La Sauceda: A Case Study in Projects of Historical Memory in Cádiz

Since I left for Cádiz, the focus of my research project changed  from evaluating the efficacy of the 2007 Law of Historical Memory to focusing on a specific historical memory project that I had several opportunities to interact with during my study abroad. This project revolved around the exhumation and commemoration of the victims of Franco’s army at the village of La Sauceda in Andalucía, near the boarder of the provinces Cádiz and Málaga. While the inefficiencies of the Law of Historical Memory were still relevant to my discussion of the project at La Sauceda, I decided to more broadly evaluate all of the challenges that the project faced, along with the reasons for which the project has been successful .

The documentary, La Sauceda: de la utopía al horror, recounts the history of La Sauceda, where many of the Republicans and Anarchists who opposed Franco took refuge at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, when Franco invaded Spain from the north of Africa in the summer of 1936. Although La Sauceda had become a refuge for Franco’s enemies, it was still the home of many Spaniards who were not politically active. In early November 1936, Franco’s troops bombed La Sauceda and entered to capture the new enemies of the state. The commander of the troops, José Robles Ales, ordered that the nearby farmhouse, el Cortijo de Marrufo, be used as a center of torture and execution where at least several people were killed each day through the next four to five months. Estimates of the death toll range greatly, from 200-500 people.

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The second documentary screening I attended. Conil, Cádiz.

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Poster advertising the documentary

The creation of the documentary was part of the culmination of the exhumation project at La Sauceda, in which 28 bodies were exhumed and reinterred in a newly constructed cemetery. The coordinator of the project is Andrés Rebolledo, who I had the opportunity to meet with three times. Rebolledo was in the process of touring the documentary around Cádiz for screenings in many different cities and towns. He is the grandson of one of the 28 victims exhumed during the project and the head of two closely tied organizations that support projects of historical memory: The Association of the relatives of victims of reprisals by Franquismo in La Sauceda and the Marrufo (AFRESAMA) and the Forum for Memory in el Campo de Gibraltar.

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(Left to right) Professor Cate-Arries, Andrés Rebolledo, myself, and Arantza Galiardo, my professor at the University of Cádiz. At the documentary screening in Conil.

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Me and Andrés Rebolledo at the documentary screening in the city of Cádiz

I’ve heard Rebolledo describe himself as an “engaged citizen” and he believes that it is the responsibility he shares with the entirety of his community, as much as his personal family connection to La Sauceda, which drives his involvement.

I focused my independent research paper for the study abroad program on explaining the challenges that projects of historical memory face by using Rebolledo’s project at La Sauceda as a case study. The project at La Sauceda confirms that the lack of funds and support from the government constitute major obstacles. I also learned that lack of organization poses a threat as well. It is easy to imagine how a conglomeration of involved family members, politically active citizens, and students trying to carry out an underfunded, but full-scale, exhumation project could quickly spiral into unproductive chaos.

Rebolledo’s project at La Sauceda, overcame the financial challenges by depending heavily on volunteers, the best example being the archeology students utilized in the exhumation. The project also had funding from an outside group, the watch-making company, El Grupo Festina.  Aside from the financial side of the project’s success, the whole endeavor was very well organized.

When I asked Rebolledo about why his project has been successful despite the various factors working against projects of historical memory, he emphasized the importance of the continuation of the project. Rebolledo talks about how he feels that the project has had several culminating moments. Instead of calling it a day after the bodies had been successfully exhumed, a new cemetery was built to honor the event. Then a documentary was released and toured through Cádiz. Finally a center of interpretation, La Casa de memoria, is being built in Rebolledo’s hometown Jimena. I had the chance to visit it with Professor Cate-Arries and tour the building that will someday soon be used for meetings and study of historical memory.

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Professor Cate-Arries and Andrés Rebolledo at the House of Memory in Jimena

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Plaque outside the House of Memory in Jimena

Rebolledo also mentioned the future creation of a sort of manual, which would act as a guide not only for the study of La Sauceda, but also for the creation of any similar projects in the future. Finally, he is very enthusiastic about the interest that we have taken in his project on behalf of W&M. To Rebolledo, we are a medium through which the importance of his project can be spread to another part of the world.

“Si solamente hacemos lo que hacemos y no lo explicamos y no lo enseñamos, al final todo queda en un cajón.”

“If we only do what we do and fail to explain or share it, in the end everything stays in a box.”-Andrés Rebolledo

You can see the Spanish language subtitles I’ve made for the second half of the documentary here.