Time : Spain’s Stolen Babies. A look into a dark corner of Franco’s Spain
It has been four decades since Pilar Maroto lost her newborn son, but tears still fill her eyes when she speaks of him. She perfectly remembers the moments after his birth in April 1972, when she heard his first cry and then, later, the sudden, devastating news that her little boy had died. On Tuesday, she stood outside Spain’s Congress of Deputies and hoped that, finally, someone in power would take seriously her insistence that her baby didn’t actually die on that day - instead, he was stolen by the hospital where she delivered him.
Rumors of widespread, organized efforts to steal newborns from their parents have circulated in Spain for decades. But it was only on March 15 when those who believe themselves to be victims of the crime had their first opportunity to tell their stories to the Spanish government. Their testimony, given in an attempt to persuade Spain’s legislature to pass a law that would both help those who have had their babies taken from them and make it easier to prosecute perpetrators, is accompanied by legal cases that have, after years of effort, recently been admitted to the regional courts for investigation. Finally, it seems, Spain is ready to confront a horrifying aspect of its recent past.
There appear to be two distinct phases of baby theft that occurred in Spain during the 20th century. The first, which was not only approved by dictator Francisco Franco but also promoted by his government as a means of “improving” the Spanish “race,” was politically inspired. In the years after Franco won Spain’s civil war, he had tens of thousands of former Republicans and other dissidents arrested. The small children of imprisoned women dissidents were sent first to state-run centers or convents, and then reassigned to families whose values better coincided with the regime’s. “The state considered these children in need of re-education,” says University of Barcelona historian Ricard Vinyes, who has written a book on the subject. “It was actually proud of these efforts and would publish the results of how many children had been ‘welcomed’ annually.”
Based on the documentation he has uncovered, Vinyes estimates that tens of thousands of children were taken from their parents during a campaign that lasted until the end of the 1940s. In many cases, they were never recovered. “The state allowed these children to change their names, making it harder for them to be located,” he says. “And they were brought up being taught that their parents were murderers, so many had no desire to find them.”