Franco’s Female Prisoners

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    Today at the Centro de Conde Duque, we saw an exhibition detailing the lives of the female political prisoner being held during the war and under Franco´s regime. In April of 1931, Victoria Kent became the director of prisons of the 2nd Republic. She assumed this position with the goal to humanize these prisons. In one of the `prisons, Ventas, there were fewer female prisoners, however the conditions on the women’s quarters were worse than those of the men. Witnesses reported that the women prisoners were extremely stern, strong figures out of Garcia Lorca poems, who were incarcerated due to their resistance to respond to accusations about who and what they may or may not have even been hiding in their homes. This Ventas prison was destroyed in the 1970s nothing exists today as a testimony to its existence. It was this prison where the ¨Trece Rosas Rojas¨ whose memorial we saw at the Almudena Cemetery) were held and later executed.

    In viewing this exhibit, I was most struck by the cases of the mothers who had to bring their children with them to prison. While in general women’s prisons were characterized by poor conditions and a lack of medical attention and thus high death rates, the children and infants who were forced to live in the prisons were the first ones to die. The Maternal Prison of San Isidro was established in 1940 for women who were pregnant or had recently given birth. While the mothers and their children were separated for the most part, once the child turned one year old it was no longer exposed to its mother for fear that it would acquire her negative ideology that had landed her in prison. A film in the exhibit interviewed women, some of whom had spent thirty years in prison and one recounted how hard it was to be separated from her child and to watch it cry and not be able to do anything. She said she only had five minutes with her child per day and only to nurse it. Later these prisons established policies for children who were left in the prisons after the age of three, that sent to children to religious schools where they would receive approved educations against all the principles which their heroic mothers lived and died by.

    While this exhibit was rather simple in its set up, comprised of mostly wall panels with text and black and white photographs, accompanying audio clips, and cases with more photographs and historical documents, it was extremely powerful in its straightforwardness and attention to historical fact. While the exhibit was undoubtedly anti-Franco, it was neutral in that it made no accusations, and instead, presented historical facts, photographic evidence and firsthand accounts of what the prison were like and the lives that the female prisoners lived. The exhibit was sensitive to the tragedy present in its content but it presented it in such a way that instead of exposing fragile wounds it served as a sort of homage to these women. In the final panels the exhibit emphasized that although these stories are only now coming out, the women who survived such suffering have been telling their stories, but only recently with the Law of Historical Memory have their voices been heard. With such a final message, I gather that the exhibition served as a vehicle through which to let these voices be heard and documented so that they will live on as their sources disappear.

One response to “Franco’s Female Prisoners”

  1. mcschrack says:

    I was struck by the number of exhibits in the Conde Duque that had to do with women that had children. In these prisons that contained mothers and their children, there were strict rules. One of these only allowed the women to visit with their kids for half an hour a day so as not to “spread the disease of communism” to the innocent children. Once a child got to be older than three, he was taken from the prison and either sent to an orphanage or placed in Nationalist homes were they were brought up with the opposite ideals as their parents. What kind of government would deprive the future of their nation the right to be with their families?