Monday, 20 February 2012

The first stolen Spanish Civil War documents are returned to their legitimate owners 73 years later

CNA / Gaspar Pericay Coll

Barcelona (ACN).- Cultural associations, political parties, trade unions and private citizens have ‘only’ had to wait 73 years to receive the first documents stolen by Franco’s fascist regime in 1939. On Monday, three elderly ladies sat in a room packed with members of the press and politicians, and other victims of Franco’s dictatorship. They had a combination of joy, pride, and peace on their faces. Helena Cambó -daughter of the businessman and former Spanish Minister Francesc Cambó-, Teresa Rovira –granddaughter of the journalist and former President of the Catalan Parliament Antoni Rovira i Virgili–, and Mercè Romeva –daughter of the Christian-Democrat MP Pau Romeva– were waiting to receive a box with personal letters and documents from their relatives. The three elderly ladies were joined by representatives from several different organisations and associations such as the former Catalan Communist Party (PSUC), the Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), the General Workers Union (UGT), and the main business owners association of Catalonia ‘Foment del Treball’. These organisations also suffered the plunder of their documents, and on Monday received the first lot back. Just like many other Catalan personalities, the father and grandfathers of the three women had all their personal documents stolen by Franco troops when they entered Catalonia in 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War. The documents were transferred to Salamanca to build a war archive, and are known as the ‘Salamanca Papers’. The information they contain was used for Franco’s political repression, which killed thousands of people throughout Spain over many years after the Civil War had ended. The Spanish Government first decided to return part of the ‘Salamanca Papers’ to Catalonia in 1995, but political opposition from Spanish nationalists blocked the move. It was approved again in 2005 but at a very slow pace, also because of political opposition. It has not been until Monday February 20th 2012 that the first documents have been returned to the heirs or representatives of their legitimate owners. However, as the Catalan Minister for Culture, Ferran Mascarell, pointed out, there are still “too many” documents in Salamanca that still have to come back to Catalonia. Around 300 boxes full of documents are still kept in Salamanca’s archive.

In the first 6 months of 1939, coinciding with the last months of the Civil War and the first in a dark and long post-war period, the Fascist dictatorship plundered the Catalan Government, municipalities, political parties, and trade unions in Catalonia and stole their documents. However, the plunder went further, stealing also from civic and cultural organisations, and even private citizens, such as politicians, businessmen and intellectuals. In total, more than 300,000 documents, including personal letters, family memories, and personal archives were transferred from Catalonia to Salamanca.

Documents used for the Franco dictatorship’s political repression

In Salamanca, the documents were classified and their content processed. The information was classified to elaborate lists that were used over many years by the military dictatorship’s repression. All the documents were kept in Salamanca and formed the General Archive of the Civil War, founded in 1939 by Franco. The documents are now known as the ‘Papers de Salamanca’ (the ‘Salamanca Papers’).

A long claim to have the ‘Salamanca Papers’ returned

Catalan institutions and personalities have been asking for the return of these documents since Franco’s death in 1975. In 1995, the Spanish Government decided for the first time that some of the ‘Salamanca Papers’ could return to their legitimate owners, but not all of them. However, no documents left Salamanca because of opposition from Spanish Nationalists and local politicians, mostly from the People’s Party (PP). The blockade was broken in 2005, when the Spanish Government considered the decision in 2004 of an international expert committee advocating the return of all the documents to their legitimate owners. However, the implementation of the decision was far from being quick, because of technical reasons but also because of some obstructive behaviour driven by local politicians. In addition, before being sent from Salamanca, the documents had to be once again classified, copied, and put in boxes, a process that surprisingly is still on going. Furthermore, when the documents arrive in Catalonia, the process was repeated in order to have copies in Catalonia’s National Archive, located in Sant Cugat del Vallès. For one reason or another, UGT, ERC, PSUC, or private citizens such as Helena Cambó, Teresa Rovira or Mercè Romeva had to wait until today to receive the first documents that had been stolen by a Fascist regime 73 years ago.

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  • Private citizens and associations have got to wait 73 years to receive the stolen documents back (by A. Moldes)
  • Mercè Romeva, daugther of the Catalan Christian-Democrat MP Pau Romeva, receiving a box with documents (by A. Moldes)
  • Mercè Romeva, Teresa Rovira and Helena Cambó (by A. Moldes)