A Hole In The Silence

Transcript Episode 6


Isabel [host]: Several men and women have been digging the soil for days. First with shovels, and now with smaller tools: a trowel, a chisel. Around them, about twenty people watch, or chat, or walk around. These women and men are exhuming the bodies of several people who were thrown into this mass grave in 1936, right at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Many of these words – exhumation, disappeared person, historical memory – are now very common in our daily lives, and some are even bored with hearing them and right now will be thinking – maybe you’re thinking – “yet one more story about the Spanish Civil War.” But this isn’t a story about the Civil War. Or not only. It’s a story from 20 years ago, when almost nobody in our country used those words – exhumation, disappeared person, historical memory – to refer to our dead. Those words sounded like from other countries, they felt distant from us. In fact, the protagonist of today’s story didn’t use them, either. Even though he was the first person in our country who managed to do a public exhumation, using scientific methods, and who changed the way we talk about our past. 

I’m with Emilio Silva…

Emilio Silva, President of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory…

Emilio, good afternoon.

Emilio, very good afternoon.

Good afternoon Emilio

Emilio, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you.


Isabel: You must have heard his voice a thousand times. But this isn’t the story of the public man. It’s the story of a 35-year-old man who decides to change his life and then, by chance, finds the place where all his silences come from. And who manages to conquer them.

Isabel: What would you like this story to say about you?

Emilio: Well, I’d like it to talk about my “we don’t talk about that,” right? Which is basically why I’m here. Because I have… Let’s say, defeated a silence, right? It’s a victory. To talk about a victory. That’s it.

Isabel: I’m Isabel Cadenas Cañón. Welcome to De eso no se habla. 



[Intercom buzzing]

Emilio: Hello?

Isabel: Silvi!

Emilio: You’re here already? 

Isabel: Yes.

Isabel: I’ve known Emilio for seven years, but it feels like more. 

Emilio: Oh, without a PCR or anything done…

Isabel: Emilio is one of my best friends. I know when I get to his house he’ll have already been up for several hours, he’ll have finished listening to the radio and will be writing on the computer. 

Isabel: What are you doing?

Emilio: Writing.

Isabel: What are you writing?

Emilio: A paragraph for something.

Isabel: For a novel?

Emilio: Well, maybe, yes. 

Isabel: And I also know that, at this time, almost noon, he will already be having a coca cola. His mornings are like this: first chocolate milk, then a coffee, and after that the glass of coca cola. 

Emilio: In that order, yes. First, I have something sweet, then a little caffeine, and then a little more caffeine. 

Isabel: I don’t know if you could say that Emilio is a man of habit, but he certainly has very established habits. Every day he wakes up to the radio, every day he reads the BOE (Official State Gazette), every day he spends some time alone. And he always dresses the same way: a pair of jeans, a polo shirt and a crew neck sweater in case it gets cold. I’ve seen them light blue, dark blue and black. Apparently before they were dress shirts instead of polos, but that’s the only innovation Emilio has made in his wardrobe:

Emilio: Yes, yes… Go ahead and laugh. I mean, when my friends in the eighties, here in Madrid, bought some long raincoats or some were semi-mod or… Me, just normal. I mean, I don’t have to define myself with clothes. I mean, if something defines me, it’s normal.

Isabel: His friends often laugh about this, that he’s always dressed the same. But we also know that these are traces left over from a childhood and adolescence and even from an adulthood marked by being told not to stand out, to blend in, to not draw attention to himself. 

Emilio: I let my hair grow a little long when I was 17. That’s the most radical thing I’ve ever done. And from then on, normality. And I do understand it’s a strategy learned in the family. Nobody should look at me because I’m wearing something strange, because… Don’t let them look at me, just don’t look at me. 

Isabel: Emilio was born in 1965 in Elizondo, Navarra, and it was almost by chance: his father had to stop studying when he was a child…

Emilio: My father talked about how he had worked since he was a child like, well, as if at that time that was the usual thing, right? 

