Lost children of Francoism

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The lost children of Francoism were the children abducted from Republican parents, who were either in jail or had been assassinated by Nationalist troops, during the Spanish Civil War and Francoist Spain.[1] The number of abducted children is estimated to be up to 300,000.[2][3] The kidnapped children were sometimes also victims of child trafficking and illegal adoption.[4]

Racial purification[edit]

The military regime led by Francisco Franco had an ideology with racist components.[5] The soldiers who took part in the coup considered themselves to be of a superior race: the National Day in Francoist Spain was called Día de la Raza ("Day of the Race") and Franco himself wrote the script for a movie entitled Raza (Race). They believed that their superiority granted them the right of conquest over other "inferior races", which included the Republicans and all others who opposed the military coup. The pioneer of this ideology was the military psychiatrist Antonio Vallejo-Nájera[1](ch. 2) who directed the Psychiatric Services of the Military (los Servicios Psiquiátricos del Ejército).[5][6] Vallejo-Nájera trained in Germany, where he studied and greatly admired the Nazi ideology. His interpretation of race, however, had more political, cultural, and psychological components than ethnic ones, though it did maintain antisemitic beliefs.[5] Vallejo-Najerán's theories were compiled in his books, such as Eugenesia de la Hispanidad y regeneración de la raza (Eugenics of Hispanicity and the regeneration of race), where he redefined race as "spirit":

"Race is spirit. Spain is spirit. Hispanicity is spirit...For this we must soak ourselves in Hispanicity...to understand our racial essences and differentiate our race from others.[5][note 1]

It was believed that racial inferiority could be corrected at an early age. As such, infants were taken from their "red" mothers to avoid "their contamination and degeneration". The Falange and the Spanish church played an important role in this attempt at racial purification.[5] Much of the time, these kidnappings were done to benefit couples who had adopted the Francoist regime and wished to have children.[5]

The kidnapping of children eventually became a state policy. The Ministry of Justice adopted the responsibility of "collecting" the children whose parents who had been assassinated, jailed, or had disappeared, with the goal of indoctrinating them with the new state model. By 1943, 12,043 Republican children were in state custody.[5]

Repatriation of children[edit]

During the civil war, many parents sent their children to foreign countries – including Britain, France, Russia – out of concern.[7] Franco, after winning the war, declared that those children needed to return to Spain, with or without parental permission.[8] The regime turned the repatriation of these minors into a large propaganda operation. A 1940 law stated that the legal authority of children in facilities belonging to the human rights' group Auxilio Social ("Social Aid") would automatically be transferred to the state. This created the risk that parents would forever lose their children if they sent them to foreign countries.[8]

The Francoist regime held particular interest in Spanish children who had been sent to the Soviet Union. For Franco, it was especially desirable to take back children from a country where the communist revolution had triumphed.

Female Republicans soldiers

Conditions in Francoist jails[edit]

Republican mothers and their children faced repression both inside and outside of jail. There are numerous oral testimonies from women recounting many types of humiliation.[9] The living conditions in jails were grievous: due to the massive number of arrests, prisoners lived in extreme overcrowding. Food was scarce, as was hygiene. Many children who entered jail with their mothers died there. Those who survived were separated from their mothers and, in many cases, given up for illegal adoptions, as the law stated that children could only remain in jail with their mothers until age three. Other children ended up in convents, forced to convert to Catholicism.[8][9]

Later years[edit]

Victims' groups have stated that the baby kidnappings developed into a business that continued into the 1980s.[10] In January 2011, the families of 261 babies who disappeared in hospitals over a duration of fifty years put forward their case to the attorney general in Madrid.[10] This started when two brothers were told by their foster father that he had bought them from a priest; the pair then went to the media and the story spread, making others come forward.[2] Evidence consisted of nurses and people who admitted illegally adopting babies, with hospital staff, nuns and priests being suspected of being part of an organised network.[10] People underwent DNA tests in the hope of reuniting their families but there were few matches. Many graves of dead infants were dug up for DNA-testing but some contained no remains while others contained those of an adult.[2] The number of abducted children is estimated to be up to 300,000.[2][3]

The Spanish Catholic Church, had an important role in hospitals and social services because of Franco.[2] The purpose of these abductions changed from ideological reasons to targeting parents, who the network considered "morally- or economically- deficient"[2] and in some cases, they charged money.[2] Parents were mostly told that their children had died and since the hospitals took care of the burials, they never saw the bodies. In many cases, the records were missing, either accidentally or because they were destroyed.[10]

In one case, an 89-year-old woman confirmed that a priest and a doctor encouraged her to fake a pregnancy so she could receive a child due to be born at another clinic in 1969.[10] Another involved undertakers in Málaga, who said that in a some occasions, they buried empty coffins of children which had arrived from a local hospital.[10] The Spanish law, where the identity of an infant's mother was not be revealed to protect the anonymity of those who were unmarried, is alleged to have facilitated these kidnappings.[2] The 1977 Amnesty Law passed two years after Franco's death has never been repealed, rejected by the judiciary and opposed by politicians. This hindered the investigation of these traffickings as a national crime against humanity.[2]

