World War II: France: The Children

Figure 1.--World War II introduced a second generation of French children to American soldiers. Here we see an American WAC passing out candy to some children, poerhaps in Paarus with the liberatioin (August 1944). Candy was a real treat because during the German occupation it virtully disappeared from French shops. This WAC is a little slow with the candy dispensing. Two of the children are patiently awaiting their treat. Notice the duce-and-a-half truck in the background. With the French rail system destroyed, this is what carried Allied armies north toward the West Wall.

Some French children were evacuated at the onset of te War and then as the Germans broke through French lines. France since the German invasion and victory (June 1940) had been a quiet sector of the War. As the war raged in the East, the Germans used France to rest and regroup units. Except for the port cities that has U-boat facilities, the War with few eceptions was far away from France. And compared to the East, German behavior was relatively correct. An exception was the Jews. But for most French people, unless they dared to join the Resistance were not targeted by the Germans. The French were shocked and at first saw Vichy as a protector. Gradually this changed as the War began to go wrong for the Germans in the East. The Germans began conscripting French workers and increasingly exploit the French economy (1942). And this began to increase anti-German feeling. Some children would have heard Gen. DeGualle's broadcasts from Britain and bee moved by them. The children depending on their ages were not all aware of what was going on. Many had to think about real issues when their Jewish school mates had to wear the yellow 'juif' badges and began to disppear. This varied as there was a strong anti-semetic cirrent in France. All the children were affected by the food and other shortages that steadily worsened. One thing that the older children would have noticed was the disappearance of candy. The Germans allowed the schools to continue operating, but teachers had to be careful about what they said least they be reported to the Gestapo. The growing anti-German attitudes of their parents, however, must have transferred to the children. From the beginning of the occupation, most parents instructed their children to stay away from the Germans. And when the Allies arrived, there was an immediate connection. This was probably most true of the Americans, perhaps bvause they had the most candy on offer. The older children, mostly boys, were often helpful, pointing out where the Germans were or serving as guides. They also carried messages. In the fight for Paris, civilians became actively jnvolved in the fighting. Baricades were prepared, trees cut down, and trenches were dug in the pavement to get the paving stones. These materials were commonly transported by men, women, and children using wooden carts. Paris was an exception. Except for port cities, most cities were abandoned by the Germans without a fight after the Normandy breakout (July 1944). The children joined in the raucous liberation celebrations. For adults abd children it was as if the 7th Cavalry had just arrived. As in all wars, there were displaced children. Liberarion came so quickly with the Germans promarily interested in reaching the safety of the West Wall, the number of displaced were relatively limited.


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Created: 4:45 AM 7/30/2018
Last updated: 4:45 AM 7/30/2018