'Never before had I viewed my adoption file in the light of the scandals'

19 February 2023

On March 27, 1980, In-Soo Radstake arrived at Schiphol with eight others from South Korea. Their journey had started about twenty-four hours earlier from the Korean capital of Seoul to Tokyo and finally, via Alaska, ended in the Netherlands. And there a new journey began for him: an inner journey to find his way back to his identity.

I came to Rotterdam for love. As a starting filmmaker, I was actually on my way from Zwolle, where I had studied journalism, to Amsterdam: the beating heart of Dutch film making. But in 2003 I went to Rotterdam to research my first documentary called Made in Korea: a one-way ticket Seoul-Amsterdam? In this documentary I wanted to visit all eight adoptees who were on the same plane with me after almost twenty-five years. I was curious how they had experienced their adoption.

Poster for the documentary 'Made in Korea: a one-way ticket Seoul-Amsterdam?' Photo from personal archive In-Soo Radstake.

And one of those eight would become my girlfriend. I called it love at second sight because not long after our first meeting, in 2003 in a restaurant on the Meent, we fell in love with each other. She immediately made it clear to me that she lived in Rotterdam and did not want to leave here. The city reminded her of another port city, that of Busan in South Korea. The Rotterdam skyline with its tall buildings, the ships that sail on the Maas and the lights that burn everywhere. When she told me that, I had never been to South Korea, let alone Busan.

But that I had never been to South Korea, that was not right. I was born there, spent the first three months of my life in an orphanage in Seoul. Here in the Netherlands a second life began for me, with a Dutch father, a Dutch mother and a non-biological sister who was also adopted from South Korea. So I should have said that I had never been back.

Image from film footage of the arrival at Schiphol, with In-Soo's father on the left. Photo from personal archive In-Soo Radstake

My film and this meeting were the beginning of a long inner journey in which I went in search of my Korean roots. A journey in which I searched for an answer to the question whether I am a Dutchman or a Korean? This question is one that many other intercountry adoptees have asked themselves, but instead of a Korean, a Chinese, a Colombian, an Indonesian, and so on.

"Even if you only save one"

Adoption started in the Netherlands shortly after the Second World War. Jewish foster children who had lost their parents or had gone into hiding for a long time were adopted. This was not entirely without controversy at the time. For example, Jewish parents were 'suspended' from parental authority and there was (already at that time) discussions about what rights foster parents have over a child and the interests of the child itself.

After the Adoption Act was finally passed in the Netherlands in 1956, the first foreign adoptees came to the Netherlands. For now only from Europe. But the desire to adopt was sparked on a large scale in the Netherlands after writer Jan de Hartog was a guest on television at Mies Bouwman in 1967. The broadcast featured Jan de Hartog's two South Korean adopted children and De Hartog's legendary statement 'If you only save one', it did the rest. After the broadcast, the VARA was inundated with questions from Dutch television viewers who wondered how they could also get such a 'Korean'.

After the broadcast, the VARA was inundated with questions from Dutch television viewers who wondered how they could also get such a 'Korean'.

However, this was not possible at that time. Dutch law did not allow children from non-European countries to be adopted. It was not until 1974 that the law was revised and with that the wave of adoption really started. There are about 55,000 intercountry adoptees living in the Netherlands today, slightly more than can fit in a full Kuip.

'Father unknown, Mother unknown'

Back to my own quest. I am one of the 55,000 intercountry adoptees, and more specifically one of the more than 4,000 adoptees from South Korea. I grew up knowing that there was no record of my biological father and mother. That was on the front page of the four sheets of information that I brought with me when I arrived in the Netherlands.

Front page of the adoption file. Photo from personal archive In-Soo Radstake

In principle, therefore, I had no interest whatsoever in looking for biological family, since there were no real leads. This changed after I heard that adoption files of adoptees in the Netherlands regularly did not match the files in the orphanages in Korea. This was the trigger for me to travel to South Korea anyway and to investigate whether there might be information. This was indeed the case. A fight ensued at the orphanage to get my biological mother's name and date of birth, and an endless tour of police stations in various parts of the metropolis of Seoul. I recorded the entire search and my personal development in it in the film Made in Korea. It had its world premiere in Busan (where else) and then had its international premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2007.

Central to that film is my search for who I actually am: a Dutchman or a Korean. My conclusion is that I have become better balanced as a person with my Korean background. I also realize that I don't have to choose: I am both. And I owe that to making that movie and the process I went through. Before, I knew nothing about the culture, the history, the country, the language, the how and why of adoption. Some of these questions have been partially answered, others not yet.

