Huffington Post Interview with Gonda Van Steen - Greek Adoptions


Interview by Justin Frangoulis-Argyris, Journalist and Writer, with Gonda Van Steen.  Published in the Greek Huffington Post on October 3, 2018.

English translation


A whole generation of children born in Greece in the 50s, 60s and 70s abandoned on steps of homes, nurseries and orphanages, children given to American and European families for adoption, replacing the social welfare of post-war Greece, today seeks to find its roots .

Dr. Gonda Van Steen , Professor of Hellenic Studies at Florida University, has explored this research by trying to find the case files but also to find a methodological correlation of the Cold War era with the influence of America and Europe on the social fabric of Greece.

The massive adoption wave from Greece to America proved to be the most compact example of Greece's dependence on the United States.

Adopted Greek children retain the experiences of their ancestors, which tend to coexist and manifest themselves in various forms alongside the elements of their European and American acquired identity. The search for their origin is the way to their vindication and personal redemption.

Dr. Gonda Van Steen is trying to use the tools she has in this direction but insists that the solution can only be given by creating a DNA database on behalf of the Greek state where the adopted children and their biological families will be able to refer to find a solution to the many and torturing questions of origin!

What prompted you to do an Orphanage survey in Greece that was adopted in the US and elsewhere? How did all this begin?

I started this research program in 2013 in an attempt to answer the questions of the son of one of the orphans who were adopted in the United States. When I found out that I could not refer him to some scientific research on the issue, I decided to look at this issue of the "lost" orphans of Greece and write a short article on my own. This initiative has now evolved into a book-work, which has gone a long way. Meanwhile, she has discovered many of the adopted orphans of Greece in the United States and the Netherlands and have learned many of their personal experiences. Many also shared their documents or files with unconditional attentionwith me, which allowed me to draw conclusions about their origins, dates, destinations,   adoption networks, routes, and so on ...  

How many orphans have you identified looking for their roots in Greece?

The records of 1948-1962 revealed that about 3,200 Greek children were admitted to the US. Since the late 1950s, another 600 Greek children have been adopted in the Netherlands. However, this does not mean that all these people are looking for their roots. If I can make a substantiated assessment, I would say that about a quarter of them are looking for their roots. Some have already died. Others were adopted by relatives and their roots were originally known.  Others do not have the time or willingness and energy to engage in an exhaustive quest. And such a search is indeed an emotional journey for which the adopted ones themselves must be ready.

What access do you have to the records of Greece on adoption cases?

I have access to archives and libraries in Greece, but I have no access to high-ranking people or to Greek politicians. I have been  doing archival research in Greece, both in public and private archives since 1993, on a wide range of subjects. For many years I have been researching theater, criticism, censorship, etc. Now I use these skills to find a way out of the archives relating to the history and institutions of Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, when  these international adoptions of Greek orphans and abandoned children were made. 

Does the Greek State have documents about orphans and adoption affairs? Or does it provide all the information?

The Greek state has enacted some laws in 1996 to allow Greek adopters to seek their roots. But that does not mean that individual government officials know these laws or know  how to implement them. Also, all files have not been saved . Those adopted who are looking for their history in Greece will usually fall to the fear of civil servants to reveal something they should not give, although the opposite is true: the adopted adult has the right to any available information and help in his research. Another obstacle also arises in these quests: only the adopted adult has the right to look for his or her family of origin,this right is not equally granted to members of families who have left or given children to nurseries and orphanages.

Is there a record of these adoptions?

There is no single integrated or centralized  adoption service . Also, we can not assume that all records are in Greece. Some of the sources come from records in the US. I also have the opportunity to get information from the archives in the Netherlands. Any conclusions must be combined from the different sources of information and must be constantly monitored.

When were these adoptions made?

International adoptions from orphanages and nurseries in Greece are a phenomenon of post-war times and the appearance of the Cold War. The Greece of the 1950s and the 1960s still has many problems. The large number of orphans-abandoned children, the overcrowding of nurseries and orphanages were some of them. Adoption abroad became a "policy" of social welfare that provided quick "solutions" to a country that did not yet have the stability of   social infrastructure.

Have there been money transactions throughout the process, that is, buying or selling orphans?

Yes, money transactions were part of the process of adoption and immigration   for many orphans from Greece. Certain amounts of money covered lawyers' fees and the necessary   bureaucratic procedures (court proceedings). Other amounts covered the remuneration of intermediaries who were much charged for their services.

Give us the framework of this post-war history with adoptions. 

I discovered lastly that the children of Greece arrived in the United States for adoption through various routes and through the intermediation of several organizations and intermediaries, some of whom were known earlier but never been placed in the same context. Much responsibility for this international adoption  is believed to be brought by Queen Frederick, but the records show that other ombudsmen were channeling much more US children than the queen and in more opaque processes. This conclusion is not a defense of the Queen's practices, it is simply a misconception that was based on limited archival material. 

Adoptions varied from legal to quick, without rules, or were  simply illegal. Certain records indicate that certified organizations have made concerted efforts to find good families for  children from Greece. In many cases, however, there was no proper control of American parents, nor a follow-up to check how the orphan arrived in America from Greece. From the Greek side, nurseries and orphanages that acted with uncontrolled autonomy and often in cooperation with Greek or Greek-American lawyers who did not observe the highest ethical standards and who certainly   had no experience in placing children for adoption.Many child placements in families in the US were absolutely random without care and supervision and the children found themselves in inappropriate environments, which until now their stories are breaking their hearts.

Do you collect personal stories of adopted children?

Yes, I am in touch with many then adopted children who have unreservedly shared their personal stories with me. I have linked my historical study of this Greek adoption movement to many of these stories so that the reader can better understand how political decisions  that have influenced real life have been taken . But the beauty of this research lies in the fact that Greek adopters are also in contact with each other and have created wonderful friendships based on a common - almost unknown - past in Greece.     

How can the Greek state help in any way solve these cases?

The Greek state must make efforts to create a free DNA database for all Greek adopters seeking their roots, where many Greek families who suspect that a newborn has been taken from them in the 1950s to the decade of the war, 80. Especially the last cases are many and sad, as it is extremely difficult to prove the roots of children and yet they are very common. An adopted woman, Pamela Wolf has done a lot to support My Heritage in order to create the DNA   database in Greece.The state must help these children and their families discover their story even at the very end of their lives. This will be a redemption for both adopted children and families who once for reasons beyond their control abandoned their children in nurseries and orphanages. "