Legal and moral reparations[edit]

Jurist Baltasar Garzón, who believed that the crimes committed constituted crimes against humanity, urged the attorney general and judges investigating the case to sanction those at fault and to pay reparations to victims in such a way that they could regain their lost identities.[11][12]

Garzón included in his cited statistics, based on historical sources, that more than 30,000 Republican children had been under the "tutelage" of the Francoist regime between 1944 and 1954.[12] He also specified that these children were kidnapped or forcefully repatriated by the Falange, and that children's names were changed so that they could be given to families in favor of the Francoist regime.[13] They never returned to their original families, and Garzón considers these children part of the Francoist victims.[12][14][15]

Children were also kidnapped from Spanish Maquis as punishment for the entire family.

In 2006, the Council of Europe was the first international organization to recognize Republican children whose last names had been changed.[16]



  • Els nens perduts del franquisme (The lost children of Francoism), by Montserrat Armengou and Ricard Belis – 2002 documentary on the kidnappings during the war[17]


  1. ^ Untranslated: "La raza es espíritu. España es espíritu. La Hispanidad es espíritu... Por eso hemos de impregnarnos de Hispanidad... para comprender nuestras esencias raciales y diferenciar nuestra raza de las extrañas"


  1. ^ a b Vinyes, Ricard (2009). Irredentas: las presas políticas y sus hijos en las cárceles Francoistas [Irredentists: political prisoners and their children in Francoist jails] (in Spanish) (1st ed.). Madrid: Temas de Hoy. ISBN 978-84-8460-823-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Adler, Katya (18 October 2011). "Spain's stolen babies and the families who lived a lie". BBC News.
  3. ^ a b "300,000 babies stolen from their parents - and sold for adoption". Daily Mail. 16 October 2011.
  4. ^ "La democracia pondrá en su lugar el caso de los bebés robados" [Democracy will put the case of robbed children in its place]. Público (in Spanish). 27 June 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Los niños perdidos del franquismo" [The lost children of Francoism]. El País (in Spanish). 24 December 2008.
  6. ^ Gonzáles Duro, Enrique (2008). Los Psiquiatras de Franco. Los rojos no estaban locos [The Francoist Psychiatrists: the reds were not insane] (in Spanish). Editorial Península.
  7. ^ Tremlett, Giles (29 October 2002). "Children stolen by Franco finally learn the truth". The Guardian.
  8. ^ a b c Armengou, Montserrat; Belis, Ricard (8 August 2004). "Los niños perdidos del franquismo" [The lost children of Francoism]. Revista Pueblos (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 3 June 2012.
  9. ^ a b Díez Eibar, Ricardo (26 May 2008). "Los niños robados del franquismo" [The kidnapped children of Francoism]. El Correo (in Spanish).
  10. ^ a b c d e f Tremlett, Giles (27 January 2011). "Victims of Spanish 'stolen babies network' call for investigation". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Yoldi, José (19 November 2008). "Garzón reparte la causa del franquismo" [Garzón delivers the Francoist lawsuit]. El País (in Spanish).
  12. ^ a b c "Los niños perdidos son víctimas del franquismo" [The lost children are victims of Francoism]. Público (in Spanish). 19 November 2008.
  13. ^ "El juez Garzón acusa al franquismo de arrebatar su identidad a miles de niños" [Judge Garzón accuses Francoism of having stolen the identity of thousands of children]. 20 Minutos (in Spanish). 18 November 2008.
  14. ^ "Los "niños perdidos" del franquismo" [The "lost children" of Francoism]. La sexta noticias (in Spanish). 19 November 2008.
  15. ^ "Auto" [Writ] (PDF). Audiencia Nacional (in Spanish). Administración de Justicia. 18 November 2008.
  16. ^ "Los niños perdidos del franquismo" [The lost children of Francoism]. El Periódico de Catalunya (in Spanish). 8 December 2008. Archived from the original on December 8, 2008.
  17. ^ "'Los niños perdidos del franquismo', un estremedor y duro documental" ["The lost children of Francoism", a horrifying and harsh documentary]. El Mundo (in Spanish). 18 August 2002.[dead link]

Works cited[edit]

  • Armengou, Montse; Belis, Ricard (2004). Las fosas del silencio [The graves of silence] (in Spanish) (Plaza y Janés ed.).
  • Rodríguez Arias, Miguel Ángel (2008). El caso de los niños perdidos del franquismo: crimen contra la humanidad [The case of the lost children of Francoism: crimes against humanity] (in Spanish). Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch. ISBN 8498763037.