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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

On Track
By Dolores Davies

UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library is archiving Spain’s oral accounts of the Spanish Civil War and its brutal aftermath, collected by Professor Luis Martin-Cabrera and his students.

“Having the Southworth Collection here is a privilege and a gift for anybody interested in the Spanish Civil War or in European history in general. . . . We have such a rich and vast collection of materials."

When the Spanish Civil War finally drew to a close in 1939, it was replaced, for most Spaniards, by a different kind of war. After General Francisco Franco established his dictatorship (see “Spanish Civil War” sidebar), his repressive regime ruled Spain for another 30-plus years. But the painful memories of the war and of the Franco regime’s brutal repression still continue to haunt the surviving victims and witnesses.

Luis Martin-Cabrera, an assistant professor of literature at UC San Diego, is shining a spotlight on this horrific chapter in Spain’s history with the Spanish Civil War Memory Project (SCWMP), an audiovisual archive housed at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Special Collections Library. The archive comprises the oral testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the war and the Francoist repression that followed. Martin-Cabrera has enlisted the support of a team of UCSD students to conduct interviews with survivors.

“Our main objective in building this archive is to create a safe institutional space that will validate the experiences of those who survived the violence implemented by the Fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and during the subsequent dictatorship,” says Martin-Cabrera. “Tragically, there has been scant official recognition for what these individuals experienced and, in many cases, this is the first time they have been asked to recount their stories of struggle and suffering.”

According to Martin-Cabrera, the gaping hole in Spain’s historical record is due to Franco’s era of repression as well as a “pact of silence” established by Spanish policymakers seeking to smooth the country’s transition to democracy after Franco’s death. The Amnesty Law of 1977 granted amnesty to political prisoners but also prohibited any legal proceedings against perpetrators of human rights violations. The law also blocked the formation of Truth Commissions, which are common in many post-dictatorship societies.

Over the last decade, however, several Spanish human rights groups have emerged, determined to break down the longstanding wall of silence. Many of these organizations have become partners in the SCWMP, and have pressured the Spanish government to come clean with a comprehensive account of the atrocities carried out by the Francoist government.

Julián Llerandi, born in Spain 80 years ago, experienced the savagery of the war and the Francoist regime first-hand. At the end of the civil war, after enduring many months of starvation and bombing, Llerandi—only 10 years old at the time—and his family, were forced to abandon their home in Asturias, on the northwest coast of Spain. They fled to France, arriving just days after that nation declared war on Germany. Llerandi’s childhood was spent in refugee camps, until he and some of his family members were offered a ticket out. He left Europe for a new life in the United States, but several of his siblings were not so lucky. A brother was executed by the Francoist government and another died fighting in the civil war.

“I never returned to Spain,” says Llerandi, “due to almost certain political persecution, and my family was never to reunite again as a family; my remaining siblings ended up in Mexico, Venezuela and Canada, among other places.”

Llerandi is now a resident of San Diego, and the only local survivor to participate in the SCWM project. He first became involved with the UC San Diego Libraries, and subsequently the SCWMP, when he learned of the Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection at UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library. The collection, named for Herbert Rutledge Southworth, is the world’s largest collection of materials about the Spanish Civil War, and comprises a wide range of posters, stamps, photography, periodicals, books, and other materials, including more than 600 drawings made by Spanish school-age children depicting their perspectives on the war. Llerandi donated a variety of personal papers to the collection, including a book detailing his experiences.

“Having the Southworth Collection here is a privilege and a gift for anybody interested in the Spanish Civil War or in European history in general. . . . We have such a rich and vast collection of materials,” says Martin-Cabrera. “Personally, it allows me to teach about the Spanish Civil War in very innovative and creative ways, using different archives and original documents.”

Several graduate students journeyed to Spain last summer to conduct additional interviews with survivors in Granada, Barcelona, and Madrid. UCSD graduate student Viviana MacManus, Ph.D. ’08, spent six weeks in Spain gathering the testimonies of men and women who survived the war and the Franco dictatorship. “For me,” she says, “this experience cemented the importance of historical memory.”

For recent UCSD graduate Natasha Flores, ERC ’09, the SCWMP not only had a profound impact, it helped shape her future. “I was deeply touched by the interviewees as well as by the efforts of the team that has worked so hard to uncover such a dark past. My involvement with the project has inspired me to pursue a future in the politics of social justice. I just can’t walk away from all that I have learned from this experience.”

For more information about the Spanish Civil War Memory Project (SCWMP), please visit: orpheus.ucsd.edu.

Dolores Davies is director of communications, UC San Diego Libraries.