Greek Orphanages

Figure 1.--This photograph was taken at historic Marathon some time in 1915 or 16. A group of Armenian and Greek orphans in the care of Near East Relief after being brough out of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) to safety in Greece. Photograph by Near East Relief. Bain News Service photograph. Image courtesy of George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

HBC has little information on Greek orphanages. There were at least three periods were orphanages were of great need in Greece. After independence (1830), after the Asia Minor War following World War I (1920s) and after World War II (1945-50s). There is also a detailed description from a book about a 1830 orphanage. The first governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, founded the first orphanage in Greece for the children that were orphaned during the independence war. The orphanage was founded in 1828 in Poros island and it was soon transfered to Aegina island. It hosted 600 children. Orphanages came to play an even more important role on the 20th century, especially following World War I and II. Some pictures show that boys were wearing uniforms, especially in the 1920s.

Early Orphanage

The first governor of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, founded the first orphanage in Greece for the children that were orphaned during the Independence War. The orphanage was founded in 1828 in Poros island and it was soon transfered to Aegina island. It hosted 600 children. The following text is consisted of extraits, related to clothing, from one of Kapodistrias letters.

"Poros, 14 March 1828.
Mr. Kalergis should give you the outfits for the children of the orphanage. These include a kilt (foustanela), two shirts, two pairs of underwear, one pair of shoes, a hat (fes), a blanket and a belt. Before you dress the children, you should give them haircuts and wash them good. They should change their shirts and underwear every eight days. The maid should wash them. [...] The rugs that the children are wearing should be washed and kept in a place along with the number and the name of each child. [...] Along with the directions for clothing, I include in the letter, directions for punishments that should be administered. [...] Undiscipline, unobedience, revolt and lying should be punished by the following: The first time, by lecturing. The second time, by reducing the food to the half. The third time, by undressing the child of its new clothes and dress it with its old rugged outfit. If the child does not regret he should keep his old clothes at least for 24 hours. The other children will decide about the continuation of his punishment. The dressing and undressing should take place with all the children present. [...] "[losely translated from the Greek text]
One of the most fampus Greek orphanage is the Prinkipo Greek Orphanage (also known as Prinkipo Palace or BŁyŁkada Greek Orphanage) located on a Turkish island. It is a huge wooden building BŁyŁkada, one of the nine Princes' Islands off the coast of Constantinople/Istanbul. It is considered the largest wooden building in Europe and second largest in the world. It was built for the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the European passenger train company that operated the Orient Express (1898). Sultan Abdul Hamid II refused to issue a permit for its operation. As a result, the wife of a prominent Greek banker, Eleni Zarifi, donated it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was operated as an orphanage (1903-64). The Turkish Governmnt during the Cyprus crisis forcefully closed it (1964).

Balkan Wars (1912-13)

Greece fought in both Balkan Wars (1912-13). First a coalition of Balkan states attacked the Turks. Then after defeating the Turks, the Balkan states fought each other, primarily Bulgaria. This was not just a war among armies, but there was wide-spread attrocities against civilians. Villafes and tosns were burned and civilians murdered and displaced. Thus a substantial number of orphans needed care as a result of the Wars.

Armenian Genocide (1915- )

The Turks during World War I began killing Armenians. The Armenian Genocide was an early example of ethnic cleanings. The Young Tutks controlling the Ottomon wanted a more uniform Turkish population in Anatolia so as to project Turlish power to the east. They succeeded in decimated the Armenian population in Anatolia. Small numbers of Armenians were able to seek refuge in Greece. Thus many Greek orphanages at this time had children displaced by the Balkans Wars (1912-13) and the Armeninan Genocide (1915- ). Greek families were also targeted by the Turks during World war I, but nothing on the scale of the Armenians.

World War I

Some pictures show that boys were wearing uniforms, especially in the 1920s. In the early 20th century, the wave of refugees from the Minor Asia (now Turkey) territories brought a new need for orphanages in Greece. This was not a result of the World War as fighting in Greece was limited during the War. Rather fighting occurred in Turkey. The Greeks participated in the Allied occupation of areas in Anatolia (Asi Minor). The Greeks used this opportunity to launch a campaign to seize areas along the Turkish coast with Greek ethnic populations and move on the Turkish capital. After the Allies wihdrew, the Greeks suffered military reverses and had to withdraw. Turkish reprisals on civilians resulted in a mass exodus. Later the Greek and Turkish Governments negotiated an exchange of population. A special commitee was formed for the refugees. Orphanages were set up for displaced children. The orphanages of this period seem to have special uniforms for the boys consisting of shorts, knee socks, shirt and hats (figure 1).

World War II

Fighting during World War II in Greece and the brutal NAZI/Fascist occupation caused the deaths of many Greek children as well as created many orphans. Unlike some counties, the Germans released the interned Greek Army and the War dead were fairly limited in Worl War terms. The Greek resistance, however, was active during the War. The Greeks organized one of the most effective ressistance movements. The Germans retaliated brutally by taking hostages and executing many more civilians than the Resistance fighters they managed to capture. Many children were as a result orphaned. And the famine which developed created more prphans. Greece had one of the most serious orphan problems among NAZI occupied countries. As Greek children were not light complexioned, they do not appear to have been involved in the NAZI Lebensborn Program. The Gerrmans were after young children with blond hair abnd blue eyes. Age was important because older children may have been corupted with nationalist sentiment. And more orphans were created after the War as a result of the Communist inspired Civil War. And as a final hideous action, the Communists kidnapped thousands of children ho were made orhphans by the action and settled in Communist Eastern Europe. Most of these children were mot orphans and had parents. Some Greek orphans were adoped by Americans.

Post-War Period

After the War, new orphanages were build. There does not appear to have been any special uniforms for the children. After the War, Communist guerillas waged a Civil War and fifhting contunued through 1948. As the Coammunist saw that they could not seize power, they sent about 23,700 children to the Communist countries of the Balkans and Hungary where they could be trained for a future Communist Greece. Some of these children were the children of the guerilla fighters and Communist Party memmbers. Others appear to have been kidnapped. I am not sure what happened to them. During the 1950s some corrupt orphanages sold children to prosperous families in the United States.


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Created: May 9, 2002
Last updated: 8:56 PM 3/6/2019