A family investigation names dozens of victims in Franco’s concentration camps

“I am looking for my grandfather Pedro Gallardo Diaz. Please help.” This short text appeared on the computer screen on a hot August 31, 2019. Although it was Sunday, Marco Gonzalez had just opened the email box of the Association for the Restoration of Historical Memory (ARMH). I received messages like this every day: “What happened to my father, I don’t know “. “I need to know where my grandmother died.” “I don’t know where my grandfather’s remains are”… It’s time to use the usual protocol: contact the sender and begin the investigation.

What Marco could not have imagined at that moment is that this short message would allow him to reveal what was hidden in one of the 300 concentration camps that Franco had opened in Spain: the one located in the Santa Espina monastery. Castromonte City of Valladolid.

“I contacted ARMH because I didn’t know what else to do to find out what happened to my grandfather,” she says. Pedro was the author of the letter and tells him elDiario.es How and why he started looking for answers: “It was four or five years ago. My wife, Marie Carmen, started asking me questions about my grandfather because she saw a photo of him in uniform. Then I realized that I didn’t know anything about him. I asked my father, his son, who is also called Pedro, he said he died in the war, he didn’t know anything else. They never talked about it. They were too afraid to open their mouths.”

Starvation, disease, mistreatment and extreme cold

Santa Espina Monastery concentration camp was opened by Franco’s troops in August 1937. The army occupied the religious building, originally from the 12th century, so that part of the building was the headquarters of an orphanage full of children. Francoist military documents themselves recognized the limitations of the annex: “Isolated in the middle of the countryside. […]. It is a building in a good state of conservation, but for the most part it is occupied by a charitable institution for education, and in the part that remained free on the upper floor and closed several monasteries, there is only approx. 600 prisoners”.

Slowly the answers started coming. His grandfather, Pedro Gallardo Díaz, was working in the mines of La Carolina when the coup d’état of July 1936 took place, enlisted in the Republican army, and lost track of him in the war. Would he die in battle? That was the most plausible option until a key document turned up: a death certificate stating that he died in the Francoist concentration camp at Santa Espina of “gaseous tuberculosis” and that he was buried in his own zone cemetery.

Pedro told this news to his father, who was totally amazed. “I’m surprised, but I’m glad to know the truth,” he admits elDiario.es. “I always heard that my father was killed in the war, and look… Where I live, Castuera was Franco’s concentration camp, a terrible place. I have visited once. Now I know that my father was in a similar place… in a concentration camp… I couldn’t imagine,” he says.

This capacity was exceeded by 700%, as 4,300 prisoners were crammed inside. Even the censored and propagandist Francoist press hinted at the overcrowding of the place. That’s how he described it ABC of Seville In July 1938: “The whole monastery is running with a mercilessly bound humanity; A human tempest, as this stream comes in spring bursting, and drags its waters unwillingly and lazily down the slope, disheartened towards the Duero; But this human stream, if it has no will, like a grown-up stream, also lacks the transparency and cheerful chatter of spring waters.

The cold was not the only enemy. Some prisoners even starved to death. The head of the concentration camp inspectorate boasted to Franco that he had achieved an economic surplus of 20,967 pesetas at La Espina.

To strengthen its capacity, those in charge of the concentration camp did not hesitate to use the nearby church and the lower cloister of the monastery. Some of the uncovered monasteries, where prisoners could not protect themselves from the cold, rain and snow, and which the Francoist military claimed were “uninhabitable” during the harsh winter months. So much so that in various letters the rebel army engineers recommended that the camp be closed unless these monasteries were fenced off. However, the Annex remained open until November 1939, eight months after the end of the war.

The cold was not the only enemy that the prisoners had to try to survive. Historian Enrique Berzal notes that “food, despite what was reported by official sources, was always insufficient. Testimonies from the time assure us that the menu of Santa Espina rarely avoided lentils with broth, and some prisoners died of hunger. Paradoxically, the head of the concentration camp inspectorate boasted in his reports that he saved a good part of the money allocated from the budget for the food and clothing of the prisoners. In a letter sent by Colonel Martin Pinillos to Franco in December 1938, he boasted that there was an economic surplus of 20,967 pesetas in the Santa Espina concentration camp.

