70 years later, the Spanish historian repeats the act that led to his arrest under Franco

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At 92, historian Nicolas Sanchez-Albornoz is an unlikely graffiti artist. But Tuesday, 70 years after being sent to a prison labor camp in a wave of repression by the Franco dictatorship in Spain for painting the words “Long live the Free University!” He returned to the scene of the crime for a symbolic reenactment of the slogan.

“I am moved,” Sanchez-Albornoz said in tears after receiving tributes from students at the Complutense University of Madrid, where he was arrested while a student in 1948 along with 13 other members of the Underground Federation. university students. He was sentenced to six years in a labor camp on the site of the colossal mausoleum of General Francisco Franco, now known as the Valley of the Dead.

“When I was in college, we couldn’t imagine seeing an event like this,” Sanchez-Albornoz said before applying the first splash of black paint on the symbolic reconstruction on the wall of the science building. politics and sociology.

The event took place on a notorious date in Spain – November 20 – when groups of supporters of Franco mark the anniversary of the dictator’s death, in 1975, and that of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the fascist party. Phalanx, who was executed by Republican forces in 1936, the first year of the civil war that led to a four-decade dictatorship. According to the Francisco Franco Foundation, 16 Spanish churches held special masses for the dictator on Tuesday. In the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen 30 miles northwest of Madrid, several hundred fascist supporters joined in prayer, some offering stiff salutes at the military leader’s grave.

Far-right members of the Phalanx give the fascist salute during a demonstration marking the anniversary of the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in Madrid on November 18.

(Oscar del Pozo / AFP / Getty Images)

Spain’s socialist government has said it will soon end the “anomaly” of honoring the dictator’s home in a public building. He plans to unearth Franco’s remains and allow his family to bury them in private. However, Franco’s grandchildren want his body to be reburied in Madrid Cathedral, delaying government plans as it seeks legal recourse to prevent the country’s former dictator from exchanging a monumental grave for another – in the center of the capital.

Sanchez-Albornoz turned out to be among the luckiest of those who clashed with Franco. He escaped the concentration camp after a few months and, along with his fellow university activist, Manuel Lamana, slipped through a security cordon and traveled to the nearby monastic town of El Escorial. There, two young American women, the writer Barbara Probst Solomon and Barbara Mailer, sister of the writer Norman Mailer, were waiting in a small Renault that they had driven from Paris. Counterfeit identity papers for the two men allowed the group to pass roadblocks and guards at the border with France.

But freedom for both men also meant exile. They both moved to Buenos Aires, where Lamana died in 1996, while Sanchez-Albornoz was exiled again, this time to the United States, when Argentina itself became a military dictatorship. He became a professor of history at NYU, before returning to Spain after Franco’s death to become director of the Cervantes Institute.

Lamana’s daughter, Maruja Lamana, joined Sanchez-Albornoz at the ceremony, expressing her anger at what she sees as Spanish amnesia in the face of the dictatorship.

“You cannot build a dignified society by denying the past,” she said. “Schools don’t offer information about the Franco era or the Civil War, and half of society doesn’t distinguish one side from the other when what happened was a coup against the ‘Democratic Republican Spain. ”

Sanchez-Albornoz said his former prison camp was built as a “monument to the glory of the Franco’s nationalist crusade” by prisoners the state hired from construction companies. “They billed the companies 10.5 pesetas per prisoner per day, and the budget to feed us was five pesetas. There was no cost; the regime made us money. The whole system was corrupt and officials stole half of the bags of food to sell on the black market.

The historian believes that the monument was so poorly constructed that it will eventually collapse. With the exception of the 150-meter stone cross that stands above the basilica, he said dynamite would speed things up. “You have to let nature take its course, but with a little helping hand. ”

Badcock is a special envoy.


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