Children during World War II

Introduction

Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, stand behind a barbed wire fence.
Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets, stand behind a barbed wire fence. | Source

The word hell is the correct one to depict children's lives under occupation in World War II. Bombings, hunger, persecutions, family loss, concentration camps, medical experiments are only some of the terrible occurrences they had to suffer.

Some became soldiers or members of paramilitary organisations like the Deutsches Jungvolk (the german youngsters of the Hitler youth) that became compulsory for boys aged 10 to 14 in 1939. All around Europe children were used as soldiers or fought for their own and others lives.

It is estimated that 1.5 million children were killed during the Holocaust.

Children, not only jewish, were murdered for such reasons as being a menace to the Aryan race, not being able to work as hard as adults or because they had disabilities. Others died in war attacks, because of cold weather and hypothermia or starved to death.

A much smaller number were lucky enough to survive in concentration camps, hidden by courageous people or saved by various programs that could rescue them out of the dangerous areas.

Away from the war theater, existence wasn't also easy. Some countries like United Kingdom and Japan, suffered attacks, while tormented every day not only by fear but also by shortage of food and merchandise.

All around the world, even in countries not directly touched by the war, kids also helped to fight back by cooperating in the war effort. As far as the United States, Canada, Australia and many other countries, children recollected metal, rubber and other junk that could be transformed in war crafts and guns. They felt war through other difficulties as loosing family in military war help or adapting to newly working mothers.

The aftermath wasn't also brilliant. Overcoming orphanage, diseases, destruction, losses, suffering.. seemed impossible. It's incredible what human nature can bear.

Some of the photos are sad but there are others where we can see optimism and feel hope.


Some Curiosities:

  • Only 6 to 11 % of children, living in Europe, survived the war.
  • The youngest US serviceman was 12 year old Calvin Graham, USN. He was wounded in combat and given a Dishonorable Discharge for lying about his age. (His benefits were later restored by act of Congress).
  • 80% of Soviet males born in 1923 didn't survive World War 2
  • Nearly two million children were evacuated from their homes at the start of World War Two.
  • One in ten of the deaths during the Blitz of London from 1940 to 1941 were children.
  • One wartime toy was a doll-dressing kit with uniform called 'Dolly Joins the Forces'
  • The Lord of the Rings' books by J R R Tolkien were written during the war (though not published until the 1950s).
  • Heinrich Himmler, head of the German SS, architected a plan to populate the world with the Aryan superior race by raising suposed pure children, adopted by Aryan couples.
  • Children on the 'home front' saved pennies, collected scrap metal and food waste, and knitted woolly hats for soldiers and refugees. BBC Children's Hour ran a scrap-collecting competition. The winners collected 9 tons of scrap.
  • Just after the war the Czech pacifist Premysl Pitter brought together more than 800 displaced Czech, German and Jewish children in collective children’s homes—or “castles,” as he called them—in Czechoslovakia to re-educate them in tolerance.
  • As early as 1939 the US anti-immigration activist Alice Waters spoke out against allowing “thousands of motherless, embittered, persecuted” Jewish refugee children into the country. Anti-immigration groups argued that refugee children would become revolted and problematic adults.

All around the world

Children Soldiers

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Source - "The Eastern Front in Photographs", John EricksonThe Japanese Imperial Army mobilized 1,780 middle school boys aged 14–17 years into front-line-service.This Chinese soldier, age 10, is a member of an army division boarding a plane returning them to China from Burma, token by the allied forces, 1944. Deutsches Jungvolk fanfare trumpeters at a Nazi rally in the town of Worms in 1933.
Source - "The Eastern Front in Photographs", John Erickson
Source - "The Eastern Front in Photographs", John Erickson | Source
The Japanese Imperial Army mobilized 1,780 middle school boys aged 14–17 years into front-line-service.
The Japanese Imperial Army mobilized 1,780 middle school boys aged 14–17 years into front-line-service. | Source
This Chinese soldier, age 10, is a member of an army division boarding a plane returning them to China from Burma, token by the allied forces, 1944. 
This Chinese soldier, age 10, is a member of an army division boarding a plane returning them to China from Burma, token by the allied forces, 1944.  | Source
Deutsches Jungvolk fanfare trumpeters at a Nazi rally in the town of Worms in 1933.
Deutsches Jungvolk fanfare trumpeters at a Nazi rally in the town of Worms in 1933. | Source

Picture from a 1930s-40s Soviet movie about a boy who wants to join the Army.

"Sons of the regiment" were orphans adopted by Soviet regiments. They lived with the soldiers and some performed reconnaissance.

Creating a "Master Race"

A Lebensborn birth house in Nazi Germany. Created with intention of raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children from extramarital relations of "racially pure and healthy" parents
A Lebensborn birth house in Nazi Germany. Created with intention of raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children from extramarital relations of "racially pure and healthy" parents | Source

Lebensborn was an SS-initiated, state-supported, registered association in Nazi Germany with the goal of raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children via extramarital relations of persons classified as "racially pure and healthy" based on Nazi racial hygiene and health ideology. Lebensborn encouraged anonymous births by unmarried women, and mediated adoption of these children by likewise "racially pure and healthy" parents, particularly SS members and their families.

