvious points regarding this recovery, one is that it has been and continues to be a long process, secondly the process of reestablishing this monument has not been one which has been a sole effort of the various vaterans’ groups, let alone any organization of the veterans as a whole, like the Friends of the International Brigades, a Madrid based organization.      The materialization of these memories are most prominently represented by the numerous plaques that cover one of the original walls now on the interior of the cemetery. These plaques represent a huge variety of groups and were placed throughout a broad period of time. Although photography is prohibited, it is possible when the guards are on the opposite ends of their rounds to acquire photos of the plaques which honor troops from Russia, Italy, France, Poland, Yugoslavia, and the Jewish brigadistas. None of these plaques looks the same as another next to it, and none have an exactly similar phrase. The one exception to this pattern of separation is the original, massive plaque which honors all those brigadistas who died during the war. This plaque, which must be at least 25 feet long, was removed in the original destruction of the cemetery, but was replaced after the death of Franco.    The most interesting and telling thing to notice about the wall of remembrance is the division that exists between the personal commemorations and those placed by veterans organizations. This division occurs in a manner such that, as is the case for the Italian veterans, there are plaques to individual soldiers that were placed by family members and friends, like that dedicated to Primo Gibrelli, and other, separate plaques sponsored by veteran´s organizations from their respective countries, in the case of Italy, this “group plaque” appears much further down the wall from Primo´s private memorial.     The time span of these plaques is also very interesting because the pattern is that the signs which appeared earlier are those that were placed by private parties, not the organizations. This is a very telling feature in the idea that it has taken a long time for these individuals to get to together  and work together with the idea to recover their places of memory.

Works Cited

EL CEMENTARIO DE FUENCARRAL EN MADRID: LUGAR DE MEMORIA EUROPEO. Madrid: Asociacion de decendientes del exiolio espanol, 2007.