Sat, Jan 10, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Judge orders probe into Franco-era missing children

KIDNAPPED Thousands of children were allegedly taken from their mothers, especially those in jail, during the early years of Francisco Franco’s regime

THE GUARDIAN , MADRID

A magistrate investigating the human rights crimes of Francisco Franco has ordered an inquiry into the fate of children kidnapped from left-wing families by the Spanish dictator’s henchmen.

Judge Baltasar Garzon, the controversial national court magistrate, has asked judges to add the missing children to more than 136,000 cases of people who disappeared under the Franco regime.

An unknown number of children were allegedly stolen from “red” families by Franco’s supporters, with details of individual cases being sent recently to courts in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Burgos, Malaga and Zaragoza.

Campaigners say thousands of children were taken from their mothers, especially those in jail, and handed to orphanages in the early years of Franco’s 36-year dictatorship. Some had surnames changed and were never seen again.

As the sister of a guerrilla leader, Emilia Giron was deemed unfit to bring up her son, who was taken from her days after his birth 70 years ago.

“He was a boy and I wanted to call him Jesus,” she recalled in a recent documentary, The Missing Children of Francoism. “But they took him away to baptize him and I never saw him again. I don’t know who took him. I suppose it was a couple who were unable to have their own children but they never asked my permission. The anguish will last until I die.”

The investigation adds a new line of attack in Garzon’s attempts to have Franco’s regime and its henchmen formally accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity. It mirrors the investigations into children taken from left-wing captives in Argentina and given to people loyal to the military juntas that ruled there in the 1970s.

Like many of Spain’s stolen children, Uxeno Alvarez, was sent to an orphanage where he was continually punished.

“When the other children went out for a walk they would leave me behind and make me clean 50 pairs of shoes,” he said in the documentary. “It took me time to understand why. They hated me. I was the son of a ‘red.’”

At least 12,000 children whose parents had died during the civil war or had been executed by Franco’s regime were in state or religious orphanages in 1944. Some put the number as high as 30,000.

When Carmen Garcia’s unmarried mother, a former Republican fighter also called Carmen, gave birth to a baby girl at a hospital run by nuns, she was sent home to recover and told to come back for the child later. When she went back, the child had gone.

“The nuns told her she was no longer there, that they had given her away in adoption,” her daughter said.

The family never found the missing the child.

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