The mother who brought a rattle to her execution


Catalina Muñoz was executed in September 1936 and buried with the toy of her nine-month-old son, who has known her story 83 years later.

In August 2011, a team of archaeologists stumbled upon a rattle inside a Civil War grave. It was a bright pink and yellow toy, shaped like a flower, that was next to a corpse sprinkled with quicklime and buried without a coffin. At lunchtime, the diggers did not talk about anything else: could the object be from 1936?

“It seemed like a joke,” recalls Almudena García-Rubio, an anthropologist from the Aranzadi Society of Sciences, who was on that day in some already disturbing excavations, as they were looking for 250 victims of the Franco repression buried under the children’s swings in the park. La Carcavilla, in the city of Palencia, where once was the municipal cemetery.

The rattle was taken to the ethnographer Fermín Leizaola, who cut a piece of the plastic and brought it to a flame, where it quickly ignited leaving a “characteristic smell of camphor”. That proved that it was celluloid, a plastic developed in 1870 widely used in everyday objects until the seventies of the twentieth century. The toy could be of the time. “This is the most striking and moving object that could have come out of a Civil War pit,” says García-Rubio, who points out that it is the only one of its kind recovered in the more than 700 graves exhumed in Spain to the present.

This object and the history behind it has served for a whole family to recover the memory of events that had been buried so far. The records of the old cemetery of Palencia indicated that the corpse was of Catalina Muñoz Arranz, 37 years old and a native of Cevico de la Torre, a town 30 kilometers from the capital of Palencia. He had four children when they killed her. The smallest, 9 months old, was probably the owner of the rattle.

Martín de la Torre Muñoz, son of Catalina, with his daughter Martina (left) and his wife, Francisca

That baby is today an 83-year-old man who lives in a humble house on the main street of Cevico de la Torre, with about 400 inhabitants. He speaks little, he has the stare and the very wide hands of a lifetime of work, since he began at eight years of age. “I was a cowherd boy and then I worked in the field. I never went to school, “he explains in the kitchen of his home, where he lives with his wife and his daughter Martina, 56 years old. “From my mother I do not remember anything,” says Martín de la Torre Muñoz. “I do not know what face he had, because we do not have any pictures of him, that’s the penalty,” he confesses. He could never inquire about his mother and the family almost did not talk about what happened.

After the death of his mother, Martin was raised by an aunt in Cevico. His father, Tomás de la Torre, was in prison accused of the murder of a Falangist in a brawl that happened in the town on May 3, 1936. He was sentenced to 17 years. His wife ran worse luck. They arrested her on August 24, just over a month after the coup led by Franco, who triumphed in Palencia. She was judged by a council of war in which the mayor of Cevico and two other neighbors declared that she was going to demonstrations, that she had been discovered washing blood from her husband’s clothes, that she cheered Russia and killed the Civil Guard, who said : “We are still going to win and we are going to do tajadillas”.

Lucía Muñoz, daughter of Catalina, in the residence of Cevico de la Torre (Palencia)

Catalina could not read or write, but she could sign, according to the summary of her trial, which is kept in the military archives of Ferrol. She is signed as a woman of 1.51, brunette, with black hair and eyes, nicknamed Pitilina. On September 5, she testified and signed a statement admitting to going to demonstrations, but denying the rest of the accusations against her.

Despite the lack of evidence, the court condemned her for military rebellion with the maximum penalty. He died on September 22 at “five thirty hours of the day […] due to injuries caused by a small projectile firearm in the skull and chest”, according to the detailed summary, which coincides almost perfectly with the osteological analysis. that anthropologists did in 2011 after digging up his body, along with buttons, metal brackets and the rubber soles of his shoes, number 36.

