Hombrecino (little man)

Susana Cabañero

2006 - 2019


For over 35 years my grandfather kept a list of typed names in his wallet. He would often read them, emotional, describing with amazing clarity of detail who they were. They had all been executed at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and had been missing ever since.

Since I was a child, he told me about them, about their stories, and made me a participant in a life that I knew through his memories. My curiosity and desire to understand led me to many places that held the memory of the conflict and the disappeared. What I liked best was showing him what I had seen on my return.

On the last trip, we went back to his village together to meet the names on the list for the last time.

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  • My grandfather was 17 when fascists attacked his village, Almendral (Badajoz), on the southwest of Spain. Fascists won the 1936-39 civil war with extremely repressive measures and terror became the new regime. Afterwards, my granddad never talked about the war to his children for fear to be killed or punished during the 36-year dictatorship. Already in democracy, I became the first and only recipient of his own experiences. Many people had to renounce to their own history in order to survive. Still nowadays, many people are afraid. It is a non rational fear but somehow inoculated among people for generations.

  • My grandfather kept a typed list of names in his wallet for more than 30 years. They were people from his and surrounding villages who had been snatched from their homes and executed by Franco death squads. Their bodies were abandoned or buried in mass graves without being identified. Every time he read those names, he was deeply moved. He used to tell me the stories of those he knew. I never knew where he got that list until many years later when we went to find those people together.

  • Bunker used during the war outside Brunete, Madrid, one of the bloodiest battlefields of the war. From 1936 to 1977 there were about half a million exiles, 300,000 political prisoners only at the beginning of the dictatorship, and one million war dead. According to Vicenç Navarro, professor of Public Politics in The Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, U.S.), "more than 200,000 men and women were executed by the fascist regime, and another 200,000 died in the Army’s concentration camps and in the villages, subjected to hunger, disease, and other circumstances". Also, 30,000 children were stolen from their mothers.

  • Bullet holes in a brick wall in Belchite. The town was destroyed during the battle and was left untouched as a monument to the Nationalist (Fascists) win, till nowadays. A new town was build nearby.

  • Cemetery walls in Almendral where many people were executed, among them, the shoemaker. My grandfather told me how, one day, when he was coming back from the fields, he witnessed some fascists with guns taking the shoemaker to the cemetery. His son followed the group in silence. His father was killed in front of him.

  • Everybody had nicknames in the villages. el Hombrecino (the little man) was my grandfather's nickname. Not only because he was short but because it was said that at the age of 14 he already did the work of a man.

  • Empty niche. The grandchildren and relatives of the disappeared want to find out where their beloved ones are in order to give them a proper burial. It is estimated that more than 114,000 victims disappeared during the civil war and ensuing dictatorship and whose bodies lie in roadsides and unmarked graves across Spain. About 2,800 mass graves remain, of which only 10% has been opened.

  • Fading memory. Even if the spots where people were killed and buried was known by most villagers, nobody dared to talk about this places or say the names of the executed, as they were afraid they would be denounced and killed. With time, many of those villagers and close relatives have died, and it is becoming more and more difficult to find the spots where the mass graves are.

  • Wounds have not been healed. In 2007, 30 years after the transition to democracy, the socialist government approved The Law of the Historical Memory that would recognise the victims on both sides of the Civil War and Franco’s Regime and would aid to the victims and the families of victims. But since the arrival of the right party to power in 2011, the exhumation of victims of Francoist repression was stopped and the budget reduced to zero. They maintain that wounds from the past should not be opened but many people think that wounds were never healed, and the country will not be healthy and reconciled until truth, justice and reparation is achieved. For the victims it is not possible to forget.

  • My grandfather looks at his reflection on the mirror, his gaze lost between the past memories and his present. He already knew I was visiting exhumations and sometimes, after telling him what I saw, he was silent and lost in thoughts.

  • Tree signalling the place of a mass grave. Most exhumations in Spain have been carried out and paid by volunteers. The relatives of the missing people have been anxiously awaiting this moment their entire lifes. They say that after finding their beloved ones, they can finally die in peace.

  • Mass Grave Reconstruction: Recreation of how the bodies were found.
    In the exhumations carried out by a team of volunteers led by the forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberría, some ceremony is usually held to honor the exhumed. Sometimes they also reconstruct the scene of the mass grave in the same way the bodies were found and they keep a minute of silence before leaving the place.

  • Flowers in the trench. In the exhumations carried out by a team of volunteers led by the forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberría, some ceremony is usually held to honor the exhumed. Their names are read aloud as family members put flowers in the trench, so that they are not forgotten. According to the BBC, despite the importance of this Civil War, one survey shows that 50% of Spaniards have not talked about it at home. And 35% say they were never taught what happened in 1936, at school. I myself was never told about the horrors of the war and postwar at school.

  • My grandfather looking at the photos I took at an exhumation. He was so shocked that he could not believe what he was seeing. He kept on asking me questions about the place, the people and how I was able to get these images safely.

  • Reflection of a cloudy blue sky and a tree on a car window during out trip to my grandfather's village. After visiting these exhumation places, I decided to take my grandfather, together with my mother, to his village. He was 93 and he had not been there for many years. At the beginning he refused the idea as he felt very old and tired but we convinced him and it turned out to be a trip none of us will ever forget.

  • My grandfather meets and old friend during our visit to his village. There were not many people left the age of my grandfather, 93 at the time, but they were some who still remembered him. I had never seen him so excited and moved. We met many people and they remembered so many things I had never heard about.

  • In Almendral's cemetery, he looks at the graves. Francisco Cebrián Andrino, a writer and former Major, guided us through some of the places where exhumed people had been given proper burial. Mr. Cebrián had exhumed many of the people disappeared in the region at his own initiative, some years ago. Among them, there were many names from the list.

  • Francisco Cebrián Andrino, the former Major of my grandfather’s village shows him a book with photographs of people missing during the war. Many of them were unburied during his time as a Major. My grandfather remembered many details of the lifes of those people which would help Mr. Cebrián to verify or include new data into his books.

  • On our way back home, my grandfather and I holding hands in the car during the trip. We were happy to have shared this incredible experience together. To encounter his roots, old friends alive and old friends exhumed.

  • After some months, my grandfather's memory started to fail. The day he did not remember the list I went to look for it in his wallet but I could not find it. The list disappeared at the same time as his memory faded. In fact, it was no longer necessary. He could already die in peace.

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