“Prisoners were slaves”

“There is a lot of writing and talking about the Civil War, but about the post-war period very little”, underlines José Carlos González, president of the Association for Historical Memory Los Barracones. What began as a group of townspeople from bustarviejohas transcended the local and has more and more members.

This whole project aims to promote historical memorywith a representative element as a central axis: a Francoist criminal detachment which is stored locally. The association has a clear objective: to ensure that this stage in the history of our country is not forgotten and that is why it organizes completely free guided tours of this former labor camp. In fact, it is the only one that is preserved and can be visited in Spain.

slave labor

The Bustarviejo Penitentiary Detachment “was built in the post-war period to carry out civil works such as mines, swamp dams, highways, railway lines…”, a- he explained to 20 minutes Jose Carlos Gonzalez. All these works were built using as labor political prisoners and as González recounts, “the best known thing that has been done with this system is the Valley of the Dead”.

Photograph of the Bustarviejo penitentiary detachment.
AMH La Caserne

At that time, prisoners could benefit from the redemption of sentences for work, that is to say a system with which for each day they worked in these fields, two or three days of sentence were removed, thus reducing their term of sentence. “But it was still a prison where the prisoners were mistreated, since they were practically toil who were paid a third of what they would have paid a free worker,” he explains.

Bunker in the Pyrenees.

The prisoners of Bustarviejo were ordered to build part of the railroad that goes from Chamartin to Somosierra, a section of the Madrid-Burgos direct line. A total of nine detachments have been raised for this work (Chamartín, Fuencarral, Colmenar Viejo, Soto del Real, Miraflores, Bustarviejo, Valdemanco, Garganta and Somosierra), but as the president of the association points out, “there is no left more standing than that of Bustarviejo, the others are in the foundations”.

Inhuman conditions

Visiting the penitentiary detachment of Bustarviejo brings us brutally closer to this stage of history. There they can be seen from the barracks until latrines where nearly 200 people were cleaning. “It was a place inhumanwithout a heat source, with almost freezing water for showering…”, explains González. The labor camp consisted of three dormitories with a capacity of 60 people, so that “they became almost 200 peoplewho only had a blanket that they unrolled on the ground to sleep,” he says.

Barracks of the Bustarviejo penitentiary detachment.
Barracks of the Bustarviejo penitentiary detachment.
AMH La Caserne

From 1944 to 1952 the prison of Bustarviejo functioned. After the state was abandoned, cattle ranchers in the area used them as cattle barn, so that it can be preserved until today. This is not what happened with the other detachments, which were abandoned and left in total ruin; even “many city councils suppressed them because they were ashamed to have this in their municipalities”, González points out.

The association realizes two-hour guided tours to the installations every first Saturday of each month (except August) with the aim of bringing to light this almost forgotten time of the past. They depart at 11 a.m. from Bustarviejo station, which the prisoners also built, and are accessible to people of all ages and physical conditions. Visitors continue to walk along the track, which ceased to function in the year 2000, and 500 meters later they arrive at the detachment. Even, as González tells us, “relatives of prisoners who were there came.”

Old photograph of prisoners of the Bustarviejo penitentiary detachment.
Old photograph of prisoners of the Bustarviejo penitentiary detachment.
AMH La Caserne

“We showed the whole complex in general, because there are also the armed police booths and 40 or 50 barracks where the relatives prisoners, because where the prisoner went his wife and children, ”explains González. They are four square meter houses made with local stones and with a green roof. “The repression was not only against the prisoner, but it also affected the family, who depended on him financially”, he underlines.

To the visit is added a museum in which the history of the detachments is explained. In the windows are exhibited archaeological remains gradually recovered from the daily life of prisoners and their families: cutlery, shoes, pots…

Guided visits to the penitentiary detachment of Bustarviejo.
Guided visits to the penitentiary detachment of Bustarviejo.
AMH La Caserne

More activities on historical memory

The Los Barracones Association for Historical Memory continues its arduous work of disseminating this history “very little disseminated at the popular level; schools, institutes and universities tiptoe through this stage of history, this post-war period almost bloodier than war“, says González.

The entrance to the Parque del Capricho bunker.

In addition to guided tours, the association organizes numerous more activities such as conferences, internships, traveling exhibitions which are brought to town halls… They also carry out a concert every summer, always with a theme that revolves around historical memory, for example, in tribute to the Spanish exiles who went to France or to the prisoners of our country who were taken to Auswitch.

For To book guided tours, you must contact the association via the e-mail address [email protected]

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