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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Holocaust Lessons, Nieto 114, and Adoption

This is another post from Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away April 7th after an 8-month battle with melanoma.

I awoke Wednesday to find "Holocaust Lessons," a story about Philadelphia police recruits visiting the Holocaust museum in Washington DC as part of their training, on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The program was started by Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and it is now used nationally. I was especially touched by a picture of the young, idealistic recruits standing respectfully as they viewed images of Holocaust victims and of police who participated in the atrocities. I had stood quietly, just like them, in that same room in late April of this year, only a few weeks after my mom had died, and wondered, as I'm sure they did: How could this have happened? How could "good" people have supported something so bad?

Later that morning I rejoiced when I heard the news that Estela de Carlotto, leader of the "Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo" in Argentina, had found her grandson. Like nearly 500 others during Argentina's "Dirty War" of 1976-1983, this grandson had been stolen as an infant from his mother, who was subsequently killed, and given to an adoptive family to raise as their own.  His grandmother Estela, now 83 years old, had endured years of searching. Finding him, she said, was a miracle that gave her "tremendous joy" (Click here to see BBC story).
Grandmothers protesting in Argentina's Plaza de Mayo. The sign reads, "Where are the hundreds of babies born in captivity?"

Estela de Carlotto visiting Pope Francis, who was leader of the Jesuits in Argentina at the start of the Dirty War,
soon after he was elected to lead the Roman Catholic Church.  During the visit she handed him a folder with files of the children (more than 400) that Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo was still looking for.
Carlotto also gave him a letter requesting him to demand members of the Catholic Church and its parishioners to provide information they might have about the "whereabouts” of the “disappeared grandsons and granddaughters."
She found her grandson, however, because he "had doubts about his identity" and  on his own decided to give a DNA sample to a database the group had set up. He is the 114th child to be found.

"Tremendous joy." Estela de Carlotto at the press conference announcing that her 'stolen grandchild' had been found.
This morning as I drove to work (the AP Spanish Institute at Camden County College), I listened to the story again on NPR (Click here to hear story). As I rejoiced for Estela, and mourned that such atrocities had ever been committed, I thought of my mom and her fight for adoption reform. She fought for adult adoptees to have the right to their original birth certificate -- that is all -- the right to know who they really are. "You just can't imagine the love that these children -- that had their heritage given back to them -- had for [Estela de Carlotto]," commented Francisco Goldman, the writer interviewed  on NPR this morning. It should be noted that many of these "children" (adopted adults, actually) were at first ambivalent about finding out their true identities. This is normal, of course. They knew only the parents who had raised them, parents who weren't necessarily complicit in the crimes committed in facilitating the adoption. As Francisco Goldman explained on the story this morning, "They [the adoptive parents] might just have gone to the church, and this was the child that was given to them."

The church believed it was doing what was right by giving these babies to parents with "Western, Christian" values to be raised. It looked the other way when parents were simply "disappeared." Documents were falsified and true origins hidden.

In the United States, birth mothers were not murdered as they were in Argentina, of course, but they were often treated horribly and shamed into giving up their babies. They were "disappeared" in their own way. Did you know this? I didn't, until this year, when I started writing on this blog for my mom and began reading the stories and comments of so many birth mothers. And because I didn't know the full truth, I was a "good" person who stood silent in the face of something bad. I didn't speak out even as my mom was harmed terribly by an unjust system.

It's never too late, though, so I'm saying it now. Adult adoptees need access to their original birth certificate, with no exceptions. Those who oppose this right are either doing so because they erroneously believe it is for some greater moral good, or they are covering something up. In Pennsylvania, a Senate Committee will hear an adoption bill in Harrisburg this fall, and in New York, a similar bill is pending. Change is coming, I hope. And along with that change is a whole lot of love for those who help give adopted children -- now adults -- their heritage back.

Filling in the pieces of my heritage. My Aunt Jo (my mom's sister, found last September), my girls, and me


  1. Thanks Jenn!! My birth father's family connected with me through 23andMe. I confirmed my Jewish heritage (I was raised Christian, sorta) and my new found cousin was appalled that my father let his children go after our people endured the holocaust. Maybe a bit dramatic but I love the passion for one's roots. Pete F.

  2. So very interesting. It always amazes me that everyone is encouraged to and even celebrated for seeking out his/her heritage UNLESS that person happens to be adopted. In that case, pretend it doesn't matter. As a Spanish teacher I can tell you that every single textbook has at least some lesson on the importance of one's 'raices,' or roots. I for one love finally knowing more about my heritage, and it doesn't take anything away from the deep love I have for my grandparents, the parents who raised my mom so beautifully. Thanks for the comment Pete. -Jenn

  3. My adoptive mother lives with us. She's almost 85. I asked her, tonight how she could go along with the system that denied me any knowledge of my family. I told her that my grandmother died in 1994, and i was never allowed to know her. I wansn't allowed to know who my own parents were. I asked her why I was treated differently than most people. I asked why family wasn't supposed to be improtant to me. I told her that so many people went along with this, my parents, the social workers, the adoption agency and her and my adoptive father.

    She had no answer to the question, "How could you do that to a child?". She had no answer to the question, "How would you feel if you were not allowed to know who your mother was?".

  4. Thanks, adoptomuss, for this comment. I am reading "The Primal Wound" by Nancy Newton Verrier for the first time. It is my mom's copy and she has marked many passages. Just before reading your comment I came upon this one, underlined and double-starred: "The taboo against talking about adoption as being different from a 'natural' family is very strong, not only within the families themselves, but in society as a whole. For instance, there were people who, when hearing about my research, wondered why I wanted to 'rock the boat' or 'upset the status quo' by introducing such controversial ideas as infants being able to differentiate between their birthmothers and their adoptive mothers. I find it revealing that none of those who objected was an adoptee. ... To those who asked me, when they heard of my study, 'Why would the separation from the birthmother affect a newborn baby?', I had to admit that I, at one time, asked the same question myself. Now, however, I believe the more appropriate question to be, 'How could the separation from the mother to whom he was connected for nine months NOT affect the infant?"

    My mom's personal story can perhaps convince more adoptive parents to become involved in the fight for adoptee rights. My mom, like you, was dedicated to her parents and took care of her mother until her mother's death at age 87. She loved her parents fiercely, in fact, and that love only deepened once she found out more about her biological family. I know this is not the case for all adoptees, but it was the case for my mom. I wish my grandmother had been able to meet my mom's sisters. I wish she had never gone along with the system, either. But I believe that she was just a product of the culture. With the right guidance, she would have come around. She was a good and loving person, and she loved and wanted the best for my mom. This is why it drives me crazy when adoption agencies (including the one my mom was adopted from) don't support adult adoptees right to their birth certificates. How could they? And what are they telling adoptive parents? They should know better. Again, thank you for the comment.


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