Adoption Report Commission Joustra

At the beginning of 2021, the Joustra Commission's adoption report was published. This committee investigated 40 years of abuses surrounding intercountry adoption. The hard-hitting report shows that papers have been forged on a large scale in foreign adoptions, information has been erased and adoptees are often unable to trace their roots.

My adoption file stated: ' father unknown, mother unknown ' . At the time, the omissions in this dossier – unexpectedly – ??already triggered a lot in me. But never before had I viewed my adoption file in the light of the scandals of this recently published report. Lies. Fraud. Misappropriation of information, which is mine. Identity fraud with the knowledge of all kinds of organizations and even the government. Why not, I wonder now.

Because I realize that without making my film, without doing all sorts of tricks like filming a computer screen in a police station, and without the help of Korean media, I would never have been able to find my birth mother. But not everyone has that luck and that opportunity. And that is why this research in South Korea is of great importance. That everyone can view their own file, without having to jump through all kinds of hoops.

Without playing all kinds of tricks, I would never have managed to find my biological mother.

The report of the Joustra Committee has put my identity in a different light. Truths that I often took for granted in my hunt for my roots. Like I already assumed that the search would not be easy. Almost as if it goes without saying that things go the way they do and that I, as an adoptee, normalize without realizing it. These are truths that, now that I have two children of my own, hit me all the harder. Because, it's not normal.

Sander Dekker, the then Minister of Legal Protection, also understood this. Dekker received the report and followed the committee's recommendation to immediately suspend intercountry adoption until further notice. In his speech, Dekker said that it is a fundamental right to know where you come from and that the government has not done what should have been expected of it: “They should have taken a more active role in preventing abuses. And that is a painful realization. Apologies are in order for this. And I therefore offer those apologies to the adoptees today on behalf of the cabinet.”

But what are these excuses worth if his successor, Minister Franc Weerwind, and the new cabinet then decide to allow intercountry adoption again? His predecessor said in his speech that he did not want to put his hand in the fire that every adoption is a pure adoption according to the Hague adoption treaty. Let me ask Minister Weerwind a question: would you jump out of a plane if you were not sure whether the parachute will open?

The adoption report of the Joustra Committee has caused quite a stir internationally among adoptees, adoptive parents, adoption organizations and politicians. In Belgium, the Minister of Welfare has proposed an 'adoption break'. Sweden has also announced that it will launch a major investigation into abuses. And in December 2022, South Korea decided to investigate adoptions of adoptees who were adopted from abroad without parental consent. The investigation will be conducted by South Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All this thanks to the efforts of the Danish lawyer Peter Regel Møller, himself adopted from South Korea, and the Danish-Korean Rights Group (DKRG). More than three hundred adoptees from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Australia and America have presented their case. Including myself.


For decades, people have spoken for us, spoken about us, decided for and about us, articles, radio and TV programs have been made about us that have partly determined the stereotypical image of adoptees. Decades in which the influence of the prospective parent lobby dominated the voice of adoptees. Decades in which the Dutch government looked away from the abuses, because of the – almost colonial – feeling that 'we' were doing something good and 'giving children a better future'. We went through this as a child and young adult. We do not have an active role in our own narrative, that only arises when you start searching yourself.

As adoptees in the Netherlands, we actually only now have a voice and can therefore contribute to a better representation of our narrative.

We went through this as a child and young adult. We do not have an active role in our own narrative, that only arises when you start searching yourself.

Can you miss something you never had? For a long time I thought not. But now I think differently. I notice it every time I am in Seoul. Every second there is a confrontation with what you are not (anymore), or have not become and no longer have: the culture, the language, the history. I don't stand out and I can be anonymous. A city where you can also feel lost and where so much has been left behind that has been lost.

But in a strange way, Rotterdam has connected me more deeply to South Korea than any other place on earth. Here in Rotterdam I went to a Korean restaurant for the first time, saw my first Korean films. And in the multicultural melting pot that this city is, I don't stand out as a Korean like in all kinds of other places in the Netherlands, or beyond. Here I also learned to integrate my Korean and Dutch identity and I am looked at with the same amazement as in Seoul when I explain in fluent Korean in the Korean toko in Spanje Polder that I don't speak Korean.

Over the past few months, I've been revisiting everything related to my adoption, such as documents and photos. I'm currently working on a sequel to Made in Korea . More than fifteen years later I see things in a new perspective and there are new questions and insights that I want to explore.

In the very first photograph ever taken of me, and the only one of me as a newborn (I was probably ten days old at the most), I lie on my back with a roll of film between my hands. Looking at that, I now think: apparently it was supposed to be that I would become a filmmaker.

Baby photo of In-Soo. Photo from personal archive In-Soo Radstake

In-Soo Radstake wrote this personal story on behalf of the Meer dan Babi Pangang foundation . The foundation aims to make the Asian community in the Netherlands more visible.