On July 20, 1936 Mansilla de las Mulas was taken by coup forces. That episode would start a process of repression in the Leonese town, with dozens of people arrested and at least 14 shot in the following months, several of them in Villadangos del Páramo, where This Thursday an excavation will begin.
Jesús Viejo, son of the town's baker –Sergio Viejo, who would be arrested that Monday along with dozens more–, recently recounted an event that occurred that same day: "After the town was taken, they took one who was a saddler to the Mansilla dungeons, and that same afternoon of the 20th they tied him to a neighbor's car and dragged him around the town until they killed him". That murder exhibited throughout the town, with an exemplary character, is still remembered by other elders of Mansilla.
As the summer went by, more people were arrested in the town, as stated in court case 619/36, in which the names of the plaintiffs and their testimonies appear, as well as the identity of the detainees and their statements. The accusations focused on the fact that some men, led by Mayor Isidro González, had tried to prevent the coup in the town, requisitioning shotguns, arming some men to stand guard and seeking support in neighboring towns. of Palanquinos and Santasmartas. The cause was adding pages, until accumulating more than 800.
The carpenter Epifanio González, brother of the mayor, was one of the defendants in Mansilla. The master farrier Santos Francisco (in the photo, the first on the top right), 39 years old, affiliated with the UGT, who worked for the veterinarian Antonio Guada, was also arrested. "I remember perfectly the day of my father's arrest in Mansilla. It was August," Chencho Francisco, Santos Francisco's son, said a few years ago. "My father leaned out of the balcony of the City Hall where he was already detained and told me: 'Go home'. I made a gesture of doubt and he insisted. It was the last time I saw him."
Santos Francisco and Epifanio González, along with several others, were transferred to the San Marco concentration camp, terrible center of repression and torture. There were already dozens of people from Mansilla. In total, in the summary case 616/36, 61 people from Mansilla appear prosecuted, including several women. One of them is Casimira Marcos Merino, whose arrest occurred when she was trying to convince the guards to release her eldest son, Francisco Candanedo. "She Not only did she not succeed, but in the end they both were killed," says her granddaughter. Another of Casimira's sons, Eugenio Candanedo, 17, was also arrested and would spend several years in prison.
Many of the prisoners in San Marcos suffered humiliation or torture in those months. From one of its towers came such cries of pain that the daughter of the main inspector, Fortunato F. Corugedo, who worked as a typist in another room, complained to the captain of the detachment, according to the records of León.
In October 1936, a Falangist relative of Santos Francisco arrived in Mansilla with good news: he was going to be released. Santos's wife packed a change of clothes and headed for León, hoping to pick up her husband and return home with him. "When my grandmother arrived at the San Marcos concentration camp they told her: 'Lady, keep that change of clothing, he won't need it anymore, last night she went through the chapel," says one of her granddaughters. Santos Francisco left seven children: the eldest, 17 years old; the youngest, 11 months.
All the investigations carried out in the following weeks indicated that the carpenters Epifanio González, from the UGT, father of three daughters and one son, and Acacio Rodríguez, residents of Mansilla, would have been shot with Santos Francisco in Villadangos. A few days before, the Falangists also assassinated Genaro Nachón from Mansill in the same place, and it is likely that the execution of Casimira Marcos and her son also took place in the same area, according to the data compiled in the following weeks and months. In the family story there is talk of some hairpins that appeared in Villadangos. "My grandmother always tied her hair up in a bun and those hairpins seem to be the ones she used to use," says her granddaughter.
In the case of Santos Francisco and Epifanio González, their relatives were able to identify them through objects or clothing kept by the priest of Villadangos. The others were recognized through the minutes signed by Judge Pedro Arias, in which the corpses were described in detail: hair and eye color, size, stature, clothing. Such records can still be found today in the Villadangos Town Hall: in them a total of 85 corpses can be counted, as a result of the executions that took place between September and November 1936.
"In the case of my grandfather Epifanio, a silver buckle was the clear indication," says his granddaughter Nieves González. "And despite that indication, my grandmother spent years thinking that maybe they hadn't killed her, that maybe she would come back. That's the pain of a disappearance, which is perpetuated over time. I want to try to find her remains to bury them." with her, it's something that stayed with her all her life, that sadness and that pain".
