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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). 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 to 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:
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:
While repercussions were most widespread immediately after the war, sentiments against the women and their children would linger into the 1950s, 60s, and beyond.
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.
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.
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 war children 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.
Due to the political attitudes prevailing after the end of the war, the Norwegian government made proposals to forcibly deport 8000 children and their mothers initially to Germany, but there were concerns of the deportees having no livelihood there. Another option was to send them to Sweden, and then Australia was also considered after opposition from the Swedish government; the proposals were later shelved.
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 demanded 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.
In conjunction with the claim brought before the courts by the war children in 1999, a motion was filed in September 2000 to national headlines alleging 10 war children had unknowingly and involuntarily been subjected to medical experiments with LSD during the 1950s and 1960s. It was further claimed that these experiments were approved by the government and financed by CIA, the American intelligence agency.
The motion didn't cite evidence for the allegation, rather the attorney referred to four sources whom she at the time refused to identify. It was already known that certain hallucinogenic drugs, including LSD, had been considered possibly valuable in psychotherapeutic treatment (see Psychedelic psychotherapy) in the 1960s, so the Norwegian government appointed an independent commission to investigate the allegation in October 2001. Following two years of work the Commission concluded in a final report that the allegations all originated from a single source who neither mentioned the war children specifically nor LSD experiments on humans, but rather animals. The Commission also concluded that they were unable to find any other evidence in local, national and international archives which could support the allegation.
The Norwegian Defence Research Establishment conducted their own investigation into the allegation in 2001 and found it unsupported by evidence, though the complete report remains classified. Later the Ministry of Defence vacated the obligation of professional secrecy for current and previous employees in regard to information about the matter. This move did not yield any new information.
It should be noted that medical staff in several European countries as well as the US conducted clinical trials or experimental treatment involving LSD, most of them at some point between 1950 and 1970. In Norway, trials involved volunteer patients where traditional medical treatments had proved unsuccessful.
Since the mid-80s the fate of the war children has become well known and the government has admitted neglect. The Prime Minister of Norway apologized publicly in his New Year's Eve speech in 2000. Currently, as adults, the 150 former Lebensborn Children are suing for reparations and damages from the Norwegian government for failing to protect them and discriminating against them.
The most famous of Norway's war children is former ABBA singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad, now Princess Anni-Frid Reuss of Plauen.
German forces invaded Norway in 1940 and occupied the country until 1945. At the end of the war the German presence stood at 372,000. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 children were born to German fathers and Norwegian mothers during the occupation.
Nazi ideology considered Norwegians to be pure Aryans and German authorities didn't prohibit soldiers from pursuing relationships with Norwegian women.
After the war these women especially, but also their children, were mistreated in Norway.
German forces occupied Denmark between 1940 and 1945. German soldiers were allowed to have contact with Danish women. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 children were born to German fathers and Danish mothers during the occupation or just after the occupation. The Danish government has 5,579 such children in their files.
In 1999 the Danish government allowed this group access to parenthood archives, exempting them from the country's normal secrecy period of 80 years for such records.
German soldiers were forbidden from having relationships with French women by the Nazi regime at the beginning of the Occupation but, due to difficulties of enforcement, it became tolerated — an intermediate situation between the encouragement of similar relationships in Denmark and Norway, and strict prohibition in Eastern Europe, the different regulations stemming from racial ideology.
The number of war children born by French women in France in the years 1941-1949 whose fathers were German soldiers and later war prisoners is estimated to be 75,000 to 200,000.  After the expulsion of German troops from France those women having had relationships with German soldiers, were arrested, "judged" and exposed in the streets to blind hatred. Their head being shaved in public was a common fate.
The Netherlands was one of the few countries occupied by Germany where soldiers were explicitly allowed to have relationships with local women. The Dutch Institute for War Documentation originally estimated that around 10,000 children were born to German fathers during the occupation. However, recent figures based on records at the archives of the German Wehrmacht (name of the German armed forces from 1935–45) indicate that the real number could be as high as 50,000.
