Opposite the house where I now live is the school my young daughter Irene attends; where I pick her up Tuesdays and Thursdays, and two weekends each month. From there, many days—especially when the weather is nice, we go to a nearby park behind the school. It’s called The Garden of the Jesuits.
It didn’t exist when you lived in Salamanca. Now it’s Salamanca’s largest park. It actually used to be a garden that belonged to the Society of Jesus of Salamanca, whom the city’s socialist mayor convinced to sell it to the city and in it he created a beautiful park with huge trees, shade, exercise areas, fruit trees, a terrace for sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee or for dancing the tango on summer nights for the older people, a jogging trail around the entire park, and other attractions.
In the lower part of the park, the section closest to my house where we enter, there is a playground with swings, slides, and all those devices on which children like to play. Irene loves it. It’s her favorite park. She calls it “The Big Park” to distinguish it from the other parks in Salamanca to which I take her at times.
The park is always full of children with their mothers, grandparents, and even some fathers like myself. Irene’s favorite contraption is a “tirolina”—a zip-line. It’s a cable between two points--one end higher than the other, so kids can slide along the line. We go there with her bicycle, but as soon as we get there, she ditches the bicycle and runs from one plaything to another, and I remain behind with the bicycle.
* * *
This past year, a friend gave me a book to read which he had written and wanted to publish. This has turned into my nightmare: everyone in Salamanca gives me their novels, the books they have written so I can look them over and correct any errors. This novel, not yet published, tells the story of a young divorcee, with a daughter (quite similar to me these days) who forms a friendship with an old socialist whose father was shot by a firing squad in the early years of the Spanish Civil War, in the summer of 1936. Embedded in the events of the novel are old stories from the time of the war—stories that occurred in Salamanca.
* * *
There are many stories I have heard before, but there is one of which I was completely unaware and it made an impression on me. The Falangists of José Antonio Prima de Rivera, the fascists of the Spanish Falange, were the most ruthless murderers of all. I have heard many stories in my village of Bejar, 40 miles south of Salamanca, about what they did. They tied one young socialist worker to the bumper of a car and dragged him for 30 kilometers.
They had their headquarters in the old ducal palace—the old Palace of the Dukes in The Plaza Mayor. There they maintained, according to someone who survived it, what they called “The Chamber of Horrors”. There they took all of the workers of the textile mills who were leftists and tortured them. There were 118 deaths in Bejar that summer. That palace later became a middle school where I studied as an adolescent between the age of fifteen and seventeen. We never knew--no one ever told us, what had occurred there. It was the seventies. Everyone remained silent about what had happened during the war.
The story in this novel that impressed me recounts that the Falangists of Salamanca had their headquarters in a large building that was located in The Park of the Jesuits, which I have mentioned above, now a park. It was there they used to take all those they arrested in that cursed summer. Among them was the mayor of Salamanca, whom they shot before a firing squad. Unamuno himself intervened to free a Protestant Priest, Atilano Coco, a good friend of his. He interceded before Francisco Fucking Franco himself, who at that time was directing the war from Salamanca in the Episcopal Palace alongside the tower in the small plaza where I remember you were once playing Frisbee with some friends and your leather jacket was stolen.
They didn’t pay any attention to Unamuno. They shot the priest.
It so happens that in the Garden of Jesuits, very large as I have been telling you, there was another building—smaller, isolated, far from the main building. And in the novel, we are told that some of those detained by the Falangists were taken from the large building, still preserved, and taken to the small building, which no longer exists. And from there they never emerged.
There used to be an oven there for making charcoal, which apparently was well employed by the Falangists so they wouldn’t have to leave cadavers along the highways. Before the Nazis built Mauthausen or Auschwitz, the Falangist bastards knew what they had to do.
This small, hidden building was in the lower part of the Garden of the Jesuits where today my daughter plays happily among the swings, slides, and the zip-line. And I can’t avoid thinking about this every time I go there.
Written by José Antonio Sanco Paso, translated by Louis Bedrock
(José Antonio Sanchez Paso works in the publishing department of the University of Salamanca. He has written more than a dozen books, many of which deal with the history of Salamanca and Bejar, as well as innumerable articles for El País as well as other newspapers, magazines, and journals. Louis S. Bedrock is one of José’s annoying friends who sends him articles and stories for him to edit and correct.)