MADRID – Spain is documenting all forced labour carried out by prisoners during the Franco regime after the civil war in Spain. With this initiative, the government aims to create a registry of victims and an inventory of buildings to recognise their suffering.
This was announced on Wednesday by Ángel Victor Torres, the Minister of Territorial Politics and Historical Memory. The announcement took place during a visit by the minister to the detention centre of Chozas de la Sierra (Madrid).
“With this inventory that we will compile in 2024, we want to know how many people there were and what works they carried out. We want to provide complete transparency on this,” explained the minister.
“Our hearts break when we listen to the testimonies of daughters and granddaughters of those who were imprisoned for defending democracy and who were forced to work under miserable and inhumane conditions,” he continued.
In the detention camps of the Madrid region alone, more than 6,000 Republican prisoners were forced to work on the construction of the railway that connects Chamartín with Lozoya.
Darkest chapters in Spanish history
Ángel Víctor Torres visited this location in the Sierra de Madrid accompanied by the Government Delegate in the Comunidad, Francisco Martín, and other representatives of the Asociación Cultural Chozas de la Sierra.
The remains of the concentration camps “emerge as one of the darkest and forgotten chapters in the history of Spain,” according to the socialist leader. The Minister of Historical Memory also emphasised that “the Law on Democratic Memory must be further developed.” For this, “we must extend our hand to all political groups.”
A railway tainted by history
The detention centre of Chozas de la Sierra housed 2,000 of the 6,000 Republican prisoners during the Franco dictatorship. They worked on the construction of the railway connecting Chamartín and Lozoya, one of the sections of the Madrid-Burgos railway. In the vicinity, the remnants of the shantytowns where women and children lived crowded together, close to their husbands, fathers, and sons, can be seen. The houses had barely more than four square meters.
Nine detention camps in the Madrid region
Thousands of prisoners and their families worked on the construction of the Madrid-Burgos railway. Meanwhile, they were held in nine detention camps in the Madrid region. These were Chozas de la Sierra, Bustarviejo, Garganta de los Montes, Valdemanco, Miraflores de la Sierra, Colmenar Viejo, Fuencarral, Chamartín, and Las Rozas. Republican prisoners built over 70 kilometers of railway infrastructure by forced labor between 1941 and 1955.
‘Cooperation from all institutions needed’
The railway project was designed a decade earlier, but construction was delayed, and trains did not run until 1968. “It is unthinkable that in any town that has suffered the consequences of fascism, there are people who defend it. We need cooperation from all institutions. This should not be a matter of just the government,” concluded the minister.
Forced labour during the Franco regime
The Franco regime in Spain came to power after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It extensively used forced labour as part of its repressive policy and economic strategy in the post-war years. This dictatorial regime lasted from 1939 until 1975, the year of Francisco Franco’s death.
Cheap labour force
Political prisoners were used as cheap labour to carry out various large-scale projects. This included infrastructure projects such as the construction of roads, bridges, railways, and dams. Additionally they were used for agricultural work, mining, and forestry. Working conditions were often gruesome and inhumane.
Forced labour in inhumane conditions
Prisoners were arrested during and after the civil war due to their political beliefs or involvement in republican or leftist groups. Franco’s regime established special detention and concentration camps where political prisoners were held and forced to work. These camps were located throughout the country and were known for their harsh conditions, mistreatment, and forced labour.
The legacy of forced labour during the Franco regime continues to be felt in Spain to this day. Many victims and their families seek recognition of the suffering inflicted upon them. Furthermore they strive to keep the memory of this dark period alive.
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