A Polish journalist immerses herself in the wounds of the Civil War: "Total oblivion does not exist and Spain is the example"

One fine day Katarzyna Kobylarczyk, born in Krakow 42 years ago, opened a Spanish newspaper to practice the language during her residency in 2009 in Cartagena (Murcia). In the pages she found an article about some graves from the Civil War, in Milagros, a town in Burgos. She thought that, seven decades later, it would be a story about the last pending burials of the Republican victims.

He soon discovered that it was one of the first graves to be dug up, to rescue the bodies and deliver them to their families. He then thought that he should immediately write an article for Poland. But the barrage of questions that came over him paralyzed that need to make Spain's problems known in his country with the most recent and cruel memory of him. He could not believe that, after almost 40 years of democracy, society hid the stories of those killed by the Franco regime.

Ten years after that wave of questions to be explained, Costras was born, thanks to dozens of interviews and visits. Spain digs into its wounds, now translated by the Crítica publishing house. In 2020 this investigation was recognized with the Ryszard Kapuscinscki Prize in the category of literary reporting.

Katarzyna says that what interested the award jury were the reflections between the two countries and the choking memory. A few months after the award and before Vladimir Putin gave the order to attack, Costras translated into Ukrainian. The reason was similar to what the jury had offered in its ruling: "When Donbas is liberated from the Russian invasion we will find the same situation that remained in Spain after the Civil War and the dictatorship," the Ukrainian translator told the Polish author .

Out there they hardly know how badly the memory of the victims was treated and that they have barely been speaking for 15 years, when almost all of them have disappeared. Kobylarczyk admits that in his search for him he has found more fear than he expected. Many people have preferred that his name not appear published next to his testimony.

It is one more proof that the vaunted reconciliation of the Transition was a good slogan, but not true. It is enough to compare the covers of the Polish and the Spanish edition of Costras to find the proof (and metaphor) of the fear to which the writer refers. In one, a grave with the remains of the victims is shown in view of the neighbors who come to unearth the silence and in the other, that of Crítica (Planeta), a blank sheet almost completely covers the site and the bones. Spain digs into its wounds, but not so much.

Katarzyna Kobylarczyk is a rare bird in the war-civilist publishing scene. A foreign journalist investigating the victims of the civil war, from both sides. "My book is not a trial. As a journalist I have the obligation to always be with the victims," ​​she says. She says that, despite the fact that some have had four decades to tell her story, she did not want to leave anyone's testimony out. Nor her ability to portray the grandson of a murdered man in Paracuellos, who uses the fascist salute on the street without any problem. "I write that his grandfather is a victim, but also what her grandson does. Perhaps that is objectivity," she warns.

This permissiveness with fascism is what has most caught his attention in this country. In Poland it is prohibited by law. He was also shocked by a visit to a museum of the Blue Division that is on the ground floor of Madrid, in which the guide assured the group of visitors that the Nazis saved the Jews of Poland and Russia. "What a barbarity! This is a European anomaly," says the journalist.

"We journalists are not going to change the world. The same thing happens everywhere in the world. But we need that memory. Total oblivion does not exist and Spain is the example. The dictatorship appropriated the story and history for 40 years, but it did not manage to make people forget. If the grandparents are silenced, the grandchildren will speak", indicates the author of Costras. At times she is a journalist, historian and writer. And in all these roles the mission is the same: to give voice to the victims. He assures that the stories he has focused on are too small and particular to interest the historian: "The historian seeks the absolute truth and I seek memory. In history books you do not put on the boots of the victims. I have wanted that the reader put himself in their place".

She is nervous because she doesn't know how the heirs of these victims will accept the work she has done. She falls silent and thinks of a decisive scene in the book. One that shows that reconciliation is not possible. Fausto Canales arrives at the Valley of the Fallen with the intention of visiting the remains of his father and his uncle, peasants, who rest without consent in the Francoist mausoleum along with more than 30,000 people. He asks a Benedictine monk who is cleaning there for the keys and he tells him that he also has his father buried there. He tells her that his father was a milkman in Madrid, that he fed the nuns of a monastery and that they killed him for it. That face to face, those parallel stories, are not easy to understand. "Many Polish readers tell me that they see that scene as a moment of reconciliation, but not at all. Some do not want to understand others. Reconciliation has not existed and I do not know if we can demand that the victim reconcile with the executioner," he explains. Kobylarczyk.

If reconciliation has not been possible, may memory be. For that, he believes that it is necessary to create a safe space for people to talk. "It seems to me that the Historical Memory Law is a toy to spark discussion, not to solve the memory of the victims. Politicians should not be the ones who should debate this issue. I admire Spain because historical memory is being built by people, such as the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH)," he adds. In the book, the author underlines the importance of the experience of Spanish society with her memory and with so many pending graves, just at the time of the rise of European fascism.

A healthy and debated memory, with clean wounds, is important to face the future, he warns. Important so that in that future there is no indifference and the extreme right is banished from the governments that come. "We are not learning and the past is going to come back," she concludes.

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