Isabel: But later, when he grew up, he managed to study and was given a job on a U.S. military base guarding a radar service. That’s why the family had to move a lot to different bases until they ended up in Pamplona, where Emilio spent most of his childhood. He says that what marked him most as a child was the harshness of the school system. Emilio always says he was a misfit to that system: he changed schools many times, and he didn’t have a very good time in any of them. He got very bad grades and was often punished for no reason. Like that time, when he was 10, when a teacher tied his left hand so he would stop being left-handed. This  punishment was very common then.

Emilio: I’m talking about ‘75. I was in the fifth grade and well, all that discourse, right? About the left hand as the devil’s hand, as something… 

Isabel: But it had aftereffects on Emilio.

Emilio: Well, I started to stutter.

Isabel: Emilio’s distress was expressed by his voice, or rather, by his lack of voice. His parents changed his school again.

Emilio: And then they took me to one of the Opus schools.

Isabel: But they were not really a religious family.

Emilio: I’ve never seen my parents at mass. 

Isabel: Thats’ why Emilio thinks they sent him and his sisters there as a kind of camouflage. 

Emilio: So I understand that it was a kind of normalization, right? Kind of “I’m not going to… I’m not going to pass on these conflicting things that are part of me, my children as they should be,” right?

Isabel: It was in those years, in Pamplona, when, for the first time, Emilio learned that it was better not to talk about those conflictive things. 

Emilio: I do remember, when I was 13 years old, talking about my grandfather with someone and my father stopped me. It was my father’s first “you can’t talk about that.” 

Isabel: Emilio knew very little about his paternal grandfather. He knew above all two things: some mountains and an attic. And those two things appeared every summer when the family traveled to Pereje, a small town in the Bierzo region with stone houses and slate roofs where his father was born. The attic was in his grandmother’s house:

Emilio: I know she didn’t like us going to the attic. There were some objects from my grandfather’s store. There was a scale, there were weights… 

Isabel: The mountains were called Montearenas. 

Emilio: The first thing I remember is passing near them in the car on the way there and on the way back. And my father saying that maybe my grandfather’s body was around there.

Isabel: During those summers he spent in El Bierzo, little Emilio also saw how he wasn’t the only one who was forbidden to talk about certain things.

Emilio: When my grandmother listened to her children, to my father and his siblings, talking about the past and remembering things from when they were little and she sensed that at some point they could talk about their father, she would hit the table. There would be a silence in the kitchen and it would take a few seconds to change the conversation, you know? Because there was a territory there you couldn’t talk about.

Isabel: So, when he received the order from his father to be quiet, it was not difficult for him to accept it: after all, it was like a family tradition.

Emilio: Shame was born in me there, for a long time. Thinking we were guilty of something, well… When you’re that age you don’t know the extent of what they’re telling you or… And I didn’t know many things… I knew there was a grandfather who died in the war, that’s all.

Isabel: With that shame, little Emilio started growing up, the family continued to move and that stutter from school took on other forms. In Aranjuez, where he started high school, Emilio began to feel panic about speaking in public.

Emilio: If a teacher talked about having to present an assignment in class, I would most likely skip class that day. I mean, it upset me to think I had to stand in front of my class and talk about something. What did I do? Well, writing was a refuge. I would go to parks in Aranjuez to write tacky verses there, bucolic, rhyming, in a small notebook. 

Isabel: That’s why, when he had to choose what to study at the university, Emilio knew: he wanted to be a journalist so he could make a living from writing. But he had repeated three courses and had such bad grades that he couldn’t get into journalism, and he decided to study sociology. And so, in September 1986, Emilio arrived at one of the most politicized faculties at the Complutense University.

Emilio: Assemblies lasting hours, all day long. I was interested, but I never opened my mouth in public, I think, during my entire degree. 

Isabel: And that fear was not only about speaking, of course: speaking meant defining oneself, saying who you were in front of strangers. It meant, as they said then, to stand out. 

Emilio: I was very interested in everything, but always, mmmm. Undefined. 

Isabel: All this silence and insecurity and lack of definition is a bit surprising for anyone who knows the public Emilio. Emilio has those lowered eyes when he speaks that give away his shyness, but he’s not someone who’s quiet, nor someone with few friends. I’d say he’s the opposite: I don’t know anyone who talks to more people during the day. In fact, in one of the interviews I do with him for this episode, we take a break and when he turns on his cell phone the notifications come in non-stop.