A few meters below Martin’s house is the only relative who remembers Catalina: Lucia, his daughter and sister of Martin. She is now 94 years old, her memory somewhat fragile and her hands are as broad as her brother’s. In a visiting room of the nursing home in Cevico where Lucia lives, she remembers the day they arrested her mother. “He left the house running with the child and fell into the back of a house and they went to get it. Nothing happened to the child. She was wearing a half-body apron and a black beak to cover herself. It’s the only thing he had when he left home, “he says. Although she does not remember the rattle, Lucia says that it is probable that her mother carried it in the pocket of that apron. “I had a lot of genius, in that I look like her, if they told her something … Jesus, and that’s why they killed her, I’ve been crying for a few weeks now,” she laments, her eyes dampened and her eyes lost. Lucia was 11 when they shot her mother. He remained in the care of his grandfather and began to serve in the homes of wealthy people in the town, but they could not take charge of burying his mother in Cevico.

“Of the approximately one hundred women murdered in the first months of the war in the province of Palencia, Catalina Muñoz is the only one who was tried and sentenced to death, the rest were taken”, highlights Pablo García-Colmenares, Professor of History Contemporary of the University of Valladolid and president of the Association for the Recovery of the Historical Memory of Palencia (ARMH). He is the author of the work Victims of the Civil War in the province of Palencia (1936-1945), edited by the Junta de Castilla y León.

When Martin’s father left prison, he went to work in Bilbao. Many years later, already retired, he returned to Cevico and lived there the last eight years of his life. They never talked about what happened and Martin did not ask him anything about his mother for not awakening painful memories.

Martín did not know that his mother had been buried alone in Palencia and now he has seen for the first time the photo of the toy that was taken to the tomb. When no one claimed the remains and belongings of Catalina, they were buried in the new cemetery of Palencia with other victims of the repression, but in a separate box. After knowing the history of the toy and its whereabouts, Martina’s daughter, Martin, has begun the process to recover the body and, next to him, the rattle, which could return to his father’s hands 83 years later.

Martina has come to Palencia for the first time to see the monolith of La Carcavilla that remembers the victims, where the name of her grandmother appears, she has bought the book about the victims of the Colmenares Civil War and she wants to make an urn to keep the rattle so your children and grandchildren know the story. “When I saw the name of Catalina engraved on the monolith, I felt a very strange feeling of emptiness, but on the other hand I am very happy to be able to recover my grandmother and take her to my grandfather, I believe that he was not the culprit. what happened to my grandmother, as was thought, but it was he who gave himself to cover her, it was a gesture of love, “Martina explains. She says that her father now tears when she wonders if she is going to die before they bring her mother back.

Objects such as Catalina’s rattle are small treasures for contemporary archaeologists, who apply scientific methods to the recovery and study of materials from episodes of recent history. Sometimes, military emblems or wedding bands are key to identify some victims. “The personal objects that are recovered together with the bodies allow an approach to the daily life of the repressed people”, explains García-Rubio in Women in the Civil War and post-war. Memory and Education (Audema). “A pencil, glasses, a clock, a comb, a newspaper clipping with the result of the Tour de France of that year 1936, are small flashes of each other’s life reflected in what they carried in their pockets at the time who were arrested. Sometimes they are very particular elements, such as twins with the drawing of a pharaoh, but most of the time they are elements of a time and an occupation, like the hundreds of rubber soles of the footwear recovered in the graves of Burgos, Palencia or Valladolid, “he details.

In other cases the objects provide a different view to episodes of recent history, explains Alfredo González-Ruibal, archaeologist at the CSIC who has been excavating trenches and concentration camps for the Civil War for years, from which he has recovered tens of thousands of objects that they are cataloged and filed and that, in their own way, they summarize the contest. There are medals, crucifixes, perfume bottles, high-heeled shoes, as well as kilos of shrapnel and ammunition. “The power of this type of archeology is not to tell a well-known episode, but to synthesize a moment of history with an image”, explained the researcher in a recent conference at the National Archaeological Museum in which Catherine’s rattle was highlighted as one of the objects that best condense the history of the Civil War.

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