Prisoner disease, mistreatment and parasitism were other consequences of the massive overcrowding. Exanthematous typhus caused by green typhus seized the forced visitors of the monastery. Scabies and digestive diseases are also common due to poor nutrition and unsanitary water conditions.

“The use of the fountain on the facade was forbidden because of its contamination,” said a Francoist report of June 1938, which added: “Water for purification. A small channel has been constructed, which comes from an irrigation channel. The water from this channel is not only used for the prisoners’ toilets, but also for this purpose. It then flows into the running water toilet system to service the camp.”

This ubiquitously unsanitary situation was exacerbated by the lack of adequate health care, as, according to Berzal, although it was one of the few concentration camps to have an infirmary, this was due to “the last obstacle: the lack of medicine”.


Another torment suffered by the captives of the Holy Thorn was the indoctrination they were subjected to by their guardians. They were forced to go to mass and sing facing the sun Make a fascist salute and attend the so-called “Patriotic negotiations”. They received more threats than slogans. This was reflected in one of the few reports of this concentration camp that appeared in the Francoist press: “The delegate of the local press and propaganda, Pedro Muñoz, warned the attendees: “Today Spain is on the cross and again turns its eyes pleadingly to its children. , who betrayed him, like Christ, is waiting for the word of repentance to forgive him; And those who don’t, better go far, far away, because in Franco’s Spain there is no more room for men, but never for vermin.

A grave with at least 33 dead prisoners

After 83 years, Malena and Oscar appeared in the Santa Espina monastery. Two ARMH volunteers toured his cemetery, which was built in 1887, to look for headstones, markers, or markers that might indicate the grave’s location from the concentration camp’s time. As expected, they found nothing conclusive. They continued their investigation in the archives and civil registry of the city of Castromonte, to which the religious building belongs.

And that’s where they found them: Marcos, Pedro, Diego, Fermin, Francisco, Antonio… a total of 33 prisoners who died in the camp and who were buried in the Santa Espina cemetery. In addition to the personal data of the deceased, the official reasons for their death emerged. If we believe what was said by the command of the camp commander, one third of them died of “bronchopneumonia”. The others, despite being young men between the ages of 17 and 40, were registered as having “endocarditis,” “cardiac arrest,” “concussion,” “cerebral anemia,” “pulmonary edema,” or “heart failure.” Other suspected diseases.


Remarkably, all but two casualties were recorded between February and May 1939. No deaths were reported in 1937 and only two in 1938. “So could there have been many more deaths that were not registered?” Marco Gonzalez. He wonders: “The data is what it is, but nothing can be ruled out by the methodology of Spanish fascism.”

This suspicion is strengthened by another fact: in the Francoist documents kept in the Documentation Center of Historical Memory, the names of two prisoners who died in Santa Espina are mentioned, which, however, do not appear in the municipal register of Castromonte. Marco also condemns the lack of cooperation in the investigation by the de la Salle brothers, the religious order that ran the monastery until last summer: “They were the owners of that little cemetery. It is impossible to think that there was no book of death and burial.”


ARMH’s efforts are now focused on finding the grave in which the victim was buried. “The problem is that this cemetery had a lot of burial activity before the expansion, especially after the inauguration of the new town in the 50s,” Marko notes. “Perhaps the site was reused for new burials.” Even so, we can try to implement votes in some points. Neighborhood cooperation will be very important,” he says.

“I want to find his remains. It wasn’t a dog, it was my father!” Pedro Gallardo Díaz’s son doesn’t plan to give up: “Even if we only find one bone… or two. I want to get him out of there and bring him back to town with his wife in the same grave.” The grandson takes a step forward: “My grandfather’s It would be a relief to find him. That day I shouted Long live Spain!, because I love my country. I would also say to Franco: ‘Go crazy, you bastard’, because that would be a victory against those who tried to make him disappear.”

Source: El Diario

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