Isabel: Just one thing, Emilio. How long have we been here? An hour and a half, right? I think so. How many messages do you have? 

Emilio: Well, let’s see. 1, 2… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14…

Isabel: He has messages from about 20 WhatsApp groups. And that’s not counting the messages from Telegram, Twitter, emails. And this has always been the case. Those silences in front of his class or in front of an assembly didn’t mean that Emilio was silent. 

Emilio: Not with my friends, but… Well, one can talk a lot and keep silent what must be kept silent, Well, for whatever reason, I had a huge conflict in my head.

Isabel: Emilio sometimes names this conflict in a different way.

Emilio: A kind of schizophrenia, right?

Isabel: And he doesn’t say this as an exaggeration. Mental health problems were also something he had experienced in his father’s family. His uncle Manolo, his father’s brother, was schizophrenic. And Emilio’s grandmother, Modesta, began having anxiety attacks after her husband’s death. You can’t hear it very well, but Emilio recorded his father talking about it. 

Father: Huh? 

Emilio: Careful. What were those attacks like? 

Father: Those attacks were breakdowns, you understand? 

Emilio: Nervous? 

Father: Nervous, completely. She would even lose consciousness. She had several of those. They were a consequence of grandpa’s death, you understand?

Isabel: It happened on October 16, 1936. Emilio Silva Faba, Emilio’s grandfather, was 44 years old. He and Modesta had six children between the ages of six months and nine years. From the beginning of the war, the Falangists charged him fines for belonging to a leftist party. He had to pay so many that he barely had any products left in his store, La Preferida. That day, he went with his son Ramón to the town hall to pay another one of those fines, but they wouldn’t let him leave: as soon as he arrived, they put him in jail and Ramón had to return home alone. He was seven years old. When he told his mother, Modesta went to the town hall with another of her sons, Manolo, to try to see her husband. They let the boy in for only a few minutes and forced him to say goodbye. He was six years old and was the last one to see his father alive. The next day, Modesta sent another of her sons to the jail: that other son was Emilio’s father. He was nine years old. 

Father: Almost at daybreak. She woke me up early and said “take this,” she made me something, “bring your father his lunch.”

Isabel: When he got to the town hall he asked for his father.

Father: And I said, “I’m Emilio Silva’s son, from La Preferida,” which was the name of the store… 

Isabel: But they told him he was no longer there.

Father: “Well, he’s not here.” “And where is he?” “Ah, I don’t know that. They came looking for him in a car and took him out, they took him away.” And I went back and told this to mom. Mom started crying, she said “They took him out for a ‘walk’, for sure.” 

Isabel: There was no body, no confirmation that they had killed him. Just an absence, and a stigma and a whisper in the village whenever they passed by, and a pretense that nothing had happened, and a life that was never going to be the same again: Emilio’s father had to stop studying and start working to feed the rest of his siblings. And they all learned to never again mention their father outside the home. 


Isabel: But Emilio didn’t know anything about all this when he finished his degree and started working at whatever he could. He does market research…

Emilio: On mattresses, on pellets.

Isabel: He writes catalogs…

Emilio: Compasses, canteens, anti-snake kits… 

Isabel: And little by little he begins to reach his dream of writing for a living. Emilio begins to sell articles to various magazines, and in the end gets a contract in one of them. And although it isn’t exactly what he wants to write…

Emilio: Well, gossip, stories of… Of love, of mystery, whatever they told me. 

Isabel: After so much insecurity, he finally feels that he can call himself a “journalist.” 

Emilio: “I finally have a paycheck and I’m not disowned by journalism!”.

Isabel: And not only that: right at that time Emilio has a daughter with his partner and suddenly his life seems, at last, to be on track. 

Emilio: I’d been a father, I had a very good relationship, I was… Work-wise I had resources… I said, “I’m in the happiest moment of my life.”

Isabel: And then what he least expected happens. 

Emilio: I have to tell that, too? 

Isabel: Not if you don’t want to. 

Emilio: I spent that summer in a village near Madrid, we rented a house. And one day I’m in my bedroom, with one hand on the crib, my daughter is falling asleep holding onto my finger, suddenly my head is racing, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I got up, I couldn’t organize my thoughts. Suddenly I lost control, I could barely breathe. I called my sister, talked to my girlfriend, went down to the street… I was on the edge… And then, well, I realized I was having an anxiety attack.

