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Missing, Lost, and Displaced Children in Postwar Germany: The Great Struggle to Provide for the War's Youngest Victims

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2015

Michelle Mouton
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

In the final months of World War II, more than a million German children took to the roads in search of family and home. Although the majority returned home with little institutional support, hundreds of thousands of other German children could not. Some were orphaned; others remained in camps, children's homes, or foster families in areas that no longer belonged to Germany. Most challenging for authorities were those who were alone and too young to know their own names. This article explores the struggle to locate, identify, and provide for missing, lost, and displaced German children after 1945. It argues that despite a general agreement that children were in peril, Allied denazification policies and the decision by the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) not to help “enemy children” compromised care for children. The division of Germany and the onset of the Cold War further handicapped efforts to aid children by preventing the creation of a unified search service. Yet, despite the many postwar impediments, the effort to care for these children was remarkably successful in the end.

Über eine Million deutscher Kinder machten sich in den letzten Monaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges auf den Weg, um ihre Familien und ihr Zuhause zu suchen. Während die Mehrheit von ihnen mit wenig institutioneller Hilfe nach Hause zurückkehrte, konnten hunderttausende anderer deutscher Kinder das nicht. Einige wurden Waisen; andere verblieben in Lagern, Kinderheimen oder Pflegefamilien in Gebieten, die nicht mehr zu Deutschland gehörten. Die größte Herausforderung für die Behörden stellten diejenigen dar, die alleine waren und zu jung, um ihre eigenen Namen zu kennen. Dieser Aufsatz untersucht die Bemühungen vermisste, verlorene und heimatvertriebene deutsche Kinder nach 1945 zu finden, zu identifizieren und für sie zu sorgen. Er behauptet, dass trotz der generellen Auffassung, dass Kinder in Gefahr waren, die alliierte Entnazifizierungspolitik und die Entscheidung der Nothilfe- und Wiederaufbauverwaltung der Vereinten Nationen (UNRRA) „Feindeskindern“ nicht zu helfen das Wohl der Kinder gefährdete. Die Teilung Deutschlands und der Beginn des Kalten Krieges erschwerten die Hilfsbemühungen um die Kinder zusätzlich, indem die Gründung eines geeinten Suchdienstes verhindert wurde. Trotz dieser zahlreichen Hindernisse waren die Bemühungen für diese Kinder zu sorgen aber letztendlich bemerkenswert erfolgreich.

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Copyright © Central European History Society of the American Historical Association 2015 

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References

1 Frau W., interview with the author, Münster, May 24, 2011.

2 Sumowski, Hans-Burkhard, “Jetzt war ich ganz allein auf der Welt”. Erinnerungen an eine Kindheit in Königsberg, 1944–1947 (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2007)Google Scholar.

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5 Transport lists from homes document that most children (including two of the interviewees for this article) were picked up by their parents before the transports left. Children whose parents could not pick them up before evacuation were often among the lost.

6 Interview with Frau W.

7 Frau Charlotte, interview with the author, Munich, May 27, 2012.

8 Probert-Wright, Bärbel, An der Hand meiner Schwester (Munich: Knaur Taschenbuch Verlag, 2008), 74Google Scholar.

9 During the summers of 2011 and 2012, I conducted interviews with sixty-six Germans who experienced the war as children. Females made up 60 percent of the group, males the remaining 40 percent. The youngest interviewee was born in 1942 and the oldest in 1930. Though not demographically or geographically balanced, the cohort consists of individuals who had grown up in small towns in Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg, as well as in Berlin, Kiel, Munich, and Leipzig. Seventeen of the sixty-six had fled from East Prussia and Silesia.

