From forced labor barracks for 'reds' to a place of memory, the new life of the Bustarviejo penal detachment

From forced labor barracks for 'reds' to a place of memory, the new life of the Bustarviejo penal detachment

When Teófilo Sánchez was six years old, in 1944, his mother took him to live opposite his father. Originally from Toledo, the woman and the child settled in a four-square-meter shack in the northern mountains of Madrid, which had to be entered almost by crawling, with a bed made of branches and a can to collect the water from the leaks. . Four years went by like this, to be able to see from time to time Teófilo Sr., a Republican prisoner, a forced laborer from the so-called Bustarviejo penal detachment, one of the nine that were built in Madrid to supply practically slave labor for the works of the train. to Burgos. Returning to the site today, Teófilo, who is 84 years old, points to the granite. That shack was “in that yellowish stone over there,” he says. Like every time he comes to visit, he is unable to contain his excitement.

Teófilo cries, but at times he also laughs, because the barracks are now a place of recovered memory, where an exhibition on the history of penal detachments was inaugurated this Saturday, after being restored from 2011 after having been relegated to oblivion for decades, while the neighbors used it to keep the cattle. “When we entered there was a meter of manure,” recalls Pedro Juárez, from the Association for Historical Memory Los Barracones, which promoted the recovery of the building, organizes regular guided tours and holds an annual concert for the memory.

Teófilo, who has come with his son Carlos, meets and hugs María Peláez, daughter of José Manuel Peláez, an Asturian who enlisted to go to war before turning 18 and also passed through the Bustarviejo barracks. She, the second daughter, was born later, but she comes whenever she can. "You see this and you realize what they suffered," she repairs. Her eyes moisten, he excuses himself: "I'm very fond of crying." Pedro Juárez, who was a councilor for the PSOE, says that little is still said in the town about what happened in the barracks, that there are descendants of those prisoners who stayed in the area and today are from the right, and that if Restoring the building was due to an amendment to some State budgets promoted by Gaspar Llamazares, after the first law of historical memory.

Working to redeem sentences, examine one's conscience and atone for sins on Sundays at mass, to spend the night in rectangular sheds where 150 prisoners were crowded into three bedrooms, after 10-hour shifts between stone and dynamite, a “slave, strenuous and poorly paid” work, as José Carlos González, president of the association, explains to the attendees. Between 1944 and 1952, around 6,000 prisoners passed through one of Madrid's penal detachments, according to archaeologist Fernando Colmenarejo, who prepared the texts for the exhibition. Remains of the bowls or the precarious footwear of the prisoners are now exhibited in showcases in one of the rooms, adjoining the central nave where seven information panels detail the details of the repressive machinery of Francoism. He emphasizes that the guard corps of the detachment was oriented towards the interior, since the greatest risk was not escape attempts -many families settled, like Teófilo and his mother, in shacks near the barracks- but the incursions of the maquis .

The songbook of the Spanish refugee in France

The memory association has been organizing a concert every summer for five years in the barracks. This year the guests were the brothers Luisa and Cuco Pérez, who have been compiling over the years the songs and popular songs of the Spanish refugees in France, after the exodus of the last months of the Civil War. Starting from the family history of their grandparents, who moved from Madrid after the bombings to the Algères refugee camp, the duo performed compositions by the Uruguayan Quintín Cabrera, “exiled like Machado”, but 30 years later, songs from the ' they won't pass' and various adaptations, such as one of La cucaracha focused on the bad life of the French concentration camps, where they only ate (hopefully) “lentils and cod”.

The choirs had an audience with members of other associations for memory, from Aranda de Duero, on the other side of the mountains, or from San Sebastián de los Reyes, which these days, after much effort, raises mass graves in Colmenar Viejo. It is a moment of celebration, but Teófilo Sánchez, lighting a fine cigar, does not shake the feeling that history is cyclical and the present looks complicated, with hateful parallels from that precarious childhood: “This that has happened is going to happen again. spend".

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