* World War II -- German displaced children

World War II: German Refugees and Displaced Children (1933-45)

Figure 1.--These German civilians in 1945 are crossing the Elbe into the American controlled area to get away from the approaching Red Army. Goebbels in his diary complains bitterly that Germans in the West were not resisting the estern Allies. These forced marches in the East were especially difficult for the children. After the War, Germans were expelled from neigboring countries in often horrendous conditions.

German children through the Hitler Youth played an active part in World War II. The Hitler Youth movement was in fact a major support for the German war effort, both on the home front, supporting the anti-aircraft defense against the Allied bombing campaign, and actual combat roles with the Wehermacht and Volkstrum. After the war, however, there were large numbers of displaced children in Germany as well as the countries that the Germans had occupied. The displaced 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. Many more oprphans were created in the caotic poupulation transfers from the German populations that had lived in East Prusia, Silesia, the Sudetenland, and other areas in the east. Many Germans relaized that because of the NAZI atrocities, Germans could no longer live in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other easter European countries. Many who did not understand this lost their lives in bloody reprisals or were forcibly transported after the War. There was also the problem of the foreign children brought to Germany under the Lebensborn program.


The NAZI-controlled media before World War II gave considerable play to the suposed mistreatment of ethnic Germans in neigboring states, especially Czechoslovakia and Poland. There were no significant numbers of refugees from these countries as Hitler preferred that they stay in these countries and cause incidents which can be used to justify German intervention. Some Germans were attacked by the Poles after the German invasion (September 1, 1939) before Wehrmacht troops arrived. As far as I know, these Germans were not allowed to seek refuge in German. Rather the focus was on deporting Poles to the General Government and replacing them with ethnic German settlers. The first German refugees were the ethnic Germans in the Baltics and the areas of Romania (Bessarabia, Bukovina and Volhynia) to be seized by the Soviets (1939-40). Hitler ordered them "Home to the Reich" NAZI negotiators met with Baltic officials and the NKVD to work out both the population transfer as well as property and tax issues. About 0.5 million Germans were involved. [Burleigh, p. 448.] The NAZIs used them to resettle the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich and were being cleared of Poles. Some refugees also came from Yugoslavia. The Soviets when the Germans invaded tranported the Volga Germans and other ethnic Germans east beyound the reach of the invading Wehrmacht. Some ethnic Germans were reached in the western Ukraine ad eastern Poland before the NKVD could deport them. Generally NAZI policy was not to repatriate ethnic German populations in Poland and the Soviet Union, but rather to use them as part of the occupation regime. This of course changed when the tide if battle went afainst the Wehrmacht. Ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe followed the Wehrmmcht as it retreated east toward the Reich. After the War, the various countries involved expelled Germans who tried to remain. This created one of the largest refugee problems in history.


The tragedy of displaced German children is primarily associated with World War II in connection with the Allied bombing campaign and later the ethnic Germans fleeing the Red Army are being expelled by hostile populations and authorities after the War in the countries the NAZIs sought to subgegate. In fact, some German children began to suffer at the hands of their own Government almost as soon as the NAZIS seized power in 1933. The children affected were Aryan children. The first acts were sterilization, but this was to be later followed by actual muders of thousands of children and adults. The NAZI Cabinent on July 31, 1933, which ordered compulsory sterilization for blind, deaf, and deformed people as awell as individuals suffering from mental disorders. Instituionalized individuals were the most ready targets, but children still in their parents care were also affected by this order. Here the retarded were special targets, but children with severe physical handicaps were also killed. Courts were set up all over Germany to considerthe cases of individual reported, often by the family doctor.

