Displaced German Children--World War II (1945- )

Figure 1.--Here is a moving scene from a film shot in Berlin after the fighting for the city was over. These boys and their mother have been cared for in some sort of hospital or make-shift child care center for families whose homes had been destroyed by the Allied bombing of Berlin. They are with an elderly lady who is a white uniformed orderly. The plder boy wears a short pants single-breasted suit with a white open-necked shirt and long brown stockings. The younger boy (about six) also wears short trousers and long stockings like his older brother but with only a sweater, not a suit jacket. Put your cursor on the image to see then united with the father. The father had been at the front but had somehow survived the carnage. He is very lucky because most of the POWs taken by the Soviets were interred for years. His mother has just been reuined with her husband and the older boy is running to join his parents.

After the war, there were large numbers of displaced children in Germany as well as the countries that the Germans had occupied. Children were separated from their parents for a variety of reasons. Some children had been sent into the coutry side, evacuate to prorect then from the Allied bombing campaign as pt of the KLV program. Some children were orphaned because of both the fighting and the bombing. There was also a great displacement of population. The NAZIs had major plans for ethnic cleanings, particularly in Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the end it was the German that were cleansed from Easter European countries and territory ammexed by other countries. And many boys were conscripted or volunteered for war service which separated them from their parents. Most became part of the Volksturm, but some were inducted into the Wehrmacht itself. And there were thousands of foreign children brought to Germany as part of the Lebensborn program.

Child Evacuations

The Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) operated during World War II (1939-1945). The children had to go to rural areas on "holiday" but really they should be out of the cities and towns that had difficulties feeding them and were being bombed by the Allies. I believe that both schools and the Hitler Jugend were involved in organizing thd KLV. One reader reports that the HJ was especially important in the KLV organiation beginning in 1940. About 2.5 million children were send to 9,000 camps until end of World War II. I believe in many cases their teachers accompanied them. Strangely, unlike the extensive discussion of the British evacuation of children (1940-41), the German KLA evacuation and camps are little discussed. At the end of the War, many children at the KLV facilities found themselves separated from their families. This was a special problem because the Allied Strategic Bombing Campaign attacked the German transportation network which broke down in 1945.


The displaced German children were the orphans resulting from battlefield deaths of partents as well as deaths from the Allied bombing campaign and the fighting in the final months in Germany. This became increasingly serious as the Allied strategic boming campaign intensified and Allied armoes reached the birders of the Reich (1944). Generally there were not as many orphans in Germany as had been the case in the occupied countries. Most German children were left with at least one parent, usually the mother. There was, however, a huge number of children left without a father because of the number of men that had been conscripted for military service. Large numbers of men had been killed at the front. Even larger numbers had been taken as prisoners of war (POWs). Only a small number of Soviet POWs ever came back from the Gulag and those that returned did so years after the War. The Allies took larger numbers of POWs than the Soviets. This was the case because in the final days of the War, the Wehrmacht's principal objective was to move as many of its men west so they could surrender to the Western Allies. But even the POWs held by the West were held some time before they were released so they could return home. Thus in 1945 and 1946 there were huge numbers of families without the father. Mothers were also killed, often because of the stratehic bombing campaign. Despite the massive natute of the bombing, civilian casualties were limited because of the excellent German civil defense program. Some mothers were killed with their children, but as ;arge numbers of chikdren were evacuated frim the cities, quite a number of mothers were killed while their children were dafe in the countryside. Of course children with one parent are not precisely orphans, but because the breadwinner in most German families was the father, countless mothers and children were left without visible means of support ad in many vases without housing. We are not entirely sure how these children were cared for. After World War I orphanages were established. This seems less common after Word War II. We have, however, been unable to find statistics on the number of German orphans abd details on care facilities.


Hitler Youth boys, along with old men, were hastily trained, ill-equipped and not terribly well led were the major recruits for the Volkssturm in the closing months of the year. The HJ boys, however, went into battle with a fervor even beyond that of the Waffen SS. Many accounts exist of battle hardeneded Wehrmacht and and SS troops who met these boy soldiers on the way to battle. Their advise was almost often "Its over. Go home!" The boys, however, armed with a few anti-tank weapons like Panzerfauts and perhaps a machinegun if one could be found, these Hitler Youth schoolboys went into battle. Often they performed amazingly well, even when given hopeless assignments. A book and movie addressing this is The Bridge. Many HJ boys, of course, did not survive. For many, their commiment to Hitler was absolute, even in the boys involved in the hopeless defense of Berlin (April-May 1945). [Hans Holztrager, In a Raging Inferno, 2001.]

Lost Eastern Territories

Substantial territory in the East were lost to the Soviet Union and Poand. Many more oprphans were created in the caotic poupulation transfers from the German populations that had lived in East Prusia, Silesia, the Sedetenland, and other areas in the east. Many Germans relaized that because of the NAZI atrocities, Germans could no longer live in Poland, Czecheslovakia, and other easter European countries where they had created such havoc. As the Red Army swept over East Prussia in 1945, there wree efforts to reopatriate the women and children. One oif the most tragic incidents here was the sinking oif the liner Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk by a Soviet submarine in January 1945. About 9,000 refugees were lost, mostly women and children. It was the greatest single maritime loss of life. The Führer expected the men to stay and fight. Many who did not understand this lost their lives in bloody reprisals or were forcibly transported after the War. German authorities estimate that by 1946 after the War about 12 million ethnic Germans refugees had fled or were expelled to Germany. These refuggees came from former German territories that are Polish now (East Prussia and Upper and Lower Silesia), but also from other parts of Poland. It is estimatd that 2 million of these refugees died during the long treks to Germany, many were the elderly and children. Often the families held together, but the expulsions in some areas were chatic and families were separated.

Volk Deutsch

Not only were Germans expelled from areas that had been part of Germnany, but they were expelled from countries in which they had lived as minorities for centuries, incluing the Soviet Union, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania. There were 3.5 million Sudenten Germans alone from Czechoslavakia were expelled. Needless to say that many children were among these refugees.

Lebensborn Children

There was also the problem of the foreign children brought to Germany under the Lebensborn program. Estimates suggest that over 0.3 million foreign children were brought to Germany as part of the Lebensborn program. Only about 40,000 were ever returned to their parents. Most of these children were either placed with German parents are the ones that did not pass the racial screaning or resisted Germanization killed in concentration camps.


Holztrager, Hans. In a Raging Inferno (2001).


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Created: 5:32 AM 3/8/2007
Last updated: 11:02 PM 11/4/2016