' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A Child of War Discovers 'Dad' Killed Her Parents

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Child of War Discovers 'Dad' Killed Her Parents

The difference between truth and reality in an adoptee's life comes crashing down on all adoptees who grow up not knowing the truth, but few with such harsh reality as that of Victoria Montenegro. She grew up as the daughter of the man who tortured and killed her parents. This happened during the civil strife in Argentina, it happened in the Seventies and early Eighties, when the military dictatorship ruled, the Catholic Church stood by and did nothing as babies were taken from the parents in clandestine detention centers and handed over to military or security officials, or even third parties. The new parents were supposed to hide the true identities of the babies. (Yesterday's New York Times* reported the story.)

Ms. Montenegro, now 35, grew up as the daughter of Col. Hernan Tetzlaff, first learned there might be a possibility that her father was involved in baby stealing
when she was 15 and he was detained briefly. But it was not for another five years that a court confirmed that she was not the biological child of Tetzlaff or his wife; however, even then, she thought that must be a lie. Not only did she grow up believing him to be a defender of democracy against "subversives," she had been thoroughly indoctrinated by him against the "subversives," and came to believe that torture had been a necessary tool in Argentina's recent bloody history.

It took a search by a human rights group, a DNA match to people who had been tortured and murdered, and almost a decade of denial for her to accept that the man she called "papa" was not her father, nor the war hero he portrayed himself to be. Eventually, he broke down over dinner one night in 2000 and confessed that he had headed the operation in which her parents were tortured and killed. When he went to prison, she visited him until he died in 2003.

Ms. Montenegro's story--unusual in the depth of its horror--reminded me of the first/birth mothers who learn that their children were raised in ways that are so very antithetical to their own beliefs, and the distress that causes the mothers. Conservative verus liberal, no organized religion versus evangelical or Catholic or one of the fringe groups, such as Jehovah's Witness--it adds to the unhappiness and grief, and  exacerbates a sense of how very wrong giving up our child was. However, the children, inculcated into a different political mindset and opposing religion, do not express grief at learning they would be probably quite different; they are who they are. They cannot undo the past like rewinding a movie reel.

I read at an adoptee blog once of the overwhelming feelings that surface when first confronted with one's biological parents--the life not lived, the different person one might be, the sorrow not known--it all comes crashing down, I expect, as an emotional waterfall the size of Niagara. Even in dealing with the daughter of my first love, someone I could have married, I still find the emotions at times overwhelming. Because if I had married her father...no daughter given up, et cetera. Yes, there are times I still weep.

The few Jewish couples I know who adopted were unable to get Jewish babies, because there were so few. Many Jewish girls from the Baby Scoop Era found a way to get an abortion, as there are no religious prohibitions against them. And the adopted Jews I know dropped all connection to the faith when they became older. Though my daughter Jane was adopted by Catholics much more serious about their religion that I was and am, when we connected it was comforting to learn that she had been raised Catholic, as were both of my granddaughters. What they do with that basis is up to them, but I don't feel like a foreigner to them in that regard. Count me fortunate.

While Ms. Montenegro's story is as horrific as it is dramatic, she found it difficult to accept the reality of her life--that her parents were kidnapped when she was 13 days old, that she was taken by Tetzlaff when she was four months old. As she told the Times reporter Alexei Barrionuevo: “This was a process; it wasn’t one moment or one day when you erase everything and begin again,” she said. “You are not a machine that can be reset and restarted.”

Eventually she told her children that their grandfather was not the brave soldier he had told them he was, and that he was a murderer. At a trial last spring in Buenos Aires, she testified and used her original name, Victoria, and not Maria Sol as the Tetzlaffs had given her. "It was very liberating." She adds that she does not hate the Tetzlaffs. 

The baby thefts were largely unique to Argentina, because even as similar violence raged in nearby Chile, the Catholic Church in Argentina supported the military regime, as opposed to in Chile where it confronted it and sought to expose its crimes. Priests justified their actions on national security reasons, and the fear that the children would be raised as godless leftists. Ms. Montenegro contended: “They thought they were doing something Christian to baptize us and give us the chance to be better people than our parents. They thought and felt they were saving our lives.” Oh, where have I heard that before in regard to adoption? From just about every defender of large-scale international adoption, starting with academics like Elizabeth Bartholet and extended to churches such as the Mormons and the whole state of Utah, both which foster a culture where single parenthood is discouraged and adoption promoted. 
                                                                  *    *    *
The abduction of more than 500 babies was one of the most traumatic chapters of the military regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, and the frantic effort by mothers and grandmothers to locate the missing children has never let up. When I visited Buenos Aires in 1981, the Mothers of the Plaza demonstrated, as I recall, on Mondays; I did not have the opportunity to see them. But imposing men in khaki uniforms were a decided presence in the dining room of our hotel and gave the whole city a militaristic feel. We were glad to leave.

The story of babies such as Ms.Montenegro was the subject of a movie  featuring an upper middle class family raising such a stolen girl. Called The Official Story, it won several awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film of 1985. It's a gripping, moving film whose haunting images and story will stay with you. I can still conjure up scenes from the movie. Netflicks will have it.--lorraine
*Daughter of ‘Dirty War,’ Raised by Man Who Killed Her Parents
The following video is in Spanish.


  1. When men interfere with nature, the results are often deplorable, as was the case with the BSE and these War Children. It is interesting to me that the Church is so very heavily invested in controlling the populace and deciding who is worthy to parent and who isn't. Instead of this, one would think that they would be just as heavily invested in making sure that the families that God has chosen to be the parents of the child that He sends would be protected and cared for instead of exploited and murdered.

    Is it really that much different to kill a young woman's soul as they did to the mothers of the BSE in the US, UK, AUS and Canada?

