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The Big Picture: Uncovering Bodies At Belchite Mass Grave From Spanish Civil War

The Spanish earth groans with horrors a modern mind struggles to comprehend, yet which were buried there within the lifetimes of our grandparents.

A cranium with a bullet hole is seen in a mass grave on November 15, 2021 in Belchite, Spain. A mass grave of 150 civilians killed in Belchite (Zaragoza) two days after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War is being uncovered by scientists. (Photo by Marcos del Mazo/Getty Images)

The town of Belchite, near north-east Zaragoza, was the scene of such horrors for one grim fortnight in late summer 1937.

This unremarkable spot on the map became the objective for Republican forces determined to slow the advancing Franco forces.

Eighty thousand Republican troops, supported by three divisions of Russian bombers, attempted to take the town but failed. Franco’s Nationalist forces counter-attacked. In the course of 12 days, Belchite was utterly destroyed, at the cost of an estimated 5,000 lives.

Of the town’s civilian population, possibly as many as 1,500 – around half – were killed. After the conflict, the victorious Franco decreed the ruins of Belchite lie undisturbed as a national monument to the three years of Civil War.

Today, that ground is finally being disturbed by forensic archaeologists, unearthing mass graves of the victims of a fortnight’s horror. Two mass graves are being painstakingly uncovered; their estimated 200 victims mainly men and women aged between 20 and 30.

Many bear the clear signs of summary execution; a single gunshot to the head.

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