The hair that once held the clips and comb, probably in a bun, has long since disappeared, as have the feet that filled the sandals and the clothes that the two buttons belong to.
Of the middle-aged woman who was murdered in 1936 and exhumed last weekend in the cemetery of the small town of Fuendejalón in Aragon, only her skeleton remains, whose split skull was pierced by a bullet.
But if the DNA from the bones matches the blood stabbed from the finger of Juan José Espligares, a 60-year-old man from Zaragoza an hour’s drive away, Spain will finally have the remains of María Domínguez Remón, 54, a woman who overcame poverty, illiteracy and domestic violence to become a poet, journalist, activist and first woman mayor of the Second Republic.
Espligares, the great-grandson of Domínguez’s sister, visited the site on Sunday 31st and the buttons.
Although his relative was murdered 24 years before he was born, Espligares is fairly certain that the long skeleton, exposed to the sun for the first time in decades, is that of Domínguez. “I think it is because we’re a pretty big family,” he said. “She tied her hair in a bun and when they shot her in the back of the head, the comb must have blown away. They buried her face upwards and threw the comb in with her. “
The remains were found six meters from a memorial stone for Domínguez that stands in the Fuendejalón cemetery. Buried directly under the female skeleton, in the 50 x 190 cm grave, researchers found other bones that could belong to three men who, according to local reports, were murdered along with Domínguez in September 1936.
Domínguez was born in Pozuelo de Aragón on April 1, 1882, to an illiterate family of farm workers and, as soon as she was old enough, began helping with the harvest, picking olives and gathering wheat and barley. To the annoyance of her parents, she taught herself to read and write by devouring everything she could get her hands on, from ballads to holy life to old newspapers. But she learned to keep her intelligence well hidden.
“They used to call her ‘María la tonta ‘ (Stupid María) because she always followed her mother’s advice to look to the ground when you meet a man, ”said Pilar Gimeno, who runs the Association for the Relatives and Friends of the Murdered and Buried in Magallón (AFAAEM) spent years looking for Domínguez’s remains.
“At the age of 18, her parents forced her to marry a man who beat her severely. Finally she ran away 27 km on foot and then fled by train to Barcelona, where she worked as a servant. “
With the money she had saved in Catalonia, she bought a sewing machine to support herself as a seamstress while studying to be a teacher.
Domínguez began writing articles for leading Republican newspapers, and when her abusive husband died in 1922, she finally found herself free. A second marriage turned out to be much happier and the couple moved to the Aragonese city of Gallur, where they worked as union activists and where Domínguez became mayor in 1932. While her tenure as the first female mayor in Spain‘s Second Republic lasted only a few months, she used the time to build a school and to work for a better life for the Gallurians. After leaving politics, she turned back to teaching and journalism, writing some of her articles under the ironic byline of Maria la Tonta.
When Franco’s coup sparked the Spanish civil war in July 1936, Domínguez refused to join the people fleeing to France and instead went to hiding with her sister in Pozuelo de Aragón.
“She thought they weren’t going to look for her in a small town of 400,” said Espligares. “But they did.”
On September 7, 1936, Domínguez and the three men were taken to the Fuendejalón cemetery and shot by Franco’s troops.
As Gimeno points out, Domínguez is only one of hundreds of thousands who have paid the highest price for their faith: “She was persecuted because she was different and thought differently. She was persecuted for her courage and republicanism. She was on the left and so they shot her in the head. “
Gimeno has no time for those on the Spanish right who argue that the civil war, its atrocities and its victims are best left undisturbed.
“People talk about opening and closing wounds,” she said. “But when a wound oozes, you have to open it, clean it, and then close it. You can’t just let these wounds cry. “
The discovery of the skeleton was also welcomed by Carmen Calvo, one of Spain’s Deputy Prime Ministers and Minister of Historical Memory.
“María Domínguez Remón was a great fighter for socialism and feminism” Calvo tweeted last Sunday. “It deserves recognition and we have to defend its legacy.”
Miguel Ángel Capapé – the president of the Association for Recovery and Investigation Against Forgetting (Arico), which helped find the remains – admits that this recent exhumation has generated more interest than most. However, Capapé and his colleagues are more focused on the practical aspects of the task at hand.
“For us, this is the body of a 54-year-old woman who was shot in the head,” he said.
“We think of the relatives and bring the remains back to them. Everything else – her political party, the fact that she was mayor – we leave aside a little. “
Espligares and his family want the remains – should they prove to be Domínguez’s – to remain in the Fuendejalón cemetery “where they have been cared for for 85 years”.
Above all, however, they want to honor and celebrate the life of María Domínguez Remón and her many pioneering achievements.
“The most important thing here is her legacy and the way she was ahead of her time in the things she fought for,” said Espligares.
“It’s all about their work and their articles and their speeches. I want people to read it. “