Amparo Menacho

In this post, I translate and reflect on key parts of Professor Cate-Arries’ interview with Amparo Menacho in Grazalema, Cádiz. Menacho is the great-niece of one of the sixteen women from that town who were killed by Franco’s troops and supporters at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). A surviving grandmother was able to relate the story of what happened in Grazalema to Menacho, with details provided by another family member who observed the scene from a hidden location. In the process of taking Grazalema, Franco’s supporters humiliated, tortured, and killed men and women. Menacho describes that women were raped, their heads shaved, forced to consume castor oil, and paraded through the town. Menacho’s great aunt was one of the three murdered women who were pregnant when the violence began. According to her, the baby was born amidst the violence and “was thrown away, and pigs ate the child” as his mother died.  Men in Grazelema were also affected by the violence. Her grandfather, described as “not a politician” but one who “liked politics,” was killed as well. Franco supporters, in their attempt to stamp out all resistance, killed many who were not directly involved in governing the Second Republic, many of the victims in Grazalema being prime examples. Another interviewee of Cate-Arries said that the troops justified the killing of “fifteen year old boys” by saying that even those who did not pose an immediate threat would “change, come tomorrow, into sharpened knives.”

Menacho’s testimony offers an opportunity to reflect on the difficulties of studying the Spanish Civil War from a perspective that was off limits during the dictatorship and was later shrouded in the Pact of Silence. Parts of Menacho’s story, told over seventy years after the fact, are third hand. Inaccuracies and exaggerations seem likely. Especially in the cases mentioned above, where the level of violence was inexplicable, scholars looking at this topic from a historical perspective might be skeptical the reliability of such testimonies. Interestingly enough, however, historians and other investigators have confirmed many parts of Menacho’s story. For example, Menacho knew that her great-aunt had somehow lost her teeth when she had fallen during the violent chaos. Sure enough, one of the bodies was found without teeth. The investigators also confirmed the possibility of the presence of several witnesses, Menacho’s relative hidden in the grass among them. At a recent commemoration ceremony in Grazalema, the reliability of Menacho’s information was apparently called into question. She responded that “I could tell you…how the women were buried, how they were raped, what my aunt had in her purse, the manner in which she was buried. I could tell it perfectly.” Indeed, it seems that her story lines up with the evidence from the exhumation of the grave.

Menacho has a unique and compelling view of where the responsibility for what happened in Grazalema lies. Rather than place blame on Franco and his repressive regime, she points out that “Franco didn’t even know that [her grandfather] existed.” Menacho believes that the killers, who had been neighbors of the family in Grazalema, deserve the entirety of the blame. This blame, in her view, does not even extended to others in the perpetrators’ families who could fairly easily be accused of complicity. Acknowledging that many do not share in her very targeted placement of blame, she recounted a postwar story of her grandmother, wife of the murdered grandfather. Menacho’s grandfather had been killed by the brother of  her  grandmother’s friends. After the war the “grandmother wasn’t interested in conversing with her” anymore because of what had happened.  When the sister of the guilty party had come to the Menacho house to offer milk for the large family of children, who now lacked a father, the grandmother took the milk and threw it away. Menacho, however maintains, “the poor thing wasn’t responsible for what her brother had done.”

Comments

  1. Claire Flynn says:

    Your research about historic memory is interesting and very informative. Prior to reading your blog I knew very little about this subject and how difficult it is to unearth information on those who were killed largely due to the Pact of Silence. From this article I gained a deeper understanding of the atrocities committed during the war from reading about Ms. Menacho’s memory. It was also interesting to see the level of confidence Ms. Menacho had in the validity of the memory even though the memory had been passed on to her. Although your work is primarily in interviewing descendants of those on the losing side of the civil war, would you ever consider interviewing a subject whose family member was complicit in the atrocities committed during the war? Do you think that gathering memories from both sides would help to better foster an understanding of the present through the past?