The `lost children’ of Francoism haunt Spain

February 9th, 2009 - 9:55 am ICT by IANS  

Madrid, Feb 9 (DPA) Antonia Radas had always thought her mother abandoned her.

That was what she had been told by her adoptive family, one among the many Spanish families supportive of 1939-75 dictator Francisco Franco, which raised children taken away from the general’s opponents.

Antonia only met her mother Carmen at age 54 thanks to a television programme helping people locate lost relatives.

“I recognised her immediately,” the daily El Pais quoted Radas as saying. “She was like me, but 30 years older! I really liked my mother.”

Antonia, whose original name was Pasionaria, had been given away for adoption without her mother’s consent while Carmen was in a Francoist prison.

She had been jailed for helping Antonia’s father, one of the “reds” or republicans who fought Franco in the 1936-39 civil war that brought the general to power for 36 years.

Antonia only had one and a half years years to spend with her mother before Carmen died, and she was one of the lucky ones.

Many ageing Spaniards are still looking for their lost relatives, while others are not even aware of their real identities.

“How many people in this country are not who they believe they are?” novelist Benjamin Prado asked as the drama of the “lost children” began to unfold in its full horror.

Some 30,000 children are estimated to have been “stolen” from their parents, especially from mothers in jail, in the aftermath of the civil war.

The figure includes children who were repatriated from France or other countries, where they or their entire families had been evacuated or gone into exile.

Stories of babies being torn from the arms of their screaming mothers, of parents who were executed and of siblings who were separated from each other have begun to emerge.

The children were given out for adoption or placed in orphanages or other institutions, where they were often ill-treated, according to judge Baltasar Garzon who tried to investigate their fate.

However, Garzon’s inquiry into that and other alleged human rights abuses by the Franco regime was blocked, and Spain remains divided over the need to discuss those times.

Franco’s policy concerning “red” children was not only aimed at meeting the needs of childless couples, but obeyed the racist ideas of his right-wing regime.

The regime’s leading military psychiatrist Antonio Vallejo Najera had been influenced by the German Nazi ideology, according to Vicenc Navarro, a political science professor.

Vallejo Najera believed Marxists to be mentally ill people whose children could, however, be purified of their inferior characteristics if they were raised to become Francoists and conservative Catholics.

Not only did the regime try to exterminate its opponents, but it also sought to eradicate their ideology by turning their children against them, according to critics of the dictatorship.

Some of the families taking in republican children, however, used them as servants instead of focusing on their education, writes Prado, who researched the subject for one of his novels.

The lives of many “lost children” or their relatives have been overshadowed by anxiety over the fate of their loved ones, and many of them have died without reuniting with their original families.

After Franco’s dictatorship ended with his death in 1975, a democratic Spain tried to turn a new page by granting his collaborators a collective amnesty, and it was not until the recent years that his abuses began to be discussed widely in public.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government passed a law to restore the honour of Franco’s victims in 2007, and Garzon tried to launch an investigation into the alleged killings of more than 100,000 people by Francoists during and after the war.

The judge’s inquiry would have included the fate of the “lost children”, but he was forced to drop it after state prosecutors argued it had no legal basis.

The prosecutors’ views were close to those of the conservative opposition, which rejects probes into the Franco era and accuses the government of reviving old social divisions.

Some of the “stolen children” or their relatives have resorted to DNA testing in attempts to locate missing family members, and groups representing Franco’s victims asked Garzon to arrange for more such tests for people in danger of dying before completing their quests.

The judge recently rejected the request, after transferring the responsibility of investigating Franco’s crimes to regional courts.

Those will now have to decide whether the dictatorship’s abuses can be classified as crimes against humanity, as Garzon argued, in which case they would not come under the statute of limitations.

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