Jewish Children

Jewish children were not immediately affected when the NAZIs seized power, but soon it became increasingly difficult to attend state schools. Here they were percecuted both by teachers and other children. Children were rarely disciplined for taunting or even assaulting their Jewish school mates. Jewish children were legally expelled from state schools in 1935 under the authority of the Nuremberg Laws which deprived Jews of German citizenship. As more and more of their farhers, the family wage earners were arrested or lost their jobs, the children were terriblu affected. By 1935, even before the issuance of the Nuremberg Laws, the NAZIs had managed to deprive about a quarter of German Jews of their ability to make a living. [Gilbert, p. 79.] With the the new laws, this process could be intensified. Eventually most were evicted from the family home. As the NAZI program was relentlessly persued, Jewsish families were driven from small times all over the country. They came to the larger cities, but because of the various laws enacted, it was virtually umpssible to obtain jobs. Jewish philantropic institutions, also affected by the NAZI program, were incapable of coping with the massive humanitarian crisis engineered by the NAZIs. [Gilbert, pp. 81-82.] An international effort to save Jewish children before the outbreak of World War II, the Kindertransport, managed to save some of the children. Even here, however, some of these children wre lost with the NAZIs overran Western Europe--especially the Netherlands in May 1940.

Hitler Youth

German children through the Hitler Youth played an active part in World War II. The Hitler Youth movement was in fact a major support for the German war effort, both on the home front and actual fighting. The HJ not only provided training in mny important military skills. It also was a conduit for youth into the German military. During the War, HJ units were involved in many combat functions. They manned the elaborate anti-aircraft FLAK defense against the Allied bombing campaign. HJ boys were also engaged in actual combat roles with the Wehremacht and Volkstrum. One of the ironies of World War II is that the effectiveness of the Hitle Youth program was an important part of the German military machine. Tt was this machine that was responsible for the death of countless childrn and the millions of displaced children during the War. The HJ was also active in the Civil Defense program and helped assist refugees. They also were active in fural areas, especially in harvest time.

Allied Air Campaign

One of the countroversies surrounding World War II is the Allied bombing campaign of Germany. Of course it was the Germans who began bombing civilian populations as a terror tactict to destroy civilian morale. This began even before the World War II during the Spanish Civil War with the bombing of Guernica in 1937?. Once the World War II began the tactic was used on Warsaw (September 1939), Rotterdam (May 1940), and on numerous British cities (1940-41). Once America joined the War in December 1941, a much larger bombing campaign was launched on Germany which by 1943 began to inflict serious civilian casulties. After D-Day (June 1944), the Allied bombing campaign was significantly intensified. The Americans bombing by day, attempting to hit specific targets using the Nordon bomb sites. The British bombed by night and at best could hit specific cities. Large numbers of German civilians were killed, injured, or rendered homeless. Contrary to popular conceptions, the German economy was not effectively harnessed for war. Only when Albert Speer was put in charge did German industry begin to reach some of its potential. The Germans, as a result, despite the bombing were able to expand war production. Here the question that should be asked is how much more they could have expanded production had it not been for the bombing. The bombing significantly clearly disrupted the economy and the ability of the NAZIs to persue their development of new weapons. In the process thousands of civilians were killed, injured, or displaced. Children were killed or orphaned.

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 reafer 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.

Displaced German Children

After the war, there were large numbers of displaced children in Germany as well as the countries that the Germans had occupied. Children were sepsrate from their parents for a variety of reasons. Some chikfren had been sent into the coutry side, evacuate to prorect then from the Allied bombing campaign. 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. Mist became part of the Volsturm, but some were inducted into the Wehrmacht itself. And there were thousands of foreign children brought to Germany as part of the Lebensborn program.


The fate of the Volksdeutche is one of the many depressing stories of World War II. The irony is that while NAZIs who set out to ethnically clense newly acquired areas of the Reich, it was the Germans that were ethnically clensed from Eastern Europe. Those Germans expelled are today referred to in Germany as " Vertriebenen " (expelled ones). Nearly all lived in countries invaded and occupied by NAZI Germany. Many but not all participated in NAZI genocidal or explotive programs to colonize the occupied East. As a result, both the Russian Army and partisans targetted them as the Wehrmacht was forced to retreat. Many wisely fled with the Wehrmacht. Others were reluctant to leave the farms and towns where their families had lived for generations. After the Wehrmacht withdrew and after the end of the War, millions of these ethnic Germans were murdered, deported or otherwise ethnically cleansed. Many first hand accounts describe the violence directed at those of German ancestry. A great deal of documentation was gathered by the German Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau. (Yes, the Wehrmacht was collecting evidence of war crimes.) There are many incidents of unimagined savagery. There were women crucified in Nemmersdorf and the wholesale murder of children. [De Zayas and Barber]