Isabel: Emilio had never had an anxiety attack, and he doesn’t understand why, when he’s in the best moment of his life. But that attack touched on two of his greatest fears. 

Emilio: One was of mental illness and the other one of having a life that had nothing to do with me. So that attack opens up a reflection for me. And what do I think? Well, I’ve always wanted to live from writing, ever since I was a little boy. And I realize that I’m in a place at work that has absolutely nothing to do with me. Nothing. 

Isabel: And that’s when Emilio makes a decision. 

Emilio: I decide that I’m going to quit my job and give myself a year’s time to try and see if I can live from writing, to write that novel I want to write.

Isabel: And it’s true that this decision changed his life, but not because he managed to finish the novel. 

Emilio: I haven’t finished the book. That’s what I was writing a bit ago… 21 years later. But I stopped being “normal,” in quotes. 

Isabel: What happened was this. The novel was to be called “Memory and Stone.” It was about some militiamen who go into exile in Argentina and, after 40 years of exile, decide to return to Spain to blow up the Valley of the Fallen. Strangely enough, Emilio didn’t connect the novel’s story to his family history.

Emilio: I think consciously, no. I connected it to my interest in that period of history.

Isabel: But he did want it to be set in the Bierzo and so he began to travel there a lot, to his father’s village, Pereje, to do interviews and learn real stories of militiamen from the area. 

Woman: Yes. There was one there called… I don’t remember. Who lived down there. And there was…

Isabel: He was accompanied to the interviews by Arsenio, a friend of his father’s who knew the area very well and who still lived there. One afternoon, they had arranged to meet one of the last militiamen still alive in the area. It was Sunday and Arsenio and Emilio were eating before going to meet him. 

Emilio: And while we were eating, this man we had arranged to meet in the afternoon called to say that he had a family problem and couldn’t come.

Isabel: So Emilio and Arsenio kept eating and then they had coffee and continued talking all afternoon: they went from commenting on the news to telling each other about their lives and then they started talking about the Civil War.

Emilio: And at one point, the subject of my grandfather came up. And I don’t know how, he said something about where he was buried.  And I said, “But you know where it is?” “Well, I think it’s the exit of a village…” I said, “Is it very far?” He says, “No, no, here, nine kilometers away.” And I say, “Do you mind if we go?” 

Isabel: This summer I took the same trip with Emilio that he had taken with Arsenio 20 years earlier. We stop here, at the entrance to Priaranza del Bierzo, at a crossroads between a highway and a smaller road. It’s a place where there’s a bench and, next to it, two rosemary plants. 

Emilio: Well, and here there was a rosemary plant. I don’t know if it’s the same one. There were two plants here. 

Isabel: And above all there’s a lot of noise, which I tried to avoid at all costs, until I realized that the noise was part of this story: we were in front of a ditch, one of those ditches in the ground alongside the road where the Francoists shot the Republicans.

Emilio: Yes, of course, this… And now because there’s a sidewalk here that orders the space a bit, but back then it was a bare ditch, that is, there was no sidewalk and it was the road and dirt. 

Isabel: Here is where Emilio arrived that afternoon in the year 2000, with Arsenio. 

Emilio: I got here a little bit anxious and just as I arrived at this crossroads here there was a man from here, from the village, who was taking a walk and so I said “Good afternoon,” “Good afternoon,” “You need to help me.” And he said, “For what?” and I said, “Well, you see, I’m looking for a grave of people who were killed in the war.” And then right here, he was right in front of me and… He had his arms crossed behind his back, and he stretched out one arm and said, “Under that walnut tree.” Here they call walnut trees (los nogales) in feminine, they call them las nogales, and he pointed to this area. 

Isabel: And he called his father from here.

Emilio: My father was maybe a little serious, you know? Because this topic… It made him tense, so to speak, right? And it wasn’t a long conversation, either. “I’m here and they tell me this.” And I went to Madrid thinking, with my four-hour car ride, thinking about it, right? What could be done. What could be done? What could be done? 