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20 For Jewish children, see Grossmann, Atina, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gafny, Emunah Nachmany, Dividing Hearts: The Removal of Jewish Children from Gentile Families in Poland in the Immediate Post-Holocaust Years (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2009)Google Scholar; Wolf, Diane L., Beyond Anne Frank: Hidden Children and Postwar Families in Holland (Berkeley: University of California, 2007)Google Scholar; Marks, Jane, The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust (New York: Fawcett, 1993)Google Scholar. For the children of Allied soldiers, see Fehrenbach, Heide, Race after Hitler: Black Occupation Children in Postwar Germany and America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005)Google Scholar. On Wolfskinder, i.e., war orphans who remained outside families and institutional control, sometimes for decades after the war, see Winterberg, Sonya, Wir sind die Wolfskinder (Munich: Piper Verlag, 2012)Google Scholar. For Lebensborn children, the “racially-select” children fathered by Wehrmacht soldiers or kidnapped from the Nazi-occupied territories, see Olsen, Kåre, Vater: Deutscher. Das Schicksal der norwegischen Lebensbornkinder und ihrer Mütter von 1940 bis heute, trans. Drolshagen, Ebba D. (Frankfurt/Main: Campus Sachbuch, 2002)Google Scholar; Schmitz-Köster, Dorothee, “Deutsche Mutter, bist du bereit”. Alltag im Lebensborn (Berlin: Aufbau Taschenbuch, 2003)Google Scholar.

21 W. Karin Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony: Orphans, Abandoned Children, and the Sovietization of the Youth Welfare System in Mecklenburg, Germany (1945–1952),” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1998).

22 The perception of German citizens' status as victims was shaped by the publication of studies on the victims of Allied bombing raids, on German refugees from the East, and on German women who were raped by Soviet soldiers. See, e.g., Friedrich, Jörg, The Fire: The Bombing of Germany 1941–1945, trans. Brown, Allison (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006)Google Scholar; Knopp, Guido, Die grosse Flucht. Das Schicksal der Vertriebenen (Munich: Ullstein Verlag, 2002)Google Scholar; Naimark, The Russians in Germany, 69–140.

23 For important studies on children in the aftermath of World War II, see Douglas, R. M., Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2012)Google Scholar; Nicholas, Lynn, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)Google Scholar. See also Kossert, Andreas, Kalte Heimat (Munich: Siedler Verlag, 2008)Google Scholar; Urban, Thomas, Der Verlust: Die Vertreibung der Deutschen und Polen im 20. Jahrhundert (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2006)Google Scholar; Knopp, Die grosse Flucht; Naimark, Norman, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001)Google Scholar.

24 Among the most compelling are Mahlendorf, Ursula, The Shame of Survival: Working through a Nazi Childhood (University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Sumowski, “Jetzt war ich ganz allein.”

25 Stargardt, Nicholas, Witnesses of War: Children's Lives under the Nazis (New York: Vintage Books 2005)Google Scholar.

26 Zahra, Lost Children. See also her article Enfants et purification ethnique dans la Tchécoslovaquie d'après-guerre,” Annales 66, no. 2 (2011): 449–77Google Scholar.

27 Fehrenbach, “War Orphans,” 190.

28 For the concept of “history from the inside out,” see Steege, Paul, Market, Black, Cold War: Everyday Life in Berlin, 1946–1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)Google Scholar, 4.

29 There experiences have been addressed elsewhere. See footnote 20.

30 UNRRA Child Search Branch workers regularly rejected the file of any child found to be ethnic German and sent it to the Kindersuchdienst.

31 This took place after the suicide of DRK president Ernst Robert Grawitz became known and as the SS-leadership fled. See Morgenbrod and Merkenich, Das Deutsche Rote Kreuz, 417-23.

32 Morgenbrod and Merkenich, Das Deutsche Rote Kreuz, 426-28.

33 A newspaper, the Suchzeitung, provided people living in the Soviet zone with pictures of lost children, as well as information about the search process and adoption. Through the 1947 DEFA film “. . . und alles wird wieder gut,” the East German motion picture industry went further in educating the public about how to search for missing children. See Landesarchiv Berlin (LAB), C118, 795, report on Uraufführung des Suchdienst-Filmes “. . . und alles wird wieder gut,” Nov. 14, 1947.

