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On Santa Cruz, por ejemplo(Santa Cruz, For Example)

A film by Günter Schwaiger
Günter Schwaiger
Traduction de Traduit de l'espagnol par Roxana Dumble

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1In this film, Günter Schwaiger films the opening of a mass grave in the small town Santa Cruz de la Salceda, in northern Spain, and the reactions of the towns’ people and the relatives involved who witnessed the event.

2Also notable amongst his most recent works is El Paraíso De Hafner (Hafner’ss Paradise), filmed in 2007 – Documentary, 74 mins Colour-b/w, Stereo, DigiBeta, aspect ratio 4 :3 (please see n.b. website available in English, Spanish and German)

Cultures & Conflits (C&C) : What inspired you to film the bodies being exhumed in Santa Cruz de la Salceda ? How did you come to this decision ?

GÜNTER SCHWAIGER (G. S.) : I was working with some Austrian friends on a film about the Austrian members of the International Brigade when we interviewed the author Emilio Silva, founder of the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica or ARMH (Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory)1. He told us about the ARMH and its work, which had a huge affect on me. In the end, Emilio invited us to attend a small exhumation in the province of Burgos, northern Spain. We went there with the sole intention of seeing the exhumation ; but the atmosphere and the people along with the emotion and importance of the event had such an impact on us that we decided to make a film about it. There were people who broke 70-year silences, speaking publicly for the first time about how their parents, siblings or grandparents were murdered. I’d never experienced anything like it. As Emilio used to say, “The opening of a grave is metaphorical. Not only is the earth broken open, people’s innermost feelings are released and 70-year silences are broken too.”

C&C : There’s a scene in the film that really grabbed my attention. Up to this point in the film, you’ve heard various people speak, relatives essentially, about people who were shot and buried in mass graves. But there are also accounts from neighbours and towns’ people, some who supported the exhumations while others weren’t so keen. Suddenly, you see a bank and there are four men sat down ; they’re old, they’ve got walking sticks and it would seem they’re sunbathing. You approach them and ask what they think about the bodies being exhumed. And they don’t say a word. They don’t say that they think it’s a bad idea. They don’t say a word. Not a peep. The film becomes silent. How did you deal with this silence ? What do you think it suggests ?

G.S. : I can still feel the chill that went down my spine that very moment. We approached those four men because they were always there, watching us in silence. They didn’t say a word and yet their reaction was incredibly hostile. I believe that that image has strong symbolic significance ; in fact, many people consider it a metaphor for what happened in the years of enforced silence. After instilling terror and fear, silence spread throughout the regime ; a powerful and imposing silence, which seeped into every nook and cranny. Those silent faces showed guilty and bad consciences, along with arrogance and hatred. In that moment, those men knew that only metres away, the truth that they’d tried to keep hidden for such a long time was being dug up. And they couldn’t accept it.

C&C : At the end of the film one of the grandchildren who’s appeared throughout, and this is someone who’s rather muddled, is walking along with a boy, an adolescent. They approach the place where the mass grave was and the boy unfolds a red flag emblazoned with the acronym for the Unión General de Trabajadores (General Workers’ Union). The grandson, whom I’d guess to be about 40, says something along the lines of (and this isn’t an exact quote) “my grandfather never imagined what was going to happen to him, nor did he imagine that his great-grandson would bring him the flag for which he was killed”. I think that this constitutes a key issue for Latin-American history and, undoubtedly, for many others too. The possibility that nowadays, in our present day, we might learn about and fully understand why they were killed (I’m referring to the left-wing Latin American militants murdered under the dictatorships of the 1970s). Given your own experience of Spanish history, particularly the chapter in your life relating to the exhumations, do you think this question’s relevant ? Is it relevant for the people whom you interviewed ?

G.S. : It is a fundamental issue, especially if you regard analysis as a tool for understanding and education. I believe that subsequent generations should know why and under what circumstances people were murdered. This is the only way that you can evaluate behaviours and apply the conclusions that you’ve drawn to your own situation.

In Spain, certain groups of people have made political demands of the exhumations, while others have left relatives to make decisions privately. The associations involved always document why someone was murdered, their political beliefs and their social position. But very few victims’ relatives are really looking for a political reason, and they would hardly ever dare to feel more than injustice. Franquismo was the dominant power for so long that as a consequence, an entire generation is ashamed of their ancestors’ political past. Most of them don’t even know (or don’t want to know) to which party or trade union their relatives belonged. This de-politicisation is a very strong trend in connection with the Spanish civil war.

  • 2  Please see the interview with Marie-Paule Jeunehomme concerning her film Los Nietos (The Grandchil (...)

It’s the generation of grandchildren, the leaders of this movement, who are no longer afraid. Nor do they feel ashamed and they’re beginning to put their relatives in a political context2. Nevertheless, there are still very strong taboos on the subject and many of the relatives interviewed said things like, “No, my grandfather wasn’t a political man, they killed him because he was a good sort, because they were jealous, because he wanted the best for everyone”.

I hope that people in Argentina who are affected, where memories of such cruelty are still recent, won’t fall into this amnesia trap.

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1  Cf. Please see (n.b. website available in Spanish only).

2  Please see the interview with Marie-Paule Jeunehomme concerning her film Los Nietos (The Grandchildren) on the Inédits de “Regards sur l'entre-deux” website (Something new from “The Space in Between” - a section in the magazine Cultures & Conflits that focuses on politics and culture.  N.b. selected texts available in French, Spanish and English).

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Günter Schwaiger, « On Santa Cruz, por ejemplo(Santa Cruz, For Example)  »Cultures & Conflits [En ligne], Inédits de Regards sur l'entre deux, mis en ligne le 22 juin 2010, consulté le 01 décembre 2021. URL :

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