Initially set up in Germany by Heinrich Himmler, in 1935, Lebensborn expanded into several occupied European countries with Germanic populations during the Second World War.

After the war, Lebensborn children where persecuted and subjected, sometimes, to medical experiments by some countries where they searched for refuge.

Resistance forces

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Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun, 1944Brazilian soldiers (Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF), greet Italian civilians in the city of Massarosa, September 1944.
Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun, 1944
Watched by two small boys, a member of the FFI (French Forces of the Interior) poses with his Bren gun at Chateaudun, 1944 | Source
Brazilian soldiers (Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF), greet Italian civilians in the city of Massarosa, September 1944.
Brazilian soldiers (Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF), greet Italian civilians in the city of Massarosa, September 1944. | Source

The French Forces of the Interior (Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur) refers to French resistance fighters in the later stages of World War II. The FFI were mostly composed of resistance fighters who used their own weapons, although many FFI units included former French soldiers. They used civilian clothing and wore an armband with the letters "F.F.I."

FFI units seized bridges, began the liberation of villages and towns as Allied units neared, and collected intelligence on German units in the areas entered by the Allied forces, easing the Allied advance through France in August 1944.

Homefront and war effort

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Two boys in the Rosemont neighbourhood gather rubber for wartime salvage. Montreal, Canada. April 1942School children and service personnel inspect the mid-section of a Japanese midget submarine on Sydney harbour on 31 May 1942.War effort by youngsters of Virginia collecting pieces of scrap to recycle into shells, guns and tanks
Two boys in the Rosemont neighbourhood gather rubber for wartime salvage. Montreal, Canada. April 1942
Two boys in the Rosemont neighbourhood gather rubber for wartime salvage. Montreal, Canada. April 1942 | Source
School children and service personnel inspect the mid-section of a Japanese midget submarine on Sydney harbour on 31 May 1942.
School children and service personnel inspect the mid-section of a Japanese midget submarine on Sydney harbour on 31 May 1942. | Source
War effort by youngsters of Virginia collecting pieces of scrap to recycle into shells, guns and tanks
War effort by youngsters of Virginia collecting pieces of scrap to recycle into shells, guns and tanks | Source

Canadian women, helped by children, responded to urgent appeals to make-do, recycle and salvage in order to come up with needed supplies. They saved fats and grease; gathered recycled goods, handed out information on the best methods to use that one may get the most out of recycled goods and organized many other events to decrease the amount of waste. Volunteer organizations led by women also prepared packages for the military overseas or for prisoners of war in Axis countries.

Separated from family

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"Wait for me daddy":British Columbia Regiment, DCO, marching in New Westminster, 1940A small Dutch boy smiles for the camera upon arrival at Tilbury in Essex. He is carrying a small paper parcel under his arm, which contains all his luggage.
"Wait for me daddy":British Columbia Regiment, DCO, marching in New Westminster, 1940
"Wait for me daddy":British Columbia Regiment, DCO, marching in New Westminster, 1940 | Source
A small Dutch boy smiles for the camera upon arrival at Tilbury in Essex. He is carrying a small paper parcel under his arm, which contains all his luggage.
A small Dutch boy smiles for the camera upon arrival at Tilbury in Essex. He is carrying a small paper parcel under his arm, which contains all his luggage. | Source

Wait for Me, Daddy is a photo taken by Claude P. Dettloff on October 1, 1940, of The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own Rifles) marching down Eighth Street at the Columbia Street intersection, New Westminster, Canada. While Dettloff was taking the photo, Warren "Whitey" Bernard ran away from his mother to his father, Private Jack Bernard. The picture received extensive exposure and was used in war-bond drives.

Air raids

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Tea and sandwiches from a mobile canteen after a night's bombing. Between 1940 and 1943 Swansea was the target of 44 raids with 340 killed and thousands more injured.Children searching for books among the ruins of their school in Coventry after a night raid, 10 April 1941.Children during air raid : Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war.(near Minsk,Belorussia)
Tea and sandwiches from a mobile canteen after a night's bombing. Between 1940 and 1943 Swansea was the target of 44 raids with 340 killed and thousands more injured.
Tea and sandwiches from a mobile canteen after a night's bombing. Between 1940 and 1943 Swansea was the target of 44 raids with 340 killed and thousands more injured. | Source
Children searching for books among the ruins of their school in Coventry after a night raid, 10 April 1941.
Children searching for books among the ruins of their school in Coventry after a night raid, 10 April 1941. | Source
Children during air raid : Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war.(near Minsk,Belorussia)
Children during air raid : Soviet children during a German air raid in the first days of the war.(near Minsk,Belorussia) | Source

In London, by the end of 1940 significant improvements had been made in the Underground and in many other large shelters. Authorities provided stoves and bathrooms and canteen trains provided food. Tickets were issued for bunks in large shelters to reduce the amount of time spent queuing. Committees quickly formed within shelters as informal governments, and organisations such as the British Red Cross and the Salvation Army worked to improve conditions. Entertainment included concerts, films, plays and books from local libraries.

