Children during World War II
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.
- 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
Creating a "Master Race"
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Polish Jews captured by Germans during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Poland) -to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. One of the most famous pictures of World War II. Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report
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
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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
The Diary of a Young Girl
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
An unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
Number the Stars
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
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
How it was to be a disabled child in the Third Reich
Music on the Bamboo Radio
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
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
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
To digg a little bit more...
- Life in Shadows: Hidden Children and the Holocaust
Thousands of Jewish children survived this brutal carnage, however, many because they were hidden. With identities disguised, and often physically concealed from the outside world, these youngsters faced constant fear, dilemmas, and danger.
- My Nazi death camp childhood diary – in pictures | Life and style | The Guardian
Helga Weiss, a Czech Jewish girl, was sent with her parents to the concentration camp at Terezin, a few days after her 12th birthday in 1941. She kept a diary, in words and pictures, and when she and her mother were sent on to Auschwitz in 1944, her
- Children's Personal Albums From The Holocaust – Overview | Yad Vashem
This exhibition features the personal stories of 8 children during the Holocaust. Each child is a world entire. Details about their lives are revealed in the albums they left behind.