THE grim task of exhuming, identifying and reburying dozens of victims of the Spanish Civil War has started after two mass graves were found.

Archaeologists discovered the bodies at a cemetery in the town of Belchite in the province of Zaragoza.

So far 15 bodies have been found in one of the graves, with diggers estimating that there could be a total of 150 bodies in the two pits.

Belchite Pixabay Creative Commons
Belchite ruins as they are today. Picture: Pixabay

Around 400 men and women from the town – population 3,000 – and surrounding areas were executed during the 1936 to 1939 conflict. The skeletons so far uncovered are of men and women aged from 20 to 40 years-old.

Belchite was also the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, which included British and other foreign troops in the Republican’s International Brigade on one side and Franco’s rebel forces on the other. A total of up to 5,000 people are thought to have been killed in the 15 day battle, although no official figures were released.

The houses were bombed to pieces, the churches burned and many of the townspeople died amidst the carnage.

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The first batch of British prisoners released by General Franco on their return to London. Many of the men were captured on the Belchite front. Pictured is John Croll being welcomed on his arrival at Victoria. 25 October 1938. Cordon Press

The Republicans took the town in 1937 but Franco’s forces retook it in 1938.

Franco ordered the townspeople to build a new town a few hundred metres away and declared the ruins of the old town stand as a monument to the power of the Nationalists. They still stand as a ghost town giving an insight into the devastation of the war.

An estimated 130,000 people are buried in unidentified mass graves throughout Spain.

Of those, 90,000 died during the Civil War, and around 40,000 were executed after the war.

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