Children of World War II
The Second World War was a devastating experience for everyone. The Allied Forces and Nazi Germany suffered irreparable losses, which caused an eternal shift in public consciousness. Millions of adults died as a result of military activities. Millions of others were killed in concentration camps. Yet, no other group suffered the impacts of WWII as severely as children. The Third Reich was a place of contrasts. It was a paradise for German children as much as it was hell for their Jewish peers. However, the echo of bombings was equally loud for Germans and the Jews. Decades after the end of WWII, the children of war keep revisiting their wartime experiences. Now adults, these German and Jewish people keep searching for the identity they lost in the Third Reich to never regain it.
The Third Reich wrote some of the bloodiest pages in the human history. The rapid popularization of the radical ideologies created a unique political and cultural environment, in which German children enjoyed considerable privileges and Jewish children faced the risks of death. Needless to say, the experiences of German and Jewish children in the Third Reich were critically different. The Third Reich treated German children as the future of the country. Hitler realized their political value. He also recognized the difficulties he himself had experienced as a child. Not surprisingly, Hitler "also wanted to provide children in Nazi Germany with a sense of purpose, achievement and community, something that was conspicuously absent during his own listless childhood". However, he could hardly envision the effects the nationalist propaganda would have on the youngest generation.
German children quickly adopted an anti-Jewish stance. They imagined themselves as the active proponents of the ideas of the Third Reich. Numerous stories illustrate the way German children bullied and discriminated against their Jewish peers in schools. Life for most Jewish children became unbearable. Their German classmates called them "Jewish pigs". German children consciously isolated and separated their Jewish counterparts from most classroom activities. By 1938, children of Jewish parents were no longer allowed to attend German schools. Meanwhile, their German peers kept joining the ranks of the national youth movement, which further reinforced their belief in the superiority of the German race.
Children in both groups were of the same age and, quite often, of the same socioeconomic background. The main difference between them was their ethnic and cultural origin. Of course, some Jewish children managed to "pass" as Aryans. Nevertheless, many of them looked as "Jewish", and many others did not speak the German language well enough to hide their Jewish identity. Discrimination in the Third Reich was particularly selective. It targeted only children, who were members of the Jewish group and ignored the children assigned for the German group. Hitler intended to create an entirely new generation of youngsters, who would be brutal and fearless enough to dominate the world. Discrimination against Jewish children was part of that brutal campaign. Most German children did not realize the pain and sufferings they caused to those, who had been their friends in the past.
The Second World War came unexpectedly. Children were particularly vulnerable to the damaging impacts of WWII. German and Jewish children suffered substantial losses during the largest war in the human history. Since the first day of WWII, German children readily embraced a new military ideology and willingly joined the ranks of the German Army. As the Russian Army was coming closer to the German borders, Hitler insisted that more young boys and girls took arms to defend their country. Simultaneously, millions of Jewish children faced confinement in concentration camps that were scattered across Europe. Many of them were killed the moment they arrived; many others were destined to suffer from physical tortures, hunger, and an unbearable burden of work. It was not before the end of WWII that both groups of children underwent liberation, eye-opening revelation, and painful realization that the world was a different place.
The end of WWII was no less discouraging than its beginning, for both groups of children. For the Germans, it coincided with the end of the Third Reich and the beginning of the so-called American or Soviet occupation. Trudy Hamilton was nine years old when WWII came to end. She says that German children often experienced hostility, isolation, and severe physical and economic limitations. In contrast, millions of Jewish children could finally leave the concentration camps, but their lives were no happier than the lives of their German peers. Liberation was associated with uncertainty. "Central to the post-war experience of all survivors was the need to find purpose in what had happened and to thereby establish a viable belief system". Most childhood survivors had spent years in hiding without knowing their parents. When WWII came to an end, many of them did not know their names, age, or language. X-ray had to be used to determine the age of many Jewish children released from the concentration camps. That was just the beginning of a tragic life story for many Jewish survivors.
WWII has had lasting impacts on those who went through it as children. Williams notes that the Jewish who were released from the concentration camps as children had lost their identity. They had never known their families. Their childhood traumas kept haunting them and their descendants for decades. In the relationships with their own children, the survivors of the Holocaust were either overprotective or excessively controlling. They wanted to protect their children from the risks of trauma and loss. In reality, they projected their trauma on the younger generations and, as a result, did not leave them enough space to pursue their ambitions. In addition, the grown-up children of the Third Reich had to reconcile with the world around them. They were no longer the dominant race. They were guilty of the horrors that went public after the war. Objectively, the damage those people had suffered was equal or even greater to the dramatic effects of WWII on the Jews. They had gone through separation from their families. They had learned the bitter taste of hunger, isolation, and homelessness. Decades after WWII, these people keep searching for the meaning of life. Now adults, they realize that they will never be the same again.
It is difficult to hypothesize how the lives of the children in both groups could have been but for their World War II experience. Apparently, the discrimination of German children against their Jewish counterparts could not last forever. Such discrimination could come to an end with a change in the political regime in Germany. As a result, neither German nor Jewish children would have never known the tragedy of physical pain, hunger, isolation, abuse, and humiliation. At the same time, had it not been for WWII, the world would have never learned to appreciate the gift of life. Every person has the right to live, regardless of his or her race. Without WWII, German children might have had longer but hardly ever happier lives, and Jewish children would have had fewer chances to survive. Most Germans would have never realized the tragedy of the Third Reich. They would have never understood what it was like to be a Jewish child in Nazi Germany.
To conclude, German and Jewish children suffered irreparable physical and emotional damage during WWII. The war brought physical pain, isolation, loss, devastation, and dramatic reconciliation with the new world order. The legacy of WWII affected the German and Jewish survivors of the Third Reich, as well as their children and grandchildren. However, had it not been for WWII, most German children would have never realized the unquestionable value of life, and most Jewish children would have had fewer chances to meet the 21st century alive.