Isabel: What do you do with a discovery of the place that has marked all your father’s life and also yours? How do a son and father decide what to do with the body of a grandfather, of a father, who has been missing for 70 years? Maybe now, 20 years later, wanting to exhume it seems like a logical decision, or at least a possible decision, but at that time it wasn’t. In Spain there had been exhumations before. Just after Franco died, women and men who thought they knew where the bodies of their relatives were went to dig them up, with their own picks and shovels, to bury them in cemeteries. There are no exact statistics because those exhumations were done privately, almost in secret, but it is estimated that there were hundreds throughout the peninsula. And it also appears that most of those exhumations were stopped with the Tejero coup d’état on February 23, 1981. And they were buried in oblivion. In 2000, which is when Emilio found the grave, few people remembered that mass graves had been exhumed before. In fact, few people seemed to remember that mass graves existed. But it seemed obvious to Emilio and his family what they had to do: they knew that his grandmother Modesta’s greatest wish was to have her husband buried next to her. Even though she never said so. 

Emilio: My grandmother died in the summer of ’97. And that was, I think, a natural wish, right? From my father, from my uncle Ramón… 

Isabel: So Emilio and his family get down to business: they know that there may be up to 12 men in the grave besides his grandfather, and they start looking for the relatives of those people. At the same time, they go ask for help from the institutions.    

Emilio: I wrote to the Guardia Civil, we talked to the Court of Ponferrada, we went to the Government of Castile and Leon.

Isabel: And Emilio writes a letter to the town hall asking them to help him with the exhumation. 

Emilio: Let’s see. Shall I read it? 

Isabel: Although he doesn’t say it exactly with that word.

Emilio: “… municipal authorities of Priaranza would be very useful in facilitating the necessary procedures to carry out the removal.” Removal.

Isabel: Emilio may not have used the word “exhumation” yet, but he understood that there was another word that perfectly described his grandfather’s situation, and that was not used to speak of Franco’s victims: it was the word “disappeared.” At that time, that word was only used to speak of people who had disappeared in Argentina, or Chile, or Cambodia, in other words, far away. 

Emilio: Now it’s no longer disputed, but at the beginning… Yeah, well, if you arrest someone, torture them, kill them and hide their body and their family doesn’t know where it is… Then what do you call that here, right? It was the word “walkers”… 

Isabel: And this was not just symbolic: calling these people disappeared means giving them legal recognition, applying a category of international law that obligates the facts and perpetrators to be investigated and reparation for the victims. It implies making them real, and making them visible. It implies that the state has an obligation to make them appear. But this didn’t happen, so Emilio and his family continued with the procedures and in a short time they had obtained all the permits and even had the date to do the exhumation. 

Emilio: We were on our way to the exhumation and didn’t know how we were going to do it (laughs). That is, if we were going to hire a company, if… We didn’t know.

Isabel: They didn’t know how, but I think deep down they knew they were going to do it. I know this because, at that moment, Emilio does something he has never done before: he writes and publishes a first-person article. And this is no small thing: Emilio never writes in the first person – this is something we fight about a lot.

Emilio: No, I don’t like it. I mean, I’m going to say, it hurts… I avoid the “I”, I don’t know, when I write something, I talk in the third person about things I’ve done, because… It hurts me… I don’t know, it’s something… 

Isabel: That article was entitled “My Grandfather was also a Disappeared Person.” And it ends like this:

Emilio: “I knew there was a story to tell and that’s what I’ve done. But my story is a small part of that story. Nameless men. There are many people who survive the fear. There are many people who cannot bear to remember and that does not mean they have forgotten. That is why it is necessary to make noise, so that the memory wakes up again and abandons that dream that has kept it asleep for so many years.” Published in La crónica de León on October 8, 2000. And I put my phone number below in case a relative called me.

Isabel: But the caller was not exactly a relative.

Julio: I think I remember it was a Sunday afternoon. Well, I saw the article, which I think was entitled something like “My Grandfather was also a Disappeared Person” or something like that, right? 

Emilio: I remember about four o’clock in the afternoon. And I was about to take a nap. 

Julio: I spoke with Encina, my wife, who is an anthropologist. She’s a specialist in human remains and I said “Listen, what do you say we call him and give him a hand in trying to get his grandfather back?”

