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How the 'Lost Children of Greece' are fighting for citizenship and access to their records

Thousands of children were adopted to countries such as the US after the Greek Civil War, Mary Cardaras tells The Journal.

MARY CARDARAS IS one of the so-called ‘Lost Children of Greece’ who were adopted to other countries between the late 1940s and the 1960s.

She was born in 1955 to an unmarried young mother, before being adopted by a Greek-American couple and raised in Gary, Indiana. 

Mary is one of some 4,000 people who were adopted by couples in other countries after the Greek Civil War. All of these ‘lost children’ had their Greek citizenship revoked.

image_6487327 An infant Mary Cardaras with her adoptive mother Amalia Mary Cardaras Mary Cardaras

Mary is behind a campaign calling for this group of people to have their citizenship restored and to get access to their personals records. 

She recently moved back to Athens, where she runs the Demos Centre at the American College of Greece. 

In an interview with The Journal, she explained: “There are about 4,000 of us. Some of them have died, unfortunately, but there were 4,000 of us who were exported, very systematically exported, from the country through adoption after and during the Greek Civil War.”

Mary said this period was a “devastating time” for Greece, which was one of the poorest countries in Europe. 

People were dying of starvation in the streets, and there was a dearth of adoptable, healthy, white babies. And so there began a – and I’m going to use the term deliberately – there began a baby trade.

Mary said the adoption market in Greece was “lucrative” and involved priests, lawyers and doctors. 

In many cases, the children’s mothers signed adoption papers, but this didn’t always happen. As was the case in Ireland for many decades, some forced adoptions and forgery of signatures also took place.

“I have heard numerous stories also of babies who were stolen from hospitals, from their parents, presumably for sale,” Mary told us.

In some cases, mothers gave birth to a seemingly healthy baby but were later told their child had died. No proof of death was provided. 

Mary said she and others travelled on “blue passports” which were “a one-way ticket out of the country”. 

“We all lost our citizenship. Some of us have gotten it back, but so few, and people have waited years and years, some have spent thousands of dollars to no result.”

The meeting that never took place

Adopted people like Mary have struggled to access their records over the years – an all-too-familiar tale to adopted people in Ireland.

She said the Greek system can be very ad hoc – some agencies are very helpful but others refuse to engage with people.

The fact most of the ‘lost children’ have not yet had their citizenship restored also complicates things from a legal point of view. 

Mary knew she was adopted from a young age, but the exact details were vague and embellished. 

image_50388993 Mary as a young girl Mary Cardaras Mary Cardaras

She counts herself lucky to have been adopted by Greek-American parents, Amelia and Aristotle Cardaras, thereby retaining her culture. She had a happy childhood alongside her adopted brother, Nick, who is also of Greek descent but was adopted domestically in the US.

Mary was quietly looking for information about her biological parents for several years, not telling her adoptive parents for fear of upsetting them. She almost met her biological mother in the 1990s, but it fell through.

“I learned that she was alive. A social service agency gave me information about her – some of it was true, some of it not.

“And at the point where we were to meet, where we could have met, the agency suggested that both of us see a psychologist. After they suggested that, she completely turned off to the idea and I think they scared the hell out of her, I really do.

She never expected that I would come back. She froze and iced them out and iced me out.

Years later, after her adoptive parents died, Mary tried to contact her biological mother again. Sadly, she found out that her mother had since died from leukemia.

‘She completely changed her identity’ 

In the last two years, she has found out more information about her biological parents. 

Mary has received conflicting information over the years but believes her mother, Frevronia Kougoulos, fled her village due to the “shame and stigma” of becoming pregnant outside of marriage when she was 18 years old.

“She completely changed her identity, she changed her name. She didn’t tell anybody about me,” Mary said.

Frevronia changed her name to Maria Papakosta, which Mary believes was a nod to her own name. In recent years, she found out that her biological father’s name was Konstantinos Koletsis. 

Mary believes her mother chose Maria as it is a version of Mary, and Papakostas as it literally translates to ‘father Kostas’. 

mary_c Mary now lives in Athens with her partner

It was sadly too late to meet her biological mother, but Mary has met some of her cousins and other people who knew Maria. 

“I have been to her village. I have met my mother’s caretaker. I’ve been to her grave.

“She’s been described as an angel, that she was a very lovely woman, which I was happy to hear.”

As part of her search, Mary also discovered that a number of people in her mother’s family died from heart disease.

“My blood pressure was dangerously high and I could have addressed this years ago had I known that there was heart disease in my mother’s family,” she noted.

‘Basic human right’

Mary, who herself has two adopted children, said it is a “basic human right” for people to have access to their personal and medical records. 

Though aware of the many complications and delays, she “applauds” Ireland for finally “doing the right thing” and giving adopted people a legal right to their records in 2022.

“It’s wonderful,” she added. 

You’re like this mosaic with a lot of pieces missing. I can’t tell you how much it means [to get your records], to be a complete person, to know as much as you can about yourself.

At the time of publication, almost 75,000 people had signed a petition calling for the ‘Lost Children of Greece’ to be given access to their records and for their citizenship to be restored.

Mary plans to present the petition to the Greek parliament, hoping it may prompt them to take action. Many of the adopted people in question are older and time is of the essence.

“No one in the government is willing to say, ‘I’m going to take this on and I’m going to fix this because it’s the right thing to do’. This is a group who deserve to know where they came from.”

In terms of restoring their citizenship, Mary said it should not be seen as “a favour”, rather returning “what was taken from us”.

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