Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece

Kid pro quo?
Gonda Van Steen
Reveals the history of how 3,000 Greek children were shipped to the United States for adoption in the postwar period


This book presents a committed quest to unravel and document the postwar adoption networks that placed more than 3,000 Greek children in the United States, in a movement accelerated by the aftermath of the Greek Civil War and by the new conditions of the global Cold War. Greek-to-American adoptions and, regrettably, also their transactions and transgressions, provided the blueprint for the first large-scale international adoptions, well before these became a mass phenomenon typically associated with Asian children. The story of these Greek postwar and Cold War adoptions, whose procedures ranged from legal to highly irregular, has never been told or analyzed before. Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece answers the important questions: How did these adoptions from Greece happen? Was there any money involved? Humanitarian rescue or kid pro quo? Or both? With sympathy and perseverance, Gonda Van Steen has filled a decades-long gap in our understanding, and provided essential information to the hundreds of adoptees and their descendants whose lives are still affected today.

“Drawing on the fields of memory studies, cultural anthropology, Greek history, and international adoption history, Van Steen explores how Cold War anticommunism in post-World War II Greece drove the foreign adoption of Greek children, mainly to the U.S. . . . The book provides an important corrective lens, including statistics that prove how desirable Greek orphans were to U.S. families in the decades after World War II.”
—Rachel Rains Winslow, Westmont College

“A revealing window into the politics, culture, and social practices that predominated in postwar Greece. . . the author contributes to the nation's collective memory valuable insights into the impact of the civil war upon its most innocent victims. Combining meticulous scholarship with empathy, this seminal study of the selection of children for foreign adoption during the 1950s and 1960s has earned Gonda Van Steen the lasting gratitude of all students of contemporary Greece.”
—From the foreword by John O. Iatrides


Gonda Van Steen is Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature, and Director of the Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College London.


Praise / Awards

  • “The people in Van Steen’s book have searched for answers and explanations, each having heard only whispers and rumors and knowing only some pieces of the puzzle. Van Steen undertakes to put the whole puzzle together and make this unseen history public…The book is an excellent read, offers meticulous historical research into international adoptions from Greece to the US in the post-Civil War period, and provides a much-needed resource for understanding how families, private lives, and biographies are mobilized or exploited for the sake of global political agendas.”
    Journal of Modern Greek Studies
  • “Sheds light on Greek attitudes on adoptions, ‘illegitimate’ children, and orphans, and why Greek babies were in demand . . . The consequences of these poorly managed adoptions are still being felt to this day. There is no other book in English that provides such an in-depth account of this difficult chapter in postwar Greek history.” 
    American Journal of Contemporary Hellenic Studies
  • "A thoroughly researched book with an impressive collection of primary archival material from under-explored sources… Van Steen explores convincingly the links between the ‘family trauma’ and the ‘national trauma’ in the context of Greece’s political, economic, and social conditions."
  • “Weaves the little-known but extensive Greek adoption movement into the broader narrative of political and social history of the Cold War, during which, in the Greek context, the heaviest burden of suffering fell on women and children… Many testimonies incorporated in this book reassert the voices of the young, unnamed, uneducated, or powerless. These testimonies, each chosen for its psychological and analytical value, place private histories and national histories in a poignant dialectic relationship with each other, and together they spotlight the strange moral universe of the Cold War Greek adoption movement.”
    Scandinavian Journal of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
  • "I found myself in tears when reading parts of this book, and in other parts, I was in awe of the careful research and scholarship which had gone into tracking down documents and evidence. ...This is a compelling and thought-provoking book, raising important and provocative issues not only for this past but for our present too."
    Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
  • "Van Steen deftly constructs her narratives with discretion and empathy, while addressing delicate issues, such as abuse, change of religion, and other negative experiences. ...Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece. Kid pro quo? is [also] a great read, combining lively and moving prose with lucid and solid analysis."
    Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters
  • Finalist: Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA) 2022 Edmund Keeley Book Prize 
  • Winner: European Society for Modern Greek Studies (EENS) 2019 Award for Best Published Monograph

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Featured on "The Books of 2021" from Inside Story [in Greek] | December 24th, 2021 
Watch: Book talk with the Thessaloniki Book Fair [in Greek] | November 25th, 2021
Read: Featured in The Pappas Post | May 2021
Read: Reviewed in the American Journal of Contemporary Hellenic Issues | Feb 2021

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 350pp.
  • 18 illustrations; 1 table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-13158-7

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  • $94.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03881-7

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  • $39.95 U.S.

  • Audio Download
  • 2021
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-00455-3

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  • $9.99 U.S.

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  • Greece, twentieth century, adoption international, child welfare, orphan care, migration policy, Cold War history, Greece mid-twentieth century, Greek orphanages and foundling homes, US immigration policy pertaining to war orphans, Cold War history and Greece, Greek Civil War and children,Greek adoptions in the 1950s and 1960s, illegal Greek adoptions