Marked up to be included in the Scandinavian-Canadian Journal
This book explores the lives of children born of liaisons between the local women in various European countries and the German occupiers. Although some research on the topic has been published from roughly the mid 1990s onwards, the present collection of articles breaks the silence that has enveloped the topic and reveals the scope and depth of stigma that these children had to endure in spite of their innocence. It is a moving and fascinating account of generations lost between post-war attitudes and social policies.
As Kjersti Ericsson and Eva Simonsen state in their
The book is divided into several sections, organized geographically, and consists of articles with mostly self-explanatory titles. The first section,
The second section is
The third section, entitled
The German occupied territories of the former Soviet Union
The final section,
The book as a whole, and especially the articles in the final section, corrects, one hopes for the final time, the popular misconception of the
Lebensborn project as the
Aryan race stud project.
Lebensborn emerged in Germany in 1935 out of the Nazi racial goal of improving the quality and quantity of the Aryan race but functioned on a daily basis as a welfare institution for select women and their children.
In Norway, it was creative literature that first broached the highly sensitive issue of the sexual relationships between Norwegian women and German men during the Nazi occupation (1940-1945). Herbjørg Wassmo’s trilogy about Tora the
The editors point out that academic research on this topic needed approximately sixty years after the end of World War II to emerge. One of the reasons for this time lapse is certainly the feeling of shame that the majority of children have felt as the progeny of native women and the enemy’s men. The individual articles in the book amply illustrate how wars have unintended consequences well beyond the point in time when warring states formally declare the end of armed hostilities. In the case of the war children the consequences reach into their adult lives, and sometimes affect the next generation as well. First branded as traitors by the community and often by their own families, the majority of mothers and their children were subsequently ignored and buried in silence. It was common for the mothers themselves to opt for silence vis-à-vis their children, who, consequently, could only start looking for their biological roots later in their lives. Just as importantly, the reactions by the state authorities could compound the stigma: the war children of Norway, for instance, were first treated as German citizens and threatened with deportation, and later often branded as mentally impaired.
The editors are reluctant to draw parallels between how the war children were treated in a given European region and the harshness of that region’s occupation. Instead, they tentatively posit a parallel between the silence that governs the issue of war children in Eastern Europe and the repressiveness of that region’s occupation. It is the editors’ contention that additional research is needed before one can reach a definitive conclusion.
What emerges from the book are clusters of interrelated issues that offer much food for thought, issues such as the reasons behind liaisons between the enemy’s men and local women—casual sexual affairs or long-term relationships that resulted in marriage; the barriers to long-term relationships towards the end of the war and the questions of the citizenship of the children and the domicile of the family; the tension between the women on the one hand, and their own families and the wider community on the other; the utterly chaotic events surrounding the end of World War II and the reshuffling of national priorities; acts of revenge on the part of the victors; the official and professional response that often branded the children as a group as mentally defective, a response grotesquely similar to not unlike that displayed by the Nazi eugenicists; the responses of the states’ bureaucracies where files and the answers they contained got buried for decades. Overarching all these issues is the umbrella question of how notions of gender, nation and war interrelate. Finally, the post-war national myths of the resistance movements as utterly heroic and unified also affected the attitudes towards these mothers and children.
The research for the individual articles draws from widely varied sources: from official decrees to secret memos, from social workers’ reports to psychiatric observations, from sparse and sporadic earlier research, from newspaper articles. Most crucial perhaps were personal testimonies. The testimonies of lived experience is where all other issues converge: most, although not all, war children were daily made to feel the weight of their incorrect origins and became the scapegoats for the pent-up hatred for and feelings of revenge towards the Nazis.
The cases of war children in Franco’s Spain and post-war Germany are discussed as
The book is appropriately bounded by contributions from the two editors: an