Prison Letters: Spain Confronts Its Past

Martyn Lyons


In post-Franco Spain, the families of the regime’s victims, as well as other republican supporters, have not only struggled to recover the bodies of victims of the repression, but also have tried to recover a lost historical memory after years of imposed silence. Véronica Sierra Blas’s new study of Franco’s prisoners (there were approximately 280,000 of them) aims to give recognition and some human dignity to their obscure fate. This article offers a critical discussion of her study of a corpus of about 1500 letters written by prisoners during the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Francoist repression. They include petitions to the authorities, messages secretly smuggled out of jail, and the ‘chapel letters’ written by condemned prisoners on the eve of their execution. Many of the latter were designed to be made public for propaganda purposes. This article suggests that as those condemned to execution reviewed their lives, their final farewells constituted a form of life writing in the face of certain death.


Spanish Civil War; prison letters; petitions

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by University of Groningen Library