30,000 lost children of the Franco years are set to be saved from
is growing to illuminate the fate decreed by the Spanish dictator to the
families of his Republican enemies.
Independent, Sunday, 2 January 2011
my child die or was he kidnapped?" is something no parent should
ever have to ask, and still less so when the kidnappers are the
government. But that is exactly the question hundreds of Spanish
families are currently demanding that their courts resolve for once and
for all about the so-called "lost children of General Franco".
They were already estimated to total around 30,000, and now, it appears,
there may be many more.
Franco's early years, "child-stealing" by the Spanish state
was politically motivated, with its key instigator, Antonio
Vallejo-Nagera, the army's crackpot chief psychiatrist who championed
Nazi theories that Communism was a mental illness caused by the wrong
kind of environment. Inspired by Vallejo-Nagera, Franco's government
passed laws in 1940 that, as one judicial report in 2008 put it,
"ensured that families that did not have ideas considered ideal
[ie, supporters of Spain's defeated republic] did not have contact with
this policy into practice was brutally straightforward and efficient. In
1943, records show 9,000 children of political prisoners had been
removed to state-run orphanages, and in 1944 that total had risen to
more than 12,000.
the most infamous case took place at the Saturraran women's prison in
the Basque country, when around 100 Republican children were removed in
one fell swoop. Their mothers, who had been tricked into leaving their
children alone for a few minutes, were told they would be shot if they
so much as shouted when they came back and found them gone.
Manzanal, 95, no longer talks to the press because her family say that
it upsets her too much. But as a Communist whose 10-month-old baby died
of meningitis in one of Franco's prisons she was a first-hand witness of
the enforced adoption policy. When last interviewed in 2003 she said :
"I never let my child out of my sight because when mothers were
condemned [to death], they would rip the babies out of their arms. They
would give them to priests, to military families, to illegal adoption
rings and educate them in their own ideology. Conditions there were
terrible... there were huge rats, lice, virtually no food, women would
give birth in the washrooms with no help... I saw children die of hunger
and thirst, and their mothers would go mad as a result."
the wrong name could be fatal. In a television documentary in 2002, Ms
Manzanal described how when Franco's police discovered that one
prisoner's child's name was Lenin, they picked it up by the legs and
smashed its head against a wall.
after the collapse of Nazi Germany, the enforced adoption policies
continued, and even intensified to include Republicans living abroad. As
late as 1949, official documents of the ruling Falange party give
detailed instructions on how children born to their former enemies then
exiled outside Spain were to be kidnapped and brought back across the
border for re-education. Their names were then changed to ensure no
further contact was possible.
by the 1960s what had begun as a politically motivated state policy
slowly morphed into a more straightforward adoption trade – in some
cases with the state's connivance. Parents were simply told their
infants had died shortly after birth, and the babies were then sold on
Soriano told El Pais newspaper last year: "My sister was born on 3
July 1964, and my mother was breastfeeding her until they told her they
had to take her baby to the incubator. When my parents went to look for
her later, they told them she had died of an ear infection. My father
wanted to see her and bury her, but they said they had taken care of
everything and she was in a mass grave."
cases, like that of Maria Jose Estevez, were eerily similar. Ms
Estevez's baby was born on 3 September 1965 in Cadiz, but even though
she could hear him crying later in the next room, she was told she was
imagining things and that he was dead. She was informed he had already
been buried, next to the amputated leg of a recently operated patient.
cases now up to six decades old, any hope of resolving them seemed
doomed. But a recent wave of media interest has seen bereaved family
after bereaved family recalling the same bizarre circumstances: the
death of their newborns from ear infections or an equally implausible
cause, followed by the hospital's point-blank refusal to show them the
late November, Javier Zaragoza, Spain's chief prosecutor, had more than
300 new cases on his desk. Faced with growing demands, he formally
requested that the Ministry of Justice set up a specific department to
compile a list of the missing infants.
there was a catch. Mr Zaragoza was willing to run the investigation to
cover a massive four-decade period – up until 1980, five years after
Franco's death – but he also said that it would be purely
administrative. In other words, even if crimes were uncovered, nobody
would go to jail.
as that may sound, it represents progress compared with 2008, when the
first official report made into the cases of all the
"disappeared" during the Franco years ordered by the crusading
judge Baltasar Garzon, including the missing infants, ended up being
shelved. Judge Garzon was accused by various extreme right-wing
organisations of acting outside his legal powers, something for which he
now faces trial.
time round, though, the victims of enforced adoption are determined that
they will not be shunted into a legal siding and forgotten. So far, they
are succeeding. In Madrid, the hospitals have opted for a full-scale
investigation of all infant deaths between 1961 and 1971.
Cadiz, Algeciras, Malaga and Granada, four big cities in the south, the
local state attorneys are reported to believe cases should be opened. In
Valencia, a leading lawyer specialising in the cases, Enrique Vila, aims
to open another legal front later this month when he files a formal
complaint of mass kidnapping with Spain's equivalent of the Crown
could even shortly be an international investigation. The Foros por la
Memoria movement has taken the cases of all those missing from the
Franco years to the United Nations to plead that they cannot simply be
shelved. An answer is expected this summer.
for the women of Saturraran prison, last year, for the first time, a
film, Izarren argia [now Stars to Wish Upon], was made about their
experiences. When it had its premiere at the San Sebastian Film
Festival, a 93-year-old former internee, Ana Morales, stood up in the
audience and thanked the director for "finally letting some light
be shed on that terrible place".
Morales said she was lucky: she could place her own child out of harm's
way with a sympathiser outside prison until she herself was released.
But many others in the same predicament are still fighting to find out
what happened to theirs.
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