    It is interesting that in all these cases, the baby is the only party that has worth, and the mothers and fathers are like chaff to be disposed of and not given another thought. Lends continued credence to the commodity theory of adoption.

  2. I stop by often but today I must post anonymously. I don't want to tick off my daughter. 
    I was ready to embrace my daughters amother. Before meeting her I just expected that she would be lovely. Well, I was wrong. She was very mean to our daughter the weekend I met her.  She favors her other adopted child. In fact she's a total narcissist. And sadly, she's the rock star of the parental unit. The father was a pedifile.  He abused my daughter.  In early childhood the parents were divorced and my daughter was raised by a single woman. But I was unfit based on my marital status. Geesh. 
    And yet, I give the amom credit. First off she divorced the sick husband.  She raised a lovely daughter (even if she can't see the loveliness). She persevered and did her best.
    And even with all the trauma my daughter would have it no other way. She likes her life. She likes herself. I wonder if Nazi survivors are happy for the experience because without it they would be different and they like who they are.
    Anonymous gem. 

  3. This is off topic but I don't see an email address. I stop by from time to time and would love to see the issue of men dominating the open adoption narrative addressed here.

  4. @Anonymous gem:

    Nazi survivors are a whole 'nother story.


  5. Anon,

    Men dominating "open adoption narrative"? Could you explain what or who you're referring to.

  6. Nazi survivors WTF? Holocaust survivors I have met and heard speak are most definitely not "happy for their experience!" No comparison here.

  7. I told my husband recently that after many years of soul searching and rehashing old relationship problems (including my lack of one with my aparents, but the constant need to protect and please them), I must surely suffer from Stockholm syndrome. I spent a moment reassuring him that, no, I wasn't referring to him, that I actually feel quite capable of leaving him at any time (lol!) But seriously, isn't this what the young woman in your post must have been feeling, as well? Isn't it what many of us adoptees must somehow go through, whether "relinquished" or stolen; isn't our Primal Wound, at it's basic level, a survival instinct in the face of the greatest fear we, as humans, can ever face?

  8. Great post. the Dirty War was horrific. I can understand the feelings of distress in finding that out but still - they raised you. Talk about paradoxical feelings.

    I was reading a book from the 1930's written by I think a priest (googled and that is what turned up) about the Orphan Trains and it talked about the Catholics being upset because so many of the riders were Catholic and being adopted by and raised Protestants. How the Catholics then tried the same but realized it was "better" to build orphanages and get the state money so the kids stayed Catholic. Neither solution was good but house them in orphanage solely so they remained Catholic? Really - that is all it takes to ensure the best interests of the child?

  9. This is the book I was talking about:

    Poverty, U.S.A. The Historical Record published in 1930 by John O'Grady

  10. While this case is horrific and extreme I think it serves as a reminder that anyone who is embarking on a search needs to be prepared. No one knows what they will discover and it is necessary to think beforehand if one can handle any truth that s/he may find. Easier said than done, of course, since no one can fully know how they will respond to what they discover but it is important to give careful consideration before beginning a search.

  11. The Orphan Trains were only incidentally anti-Catholic. The stronger impetus was anti-immigrant, many of whom were from Catholic countries in Europe. The idea was to round up the street children of the slums of NY and send them to "wholesome" American farm families in the Midwest. This whole idea was not unlike some aspects of International adoption today, "saving" the children of the poor from their family and culture, as well as from some truly awful circumstances in some cases. It grew out of attitudes similar to those we still have with us against more recent immigrant groups.

    Child labor was legal and dangerous and there was no help for poor families from the state, and the many problems we have now among the poor were there 100 years ago as well, just the names and faces and ethnic groups have changed. Many of the orphan train adoptions were for free farm labor and the kids were more indentured servants than family members. Unlike today there was no demand for infants, as they could not work.

    The Catholic Church response to build orphanages, while it turned out not to be any better than the orphan trains, was understandable as far as at least keeping kids in their neighborhood, and more or less in their own culture. There were also Jewish homes for orphans. All of these attempts to care for children from troubled families were religiously bases, because the state did little or nothing for poor children until later.

  12. How does a child live with and cope with the findings of the murderer/abductor/abuser - as their parent? I guess I don't get that. My mother is abusive. I don't have anything to do with her and as little contact with or about her as I can get away with (sibs, you know). I want nothing to do with her. I simply state - even to myself - I am not her and I do not have to feed into her crap by bothering to attempt or be part of her world.

    I can't even begin to imagine what an adoptee goes through when they discover this kind of stuff!

  13. According to historian Wayne Carp in "Family Matters," some of the children put on the orphan train were not orphans nor were they living in the street. Charles Loring Brace, the minister who started collecting children and putting them on trains took children from their homes in cases where he thought they would be better off. Many were Catholic and the children of immigrants. Once children were taken, Brace did everything he could to keep them from reuniting with their families.

  14. Jane,

    That's exactly what happened to my great-grandfather. His mother died and his father struggled to keep the family together. My great-grandfather was in and out of a home and finally sent on a train. He was taken in by a family here in Illinois. His life was that of a farmhand. I have copies of correspondence between his father and the home that sent him away asking for him to come back as he was being mistreated. Of course that didn't happen. By the time he was old enough his father had passed on and he lost connection with his sisters.

    They were not Catholic just poor immigrants from England.

  15. This is such a chilling post... so many of us have had to try to intergrate the "fantasy" with the truth... not just the "adoption is wonderful" fantasy, but almost always, a horrible injustice caused us to be who we are. I cannot imagine how she cannot hate the Tezlaff's, and yet strangely... I can.

    God help us all... much love to all the mom's and kid's who have been done such injustice. It never ends.

    Respectfully, and with love,




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