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.

2 responses to “The Disunion of Memory Recovery Within The International Brigades in the Popular Front”

  1. nphoba says:

    The one thing Professor Cate-Arries kept commenting on regarding this visit was the battle that Ceferino, Ludi, and Carmen have with a tree in the cemetery. There is a tree planted just in front of the largest of the plaques that honors the members of the International Brigades and this tree covers about 1/6 of the far left of the plaque. As we talked with Ceferino, Ludi, and Carmen, it became clear that they were extremely angry about this tree. They’ve tried to talk to the cemetery’s groundskeepers, but they are told that this tree cannot be removed for ecological reasons. Carmen also commented that the owner of the cemetery is fascist and insults her. The professor said that these are examples of how they’re still persecuted, even though they’ve returned to Spain from exile. One also sees that exile doesn’t simply end when you return; it’s something deeper that affects the way you experience the world and the way the world treats you.

  2. calesser says:

    The cemetery has a rule against picture taking, one which we did not encounter in Almudena. Carmen mentioned this to us but encouraged us to take pictures, so long as no one else was around. As my classmate was meanly reprimanded by a worker at the cemetery for taking a pictures, I felt even more compelled to document this site. I sensed the sort of persecution that the descendants of the exiles still feel.

    I found the wall dedicated to the international brigades most interesting, with the juxtaposition of plaques with similar messages in all different languages proving to serve as a visual testimony of the international effort present in the war.