Hitorical memory
Misc 08/01/2021

61 mass burials found under an almond orchard in Móra d'Ebre, next to a farmhouse that was a war hospital

A doctor's notebook could allow an individual to be identified

Laura Serra
2 min
El Mas de Santa Magdalena a Móra d'Ebre

BarcelonaAt first glance, there was nothing to suggest that 61 mass graves dug in the summer of 1938 were hidden beneath that abandoned almond orchard, where sheep often grazed. It is only one of the terraces of the Mas de Santa Magdalena, located at the end of the Serra de Cavalls and about 10 kilometres from Móra d'Ebre. Research by the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in 2015, which had the aim of enlarging the map of the graves, pointed out that at that point, today a farmhouse in ruins, there had been a war hospital of the Republican army. In December work began on an extension of the measurement of a third of a football field. Archaeologists have so far located 13 individuals from a single grave, the largest. Sixty pits remain to be opened.

El camp on es treballa a les fosses del Mas de Santa Magdalena

It's not known how many bodies might come out. In the war hospitals of Soleràs and Miravet 146 and 111 came out, respectively. The Mas de Santa Magdalena must have been operating from shortly after the start of the Battle of the Ebro, on 25 July 1938, until the Serra de Cavalls was lost on 4 November, just twelve days before the battle in which some 250,000 soldiers fought and between 16,000 and 32,000 people died, depending on the sources.

The farmhouse was well located: "It was close to the front and was very well connected with Móra d'Ebre to facilitate evacuation, but at the same time it was not at the foot of the road and did not hinder other war transportation", explains the director of the excavation, the archaeologist Sergi González Planas, from the company Iltirta Arqueologia. It was a place to screen the wounded that could be sent to the rear, and to attend to the more serious cases. Those who did not leave ended up in the adjacent lands.

Un cos de les fosses del Mas de Santa Magdalena

One of those who worked there that summer was New Zealand doctor Douglas Jolly, who would later become a leading professional in war medicine. Dr Miquel Gras Artero also worked there and wrote down in a notebook the names of about thirty of the soldiers who died (a relative gave the notebook to Falset's No Jubilem la Memòria association). This is the only clue to try to give names and surnames to the dead. One of the names on the list is that of the soldier Josep Aubeso. His daughter and grandson are trying to find him through the Generalitat's census of missing persons. As all the skeletal remains will be exhumed and analysed at the UAB, the DNA profile will be extracted, which could be crossed with that of the relatives to see if they have finally found their father.

Not counting Santa Magdalena, the Grave Plan has allowed for the opening of 33 graves and the recovery of the mortal remains of 339 people. Only eight of these people have been genetically identified.