34 Morgenbrod and Merkenich, Das Deutsche Rote Kreuz, 429.

35 Ibid., 422–30.

Ibid

36 Böhme, Gesucht, 38.

37 Ibid., 20–38.

Ibid

38 Wille, Manfred, “Compelling the Assimilation of Expellees in the Soviet Zone of Occupation and the GDR,” in Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944–1948, ed. Ther, Philipp and Siljak, Ana (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), 266Google Scholar.

39 Bernhard, “Die Geschichte des Kindersuchdienstes,” 69.

40 Böhme, Gesucht, 103.

41 Bernhard, “Die Geschichte des Kindersuchdienstes,” 24-26.

42 Few children were lost in the West—with the exception of big cities like Hamburg, where many children were evacuated without their families to avoid the bombings. See Bernhard, “Die Geschichte des Kindersuchdienstes,” 38.

43 See Niven, Bill, ed. Die Wilhelm Güstloff. Geschichte und Erinnerung eines Untergangs (Halle: Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2011)Google Scholar.

44 For reports on individual searches, see Deutsches Rote Kreuz Archiv München (DRKM), H-1838.

45 DRKM, H-1603, Akten II, letter from Hans Szperlinski to Stadt Rendsburg, n.d.

46 Archiv Diakonisches Werk (ADW), CA/O Nr. 279, letter from Karla B. to Central Ausschuss für Innere Mission der evangelische Kirche, n.d.

47 The UNRRA Central Tracing Bureau, founded in 1945, was moved to Bad Arolsen, a town that had not been bombed during the war, had telegraph and rail transport, and was close to all the occupation zones. In 1947, when UNRRA closed its operations, the Preparatory Commission of the International Refugee Organization (PCIRO) took over and, in July 1947, renamed the search service the International Tracing Service. See Biedermann, Charles-Claude, Über die 10,5 millionen. 60 Jahre Geschichte und Nutzen der beim Internationalen Suchdienst verwahrten personenbezogenen Dokumentation über die ehemaligen zivilen Verfolgten des NS-Regimes (Bad Arolsen: Wildner-Druck, 2003), 1016Google Scholar.

48 DRKM, KSD H-2071, letter from J. Rondot, Child Care Field Representative, to Zone Child Care Officer, Attn. Miss V. Lewis, Aug. 5, 1949.

49 The disappearance of her son Horst demonstrated that even siblings who got lost together could end up separated. See DRKM, H-1838, Bericht zu AI/M7912, n.d.

50 International Tracing Archive (ITS), Lebensborn 10, March 1946; DRKM, B88, Szperlinski, “Der Kindersuchdienst des Deutschen Roten Kreuzes.”

51 Böhme, Gesucht, 70.

52 DRKM, Archiv Unterlagen (March 1, 1964–April 30, 1964), Alice von Obernberg, “Erinnerinungen einer Rotkreuz-Helferin, 1942–1948,” April 1964.

53 ITS, Lebensborn 10, May 12, 1947.

54 The file does not indicate whether these boys were reunited with their family. See DRKM, B88, letter from Familie M. to Kindersuchdienst, Jan. 25, 1948.

55 DRKM, B88, Szperlinski, “Der Kindersuchdienst”; DRKM, H-1603, “Das namenlose Findelkind vom Kindersuchdienst ausgesehen,” n.d.

