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Tragic Jewish mother-son story spurs exposé of cruel mid-century adoptions in US

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In 2014, David Rosenberg was reunited with his birth mother Margaret Erle Katz thanks to the modern miracle of at-home DNA testing.

Until then, Katz had seen Rosenberg, whom she had named Stephen Mark Erle upon his birth in December 1961, only twice before she was pressured by private and state authorities to give him up for adoption. She hadn’t even been allowed to hold him in the delivery room.

Katz, whose German-Jewish war refugee parents were scandalized by their teenage daughter’s pregnancy, calling her a hure (German for whore) to her face. They sent her to a home for unwed Jewish mothers in Staten Island, New York, for confinement until the birth.

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Katz and her boyfriend George, also the son of German-Jewish immigrants, married soon thereafter under the naïve assumption they could reclaim their son from foster care — or even adoption. They eventually realized how terribly mistaken they had been, but stayed together and went on to have three more children. ‘American Baby: A Mother, A Child and the Shadow History of Adoption’ by Gabrielle Glaser (Viking)

The mother-son reunion in 2014 was bittersweet. Katz had searched unsuccessfully for Rosenberg all his life, and by the time Rosenberg found her, he was dying from thyroid cancer. They had three weeks together shortly before he passed away.

“To learn just before he died that his mother loved him and hadn’t wanted to give him up for adoption brought him extraordinary peace at the end,” said journalist and writer Gabrielle Glaser, who has made Katz and Rosenberg’s story the backbone of her new book, “American Baby: A Mother, A Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption.”

The book is a damning indictment of the system of closed adoption of white children that prevailed in the United States from the 1950s through the 1970s, whereby an estimated 2.5-3 million young women were shamed for being sexually active and becoming pregnant, and then coerced into relinquishing their parental rights.

Prospective adoptive parents were forced to undergo months — or even years — of pseudoscientific psychological and sociological testing before being matched with a baby. In addition, they were often lied to about the education, health and socio-economic backgrounds of their adoptive child’s biological parents. Meanwhile, babies were kept in foster care for years, despite the fact that studies warning against the dangers of such practice had been widely published as early as 1952. Margaret Erle and George Katz at their high school prom (Courtesy of Margaret Erle Katz)

These were all parts of an effort to socially engineer families in an age when it was believed that nurture prevailed over nature.

Unlike today, when most adoptions are open and birth parents maintain a level of ongoing contact with the........

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