Fall 2014 News News: Hispanic Studies

Testimonies of Trauma, Mourning & Remembrance: the Cádiz Memory Project

Robert Bohnke '17 (far right) and Prof. Francie Cate Arries (center) interview a family affected by the Spanish Civil War. Image © Mike Blum, 2014
Robert Bohnke ’17 (far right) and Prof. Francie Cate Arries (center) interview a family affected by the Spanish Civil War. Image © Mike Blum, 2014

In the summer of 2014, Hispanic Studies majors Michael Le (Class of 2015) and Robert Bohnke (’17) worked as research fellows with Professor Francie Cate-Arries, supported by a generous grant by the Weingartner Fellowship for International Studies. Cate-Arries’ historical memory project seeks to record and digitally archive testimonies gathered in the province of Cádiz, Spain from family members whose loved ones were murdered during the early days of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Francisco Franco dictatorship (1939-1975). In collaboration with photographer and videographer Mike Blum, W&M Academic Technology Specialist, the research team is creating a website to showcase the oral testimonies,  the objects of memory, and the places of remembrance that tell the story of the civil war’s losers. Spain’s new generation of activist grandchildren advocate for the exhumation of mass graves, recovering not only the remains of family members “disappeared” during the regime, but the buried history that now comes to light as victims’ descendents recount families’ tales of terror & resistance.

Robert Bohnke’s contributions included his transcriptions of recorded testimonies, and subtitles for a 2014 documentary about the 1936 civilian massacre of villagers of La Sauceda. He recalls high points of the project: “In Cádiz, the history of the Spanish Civil War is all around you. There are castles on the beach of La Caleta that were used as prisons for political prisoners and shortly thereafter as the sites of executions. In addition to the presence of this history, a growing number on Spaniards are working to create a social and political dialog about those who were executed during war… Some of the most inspiring, serious, and thought provoking moments of my study abroad came while I was working on my research project and while discussing the legacy of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with the diverse assortment of individuals I met in Spain. I attended documentary screenings about a recent exhumation of a mass grave at La Sauceda, interviewed a historian, and traveled through Cádiz with Professor Cate-Arries observing how modern Spaniards remember and commemorate their past. I heard a member of the audience at the documentary say that equally as important as the disinterment of the remains is the ‘recovery of the ideas of these bones’.”

Michael Le similarly transcribed audiofiles and the documentary script. When one of his research blog readers asked him about the emotional dimension of working with testimonies of trauma–“Are there any narratives that stuck out to you as you transcribed?”—he responded: “I transcribed a bit of Andrés Rebolledo’s interview where he talks about his grandfather and this intense yearning to know his grandparents. It’s heartbreaking and feels very much like a need to know one’s identity, which has essentially been denied and stolen from him. I also recall the vocal Lucía Román, who spoke about how her grandfather died in her father’s place when the soldiers collected civilians. I also remember María Martín Pérez, the granddaughter of a desaparecido. She spoke about how the soldiers were killing children, and her grandmother had to leave her husband to protect her family. She ends up in tears when she says that her grandmother and mother were so consumed with the fear that the soldiers would find and kill them one day, that her mother ended up committing suicide years later. It’s rather hard to watch.”

Sample testimonies may be consulted online at