February 26th, 1948, my grandfather, Francisco Redondo, died
while in the custody of Spain’s Civil Guard. His autopsy
report says he died from a brain and pulmonary hemorrhage.
The police report said he was “legally” shot while
trying to escape. Everyone else says he was murdered.
My grandfather was a casualty of Spain’s secret war
– a guerrilla campaign fought against the Franco regime
from 1939 to 1951. It was a war hidden from the rest of the
world and it was fought most fiercely in the mountains of
Northern Spain, where my grandparents lived. Francisco had
been persuaded by friends to hide a group of guerrillas who
were trying to escape to France. But someone gave them away
and on the night of February 21st, the local Civil Guard surrounded
my grandparent’s house and ordered the men to surrender.
When they didn’t come out, the Civil Guard burned the
house down. The guerrillas escaped, but my grandparents were
arrested and taken to jail. After five days of interrogation,
Francisco, was taken to a hill above the village and shot.
My grandfather was just 35 years old and left behind a widow
with four young children. My grandmother, Josefa Martinez,
was sentenced to two years in prison. Both her and my grandfather’s
family, would help care for the children until she was released.
Years later, I returned to El Valle, my family’s home
in Spain, to find out for myself why my grandfather had been
killed. My family, however, refused to discuss my grandfather.
They said I would never find out the truth and that I was
just stirring up trouble with all my questions. My great-grandmother,
who buried Francisco, now claimed not to know how he had been
killed. Even my uncle, who at first seemed keen to help, became
angry when I tried to interview him.
the government archives, I found the autopsy report that described
how Francisco was shot ten times. I managed to find old guerrillas,
including one who had actually stayed with my grandparents.
He told me of the “Law of Escape” – the
Civil Guard would tell prisoners they were free to go, and
then shoot them as they tried to run away. In this way, they
could “legally” justify the execution of so many
without having to ever hold a tribunal. As I continued investigating,
the people of El Valle seemed to grow more and more uncomfortable
who had promised to help me one day, acted like they didn’t
know me the next. But that didn’t stop some from talking.
Through whispers and sneers, it became obvious that the old
hatred was still very much alive, and that the whole village
blamed two of my grandmother’s cousins for Francisco’s
death – Donato and Rosario. Donato had died a few years
ago and Rosario no longer lived in Spain. The only thing left
to do was to try and find her. Then I stumbled on an official
case file that named the guards who’d shot my grandfather.
One of them was still alive. I had no choice but to go and