The archaeologist looking for the tombs of the Francoist concentration camp of Albatera: “There has been work for years”

The archaeologist Felipe Mejías excavates for the third consecutive year the mass graves of the Franco concentration camp of Albatera where a large part of the Republican executives found themselves who could not escape the repression in the port of Alicante at the end of the civil war. Thanks to public funding from the Generalitat Valenciana, the works have found abundant ammunition, as well as objects from the prisoners, which give archaeologists clues to the structure of the Albatera camp, completely demolished after its closure in the post- war. During the three archaeological campaigns, the Mejías team worked on eight plots of three hectares each and, for the moment, they have confirmed that “intense shooting has occurred in the field”.

“The objective”, Mejías explains to, “is twofold: to search for graves and to document what comes out of them, structures, objects or ammunition”. At the end of the summer of 1937, the Republican authorities began construction of the camp, which was inaugurated on October 24 by the Minister of Justice, Manuel Irujo. During the Republican stage, according to the memoirs of the prisoners, the camp had health care and “correct but correct food”, despite the harsh working conditions. Rectangular in shape, the pitch had external dimensions of 709 meters long and 200 meters wide and was protected by a three-meter high barbed wire fence.

At the end of the Civil War, with the occupation of the city of Alicante by Franco’s troops, thousands of civilian refugees, trade unionists, soldiers and Republican politicians arrived between April 4 and April 7, 1939, who did not could not escape through the port of Alicante. Between 12,000 and 16,000 prisoners transit there, in appalling conditions, at the busiest times.

The executions began in the second half of May in broad daylight and in front of the thousands of prisoners, forced to sing the Facing the sun and even to parade in front of the corpses. Over the following decades, the new owners of the plots periodically discovered bone remains while plowing the fields.

“The ammunition that comes out of us is very important,” says Felipe Mejías. “The place where it appears gives us fundamental information and helps us to know where the guns were fired in the concentration camp. In addition, the percussion ammunition comes out in the places where the prisoners tell us that they fired on people”, adds the archaeologist, who underlines the oral testimonies collected as “fundamental”.

Although these are tentative findings, the munitions appear to a greater extent between the two fences that perpetrated the terrain, where the guards and watchtowers were located. “There is a certain tendency for ammunition to appear in this space,” explains Felipe Mejías.

After the discovery during the second archaeological campaign of 2021 of a barracks 60 meters long by seven wide, the works found republican coins, an insignia of the UGT railway union and personal objects, presumably prisoners, like caps of ointment to heal. scabies. “We even found a coin of the French Republic from 1931, which could have arrived in the pocket of a prisoner or a member of the brigade,” explains Mejías.

The objects are subject to “preventive conservation”. “We do a brief cleaning, we remove the dirt and we dry them to be able to interpret them. Then we make an inventory and a file describing each one that includes the material, the chronology, it is photographed individually and deposited in bags with codes for the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Alicante, ”explains the person in charge of the investigation.

The painstaking work of archaeologists is aimed at locating the graves of the concentration camp and opening a kind of didactic place of memory. Using vintage aerial photography, the researchers were able to map the Albatera field, which is currently divided into several private plots. “There has been work for years, there is a lot of surface to study”, explains the archaeologist.


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