The Allied forces maintained a presence in Germany for several years after World War II. The book GIs and Fräuleins, by Maria Hohn, lists 66,000 children as born to soldiers of Allied forces in the period 1945–55:
According to Perry Biddiscombe, more than 37,000 illegitimate children were born to American fathers in the 10 years following the German surrender. Relations between the occupation forces and German and Austrian women were seen with suspicion by the locals, who feared that the Americans would impregnate their women and then leave the children to be cared for by the local communities. Those fears were borne out in at least in part, as a majority of the 37,000 illegitimate children ended up as wards of the social services for at least some time. Many of the children remained wards of the state for a long time, especially children with African-American fathers who were never adopted.
The food situation in occupied Germany was initially very dire. By the spring of 1946 the official ration in the US zone was no more than 1275 calories per day (much less than the minimum required to maintain health), with some areas probably receiving as little as 700. Some US soldiers used this desperate situation to their advantage, exploiting their ample supply of food and cigarettes (the currency of the black market) as what became known as "frau bait". Some Americans still felt the girls were the enemy, but used them for sex nevertheless.
The often destitute mothers of the resulting children usually received no alimony.
Between 1950 and 1955, the Allied High Commission for Germany prohibited "proceedings to establish paternity or liability for maintenance of children." Even after the lifting of the ban West German courts had little power over American soldiers.
The children of black American soldiers, commonly called "Negermischlinge" ("Negro half-breeds"), were particularly disadvantaged, since even in the cases where the soldier was willing to take responsibility he was prohibited from doing so by the US Army which, until 1948, prohibited interracial marriages.
In the earliest stages of the occupation, US soldiers were not allowed to pay maintenance for a child they admitted having fathered, since to do so was considered as "aiding the enemy". Marriages between white US soldiers and Austrian women were not permitted until January 1946, and with German women until December 1946.
The official US policy on war children was summed up in the Stars and Stripes in 8 April 1946, in the article "Pregnant Frauleins Are Warned!":
Girls who are expecting a child fathered by an American soldier will be provided with no assistance by the American Army... If the soldier denies paternity, no further action will be undertaken other than to merely inform the woman of this fact. She is to be advised to seek help from a German or Austrian welfare organization. If the soldier is already in the United States, his address is not to be communicated to the woman in question, the soldier may be honorably discharged from the army and his demobilization will in no way be delayed. Claims for child support from unmarried German and Austrian mothers will not be recognized. If the soldier voluntarily acknowledges paternity, he is to provide for the woman in an appropriate manner.
Canada declared war on Germany in 1939, following Britain's war declaration the week before. During the war Canadian forces participated in the allied invasions of both Italy and Normandy. Prior to the invasion of continental Europe, significant Canadian forces were stationed in Britain.
An estimated 22,000 children were born of Canadian soldiers and British mothers stationed in Britain. In continental Europe, it has been estimated that 6,000 were born in the Netherlands, with smaller numbers born in Belgium and other places where Canadian forces were stationed during and after the war.
A famous example is Eric Clapton.
On liberation, many Dutch women welcomed liberating troops in a way that resulted in babies; these are called 'Liberation babies'. It is estimated that about 4,000 "liberation babies" were fathered by Canadian soldiers before they left the area in early 1946.
In Austria, Russian war children („Russenkind“) were discriminated as well as their mothers.
Common unfavourable expressions for those women who were on friendly terms with allied soldiers were 'American girl' (»Amischickse« or »Dollarflitscherl«), and in the case of relations with non-caucasian soldiers 'chocolate girl' (»Schokoladenmädchen«).
In April 1946, the Stars and Stripes newspaper stated that there was no hope for assistance by military authorities for "pregnant Fräuleins". The paper stated that a ""Strength Through Joy" girl who ate from the forbidden fruit should accept the consequences."
Coloured babies from Austria were sent in the age of 4 to 7 years by Austrian youth welfare offices to the USA by air flight. Black families adopted them there.
Attention in the 1990s was drawn on war crimes in former Yugoslavia. Muslim women in Bosnia who were raped in Serbian camps got help as soon as they could overcome their sense of shame by looking for assistance from humanitarian organizations.
