The difficult homecoming of Greece’s ‘lost children’

The difficult homecoming of Greece’s ‘lost children’

Many decades ago, mainly between 1948 and 1975, orphanages and families that could not afford to raise them sent some 4,000 Greek children to the United States, the Netherlands and other countries for adoption. The children themselves were never asked if they wanted to leave, or if they agreed to lose their Greek citizenship. They knew nothing about the circumstances of their departure. Many were given to families that had no Greek roots, cutting them off not only from the land of their birth but also from their culture, their identity. It is only in recent years that these isolated “lost children” discovered that they were among thousands, protagonists in an unknown but heart-rending episode in the history of the Greeks after the Civil War and during the Cold War. Now, some of them wish to close the circle of their lives with the restoration of their Greek citizenship. One would expect Greece to offer the warm embrace that it denied them when they were born. And yet, it keeps putting up obstacles and dashing hopes.

There is much irony in the fact that services which are notorious for mishandling their records should deny people’s right to their files while demanding full sets of documents from them

“I’ve stopped trying. It hurts too much. It’s broken my heart too many times,” Alexa Maros said during a recent public discussion on the internet hosted by the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA). “Self-preservation dictates that I have to stop this quest. I can’t do this alone. But my fondest hope is that together we can get there.” Maros, co-host of the “Persisting” podcast, has been trying to regain her Greek citizenship since 2016, at great cost in terms of dollars and pain. “I have shed many tears in the process. It left me crying and feeling rejected again,” she added. “When I was 8 years old, I asked, ‘Was I that unlovable that I had to be exported?’ The sense of loss can be overwhelming. And the grieving… it’s always there.”

Robyn Bedell, a chef assistant at the University of Connecticut who discovered her Greek family in 2007, added: “I just want to be able to go [to Greece] without a return date if that’s what I want to do.” The discussion was moderated by Lou Katsos, EMBCA’s founder and president. Other participants were: Professor Gonda Van Steen, Koraes Chair, King’s College London, whose 2019 book “Adoption, Memory and Cold War Greece: Kid pro Quo?” uncovered the breadth and depth of the adoptions; Mary Cardaras, academic and writer who has compiled an oral history of the “lost children,” of whom she is one; financial consultant Robert Lipsky; educator Maria Heckinger; and journalist Nikos Konstandaras, who has covered the story since 1995.

Some 700 of the thousands of children who were given up for adoption abroad have shown interest in learning more about themselves and in having their Greek citizenship restored. Of the 3,200 who were adopted in the United States and about 600 who were sent to the Netherlands, some have died; others are unaware of the networks of communication that have been established, while others still have been cut off entirely from their Greek past. The number of those who want to reconnect with Greece should not alarm the officials who are still blocking their access to their personal files, obstructing further research and not processing requests for Greek citizenship.

There are no excuses for this obstructionism, whether it stems from purported sensitivity towards personal data (as the data belong to those who are requesting them, in any case), or from the fact that some documents may be missing. There is much irony in the fact that services which are notorious for mishandling their records should deny people’s right to their files while demanding full sets of documents from them. This is the perfect metaphor for the pettiness, the timidity, the indifference, the inventiveness in creating obstacles which distinguish Greece’s public administration to a great extent.

The long-desired homecoming of a few hundred people who love Greece and their Greek identity may seem like a minor issue, a personal story. Some might argue that it seems unimportant, as Greece is always “very busy” with greater problems. But if those with the power to do something choose to do the right thing in every instance, then not only will this particular wrong be corrected, but this would be a step towards the Greece for which we all yearn.

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