Greece's Black-Market Babies Come Home -- Stolen Children Demand To Know Their Histories
ATHENS, Greece - Forty-one years ago a frightened Greek child of 5, stolen from her mother, landed in America to begin a new life.
Raised in an orphanage and by foster parents and told her mother had died in childbirth, young Amalia Balch and dozens of other children that October were herded aboard an airplane in Greece.
When the plane landed in New York City, adults streamed on board to claim the children they knew only by photographs, the kids they had adopted by proxy.
"I remember being very sick, and a plane full of children . . . and being very scared," she says.
Today, at age 45, Amalia Balch still doesn't know if she was a black-market baby, if her adoptive parents paid money for her. She hasn't pressed the point, but she suspects they did.
Over the past 10 years and five trips to the country of her birth, she has learned some truths about her roots. First she learned that she was stolen from her unmarried mother at birth.
And recently she was reunited for the first time with dozens of her blood relatives in her mother's home village.
Balch is one of thousands of people who now suspect that as infants they were sold in the baby black market that flourished in Greece for more than a decade after the 1946-49 civil war.
A baby for $1,000
Almost half a century later, there's no reliable way to determine how many children were taken from poor parents and sold, both in Greece and abroad, in Canada, Australia, Sweden and South Africa, as well as the United States.
In 1959, a New York magistrate, Stephen Scopas, was indicted but later acquitted on charges of selling 30 Greek children to American couples.
Maxine Deller of Long Island, N.Y., says her adoptive parents, George and Jean Deller, paid $1,000 to Scopas when she was adopted in 1955. She said she learned this in a letter from Scopas left in her possession after her adoptive parents died.
An angry Deller is headed for Greece, she says, to "knock down some doors" in an effort to find her birth mother.
Greek authorities in Patras, where she was born, "are putting up a big resistance to opening the files."
"I want this exposed," she says. "I want this exposed big time."
Now people such as Balch and Deller are banding together, forming organizations and even searching the Internet to get at their roots.
"They say more than 2,000 children went to the United States," says Eleni Liarakou, chairman of the Association for the Investigation and Uncovering of Evidence of Adopted Children.
But Liarakou acknowledges that figure may be hearsay, as is so much other information about the scandal.
Neither the U.S. Embassy in Athens nor the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the pre-eminent Greek-American organization involved in war relief at the time, have records from those years.
Mother believed her baby died
Balch, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., with her husband and 22-year-old son, learned only recently that her mother had died a year after her birth, thinking Amalia had been stillborn.
Someone had lied to her mother and her family and taken the baby to a foster home in the nearby port city of Patras. Five years later, the girl was sent to America. Amalia's new parents in Los Angeles were told the mother had died giving birth.
Balch began piecing her story together in 1985, when, during a tour, she went to visit the Patras maternity clinic and orphanage where she'd started life.
There, however, an employee informed her that the register contained neither a death certificate for her mother nor an adoption release for her.
This year, on her fifth visit, Balch found her closest living relatives - first cousins - and learned her mother's fate. She still does not know who her father was.
Her mother's village of Neapolis, near Patras, held a big celebration for her at which she counted about 100 relatives.
"Finally you feel as if you've connected. You were disconnected and you came together," she said in an interview in Athens.
In the past year, Greek news media have presented many stories of families uniting with children believed to have died at birth but who'd been brought up in other parts of Greece.
Hope and tattered documents
Each day, 20 or 30 people register with Liarakou's association. More than 6,000 people have signed on since the group was formed in March.
They clutch tattered documents and the hope of finding children they had considered dead or the parents they thought had abandoned them.
Typically, the parents were told by doctors or nurses that their baby had died, but they were given no body or death certificate. Decades ago, such authority was not questioned.
Success seems to depend on luck and the correlation of evidence from both sides - child and parents.
"First, we ask for the child's birth certificate and death certificate," says Liarakou, a travel agent by profession. "Then we go to the clinic and ask for the whole medical history that they have for each case. Then we wait and see who might turn up looking from the other side."
Liarakou herself is looking for a sister who was said to have died three days after birth in 1960, although no death certificate was issued.
Case of the baby brokers
In the 1959 case in New York, Scopas, a prominent Greek-American, was forced to resign as a magistrate over allegations that he was dealing in black-market babies.
"Back in 1956, word got around that Scopas was in the baby-selling business. One couple told another and there was a regular procession to his office," then-District Attorney Frank Hogan told The New York Times in 1959. "When they went there, they were shown photographs of Greek orphans and they selected the babies."
Prospective parents paid up to $2,800 for a child, Hogan contended.
The charges were dropped in 1960 when a judge ruled that the adoptions had been carried out legally in Greece. Scopas, now 85 and living in New York City, continues to maintain his innocence.
Balch says she has had a happy life with her adoptive family but wants to help other Greek adoptees who believe they were sold as babies and sent to unfit parents in America.
"I'm dealing with people whose lives are destroyed and fragmented," she says. "They don't want to come back and fight and punish people. All they want to know is the truth."
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