(Greek) Adoptees Anonymous

By , April 10, 2017 3:08 PM

Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece
Thursday, April 20 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
HCGM Head Office, “Mikri Vouli”
5777 Wilderton av. Montreal, H3S 2V7

The speaker: Gonda Van Steen, Cassas Professor in Greek Studies, University of Florida
Presenter: Dr. Tassos Anastassiadis, Modern Greek Studies, McGill University

Event is followed by a reception.

Invitation (click to enlarge)

The talk offers a first introduction to Greek American adoption ethnography, set against the backdrop of the global Cold War.

It is the first project to study the biopolitics of the adoption movement from Greece to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

The vehicle of the mass international adoptions of Greek-born children symbolically (and no less physically) marked the transition to a new political and ideological status quo that sought to balance the democratic West against the communist East–but at what cost?

This overseas adoption movement places a fitting lens on American as well as Greek foreign policies, security concerns, refugee provisions, and other external affairs, which were integral parts of the Cold War project.

The mass adopting-out of Greek children to America proves to be the most concrete example of the politics of dependence on the United States.

The Greek adoptees’ (shaken) identities have infused the lived experiences of their descendants, and they co-exist, in multiple ways, with American and European transnational identities; they also prove that the personal and the political stories of postwar global history intersect.

This is the reason this talk connects with immigration from Greece.

Source: Ελληνική Κοινότης Μείζονος Μοντρεάλ

2 Responses to “(Greek) Adoptees Anonymous”

  1. Eleni Bomis says:

    The lecture on (Greek) Adoptees Anonymous delivered by the very scholarly Gonda Van Steen proved to be very interesting. In the quiet and very serene environment of the Mikri Vouli (Μικρή Βουλή) at the HCGM, which was filled to capacity, Professor van Steen informed her audience on the social and political setting from which originated the many Greek adoptees across the USA who are now in their 60’s.

    True to the principles of research, Professor Van Steen examines the period post 1948/9 to 1962 for adoptions from Greece with a second phase examining adoptions from Greece until 1975.
    Of the many numbers being quoted, the research can only validate that 3,250 children were adopted outside Greece, between the years 1948-1962, predominantly to the United States of America. The earthquake of 1953 in Patras left many families in desperation, which may explain why the majority of adoptions to the USA came from Patras. Adoptions from Greece continued until 1975 to the Netherlands with children as old as 16 years being adopted. This adoption phase marks all orphaned or abandoned infants born after 1948/9.

    Initially, legal provisions did not exist and established Agencies were not equipped to fully manage the wave of adoptions. By 1962, the USA did implement permanent provisions which resulted in the curtailing of the adoptions altogether. The Netherlands were always better equipped with better legal provisions and, by being on the same continent as Greece, was able not only to continue adopting children from Greece, but also provides better records today for research.

    Among the first organizations to liaison between Greece and the USA was AHEPA, by establishing the AHEPA Refugee Relief Committee. The Minutes of this Committee have enlightened Professor Van Steen on the mood and the movement related to the Adoption Phase from Greece. In order to revive the existence of the Committee, a copy of a $ 500.00 donation made to the Committee in 1956 was projected on the viewing screen for the benefit of the audience.

    By the summer of 1953, the USA has legislated the “Refugee Relief Act”. Hence, a spotlight shines on the activities of the people, organizations and agencies involved in the Adoption process from Greece to the USA. Individuals and rogue efforts by priests can no longer continue. In fact, accusations against two Greeks who profited from connecting American families to Greek Adoptees brought a complete halt to this activity, regardless that, in lack of sufficient legislation, they were never convicted for “trafficking children”. The American Agency, the ISS (International Social Service), was the only non-denominational Agency which continued past 1956 until 1962 and placed children with families which qualified regardless of ethnic background and religion. Another bit of trivia observed is that many American Military families adopted children from Greece during this period of 1949/9-1962.

    These adoptions cover a spectrum of experiences and results, from good to bad. Thus, an index of vulnerability covers a wide range which can oscillate from legal adoptions to illegal ones, from public supervision to private, from policy controlled activity to emotional decision making, and from a very public awareness to a confidential and clandestine one. Professor Van Steen provided a reading list for further reading on the subject, for which not much exists other than a few narratives and some relevant titles on immigration.

    The link to Immigration is key. Though most children come from orphanages, or institutions caring for abandoned or orphaned infants (βρεφοκομείο), they do arrive on American soil with a VISA authorized by the country of origin and the country or arrival. These VISAs carry a name. When the adoption has been finalized in Greece, the name is that of the parents adopting the child. Should the Adoption be finalized in the USA by the ISS, then the name of the adoptee’s parents appears 12 months after arrival to American soil and the name on the VISA upon arrival is that used at the orphanage or the Institution where the child resided. Children, for whom the mother had relinquished her rights to make way for adoption, carry the surname of the mother.

    Overall the lecture was captivating. The few American media newspaper clippings and a Greek cartoon linking the adoption phase to political maneuvering, prove beyond any doubt the victimization of these children who are now adults in their golden years. A significant but small comparison was made with adoptions to the USA from Korea. Statistically, though there are 4,162 children adopted from Korea to the USA, a number not much larger than the one representing Greek Adoptees to the USA, it was pointed out that Greece has only 1/4 the population of Korea.

    The only avenue and perspective not elaborated was that of the overall international legality, since the “forcible transfer of children” is Genocide according to art. 6 of the Rome Statute, a piece of legislation carried over from 1946. Although photos exist of children proving to be willing and content, there are other photos where children prove to be difficult upon arrival (temperamental, screaming and being “forcibly confined” by the receiving parents).

    The scholarly approach of Professor van Steen lays a solid foundation for her research on the subject. Consequently, no rash conclusions or political positioning were made. The few existing facts were presented equally with a plea for governments to cooperate in the release of information.


    Eleni Bomi

  2. admin says:

    Eleni, very good analysis. Thanks for the followup on the original post.

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