“The Lost children: Franco’s Spain (Valley of the Fallen)”, Alexandre Mitchell, 2022
(Canson, 180g, 42 x 59cm, Indian ink)

On 18 July 1936, Spanish troops rebelled against the democratic government, leading to the Spanish Civil War, often seen as a prelude to World War II.

The Valley of the Fallen is a Catholic memorial site located in the Sierra de Guadarrama, near Madrid. The site was designed on the orders of dictator Francisco Franco as a monument to the reconciliation between Republicans and Nationalists who fell during the Spanish Civil War.

Apart from the obvious conflict of interest in a dictator rewriting the past by erecting a memorial to the people he massacred, much of the work was carried out by prisoners of war.

What really distinguishes this site is the presence of a 150-metre-high cross. Was it erected to minimise the role of the church during the Spanish Civil War and other scandals, notably that of the niños perdidos del franquismo or ‘missing children’? Who can fail to shudder with horror at the thought of those maternity wards where some fanatical nuns collaborated with the medical profession to steal babies from Republican parents and redistribute them to ‘good’ Nationalist families?

It took several decades and the extraordinary courage of a handful of people who decided to investigate their own family history to uncover one of Spain’s most sordid state scandals, which affected tens of thousands of babies and their birth and adoptive families. Read the harrowing story of Ana Belén Pintado in a recent article of the New York Times.

Further reading

  • Badcock, J., ‘Doctor on trial over Spain ‘stolen babies’ scandal’, BBC News, 25/06/2018 | online
  • Casey, N., ‘Taken Under Fascism, Spain’s ‘Stolen Babies’ Are Learning the Truth’, The New York Time Magazine, 27/09/2022 | online
  • Rabidoux, G., Lencina, M., Vila Torres, E., Stolen Babies of Spain: The Book, Valmar Books, 2020
  • Sheean, J., “Monument and Memory: The Valley of the Fallen and its Cultural Archive”, Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 23 (2019) 9-32 | online
  • Stockey, G., Valley of the Fallen: The (N)ever Changing Face of General Franco’s Monument – Monographs in Post-Conflict Cultures, Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, 2013.