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The mass grave of the international brigade members puts the canton of Monte Carmelo on the map of European embassies

2023-12-07T14:49:49.864Z

Highlights: The mass grave of the international brigade members puts the canton of Monte Carmelo on the map of European embassies. The Association of Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) has mobilized in a hurry following Luis González's latest findings in the digitized documents of the Archivo de la Villa. For Gonzalez, the folio of the sessions of the City Council of the municipality of Fuencarral ―absorbed by Madrid in 1951― page 66 confirms that it is aware of the order of the civil governor Manuel Mora Figueroa to exhume the brigade members.


The Association of Friends of International Brigade Supporters alerts European embassies after the discovery of a new historical document that reinforces the thesis that the 451 bodies are in an area close to the plot chosen by the City Council


A letter has arrived in the mailboxes of the embassies of Germany, France and more than twenty countries about a problem that, until now, seemed exclusively Madrid: the construction of a garbage canton on a plot of land in the Montecarmelo neighborhood, in the district of Fuencarral-El Pardo, where it is suspected that there is a mass grave with the bodies of 451 international brigade members who fell in combat during the Civil War. "We ask that this embassy address Mr. Almeida to request that he not carry out the urban development project and that he carry out the corresponding archaeological investigation to find the mass grave that houses the mortal remains of these international brigade members," says the letter that the Association of Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) has sent to all the consulates of the countries that have nationals buried in said grave. The embassies of Serbia, Italy and the United Kingdom have already acknowledged the receipt of the communication from the AABI, which has knocked on all doors after the mayor's statement in which he claims to have "no indication" of the presence of the grave on the site of the dispute. The inhabitants of the area have joined the crusade to scrutinize the list of the brigade members exhumed from the Fuencarral cemetery and taken to the grave: "An English neighbor asked me for the list and said 'Hey, did you know that there is a nephew of Virginia Woolf here?'" says Luis González, a former bank executive, retiree, history buff and one of the residents of Montecarmelo who has dug through historical documents in search of more clues of the pit.

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Almeida will plant a garbage canton where it is suspected that there is a grave with 451 international brigade members

The mass grave of the brigade members is just one of the episodes of a disagreement between the Montecarmelo neighborhood and the City Council over the construction of the canton. Initially, the facility was going to be erected near the Infanta Leonor school, but the rejection of the neighbors coincided on the eve of the 28-M elections and Almeida ―who won the elections by a majority― paused the project to study an alternative location. In September, the delegate for Urban Planning and the Environment, Borja Carabante, confirmed that the alternative was the plot that is not only next to the Fuencarral cemetery ―where the 451 brigade members were buried before being exhumed by the Franco regime― but next to the German School, the Sol Solito nursery school and numerous neighbourhood communities. Since then, citizen organizations, such as the No Al Canton Platform, have fought to prevent the canton from being built on plot 26.2b.

Now, the AABI has mobilized in a hurry following Luis González's latest findings in the digitized documents of the Archivo de la Villa. González has found in the minute books of the sessions of the City Council of the municipality of Fuencarral ―absorbed by Madrid in 1951― page 66, in which the plenary confirms that it is aware of the order of the civil governor Manuel Mora Figueroa to exhume the brigade members and approves the motion to transfer the remains "to the common grave of the cemetery of this town". In addition, it indicates that the transfer must be made under the health regulations of 1929. "Everything is done in record time. They present the motion on June 26 and on July 15 they report to the municipal plenary what has been decided," summarizes the AABI secretariat.

The pages of the session book are added to file 84 of the Fuencarral City Council and to the list of brigade members who died between 1936 and 1937 and were buried, initially, in the cemetery of Fuencarral. These and other documents are part of the evidence that González has gathered and that the No to the Canton Platform has delivered to the City Council and the Ombudsman to try to stop the canton project until there is an investigation into whether or not the bodies are there. For Gonzalez, the folio of the sessions shows that the grave must be in Fuencarral. "They can't have gone to another location. To jump to the other side, to the Pardo mountains [which was annexed to Madrid in 1950], was to disregard the governor's orders," he says, adding, pointing to a map: "The whole neighbourhood has already been excavated: the inhabited area, the railway trench and the M-40 trench, which did not exist at the time. Only this unexplored terrain remains: the plot next to the cemetery."

Part of the plot where the canton of Montecarmelo is projected, north of Madrid.Claudio Álvarez

The City Council, however, maintains that there is no evidence that the grave is there. This is how the General Directorate of Cleaning and Waste Services has responded to a letter sent by the AABI to the mayor, to which it has attached the historical documents found by González in the Archives of the Villa. "In the surroundings of the cemetery of Montecarmelo, important works have been carried out after the events mentioned (schools and nurseries, parish church, residential buildings...) in areas close to the cemetery, without there having been any problem in this regard and no one has referred to the matter," says Cleaning and Waste.

A nephew of Virginia Woolf, among those buried in the grave

The list of brigade members who fell between 1936 and 1937 continues to reveal secrets. A couple of weeks ago, Ashley Aarons, an English resident of Monte Carmelo, asked to see the list – which includes, in some cases, names, surnames and nationalities of the deceased – and discovered that victim number 387 is Julian Bell, nephew of the British writer Virginia Woolf. "His parents and aunt tried to dissuade him from going to Spain for the Civil War, but he insisted. In the end, they came to an agreement for him to be an ambulance driver and not a combatant," Aarons explains.

Julian Bell and Elizabeth Watson in swimsuits in Charleston, Sussex. Alamy Stock Photo

Bell died, at the age of 29, on July 18, 1937 in Madrid during an attack during the Battle of Brunete, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. "Bell is an interesting and well-known character in the UK," said Aarons, who is an alumnus of Cambridge University, where Bell also studied. So, get to know its history. Woolf's nephew was a poet and a member of the Bloomsbury Circle, "a very important group in the history of early twentieth-century Britain focused on art and peace and regarded as ahead of its time in terms of social liberalism," describes Aarons, who recalls that Virginia Woolf and Bell's parents were members of the original group. The historical novel Soldiers Don't Cry (2012), by Dutch author Rindert Kromhout, is partly inspired by his life.

"As a foreign national, my suggestion to the Spanish government is to investigate this further and try to find and properly bury the bodies of these foreigners," Aarons reflects. "I can't think of a more disrespectful way to treat these deceased than to leave them in unmarked graves, without information to their families and build a canton on top of them," he says.

The AABI, for the time being, continues to dig through the list and send letters. They have also communicated with Urbaser, the company that won the contract for lot 3 and the one that must build the canton, and with associations of international brigade members in the countries that have victims on the list. "We will make a joint request. We have communicated, for example, with the association in Serbia, I have sent them the names and surnames and they said that they were going to alert the descendants. We have also spoken to the International Brigade Memorial Trust, UK," says the AABI Secretary. The canton is no longer just a matter for a neighbourhood north of Madrid.

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Source: elparis

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