Digging Up The Dead

by Lisa McGarry


One of the most popular holiday destinations for sun seekers, Spain is where the British feel comfortable; it’s like visiting an old friend. But, in Digging Up The Dead, Michael Portillo looks beyond the familiar vision of Spain to reveal a nation in trauma.

For the first time since the end of its bloody civil war, 70 years ago, and the subsequent long years of General Franco’s brutal dictatorship which followed, Spain is officially examining its past and exhuming bodies from mass graves in every region of the country. Some of the mass graves, which are often just minutes from the beaches, bars and cultural attractions, contain the remains of as many as 4,000 bodies and most have lain untouched until now.

Michael, the son of a Spanish exile who fought against Fascism, investigates the psychological impact that digging up the past is having on a country that has tried so hard to forget the horror of its civil war.

He returns to his father’s home town of Madrigal, which he visited as a child. He also visits Granada and Malaga, both scenes of terrible carnage and bloodshed during the war years, and talks to people about their deep desire to be reunited with their loved ones and give them a dignified burial at last.

But there are those, such as Laura Lorca – niece of world-renowned poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca – who would prefer their family members to remain at peace, where they were killed. She tells Michael, though, that she will not oppose the opening of the grave if permission is granted to the families of those that lie alongside Garcia Lorca.

Digging Up The Dead is part of BBC Four’s War Graves Week, which also includes Storyville’s Section 60 – Arlington National Cemetery. The programme provides an intimate glimpse into the grief, pride and loss suffered by visitors to the largest military burial ground in the United States.

The Children Who Fought Hitler tells the forgotten story of a heroic battle fought by the children of the British Memorial School to help liberate Europe from the Nazis. The school served a unique horticultural community of ex-First World War soldiers and their families, who tended the war graves in Ypres.

Monday 9 November
9.00-10.00pm BBC FOUR