By Alasdair Fotheringham
The Independent, January 2, 2011
"'Did 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. In 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 their offspring.' Putting 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. Arguably 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. Julia 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.' Having 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. Even 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. But 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 to families. [...]"