July-August 2019

Preserving life: Catalina and her son Martin’s rattle

A rattle. A toy in the shape of a flower, brightly coloured, next to the brownish-white skeleton of a woman which had lain covered in lime and earth for over 80 years. These pictures were taken in la Carcavilla, Palencia, a park for children which was built on the old cemetery. 485 victims of Franco’s repression were buried there between 20th July 1936 and 7th April 1941. Fifteen years later the cemetery was closed and in the 1980s a municipal park was built with sports facilities, fountains and swings which hid the last scars of the Civil War. Until, at the beginning of the 21st century, and in the light of the remembrance movement which emerged in Spain, a group of families demanded the search for their disappeared relatives beneath the park. Thanks to this initiative by civil associations, with the support of different scientific and political institutions (Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, the Department of Biology at the Facultad de Ciencias de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and the Ayuntamiento de Palencia) several exhumations were carried out which succeeded in recovering the remains of 108 of the victims, of whom 67 have been identified.

Among them was Catalina Muñoz Arranz, the only woman shot following a military trial. According to the summary proceedings, Catalina was arrested after being accused by some neighbours of having threatened the authorities and of washing her husband’s clothes after a fight with Phalangists shortly before the war. She was 37 years old, spent her time “doing her tasks” and left 4 children behind her, the youngest being Martin who was 8 months old. She was shot on 22nd September 1936 and buried in grave 39, row 4, part 1 of section 3, where she was found during the exhumations in the park in 2011. Together with her body were some items of clothing like buttons, metal studs and the rubber soles of her shoes, size 36, but what stood out was the presence of a unique object, a rattle, the only such item found in over 600 mass graves exhumed in Spain to date. Fermín Leizaola, ethnographer at the Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, confirmed that the object was made of celluloid, a plastic invented in 1860 and which was widely used in the manufacture of everyday objects and toys. It was found next to her left coxal (hip) as if she had kept it in her apron pocket.

On the 22nd June 2019, an emotive homage was paid in the same park where the exhumations had taken place and Catalina’s remains, together with the rattle, were handed to her children and grandchildren. According to International Humanitarian Law, relatives have the right to know what happened to their loved ones, to know the truth and, in the case of deceased victims, to recover and honour their dead. Thanks to the exhumations, this right is fulfilled and, in addition, personal remembrance becomes public and a part of common, collective heritage.

The social and academic duty which protects and fulfils this right is covered in the United Nations Objective 16 of the Agenda 2030: to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies. This objective stresses that «the rule of Law and development have a significant interrelation and reinforce each other mutually», which in the case of the Spanish Civil War and the instauration of Franco’s dictatorship perfectly exemplifies the connection with the regression in women’s right over decades. Thus, Catalina Muñoz Arranz, the only woman executed in Palencia, and Martin’s mother, was remembered in a homage as a symbol of all the women who were victimised during that period and who were socially relegated for decades. Some due to their militant political commitment, others for being sisters, wives or daughters of men who had been singled out; it was an exercise in transferred responsibility and most of the victims took part in more subtle forms of dissidence or were victimised for being women.

This image reflects what Franco’s repression and violent meant for thousands of women. Silence, hiding, interrupted childhood, shattered families, the end of an incipient form of new society.

Almudena García-Rubio is an archaeologist and Doctor of Physical Anthropology at UAM. The recovery and identification of the remains in la Carcavilla —including Catalina Muñoz— were the subject of her Doctoral Thesis, defended in 2017. She has worked on the exhumation of mass graves in Spain since 2003 with the Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi and has taken part in international forensic projects. Her other field of scientific interest is Funerary Archaeology, having directed excavations from diverse periods, among them the search for Miguel de Cervantes in the crypt at the Trinitarias de Madrid. On the identification of the remains at la Carcavilla, you can read Búsqueda, exhumación e identificación de represaliados de la Guerra Civil enterrados en el cementerio viejo de Palencia: el proyecto de la Carcavilla, by the author of this piece together with Luis Ríos. Within the framework of the Initiative for Recovering Historical Remembrance, 424 bodies of revenge victims of the Spanish Civil War from different mass graves have been analysed by the Teaching Commission for Physical Anthropology at the Biology Department at UAM, including that of Catalina.