56 Interview with Frau W.

57 DRKM, 3509, letter from Frau M. to Kindersuchdienst, Dec. 19, 1947.

58 DRKM, 3509, letter from Sr. Baptista Lowak to Evangelisches Lutheranisches Pfarramt, Sept. 23, 1946.

59 DRKM, 3509, letter from Frau M. to Suchdienst Würzburg, Nov. 23, 1947.

60 Interview with Frau Charlotte; Mahlendorf, The Shame of Survival, 197-98.

61 Detlev F., interview with the author, Münster, May 22, 2011.

62 ADW, CA/O Nr. 279, letter from E. Gregory to Central-Ausschuss für die Innere Mission, Feb. 17, 1948.

63 See, e.g., DRKM, H-1326, letter from Mrs. C.S.E. to DRK, Sept. 20, 1951.

64 Adoption von Flüchtlingskindern,” Suchzeitung 13, no. 1 (Sept. 1947): 2Google Scholar.

65 LAB C, Rep 118, report from Herr G., Sept. 3, 1945.

66 DRKM, H-1603, letter, Kultusminister des Landes Schleswig-Holstein an Pfarrer des Pfarramtes Potsdam Bornstedt, Sept. 17, 1952; Bundesarchiv Koblenz (BAK), B 106/24431, letter from Dr. Wagner, Suchdienst Hamburg, to Bundesminsterium Vertriebene Kriegsgefangenabteilung, June 4, 1953.

67 DRKM, H-1603, letter from Dr. Wagner to DRK Generalsekretariat, Dec. 7, 1951.

68 Parents who had taken time out from the search (e.g., to reestablish themselves economically or to find housing) were believed to have forfeited their parental rights. See DRKM H-1603, letter from Deutsches Rotes Kreuz Suchdienst Hamburg to DRK Generalsekretariat, Dec. 7, 1951. See also BAK B106/24431, letters from Dr. Wagner to Bundesministerium für Vertriebene Kriegsgefangenenabteilung, Jan. 12, 1953, and from Herr Bergner, Bundesminister der Justiz, to DRK Suchdienst Hamburg, Dec. 18, 1952.

69 DRKM, H-1603, Szperlinski, “Das Namenlose Findelkind vom Kindersuchdienst aus gesehen,” Oct. 28, 1952.

70 BAK B106/24431, letter from Dr. Wagner to Bundesministerium für Vertriebene Kriegsgefangenenabteilung, Jan. 12, 1953.

71 BAK B106/24431, letter from Bundesministerium der Justiz Kniebes to Bundesminister des Innern, July 12, 1972, and letter from Bundesministerium der Justiz to DRK Herr Dr. Kokott, Feb. 12, 1973.

72 See copy of “Mein Mann soll entscheiden. Die Nachkriegstragödie einer Deutschen Familie,” Weltbild, no. 7 (April 1, 1950), in DRKM H-1603.

73 An estimated 27 percent of all refugees were children, which means that there were 3.4 percent more children in the forced migration population than in the general SBZ population. See Wille, “Compelling the Assimilation,” 266.

74 Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony,” 51.

75 Ibid., 4.

Ibid

76 Quoted in Wille, “Compelling the Assimilation,” 276.

77 Ibid.

Ibid

78 Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony,” 235.

79 Bundesarchiv Berlin (BAB) DQ2 3862, Katholishes Pfarramt St. Antonius Chemnitz Alt, Feb. 1, 1946.

80 BAB DQ2 3892, Deutsche Verwaltung für Volksbildung, Jan. 24, 1948.

81 Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony,” 3.

82 Quoted in Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony,” 262.

83 DRKM H-1603, letter from Dr. Wagner to DRK Generalsekretariat, Dec. 7, 1951. The issue of adoption also arose at the Ministerialrat during the 1950s, but the adoption laws in East Germany were not changed until the entire Civil Code was revised in 1965. I would like to thank Roland Spickermann for sharing his research on adoption in the Soviet zone with me.

84 Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony,” 48.

85 DRK, B88, Szperlinski, “Der Kindersuchdienst”; Böhme, Gesucht, 73.

86 LAB C, Rep 118 Nr. 795, letter from Magistrat Ostberlin gez. Lust, Dec. 7, 1950.

87 See, e.g., DRKM, H-718, DRK Helfering D. Heidel to Landesstelle des DRK Hamburg Nov. 21, 1946.

88 BAK B150 5811, Kindersuchdienst to Fachausschuss Familienzusammenführung, June 15, 1955.

89 BAK B150 5811, “General Anzieger für Bonn,” Jan. 6, 1954.

90 Köster-Hetzendorf, Maren, Ich hab dich so gesucht. Der Krieg und seine verlorenen Kinder (Augsburg: Pattloch Verlag, 1995), 70Google Scholar.

