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The Vall d’Hebron Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department, led by Dr Eduardo Tizzano, made a decisive contribution to the programme.
The Genetic Identification Programme has identified four more victims of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime, as announced by the Minister of Justice, Lourdes Ciuró, and the Minister of Health, Josep María Argimon, at a press conference following this morning's visit to Vall d'Hebron University Hospital Genetics Laboratory. These victims were four republican soldiers aged between 29-34, who were buried in Corbera d’Ebre (Terra Alta) and in the mass graves in Pernafeites (Ribera d’Ebre) and Soleràs (Garrigues).
Ministers Ciuró and Argimon were accompanied on their tour of the genetics laboratories by Dr Albert Salazar, director of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital; Dr Ernesto Casis, head of the Clinical Laboratories Department; Dr Eduardo Tizzano, head of the Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department and head of the Genetic Medicine Research Group of the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR); Dr Ivon Cuscó, physician of the Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department; Dr Tomàs Pumarola, head of the Microbiology Department and head of the Microbiology Research Group of the VHIR; Dr Elena Garcia, head of the Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department; and Pilar Bonet, technical supervisor in the Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department.
“The identified republican soldiers still have children or relatives who are living in Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, Sabadell, Gandesa and Barcelona. During the month of October, we will schedule the return ceremonies in accordance with the will of the families", said the Minister of Justice, Lourdes Ciuró.
With these four new cases, 16 people have now been identified as victims of the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. This is an impressive number if we consider that the Genetic Identification Programme only came into being in 2016.“Participation in the Genetic Identification Programme has allowed us to analyse the genetic data of 2,624 family members” said Dr Ivon Cuscó, physician of the Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital.
The Catalan Regional Government is committed to the research and identification of people who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War and under the Franco Regime. This work is reliant on the collaboration of people from various disciplines and professional fields such as history, archaeology, anthropology, and genetics.
It is supported in this work by the Genetic Identification Programme; a collaboration between the Department of Justice (through the Directorate General of Democratic Memory) and the Department of Health (through the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital) that has been in force since 2016.
This programme has enabled the identification of human remains, found both on the ground and exhumed from mass graves, through genetic analyses and in studies conducted in the laboratories of the Clinical and Molecular Genetics Department. Family members of people who disappeared during the Franco dictatorship can provide the hospital with a sample of their DNA, which can then be cross-checked against the genetic profiles of any human remains that are discovered.
The programme, therefore, has two different databases that can be used to identify the remains of missing people: that which contains the genetic profiles of the relatives of those who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime, and that which contains the genetic data extracted from the remains of these missing people.
This programme has already yielded some concrete results. For example, the programme has 2,624 genetic samples from more than 2,500 living relatives of people who disappeared during the years in question. This is a significant figure, but one which remains insufficient for the number of people who were buried in mass graves during the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Science at the disposal of historical memory
The Minister of Health, Josep Maria Argimon, has explained how this Genetic Identification Programme allows us to use scientific developments to learn more about our past. “We are putting science at the disposal of historical memory”, he stated, for whom medicine and sciences “cannot be detached from their humanistic vocation and profile”. The councillor highlighted the programme’s function “of recovery, of memory, and of justice”; of a people who, “if they don't recover this memory, if they don't take care of it, if injustices are not repaired, they will remain forever wounded”.
The Department of Justice and the Directorate General for Democratic Memory are responsible for researching and identifying missing people through four primary tools: the Census of Missing People; the Genetic Identification Programme; the Mass Graves Map (a geolocation tool) and the Mass Graves Plan (which establishes a timetable for the opening of new graves).
The Census of Missing People contains the names of people who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime, regarding whom their family members have requested investigation. There are 6,150 people currently listed on the census, some of whom disappeared in Catalonia, and some of whom disappeared elsewhere.
With the announcement of these 4 identifications, the Minister of Justice, Lourdes Ciuró, wanted to “encourage all those who have family members who disappeared during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco Regime to sign up to the Census of Missing People”.
She also made a commitment to reinforcing actions that seek to raise awareness of the Genetic Identification Programme, with the aim of increasing the number of genetic samples from family members. In her address, she announce that “an effort will be made to locate the relatives of members of the international brigades who died or went missing during the Spanish Civil War in Catalonia, with the aim of increasing the number of registrations in the Census of Missing People and to obtain the genetic profiles of living descendants of these brigadistas. This will make it easier for us to identify the bodies found during the excavations as part of the Mass Graves Plan”.
Republican soldiers aged between 29 and 34
The first of the identified soldiers, a 30 year old man from Sant Andreu de Llavaneres, died in combat on the Ebro Front. He was buried in a mass grave alongside other bodies in the town of Corbera d’Ebre.
The second soldier, who was also 30 years old and died on the Ebro Front, was identified from the bodies exhumed in the Pernafeites grave in the town of Miravet. He was born in the town of Brull and lived in Castellterçol.
The two other soldiers were identified from the remains exhumed from the grave in the Cementiri Vell del Soleràs (Garrigues). One of them, who was 34 years old when he was killed, was born in Nonasp (Zaragoza) and lived in Barcelona. The other victim was a 29-year-old man from Alicante who also lived in Barcelona.
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