In the turbulent Cold War decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s, thousands of Greek children were adopted abroad to America and other foreign nations. These adoptions, while given the coating of legality by the Greek courts, were mired in scandal and greed, fraught with irregularities – and some were even illegal.
Orphanage directors, lawyers, doctors, nurses, and even some priests were involved in sending these children abroad, unscrupulous people who filled their pockets as they dispatched these children with minimal documentation and little hope of ever finding the way back to their homeland. These children had no say in what happened to them – adults in Greece, the United States, and other foreign nations decided their fates for them, stripping them of their families, their culture, and their heritage.
No longer children, these Greek-born adoptees now are searching for their biological families in ever-growing numbers, yearning for that elusive familial connection and connection to the country of their birth. However, the search often stretches on for decades and the obstacles are formidable.
For years, these adoptions seemed a forbidden subject, and only recently have many people in Greece, the United States, and the global community become aware of them. For many of these children, the adoption experience was not a happy one. While some can relate stories of loving parents and idyllic childhoods, many have lasting trauma from the effects of emotional, physical, and even sexual abuse at the hands of their adoptive families. The Greek state allowed large numbers of these children to be adopted by proxy and with virtually no oversight, with a Greek lawyer serving as the proxy for the adoptive parents before the Court of the First Instance, and the adoptive parents never having to set foot on Greek soil.
In addition, Greece was rocked by scandal in December 1958 when newspaper headlines told of black-market babies, again in 1959 when Stephen Scopas was indicted for selling Greek babies in New York, and a third time in 1964 when the orphanage director of Agios Stylianos in Thessaloniki and eight of his employees went to trial on charges of baby-selling. Some hospitals and doctors were found to have told mothers that the children they had given birth to had died when, in fact, they had been given for adoption. In other cases, family members literally took babies from their mother’s arms and shuttled them to an orphanage. Greek lawyers cajoled unmarried women into giving their babies up to them for adoption. And orphanage directors often declared children as foundlings to have them enter the adoption pipeline as quickly as possible.
The Greek government has never acknowledged the travesty of these adoptions nor accepted any responsibility for them; neither has it done anything to facilitate the searches of adoptees or their biological families. Rather, the attitudes of the Greek state and the mountainous bureaucracy can only be characterized as indifferent and dismissive.
Despite the Greek law passed in 1996 that was designed to allow adult adoptees access to – and copies of – their records, Greek-born adoptees have routinely met with resistance from adoption-related institutions, government agencies, and municipalities when asked to provide these records. Instead of providing copies of actual records, some orphanages provide only their own ‘synopsis’ of the adoptee’s time in the institution and/or foster care, with no copies of any documents that verify the contents of the synopsis. Other institutions neither return phone calls nor emails, or cite the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a reason for withholding records. Some have even refused to accept legal power of attorney with an attached apostille on behalf of an adoptee.
Many adoptees struggle with issues of identity and belonging. But the fact is, these adoptees were born in Greece, to Greek parents, and through no fault of their own, they were sent away, many of them to non-Greek adoptive parents who never exposed them to Greek people or Greek culture. In fact, some of them never learned they were adopted or even that they were Greek until they were well into adulthood. And upon finding out about their origins, it has driven them to embrace all those things that are an integral part of the Greek identity of which they have been deprived for so many years. Perhaps the most important part of the Greek identity for these adoptees is the restoration of their Greek citizenship, which has always been theirs by right of birth. Each time a celebrity (many of whom have no Greek heritage at all) is gifted with honorary Greek citizenship, it is like a knife in the heart of the Greek adoptee who was actually born in Greece. The love of their homeland is in their blood, and Greece calls to something deep and primal within them.
The attitude of Greeks, especially Greek government employees, toward Greek adoptees seeking their roots and their citizenship that is their birthright is varied. While some Greeks are
supportive, others dismiss their quest out of hand. One adoptee recounts an encounter with a Greek consular employee when seeking guidance on reclaiming her Greek citizenship. The employee was less than helpful and meanly commented, “why are you doing this? You were raised in the United States, so you really aren’t Greek!”
Oh, the irony of someone who was born in Greece to Greek parents being told they really are not Greek! Others have been told that all Greek adoptees have had their Greek citizenship revoked (not true), or that Greek adoptees must go through the naturalization process (also not true), while some consulates have informed adoptees that they do not assist with such citizenship issues and refer them to a Greek attorney. On another occasion, a Greek adoptee, searching for his biological mother on a trip to Greece encountered an employee in an archive who looked at him, shook her head and said, “’Panagia’ is mother enough for us all.” This lack of compassion and sensitivity, coupled with conflicting information and inconsistency from nearly every consulate, Greek government agency and institution, creates the perfect storm of anger, bitterness, resentment, and frustration for the Greek adoptee.
These Greek-born adoptees are indeed The Lost Children of Cold War Greece (see the Alpha TV ground-breaking documentary here: https://youtu.be/0hIxbgAYz_c), deprived of the very identity that was bestowed upon them at birth and dismissed by the Greek state that sent them away. They want only what is theirs by right of birth, what those who are not adopted take for granted: a sure sense of identity and belonging, of being an accepted part of the greater community of Greeks in the homeland and in the Diaspora, and the
permanence of connection through Greek citizenship.
It is time – in fact, it is long past time – that the Greek government acknowledges the circumstances surrounding these adoptions and grants these Greek-born adoptees the justice that they deserve and have been so long denied… Because in the end, these Greek-born adoptees are still those lost children. Children who just want to come home.
Please support our efforts by signing our petition, Justice for Greek-Born Adoptees Now! at change.org: https://www.change.org/TheEftychiaProjectJusticeForGreek-BornAdopteesPetition.
Linda Carol Trotter, born Eftychia Noula, is a Greek-born adoptee and the president of The Eftychia Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides assistance and support, free of charge, to Greek-born adoptees searching for their roots and Greek families searching for their lost children.