Swedish Care for German Children

As after World War, conditins in Germany were dereadful after the War. Unlike World War I, Germany aenies had been defated. There would be no repeat of the World War I 'stab in the back' acusation. The country was occupied and its great cities reduced to rubble. Rhe dood siruation was dire, but not as def=readful as after World War I when the Dutch took in hungry German children. TheAllies contunued the blockade of Germany unril mafter the Veersailles peace treaty was signed. There were serious food shortages. People died, especially children. The Dutch took in many hungary German children. This was not the case in the aftermath of World War II. As the Germans had invaded and occupied the Netherlands and then starved the Dutch people in the infamous Hunger Winter, There was no sympathy for the Germans in the Netherlands after World War II, even for German children. There was one country which did take in German children -- Sweden. We see theSwedestaking in German children. As fae as we can tell it was done rhrough the Swedish Red Cross. We have found a great deal of information about the Swedes taking in Finnish children, Danish Jews, and the White Buses rescue effort. We have not found much infoemation about the effor to aid German children.

Individual Accounts

Given the horendous crimes perpetrated by the NAZIs on so many innocents, especially children, it is often difficult for non-Germans to muster a great deal of sympathy for the sufferings of German civilians, many of them were ardent NAZIs thenselves. The disturbing accounts of Germans describing their childhood show that Germans also suffered in World War II. The situation changed dramatically after the war turned against the NAZIs at the end of 1942 and the Allied bombing campaihn intensified. The Volkdeutch forced to flee to Germany also suffered greatly. There are many personal accounts written by Germans remebering their childhood.

Payne, Almuth F.

I was 6 during the last year of World War II, living in a small Baltic Sea fishing village in Pomerania (now Poland) with my 9-year-old sister and 3-year-old brother. We were with a group of children evacuated from Berlin because of Allied bombing. It was so quiet that my brother and I couldn't go to sleep; we were used to the antiaircraft battery banging away as our bedtime lullaby. I didn't think about the war except when they told us that my uncle, a 24-year-old soldier, had been killed on the Russian front. One icy January night in 1945, we were roused and taken in hay wagons to the local train station, where hundreds of frightened refugees were waiting. The eastern horizon was fiery red and we heard the roar of cannons in the distance. The 150-mile trip took two days, but we arrived safely in Berlin and had a joyous reunion with our family. The Russians finally fought their way into Berlin by late April 1945. I still remember big guys in quilted coats with guns drawn coming into our basement, where we were holed up along with some neighbors. They established their local command post upstairs, which actually helped to protect us from the hordes of murderous and marauding soldiers terrorizing everyone. That night, some of the officers joined us for a "victory" celebration: thick ham sandwiches for all, plenty of vodka for the adults, and raw onions and raw eggs gulped by the Russians. The Russians loved kids. One of the roughest of them would bounce my little brother on his knees, and they brought food for us. My parents always said that we children "saved" our family. [Payne]

Wolfgang W.E. Samuel

Wolfgang was only 10 years old when he, his mother, and younger sister were forced to flee the advancing Russian army during the final days of the War. He recalls the disorientation, fear, hunger, and utter desperation that was their lot in a desperate occupied Germany. He describes his mother's indomitable spirit and the abject degradation forced upon her to feed her children. The family finally emmigrated to America in 1951. [Samuel, German Boy]


Wolfgang W.E. Samuel, author of German Boy has compiled a collection of interviews with 26 German gentiles and Jews that grew up during World War II. They ranged from 3-12 years of age in 1945 at the end of the War. Almost all were dispalced and without their fathers. They all recall hunger and some suffered from untreated illnesses. Siegrid Meyer at age 6 remembers not being allowed to take her doll into the bunker wher her family sought shellter from the bomving. (The doll wa made of falmable cellulois.) Many recalled the fear of veing burried allive. Karl Kremer's mother washed orange peels thrown away by American soldiers for food flavoring. Karl recalls as a boy that the cardinal in Köln issued a blanket absolution for those who had ro steal food to feed their family. Hans Herzmann ran away from an orphanage with his two sisters where they beat the children. The children for the most part survived the war with just the clothes on their backs. These dispalaced children report being seen by those Germans more fortunate as refugee riffraff. Many honor their mothers who in effect protected them and somehow found food and shelter while their fathers fighting and dying. They describe how they worked as a team led by their mothers. Many of the same mothers were raoed by Russian soldiers. Surprisingly, several report that the same Russian soldiers who raped women were at the same time, often kind to children, "even generous at times, sharing the little they had." [Samuel, The War]


