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World Population Day

War Children And Humanity - War Children

This article is about children with a foreign military parent. For children used as soldiers, see Military use of children. For the mass evacuation of children from Finland during the Continuation War, see Finnish war children. For children of military families, see military brat. For the disambiguation page, see War Child.
"War baby" redirects here. For other uses, see War baby (disambiguation).

A war child refers to a child born to a native parent and a parent belonging to a foreign military force (usually an occupying force, but also soldiers stationed at military bases on foreign soil). It also refers to children of parents collaborating with an occupying force. Having a child with a member of a belligerent foreign military, throughout history and across cultures, is often considered a grave betrayal of social values. Commonly, the native parent is disowned by family, friends and society at large. The term "war child" is most commonly used for children born during World War II and its aftermath although it is also relevant other situations such as the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities.


Children whose either parent was part of an occupying force or whose parent(s) collaborated with enemy forces were innocent of any war crimes committed by their parents. Yet these children have felt condemned by the crimes uncovered in the subsequent prosecution of their parents' acts. As they grew to adolescence and adulthood, many of them harbored the feelings of guilt and shame.

One example is children born to World War II soldiers. These children claim they lived with their identity in an inner exile until the 1980s, when some of them presented themselves officially. In 1987 Bente Blehr refused anonymity when an interview with her was published in "Born Guilty", a collection of 12 interviews with children whose parent(s) collaborated with German forces in occupied Norway. The first autobiography by the child of a German occupying soldier and Norwegian citizen, dedicated to all of them, was published in Norway: "The Boy from Gimle" (1993) by Eystein Eggen.

Having a relationship with a soldier of an occupying force has historically been censured. Women who became pregnant would often take measures to conceal the fact that the father was a foreign soldier, if possible. The choices available to them usually were:

* Arrange a marriage with a local man, who would take responsibility for the child
* Claim the father was unknown, dead, or had left, bring up the child as a single mother
* Acknowledge the relation, bring up the child as a single mother
* Acknowledge the relation, accept welfare from the occupying force (see the German Lebensborn)
* Place the child in an orphanage or give the child up for adoption
* Immigrate to the occupying country, and claim that identity
* Have an abortion

After the war it was common for both mother and child to suffer repercussions from the local population. Such repercussions were widespread throughout Europe. While some women and children experienced acts considered horrendous, including torture and deportation, most acts fell into one or several of the following categories:

* Name calling: German whore and German kid were common labels
* Isolation or harassment from the local community and at schools
* Loss of work
* Shaving the head of the mothers, an act not uncommon in the immediate aftermath of the war
* Temporary placement in confinement or internment camps

While repercussions were most widespread immediately after the war, sentiments against the women and their children would linger into the 1950s, 60s, and beyond.

War children of World War II

Estimates of the number of war children fathered by German soldiers during World War II are difficult to gauge, and are speculative to some extent given the tendency for the mother to hide the pregnancy of a war child for fear of revenge and reprisal by male family members. Lower estimates range in the hundreds of thousands, while upper estimates are much higher, into the millions.

The Lebensborn program

Lebensborn was one of several programs initiated by Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler to secure the racial heredity of the Third Reich. The program mainly served as a welfare institution for parents and children deemed racially valuable.

In Norway a local Lebensborn office, Abteilung Lebensborn, was established in 1941 with the task of supporting children of German soldiers and their Norwegian mothers, pursuant to German law (Hitlers Verordnung, July 28, 1942). The organization ran several homes where pregnant women could give birth. Facilities also served as permanent homes for eligible women until the end of the war. Additionally, the organization paid child support on behalf of the father, and covered other expenses, including medical bills, dental treatment and transportation.

In total, between 9 and 15 Lebensborn homes were established. Of the estimated 10,000 - 12,000 children born by German fathers and Norwegian mothers during the war, 8,000 were registered by Abteilung Lebensborn. In 4,000 of these cases the father is known.

During and after the war, the Norwegians commonly referred to these children as tyskerunger, translating as "German-kids" or "Kraut kids", a derogatory term. (As a result of later recognition of their post-war mistreatment, the more diplomatic term krigsbarn (war-children) came into use and is now the generally accepted form).

Post-war years

As the war ended the children and their mothers were viewed as outcasts by many among the general populace who felt antagonized by the war and everything that had to do with Germany. The children and their mothers experienced isolation and many children were bullied by other children, and sometimes by adults, due to their origin. Immediately after the peace 14,000 women were arrested, 5,000 were without any judiciary process placed in forced labor camps for a year and a half. Their heads were shaved and they were beaten and raped. In an interview for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter it is claimed by warchildren that in an orphanage in Bergen the little children were forced to parade on the streets so the local population could whip them and spit at them.

In a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 1945, the local government in one third of the counties expressed an unfavorable view of the war children. The same year the Ministry of Social Affairs briefly explored the possibility of reuniting the children and their mothers with surviving fathers in post-war Germany, but decided not to.

500 children who were still living in Lebensborn homes at the end of the war had to leave as homes were closed down. Some children were left to state custody during a time when such care was marked by strict rules, insufficient education and abuse. Approximately 20 children ended up in a mental institution in 1946 due to lack of space in other institutions and unsuccessful adoption attempts, where some remained past their 18th birthday.

The Norwegian government also made plans to forcibly deport 8000 children and their mothers to Australia.

Financial and legal issues

In 1950, diplomatic relations made it possible for the Norwegian government to collect child support from those fathers living in West-Germany and Austria, and as of 1953 such payments were made. Child support from fathers living in East-Germany was kept in locked accounts until diplomatic relations between the two countries was established in 1975.

Some of the war children have tried to obtain official recognition for past mistreatment, which some claim equates to an attempt at genocide. In December 1999, 122 war children brought a claim before the courts (only 7 signed the claim, which was a case to test the boundaries of the law). The courts have found any claims void due to the statute of limitations.

However, an arrangement in Norway allows citizens who have experienced neglect or mistreatment by failure of the state to apply for "simple compensation" (an arrangement is not subject to the statute of limitations). In July 2004 the government expanded this compensation program to include war children who had experienced only minor difficulties. The basic compensation rate is set to 20,000 NOK (€2,500 / $3,000) for what Norwegian government terms "mobbing" (bullying). Those who are able to produce evidence of abuse can receive up to 200,000 NOK (25,000 € / $30,000).

On 2007-03-08, 158 of the war children were to have their case heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. They were demanding reparations of between 500,000 SEK (≈ 431,272 NOK) and 2,000,000 SEK (≈ 1,725,088 NOK) each for systematic abuse. The Norwegian government contested the claim that the children were mistreated.

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