Emilio: And the phone rings, a 987 (area code). And I answer and it’s Julio Vidal.

Julio: I said, “look, I read your article, I’m an archaeologist, my wife is an anthropologist, I know Priaranza very well”…

Emilio: He told me, “My mother is from that town, I’ve been going there since I was a child. I know the place where that grave is. We used to call it the Running Promenade when we were kids.” 

Julio: I remember my sister holding my hand and telling me “run, run, run, there are dead people there, there are people buried there, run, run.” 

Emilio: “And if we can help you in any way…” 

Julio: “For us, we’re delighted if you want this help,” so… 

Emilio: And I say, “Well, I’ve won the lottery.” 

Isabel: Julio specialized in archaeology about the origins of humanity. The most modern remains he had worked with were 7,000 years old, so he, like Emilio, was also learning. He only asked for one thing to do the exhumation.

Julio: I said to Emilio, “Listen, what I do want to ask you about this matter is that the press not come, that is… that this not be in the newspaper, because if it’s in the newspaper, they’re going to…, they’ll drive us crazy. 

Isabel: Julio remembers that Emilio looked at him as if he didn’t understand anything and explained that what they wanted to do was exactly the opposite.

Julio: “What I want is for this to come out and for it to be known that there are mass graves and that it’s enough that there’s dirt on top of them, and… of course, for us it’s important that the information be spread.”

Isabel: Three weeks later the exhumation began. It was October 21, 2000. 

Emilio: Yes, yes, it started on a Friday. It was a cloudy day, but luckily it didn’t rain. Julio Vidal left work in León and went there in the afternoon, around half past four. 

Isabel: Julio and his wife, anthropologist Encina Prada, had called several friends -archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic scientists- and there, together, they established a method to do something that hadn’t been done before in our country: Encina, Lourdes Herrasti and Paco Etxeberria installed a laboratory to analyze the remains they found. But first, Julio and the excavator operator, Vicente Gómez, began to test the soil: they opened holes about a meter and a half deep to try to locate the exact place where the bodies were. They were afraid they wouldn’t appear: since 1936, the road had widened and the grave might have been left under the asphalt.  

Emilio: So that day it didn’t show up. The next day they didn’t show up either. It started to seem they weren’t going to appear, that is… There was very little left to check. I was so doubtful that I went to see another person, to look for another witness. They told me about another person who had seen them and who might know. 

Isabel: Emilio didn’t find the other witness, but when he came back, while he was in the car, someone called him. 

Emilio: He makes a gesture, I leave the car parked here. “Run, run, run.” Like something has appeared. The excavator operator had noticed that the bucket entered more easily in that exact place. 

Isabel: Emilio learned then that soil, after it’s been removed, takes about 150 years to become as compact as it was. So the fact that the soil moved more easily was a sign that something was there. 

Emilio: And it was right there, you know? A boot with all the foot bones in it. Well, that was telling the whole story. There they were, right? We didn’t know how many or how, but… Right in that little square they were there waiting. And then there was a mixture of emotion, of joy, of sorrow, of everything. Because at the end of the day you were looking for a grandfather in a ditch, you know? 

Isabel: The bodies of those men would take a few more days to appear. They appeared between the second and third weekend. There were 13 men in all. Thirteen men who other men from a rebel group had shot in the back of the head because they belonged to left-wing parties. 

Emilio: Well, it started here. And… And it was almost 12 meters, let’s take twelve steps. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Well, it would be around here. 

Isabel: Javier, a friend of Emilio’s, recorded what happened during those days. At one point in the video, when all the bodies are uncovered, Emilio’s father, his brother Ramón and his brother Manolo go down to the grave, to the level where the bodies are. The son who accompanied his father to the jail, the last son who saw him alive and the son who went to look for him the next day are now octogenarians who squat down, almost at the same time, and try to identify their father’s body, after 76 years. 

Men: Well, one of these has to be him, but we don’t really know which one at the moment. They pulled them and they left them the way they fell… 

Well, I would almost… I would say in that area.

You’re leaning more towards that part?