Some may say "they had it coming" after what the Germans did in Eastern Europe. Most of these people were innocent, especially the children, were innocent of war crimes. The issue of culpability, however, is a very difficult one. Historians debate, for example, wether the Austrians were the first victim of the NAZIs are illing collaborators. The same issue concerns the German minorities in eastern Eurpean countries. We know that the arrival the German military in 1938-41 was treated as liberators. Some of these ethnic Germans were people who knowingly took land, business, and homes that Jews, Poles, and others had been forcibly evicted from without compensation. Some had been intlligence sources or took property from non-German neighbors. Some had informed on their neighbors for various offenses such as hiding Jews. Many of the adults took advantage of the NAZI New Order for a variety of personal benefit to the detriment of their neighbors. Not all did. There were also acts of charity and high moral character. Here the issue of personal responsibility comes up and how to assess it in realistic terms. How do you assess the acts of often poorly educated, unsophisticated people that are fed hate filled propaganda, racial lies and pseudo-science by their Government. What is especially distressing about the NAZIs is their ability to coopt even highly educated Germans like lawyers, scientists, teachers, and doctors to actually implement NAZI idelology with all its murderous consequences.

German Suffering

The suffering of the Germans during and after World War II is a largely neglected topic. Compare for examle the huge body of British literature on the Blitz and the evacuation of British children from London and the industrial cities with the very linited literature on the plight of German civilians during the Allied air assault and the evacuatioin of German children. This is especially surprising given the fact that even more Germans were killed (about 0.8 million people) than Britains during the Blitz. The handicapped German children killed and sterilized by the NAZIs and the huge number of refugess from the east who died add to the astonishing tragedy of the German people. Much of this is not well known. This is in part because give the emensity of NAZI crimes committed in the name of the German people, that many Germans did not feel that they had a right to compalin. Only a few German authors have addressed this toopic. The best known novelist is G�nter Grass, noted for Tin Drum. His latest novel addresses the plight of the East Prussians fleeing west and the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff.Only at the turn of the 21st century, after half a century, have German authors began to deal seriously with the suffering of the German people.

Unknown Photographs

Here we have images of German children or children in German during the World War II era that we can not identify. In some instances some limited information is available about the photograph. In other instances all we have is the photograph itself. Hipefully our German readers will have some insights about the photograph.

Occupation: Foreign Fathered Children

Large numbers of foreign troops since World War II have been stationed in Germany. The Soviets occupied eastern Germany. The Western Allies (America, britain, and France) occupied western Germany. And the foreign militaries were not just present during the occupation. Even after German soverignity was restored, the foreign militaries remained. Germany was on the dividing line between East and West in the Cold War. The roles of the Soviets and Western Allies varied. The Soviets were in the DDR not only as a Warsaw Pact force to defend the borders, but to ensure the survival of the Communist regime which had little popular support. The Western Allies remaind in the DFR at the request of a freely elected democratic gvernment. What ever the reasons, large numbdrs of foreign troops remained in Germany for several decades after World War II. The inevitable result was a substantial number of children fathered by the foreign troops. We believe that the vast proportion of these children were born in the first decade of the occupation (1945-55), but we have little data to substantiate this. The number of children involved is substantial, almost certainly exceeding 100,000 but we do not have precice data. There seems to be substasntial differences among the different occupation forces.


Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History.

De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice and Charles M. Barber. A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Grass, Günter. Translated by Krishna Winston. Crabwalk (Garcourt), 234p.

Payne, Almuth F. "A family's small blessings," The Washington Post (May 28, 2004), p. W11. [Note: We know this was from the Post, but can not yer cionfirm the date.

Samuel, Wolfgang W. E. German Boy: A Child in War.

Samuel, Wolfgang W. E. The War of Our Childhood (University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 356p.


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Created: June 7, 2002
Last updated: 10:45 AM 4/16/2020