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.

4 responses to “Almudena Cemetery”

  1. awwright says:

    What would be interesting to see on this topic would be the perspective of those family members of those who were executed by the Republic during the war. We know from records and the testimony of experts, like those gentlemen from the Grupo de Estudios del Frente de Madrid, that there were many executions conducted by the Republican army during the battle for Madrid. The issue seems to be, as was pointed out by one of our guides, there is such a huge tendency to make the focus of the war a political one, and a political one which demonizes the Nationalists to the point where testifiers to the effects of those executions refuse to uncover themselves for fear of retribution and becoming outcasts within their society.
    The political charging of the war is still incredibly prevalent today and this study of executions is one that shows this maybe more than any other due to the graphic, unpleasant and guilty nature of many of the killings by both sides. The current trend is one that mirrors that of the Soviet Union in the early nineties, one that glorifies those who fought against the system that was in place for almost 40 years. It will be interesting to see, especially with the recent economic woes which tend to bring about nostalgia or at the very least desire for change, if there is a swing towards this nostalgia for the days of Franco. Although this may not be a progressive thing for the society, what it may accomplish is to uncover the other side of the story of atrocities as witnessed by those family members and friends of executed nationalists.

  2. spmore says:

    Visiting Almudena Cemetary wih Marcos Burgos was very moving, especially when he told the story of his father or explained to us the fate of “Las trece rosas” as Nathan mentioned. When he described to us the circumstances under which the thirteen brave, republican women were killed, he emphasized how young they were, some being only 19 or 20. As a 20-year-old college student with few responsibilities outside of my schoolwork, I commented to Mr. Burgos that I could not imagine fighting for liberty and defending my ideals to such an extent that I was killed because of it. In response, Mr. Burgos replied that, of course, I was not able to imagine their situation. He pointed out that all of my life, I have lived in a country where liberty has been handed to me. I have never been without my freedom. These thirteen women, on the other hand, were not allowed to attend school nor pursue their own goals, but instead were forced to stay at home in order to fulfill the role of “ideal wife” in the francoist society. This perfect wife, in the eyes of Franco, was essentially the woman who cooked, sewed, cleaned and for the most part, did whatever was possible to support her husband. Mr. Burgos told me that had I been in this siutation, I, too, would have fought for my liberty and rights. These words impressed me as I began to better understand the situation of the women in the post-guerra era of Franco’s dictatorship. Being in a site of memory as moving as the memorial for “Las trece rosas” impacted me, but hearing the perspective of Mr. Burgos made this visit even more important to my understanding of the sacrifices made for liberty under Franco’s reign.

  3. calesser says:

    As we continue our journey in Madrid, I keep my personal interest in the exhibition as a means of commemoration, in mind. While unconventional, and perhaps insensitive, I realize that a grave site in itself, is an exhibition of commemoration. Unlike conventional American cemeteries with fields of plush grass and shiny stone markers, Almudena was a field of stones, with large, marble, sarcophagus-like graves, very little foliage and an abundance of plastic roses and floral arrangements in every color imaginable from bright pinks to neon greens. In addition to meeting with us today, Marcos Burgos visited his father’s grave in order to add more of these flowers to the site dedicated to his father. As a classmate and I helped Marcos’s wife to arrange red, yellow, and purple roses in neat adjacent rows, to imitate the colors of the Republic, I realize I was taking part in this commemoration.

    Nathan mentioned the site of the graves of the German Condor Legion and the contrast between this site and the viewing of Guernica yesterday, and I too was struck by the irony and power through juxtaposing these two sites within a single context.

    As two classmates and I walked with Marcos Burgos to his car, I asked him about his opinion on the Law of Historical Memory. He expressed a resounding fear in reference to the damages which the law could make and he worries that the near future will another coup d’etat, just like at the beginning of the war.

    While unconventional, the touring of Marcos’s father’s grave, and that of the Trece Rosas Rojas, was a sort tour through an exhibition. While I stand by this statement, I find it most important to note, as we did as a group today, that it is all very interesting and impressive for us to experience these graves and the stories of these people, but in the end, it is wrong to to realize that these sites are extremely personal and sensitive to those related to these fallen victims. Today, as I watched Marcos Burgos’s shed tears in front of the memorial of the Trece Rosas Rojas, I saw a direct result of the tragedy of the war and I will continue my studies this week with this fragile moment in mind.

  4. mcschrack says:

    I’ve always heard the phrase “moved to tears” but never really understood it. When visiting this cemetery, I experienced it firsthand. Looking around me, seeing cross after cross, row after row of graves, I was overwhelmed. Moved by the beauty and emotion of this place, I couldn’t help but notice the tears welling in my eyes. While walking and talking with Marcos Burgos, hearing his story, and that of his father, realization dawned on me of how recent these horrible events occurred. When we read about them in class, it’s easy to place them in more passed context, but when speaking to someone directly influenced by the Civil War one can’t hide from the reality.

    I think the reality hit me hardest when a book of Spanish poetry was passed to Marcos. He could only read a few lines before he had to stop because of a flood of emotion. I had to turn away from the rest of the group because I was crying just as hard as he was; seeing him so emotional was a hard thing to witness.

    This is why I study the Spanish Civil War. Because it means so much to the people of Spain. Something that can bring a man like Marcos Burgos to tears should never be forgotten.