Throughout much of 20th century Spain, a criminal network of doctors and nuns stole anywhere from 40,000 to 300,000 babies from their mothers at birth, constituting one of the most horrific yet least known events of the Franco dictatorship.
General Francisco Franco came to power in 1939, after winning a civil war that had bathed the country in blood for three years. In the four decades that followed — and up to his death in 1975 — Spain stayed mostly closed to the outside world, delaying industrial progress and punishing those who fought on the losing side of the conflict. It was during those years when it is believed that tens of thousands of infants born to “undesirable” families started disappearing from their mothers’ hands.
According to the BBC, the practice may have originally been borne from Francoist ideology which promoted the domination of the “pure” right wing over “inferior” left wing families, but over the years it changed, “as babies began to be taken from parents considered morally — or economically — deficient.”
Following the requests of families who could not have children, a corrupt web of nuns, priests, doctors and nurses went to great lengths to steal babies — most of whom came from low-income families or single mothers — on their behalf or provide them with illegal adoptions.
To cover up the job, baby-seeking families were sometimes told to fake a pregnancy; other times the families simply believed they were going through a legal adoption channel, paying the doctors and nuns for their services. The latter was easy to do, as up until 1987 adoptions in Spain were done through hospitals, which were largely under the influence of the Catholic Church, the BBC wrote.