Those widows of the disappeared were left in limbo in which they were unable to obtain the death certificate of their husbands until years later, which in some cases made it difficult for them to access their properties. Neither could they claim their corpses or their memory. "I remember Santos's widow crying secretly on my mother's shoulder," says a Mansilla neighbor. "One of her daughters, who was six or eight years old, fell silent. She didn't say a word for a long time. My mother asked me to accompany her to see if she could make her talk."
"My father had ideas of progress, he believed in education to improve society," explained Chencho Francisco, Santos' son, a few years ago. "Her murder of him and that repression marked the family. Some of us had to leave school and go to work." In the town there was a group that pointed out the children of the disappeared: "More than once they said as we passed: 'we should have finished with the seeds too,'" he recalled sadly.
Some women from the most repressed families in Mansilla were victims of public humiliation. Among them, one of Casimira's daughters. They shaved their hair, gave them castor oil, and paraded them through the streets. "The teacher Chencha, who was the sister of the mayor and Epifanio González, for example. Several shaven women were ordered to crawl on their knees together through the town to the church shouting 'long live Christ the King,'" Chencho Francisco recounted.
A similar testimony was offered by Pencho Nachón, brother of the executed Genaro Nachón, more than a decade ago: "They did it with several. The daughter of one of those arrested had her hair shaved two or three times and then they gave her castor oil And after that she took the bicycle and began to pedal through the streets without covering her head, she toured the entire town, she did not hide despite what they had done to her. Pencho Nachón, already very old when he spoke with this journalist, explained how the coup forces "went house by house and town by town" looking for those who "were not of their mind: they killed them like rabbits."
De Mansilla was not only shot in Villadangos. Teacher Julio Candanedo Marcos, highly regarded in the area, was executed in Monte del Fresno without trial or sentence. His face was immortalized in 1935 in the photo that appears at the top of this report (second from the right, below). Seven other men, including the mayor Isidro González, the lawyer and commercial Isaac Álvarez Pacios or his cousin Juan José Pacios (in the photo, third above), received a death sentence through court case 619/36, which was served. in Puente Castro at the beginning of December 1936.
The families of the six from Mansilla, as well as dozens more who have disappeared in Villadangos from other places, have spent years and in some cases decades trying to recover the remains of their grandparents. Along the way, the sons and daughters have died and now it is the new generation that feels that it has that pending debt in its hands. This is the case of Elma Francisco, great-granddaughter of the master farrier Santos Francisco: "I do not forget one day at my grandfather's house – his name was also Santos – how he told us that he knew where his father could be buried. I do not forget how he cried distraught when he told us that they had taken him and what they had done to him.
"In situations like this, you realize the magnitude that these disappearances can have in a family. My father always had the desire to give him a decent burial. I am proud of the story of my great-grandfather, but at the same time you live feeling a little helpless and misunderstood, because it is something alien to others. For this reason, the fact that we have come together so many families is very gratifying: we are sharing feelings that I have had throughout my life," says Elma.
Pilar González, Epifanio González's niece, explains it this way. "I feel that in this search we fulfill the wish of his widow and at the same time, through it, I recover the true history of my family, and therefore an important part of myself. In my family there was a great silence about that and I think that silence has gone through our way of being and communicating, and it has gone through me," he reflects. "Even if nothing is found in the excavation, I think that with this attempt we are already giving light, honoring and recognizing my uncle, who was murdered leaving a trail of so much pain."
The families of those shot lived through years of fear and stigmatization, crossing daily with those who had singled out and led to the death of their fathers, husbands, brothers, sons or mother. These are stories that many older people from Mansilla know but few people want to talk about in public. Some, when asked, answer in a low voice. Others prefer to give details behind closed doors, without further witnesses. The youngest hardly know anything. Even so, it is still possible to put together part of the pieces of those who disappeared in Villadangos, thanks to the archives that were not burned, the persistent work carried out by various historians in the province and the memory kept inside some homes, despite everything.