Victims

Click thumbnail to view full-size
 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Photo from Jurgen Stroop report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: "Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs". One of the most famous pictures of World War II.German soldiers and working children in Kavala, during the great famine in Greece, 1941Czesława Kwoka, child victim of Auschwitz, as shown in her prisoner identification photo taken in 1942 or 1943Lost Russian children ("Wolfskinder") during WW II about 1942.
 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Photo from Jurgen Stroop report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: "Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs". One of the most famous pictures of World War II.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Photo from Jurgen Stroop report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: "Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs". One of the most famous pictures of World War II. | Source
German soldiers and working children in Kavala, during the great famine in Greece, 1941
German soldiers and working children in Kavala, during the great famine in Greece, 1941 | Source
Czesława Kwoka, child victim of Auschwitz, as shown in her prisoner identification photo taken in 1942 or 1943
Czesława Kwoka, child victim of Auschwitz, as shown in her prisoner identification photo taken in 1942 or 1943 | Source
Lost Russian children ("Wolfskinder") during WW II about 1942.
Lost Russian children ("Wolfskinder") during WW II about 1942. | Source

Polish Jews captured by Germans during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Poland) - Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. One of the most famous pictures of World War II.

In Warsaw, during the 1944 uprising, men, women and children fought for Armia Krajova against the Nazis.

Bread, soup - these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.

— Elie Wiesel, Night

Aftermath

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Rabaul area, New Britain. 1945-09-13. Chinese civilians, liberated from a Japanese POW camp. Many of the smaller children were born in the camp and some of the older ones had never seen white people before.Before noon on August 10, 1945, a mother and her son have received a boiled rice ball from an emergency relief party. One mile southeast of Ground Zero, Nagasaki.The Liberation of Rhodes, 1945. Civilians on the island of Rhodes queue to get their ration books from the British military authorities.
Rabaul area, New Britain. 1945-09-13. Chinese civilians, liberated from a Japanese POW camp. Many of the smaller children were born in the camp and some of the older ones had never seen white people before.
Rabaul area, New Britain. 1945-09-13. Chinese civilians, liberated from a Japanese POW camp. Many of the smaller children were born in the camp and some of the older ones had never seen white people before. | Source
Before noon on August 10, 1945, a mother and her son have received a boiled rice ball from an emergency relief party. One mile southeast of Ground Zero, Nagasaki.
Before noon on August 10, 1945, a mother and her son have received a boiled rice ball from an emergency relief party. One mile southeast of Ground Zero, Nagasaki. | Source
The Liberation of Rhodes, 1945. Civilians on the island of Rhodes queue to get their ration books from the British military authorities.
The Liberation of Rhodes, 1945. Civilians on the island of Rhodes queue to get their ration books from the British military authorities. | Source

Freedom!...

Source

These Jewish children are on their way to Palestine after having been released from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The girl on the left is from Poland, the boy in the center from Latvia, and the girl on right from Hungary.

How it was in Germany

A perspective of how it was to be young in Nazi Germany. It's so easy to manipulate children and youth! Can we judge them?

Fortunately, there are also some heroes around! This is just one of many!

The movie above is about Nina Hasvoll Meyer a Norway woman that rescued Jewish orphans from Austria and Czechoslovakia becoming like a mother to them.

Great books about children overcoming World War II

Title
Author
About
The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank
In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding.
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
An unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
Number the Stars
Lois Lowry
When the Jews of Denmark are "relocated," Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family.
I Have Lived A Thousand Years
Livia Bitton-Jackson
The memoir of Elli Friedman, who recounts what it was like to be one of the few teenage inmates of Auschwitz
Dreaming in Black and White
Reinhardt Jung
How it was to be a disabled child in the Third Reich
Music on the Bamboo Radio
Martin Booth
Hiding out with Chinese friends for the duration of the war after Hong Kong surrenders to the Japanese Army, Nicholas Holford becomes useful both to the Chinese Communist guerrillas and the British Army, who are working together against the Japanese.
The Silver Sword
Ian Serraillier
The silver sword, a little paper-knife, is a symbol of hope to four children as they make their way across the post-war Europe from Warsaw to Switzerland in search of their parents.
The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey
Louise Borden
In 1940, Hans and Margret Rey began their harrowing journey on bicycles, pedaling to Southern France
The War that Saved My Life
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2
These books are among many other touching stories about children during the war and the holocaust. There are, perhaps, better books or testimonies. These are just the ones that I enjoyed reading.

To digg a little bit more...

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