Anyway, since in addition to the shot in the center with the shotgun, he must have received the last shot, it’s possible that the back of the head… 


Emilio: For my uncles, my father and his brothers, it was very, very moving. In fact, my uncle Manolo took a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. He unfolded it and it was a drawing that he had made in 1976, where he put something like “pending problem.” And he had hidden it for 24 years. And when he checked that the site of the grave corresponded to his plan, he took it out and said, “Where I said” and I said, “No, you didn’t tell anyone.” So he had his little drawing, where he had drawn the mileage point, this road and a square that was practically identical to the one where the grave appeared.

Isabel: Thirty years before Emilio, his uncle had gone to ask around and someone pointed out that place. But his uncle wasn’t the only one: Emilio learned that his father had also been asking, back in the 1950s. And also his uncle Ramón. The three brothers had been looking for their father on their own and had not told each other. 

Emilio: Well, these are stories of disintegration, aren’t they? Of a conversation that should be normal in a family and how then each one was looking on his own, right? But without talking about it. 

Isabel: That wasn’t the only conversation that was re-established in Priaranza. Neighbors from the town and curious people started coming around the exhumation, but also people who had relatives in other mass graves and had never talked about it. The video shows another of Emilio’s aunts talking to some of those relatives who were looking for other bodies.

Women: I stayed with my grandparents and… The sorrow was tremendous.

They just don’t want to believe it when they’re told that they were killed just like that. 

Back then, we didn’t talk about anything, we didn’t know anything. 

When I was six months old, my brothers were all barefoot and naked because we had nothing, not even to eat…

It was always a question, all my life. Where could they be, where had they been thrown? 

My mother wanted to get them but I told her “Mom, where are you going to go for my father’s remains if we don’t even know where he is?”

Isabel: And at one point in that video, Emilio, in his jeans and dark blue shirt, stands in front of the camera to respond to an interview, and says this:

Emilio: Holes are opening up in the silence, right? Which is what it’s all about: may this hole that’s been made here begin to pierce that silence and may sounds of what happened in those years begin to arrive… 

Isabel: I asked Emilio what had happened to  his trembling voice and his normality and his not standing out.

Emilio: Well, I say maybe I’d spent my whole life preparing for that interview. I mean, everything I’d kept silent was waiting to come out, right? Boom. I mean, the hole is piercing me also, so to speak. That hole in the silence is also a hole that is drilling me, you know? And that’s precisely what is making me talk. And suddenly, well, a conversation with the past started, right? And it became more complex and it spread to other places. 

Isabel: Two and a half years later a DNA test confirmed that the second body in the Priaranza del Bierzo mass grave was that of Emilio Silva Faba. For his grandson Emilio, that test was essential. He wanted to show that, after so many years, the identity of the disappeared people could be returned. And it was essential for another reason: Emilio wanted to bury his grandfather next to his grandmother Modesta and he wanted to be certain that it was him. This summer, after visiting the grave, Emilio took me to see his gravesite in the Pereje cemetery. 

[Door sound]

Emilio: Let’s see, where did I put the keys? Yes, yes, yes. This is it. She bought this pantheon here that says “Silva Faba Property,” which are the surnames of my grandfather, “Santín Iglesias,” which were hers. Well, it was like saying that she wanted Silva Faba to be buried here one day, which now he is, right? He’s buried right there in the middle, with my grandmother. 

Isabel: And no… There’s no tombstone? 

Emilio: No, he was buried like that. And… Sometimes I thought about putting something. But no, there’s no tombstone. 

Isabel: It’s interesting, isn’t it? So much time trying to give your grandfather a name.

Emilio: Yes. 

Isabel: And then suddenly… 

Emilio: But it has my grandmother’s, see? But look, it says “widow of Don Emilio Silva Faba.” My grandmother died in ‘97 and she put that on the tombstone. His name is there.


Isabel: Well, thank you very much, Silvi.

Emilio: You’re very welcome. Well, let’s close. 

Isabel: Not bad, huh? Finishing your story here. 

Emilio: Well, nothing ends here. 

Isabel: I mean, if I wanted to finish your story somewhere… 

Emilio: Well, it could be a place… Well, not here. I don’t think… No, because precisely from that story a lot of stories have come up behind it, so… It’s not an ending, it’s a middle?

