W&M Memory Matters in Spain: Franco’s Repression in Cádiz

My name is Robert Bohnke, and I am a freshman intending to complete a major in Hispanic Studies. I’ll be traveling to Cádiz, Spain through the W&M summer program, and completing an independent research project on historical memory related to the repressive dictatorship of Francisco Franco. I plan to focus my independent research project during my study abroad on the effects of the Ley de la memoria histórica in Cádiz. This national law passed in 2007, mandated a renewed initiative on the part of the government of Spain to support projects that foster historical memory, including the exhumations of the mass graves left behind by Franquismo.  During my time in Cádiz I plan to interview people whose families were affected by the violence of the Franco era and the following pacto de silencio, which survived past Franco’s death in 1975 and discouraged any public display of grievance for lost loved ones.

Cádiz is a southern port city on the Atlantic coast of Spain and the capital of the province of Cádiz within the Spanish autonomy of Andalucía. Before Cádiz’s first exhumations in 2004, there were more than a hundred unmarked graves hiding the victims of political executions carried out by the Franco regime. In all of Spain about 130,000 people were disappeared by the regime, and the vast majority of them were Republicanos, supporters of the democratic government that had established the nation’s first democratic constitution in 1931. These victims opposed General Francisco Franco and his fascist political party, El Falange. Adjacent to the north coast of Africa, the launching point of Franco’s conquest of Spain, Cádiz was one of the first areas to be consolidated under his control.

In my preliminary search for contacts to interview in Cádiz, I was directed to my Spanish Literature professor Cate-Arries who informed me that she too is studying the legacy of Franco in Cádiz. I now have the incredible opportunity to continue my work on Spanish historical memory when I return home from Cádiz at the end of June. Cate-Arries is currently working on her own research project and forthcoming book “The Figure of Franco’s ‘Disappeared’: Representations of Mourning, Remembrance, and Justice”. Aided by oral testimonies gathered in the towns of the Spanish province of Cádiz, I will examine the stories of those who experienced repression during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. In addition to adding historically under-told stories to the record, this research will provide a deeper understanding of Franco’s legacy in modern Spain. My part in the research for the project will include transcribing interviews that Professor Cate-Arries collected on site in Cádiz from 2013-14. She will be in Spain at the same time as my group and I hope to accompany her on one of her trips to the smaller towns in Cádiz province to help gather more material for her book. The transcriptions of interviews and subsequent analysis will not only put my Spanish language skills to the test, but also allow me to draw my own conclusions about the legacy of Franco in Cádiz. I’m intensely thankful to Werner and Mary Anne Weingartner, Professor Cate-Arries, and the Charles Center for this opportunity.





  1. Interesting research, I did not know much about this part of Spain’s history. But after reading your blog I am a little more enlightened about Francisco and his repressive dictatorship. It brings to mind many other dictators that I have learned about and a sense that it is good that this particular part of Spain’s past is being sought for and recorded.