The forgotten ‘wolf children’ of World War II
August 4, 2019 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Following the end of the devastating conflict, children of East Prussia went to great lengths in order to survive. Via
posted by Mrs Potato (11 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Orderly and Humane
Immediately after the Second World War, the victorious Allies authorized and helped to carry out the forced relocation of German speakers from their homes across central and southern Europe to Germany. The numbers were almost unimaginable—between 12,000,000 and 14,000,000 civilians, most of them women and children—and the losses horrifying—at least 500,000 people, and perhaps many more, died while detained in former concentration camps, while locked in trains en route, or after arriving in Germany exhausted, malnourished, and homeless. This book is the first in any language to tell the full story of this immense man-made catastrophe.
posted by robbyrobs at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't know how much you hear about it in the US, but there is a debate in Europe about what to do with the wives and children of ISIS warriors who are now starving in huge camps in Syria. There was a moving documentary about a Swedish grandfather (himself a political refugee from Chile!) who tried to get his grandchildren out. I was surprised at first that there was a debate; of course we need to help them, regardless of the adult's stupid choices. But then I remembered the German refugees after WW2. It took immense courage to aid them or speak up for them. Both ordinary people and governments felt that (almost) no German could be innocent. The newsreels had been full of heiling and chanting Germans for more than a decade. German soldiers had murdered innocents wherever they came. The women were often still believers and the children were brainwashed by a totalitarian system. I don't think there is a moral dilemma, but there is an emotional struggle. To do the right thing, you need to fight your fundamental screaming hatred of people who have harmed your people, perhaps even your own family. See also: Burundi, Former Yugoslavia. How do you deal with enemies who are also victims?

The images of Baltic forests and rivers and children and WW2 automatically remind me of Ivan's Childhood, a Tarkovsky film you should see if you haven't done so already.
posted by mumimor at 10:43 AM on August 4, 2019 [24 favorites]

I did not know any of this history, despite, or perhaps because, one of my family branches is from that region. It is somber, but required reading. Thank you.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:49 AM on August 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I recently listened (again) to the Dan Carlin podcast 'Ghosts of the Ostfront' on a long road trip. It's a history of the German / Soviet war in the east. There are a few anecdotes in it that touch on this story. In the battle of Stalingrad, Stalin refused to let civilians evacuate the city because he thought it would make his armies fight harder to protect them. He describes feral children, darting out of the ruins to snatch food and water, who no longer knew how to speak. I doubt those children ever recovered. He also describes in a fair amount of detail, what happened to the Germans in East Prussia as the Soviets moved toward Berlin at the end of the war--one of the most brutal chapters in a horrible, brutal war, and payback for all the suffering the Germans had inflicted in the East.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:31 PM on August 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Our home had been taken over by Russians and we had to find shelter in an abandoned house nearby. There was not enough food to survive. My mother died in front of my eyes from starvation. My little sister cried inconsolably and lay next to our dead mother for days, until she herself passed away. I was eight years old and on my own now. I had heard about Lithuania every now and then and the abundance of food there. So I made my way there." (emphasis mine)

Sometimes it is what is not said that speaks most powerfully.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 3:11 PM on August 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

Hunger Plan
posted by Ideefixe at 5:35 PM on August 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not about these children specifically, but for a stunning read about the war in that region read Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands.
posted by LoveHam at 4:33 AM on August 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Growing up there was a time my mother told me a story of women and orphaned children who made a terrible journey through mountains and even some snow. Nobody had shoes and then many were handed back at the end of the journey to the very people they fled from. There was a girl who grew calluses an inch thick on her feet. My mother likely was not making a political point in telling the story. I think she mostly wanted to convey what people can survive. Later I read accounts of Bleiburg and recognized some of the stories. In that era ( 1964 ) you just about had to be Croatian or perhaps Bosnian to know anything about this event. The people involved went from various parts of then Yugoslavia. The main people who fled were Croats and many had been part of the Nazi puppet state, the NDH. Given that my mother was hardly a sympathizer of the NDH, ( she was VERY anti-fascist, in fact was a Communist for many years ) She was long dead when I put together some of the pieces. We knew a German lady who had quite a story of fleeing ahead of the Soviet advance too. I’ll tell that story later.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:35 AM on August 5, 2019 [13 favorites]

Two lines of girls basically stripped her of her uniform, slapping her, spitting on her and beating on her. She fled the camp in the night, in nothing but her slip. and was picked up by some British soldiers. They each gave her something to wear so she’d be clothed. They passed her on in such a way that she progressed Westward ahead of the Red Army.
Pretty much all the soldiers knew she should not fall into Soviet hands. The last soldier she was handed off to ended up falling in love with her and marrying her. She underwent the ‘De-Nazification’ process. She and her husband stayed in Germany until this was complete. She had their first child there, a son. He was a really terrific kid. He used to walk me and another kid to school every day so that the bullies would leave me alone. He remembered Germany and spoke German and English.
My mother spoke German pretty well. The lady and my mother used to get together for coffee and my mother helped her learn English.

* edited to take out repetition from my earlier post.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:23 PM on August 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

TW: sexual assault / rape

My mother was not a Wolf Child but she and her mother were part of what's known as the "German Expulsions". Their crisis started in February or March 1945 when the Soviets were gaining territory near Danzig (Gdansk) and Pomerania, "west" Prussia, etc.. They lived near Stolp (Slupsk) in a town that doesn't exist anymore, Franzhagen. She was just a toddler when a Polish man, a family friend for decades, came to their house and warned them that a group was forming to burn down German homes and possibly lynch them. So my Oma got my Mom and a few things and escaped into the night. They became part of a group heading west towards Berlin but they never made it in time before the Russians caught up to them. A lot of horrible things happened during that fleeing, a lot of horrible things were experienced and seen. Rape, execution killings, etc. They were soon put in work/internment camps and then tenant housing occupied by Russian soldiers. Once the war was over, they were still not really treated like regular Germans. The East Germans were being fed propaganda that all of the "Volksdeutsch" from the East were Nazi sympathizers. But my Mom's family had lived there side by side with Poles, Kashubians, etc. probably for generations. Stuck in the work camp, they were eventually moved from some place near Berlin to near the West/East frontier. Some time in the late '40s my Oma decided to escape to the Allied side. She and her daughter (my Mom) escaped through the woods but were stopped by a soldier. My Oma hid my Mom in some bushes before he came by. He saw my Oma and threatened her he'd turn her in but then tried to rape her. My Mom started crying and the soldier immediately felt bad about what he was doing. He stopped and gave them money and told them to go. My Mom and Oma ended up in Hannover and settled down there, lucky to escape their long and brutal ordeal.
posted by engelgrafik at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

Thank you all for sharing your personal moving stories. It makes this past history all the more real and near.
posted by Mrs Potato at 1:49 PM on August 7, 2019

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