125,000 people died, disappeared or were repressed in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and during the Franco dictatorship, according to historians. Many of their families still do not know, 40 years later, what exactly happened to them.
Now the Innovation and Human Rights (IHR) association has created the first central database of casualties, missing persons and reprisals during the Spanish Civil War and under Francoism.
No centralised registry before now
The idea for the project came after an investigation into aerial bombings in Barcelona, says journalist and IHR founder Concha Catalán:
“Speaking to the families, I realised how difficult it was for them to access the information. The grandchildren of a woman who died in 1938 in a bombing did not know the date of her grandmother’s death until they saw her name in an exhibition about the airstrikes in Barcelona.”
Most of the casualties died fighting in the trenches, in prison, as a result of bombing, or in the 188 concentration camps that existed in Spain.
A centralised registry does not exist. If descendants want to know more, they have to search for the records in private, local, regional, penitentiary, military and parish archives. Each request has to be done in a particular way — one archive’s guide to requesting information, for example, is 96 pages long.
After a year of work, the IHR team — three journalists, two historians and a software engineer — has created a database of 227,000 records from 89 different sources.
This is only the beginning, says Concha Catalán.
“The main goal is to prove each victim with an official report.”
Challenges of the project
The main challenge of the project was, and remains, finding and processing the data.
“As each file had a different format, we used Tabula, online converters and coding to clean the data. Manual work was often required, either for cleaning or reviewing the final spreadsheets.”
The second biggest difficulty has been requesting public information. Although Spain has a transparency law, deadlines are not met, says Concha Catalánt
“Since October 2016, we have only had one positive response from all the requests we have sent.”
20,000 queries in the first 15 days
In the first 15 days of operation, the IHR database has received 20,000 queries.
Journalist Concha Catalán says the main goal of IHR is not only to support the relatives. — it goes further than that.
“We want to change the process to access public information related to the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship. We also wish that our database might become a tool to help historians to investigate.”
In almost every family in the country, there is a story about the war, the repression or the regime, says Concha Catalán.
“The oldest generations do not want to talk. They do not want to open old wounds.”
As fewer and fewer people remain alive who experienced the Spanish Civil War, it is particularly important that information is preserved now.