Probably more than 100,000 children have been born to Asian parents and U.S. servicemen in Asia. This chiefly occurred during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, though it has occurred during times of peace on the several U.S. military bases in the region since World War II. These children are known as Amerasians, a term coined by the author Pearl S. Buck.
The growing sense for these inacceptable mothers' fate and children's humiliation led in 1989 to the approval of Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since 2008 United Nations Security Council bans sexual violations as a war crime. This was called in German weekly Die Zeit an historical milestone.
Integration into a new family might be a solution to prevent war children from growing up as unwanted and mobbed people in a hostile environment.
The war children wondered why they were treated unjustly and got to know their real descent very late or only by chance:
The late search of war children for their biological fathers was mostly difficult and (in spite of long and sophisticated search) often in vain.
Occupation forces strictly interdicted fraternization with people of the occupied territories. Couples concerned tried to hide their relation because of these interdictions and the unfavourable mood of the occupied population. Fathers from war children were excepted from actions for alimony.
Communication with the mothers of war children often ceased when the soldiers suddenly got movement orders without the opportunity to say good bye. Some of the soldiers were killed in action. In the post-war period soldiers were hindered by the victorious armies to go back to their former girl friends and their war children. Of course some of the soldiers of the defeated forces went back to their old families and denied having had any war children or relations with local women during occupation duty.
At the end of war mothers with war children were prosecuted as criminals and punished in humiliating ways for their relations with the enemy. They were isolated socially and economically. Many of them could only rehabilitate and become respected by marrying a fellow countryman to be no longer regarded as an unwed mother. Persecution of a former girlfriend of a German soldier who evaded the punishment (forced head shaving) is documented in a book by ANEG; she was traumatized for the rest of her life:35–52
Some of the mothers gave their war child to a home of public welfare; others tried to arrange with their new partner and the common children as well as the war child (step family). Some of the mothers had already died during the war.
A network of European war children, "Born of War — international network" was founded in October 2005. They meet every year in Berlin to assist each other, make up their minds and find out new positions.
In their pension age many war children from World War II feel free from occupational and family stress to look for their identity and their roots. Often the children of corresponding German family are also interested to get in contact with the unknown war children of their father. Public opinion looks now in compassion towards those innocent war victims hit by the bitterness of post-war thinking. Only few of the biological fathers are still alive. Most of the mothers did not utter any word to their war child as they were subject to bullying and humiliating procedures by their family members and neighbours.
Search should start by getting to know the complete birth documents including birth certificate (not only parts of it). The Norwegian archive at Victoria Terrasse in Oslo burned down in the 1950s and many of these important documents were lost. Norwegian Red Cross do have some records. It is often easier to trace the Norwegian mother first by Church records as an example.
Further proceedings are to find out whether there are documentary evidence from Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt, Auslandsorganisation – Amt für Volkswohlfahrt und Winterhilfswerk (1941–1944) about alimony payments. Valuable are also old photographs with greetings on the back or private letters.
Since 2005 there is in France and is also known in Germany the society "Amicale Nationale des Enfants de la Guerre" (ANEG) which feels also responsible for those occupation children with a French father and a German mother. Another French organization searching for family members of French children whose fathers were German soldiers during the occupation is "Cœurs Sans Frontières/Herzen ohne Grenzen". Since 2009 the German government grants German nationality for French war children from German soldiers of World War II on application.
Several central files are part of German archives:
Post-war war children often search in vain as their fathers' personal data are unprecise, archives closed or data lost.
War children from American soldiers searching for their natural father and for their roots are assisted by the organization GITrace. Since 2009 the German based association GI Babies Germany e.V. tries to find out as well the roots of children of postwar GIs and their German girl friends.
Organization Canadian Roots UK helps war children in Great Britain to trace their Canadian father. Vice versa it helps to trace a child that a Canadian soldier fathered in the UK during or shortly after WW2.
Psychological assistance and help to find lost family members by publishing on internet is granted by German association "kriegskind.de e. V."