Isabel: Emilio Silva Faba was the first disappeared person in our country to be publicly exhumed using scientific methods and identified with a DNA test. After his exhumation, more and more people contacted Emilio to ask for help in locating and digging up their own relatives. He knew there were many graves in our country but he didn’t know that there were so many. In late 2000, he and three others founded the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, of which he is still president. Since then, hundreds of organizations, associations and groups have emerged in Spain to try to recover historical memory and the bodies of more than 9,000 people thrown into mass graves during the civil war and dictatorship have been exhumed. The method used in all these exhumations remains the same as the one established in the Priaranza grave. 

Man: My grandfather was taken out of grave number 1.

Woman: There was my grandfather, my great-grandfather and other relatives.

Woman: We exhumed my mother, my brother… 

Woman: And he always wanted to know where his father was.

Woman: And I wasn’t crying out of grief, I was crying out of joy that I had found her.

Man: And it changed the history of the town. 

Woman: The change for our family was something that cannot be described.

Man: In a way, the fear of speaking was lost.

Isabel: By drilling into the earth, the movement that was born from that grave has also pierced the idyllic story of a Transition (to democracy) that left 114,226 bodies in ditches. And it has made us see the forced silence and the inherited silence that is still present in our country.

Isabel: In 2010, on the tenth anniversary of the exhumation of the Priaranza 13, Emilio stood up, put himself in front of a microphone, in front of his relatives, in front of strangers, in front of TV cameras, and said this. 

Emilio: Hello, good morning. Until ten years ago, in this very place, I had never before in my life spoken in public. Here silence was born and here silence died. 

Isabel: He was wearing jeans, a jacket and a crew neck sweater. All black. 

I’m Isabel Cadenas Cañón and we don’t talk about that… Or else we do.




Isabel: The production, script and editing of this episode were done by me. Laura Casielles did the text and script editing and Vanessa Rousselot did the script editing. Our assistant editor and of almost everything is Paula Morais. The sound design is mine and Marcos Salso’s and our recording studio is Isolé División Sonora. The communication is done by Laura Casielles. The illustration of this episode is by Carmen Cáceres and our tune is by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. 

Thanks to Sukina Ali Taleb, Naza Silva, Julia Silva, Marco Gonzalez Carrera and the relatives of disappeared people who have given us their testimonies for the end of this episode: Milagros Camuñas, Antón Castro, Pedro Canalejas Guzmán, Camino Alonso Díez, Luis Alonso Luengo and Asun Esteban Recio. Thanks also to the people who, by listening, have helped us to make this episode better. Your names are on our website. 

Friends, this is the last episode of this season. When we started this podcast, with an episode about noise and silence during confinement, we would have never imagined that in this strange 2020 we could feel so accompanied. Thanks to Rosana, Jadiya, Diana, Bernardo, Sheila, Carmen, Irune, Joana, Bea and Emilio for telling us their stories – sometimes about silences and sometimes silenced. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned while doing these episodes it’s that a silence cannot be broken if no one is listening. So thanks to those of you who have listened to these stories: you have created a cushion, a safety net, so that those who tell us their stories feel protected and accompanied in doing so. A kind of “jump, we’re here to pick you up.” 

And there’s another thing I’ve learned: when a silence is broken, you don’t know what will happen. It has unexpected consequences beyond that silence, and beyond whoever breaks it. And of course, this has also happened to me. So, after these stories of silences, I feel that perhaps now it’s my turn to take care of mine. 

For now, it’s time to slow down a bit and stop and think about how to continue. We’ll keep you updated through our social networks and our newsletter. And you know we love to talk, so our ears and eyes are always open to whatever you want to tell us. 

And above all, the stories are still there, still here, waiting to be heard. If you want, recommend us to your friends, your family, your fellow comrades, and do subscribe to our channels. You can even rate us on Apple Podcasts, on Ivoox, on Podimo, or wherever you listen to podcasts: that helps other people find our stories. 

De eso no se habla is produced in the proud neighborhood of Lavapiés, in Madrid, thanks to the support of PRX – Public Radio Exchange – and the Google Podcasts Creator Program. 

Thanks, thanks for listening.

We’ll talk. 

Jornaleros. Cara A: Rocío