91 ADW, CA/O Nr. 279, letter from Frau Lore F. to Schwester G. Kirchner, 1946.

92 Dieter P., interview with the author, Potsdam, May 19, 2012. For more on this topic, see Harsh, Donna, Revenge of the Domestic: Women, the Family, and Communism in the German Democratic Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 3638Google Scholar; Klier, Freya, Verschleppt ans Ende der Welt. Schicksale deutscher Frauen in sowjetischen Arbeitslagern (Berlin: Ullstein Verlag, 1997)Google Scholar.

93 Hildegard S., interview with the author, Berlin, June 7, 2011. Mortality rates were high in many camps. Pastor Weimann estimated that up to 85 percent of the children in Camp Jarek in Yugoslavia had died. See BAK B150 8566, Vermerk for Dr. Wagner from Dr. Szperlinski, Feb. 20, 1959.

94 For more information on the Kaliningrad and Polish transports, see Hall, “Humanity or Hegemony,” 311-29.

95 BAB DQ2 3712, “Zur Kinderentführung,” Telegraf, Dec. 16, 1947.

96 Douglas, Orderly and Humane, 249.

97 Kent, Martha, Eine Porzellanscherbe im Graben. Eine deutsche Flüchtlingskindheit (Frankfurt/Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2004), 6467Google Scholar.

98 BAK B150 8566, letter from Barbara Riegel to Red Cross, Sept. 1954.

99 ADW, ZB 1133, Herr v. Zahn to HW Oekumensiche Flüchtlingskommission Genf, Feb. 17, 1949, and Abschrift eines Briefes v. Dipl. Ing. Stanislaw S. Sept. 1949. See also DRKM, H-1603, letter from Szperlinski to Wagner, Oct. 11, 1952.

100 ADW, ZB 1133, letter from Herr v. Zahn to Oekumensiches Flüchtlingskommission, April 8, 1949.

101 Douglas,Orderly and Humane, 251.

102 DRKM, B88, Szperlinski, “Der Kindersuchdienst.”

103 DRKM, file 3509, letter from Kindersuchdienst to Frau M, 1952.

104 See, e.g., DRKM 1603, Szperlinski, Vermerk for Herrn Dr. Wagner, Oct. 11, 1952.

105 BAK B106/5811, memo by Dr. Wagner, Dec. 16, 1957.

106 ADW, ZB 1133, letter from von Zahn to Franz M. H., July 11, 1949. See also ADW, ZB 1133, Berlin Kirchendienst Ost, Aug. 5, 1949.

107 BAK B150/5811, letters from Reinhold in Gdansk, Sept. 1, 1954, and Elizabeth P., Nov. 3, 1960.

108 Jacobs, Ingeborg, Wolfskind. Die unglaubliche Lebensgeschichte des ostpreussischen Mädchens Liesabeth Otto (Berlin: Propyläen Verlag, 2010)Google Scholar.

109 Ibid., 227–32.

Ibid

110 The file on Christa was still open as of 1986. See the file on Christa G. in DRKM, KSD, Akten II.

111 Whether an actual meeting took place across the Iron Curtain is not clear from the file. See the case of Hannelore R. in BAK B106/24431.

112 Köster-Hetzendorf, Ich hab, 70.

113 See the material about Helga M. in DRKM 3509.

114 ADW, CA/O Nr. 279, Die Neue Zeitung, July 12, 1946.

115 Bessel, Richard and Schumann, Dirk, “Introduction: Violence, Normality, and the Construction of Postwar Europe,” in Life after Death: Approaches to a Cultural and Social History of Europe during the 1940s and 1950s, ed. Bessel, Richard and Schumann, Dirk (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 12.

116 Heineman, Elizabeth, What Difference Does a Husband Make? Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 8Google Scholar; Moeller, Robert G., Protecting Motherhood: Women and Family in the Politics of Postwar West Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)Google Scholar.

117 Niehuss, Familie, 381.

118 Ibid., 72.

Ibid

119 Diane Wolf, Beyond Anne Frank, 337.

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