LIFE

The children of the Wehrmacht

By Harry van Versendaal

Beaten, abused or locked away in orphanages and asylums because their fathers were German soldiers, the fate of Greece's war children has been largely ignored by local historians. Seventy years after the world sunk into the horror of World War II, German psychologist and historian Kerstin Muth has dug into one of the most traumatic chapters of that period, tracing the personal stories of Greece's so-called Wehrmacht children. Up to 200 children were born between 1941 and 1945, the fruit of liaisons between Greek women and occupying German troops. Muth, author of «Die Wehrmacht in Griechenland - und ihre Kinder» (Eudora-Verlag Leipzig) (Wehrmacht in Greece - and its Children), which was recently presented at the Goethe Institute in Thessaloniki, spoke to Athens Plus about the subject.

What is the estimated number of war children in Greece?

Between 100 and 200 but that is an estimate, not an official figure. The number is low compared to other European countries that were occupied by the Nazis. In France, there were an estimated 200,000 children.

These children and their mothers are known to have been subjected to public humiliation in countries such as the Netherlands and France, however there are no accounts of such abuse here. How were the children fathered by German soldiers in Greece treated in this country after the war?

In Greece too, the children were humiliated. Frequently, they heard on the street that they have a Wehrmacht father, or as they were called «Deutschenbastard» (German bastard). The mothers were discriminated against as well and the children suffered because of the stigmatized mother and the frequently unknown father. Quite often, the mothers blamed the children for their bad situation. The absent father was frequently idealized.

How difficult is it for half-German children to trace their fathers? Are there many in Greece doing this today?

All the children I have interviewed have tried to trace their fathers and that was complicated. A child from Kavala is still looking for its father. I have not found him either, as only the first name, Karl, is known. Children looking for their father are supported by the agency in Berlin that registers all soldiers. Sometimes, chance helps as well: War child Marisa found her half-sister in Hamburg because of something her father had said to her mother; another child, Anna, could trace her father to his hometown because of a photo.

German soldiers were allowed to pursue relationships with Norwegians and Dutch women but such relationships were prohibited in eastern Europe as Slavs were considered an inferior race. What was the situation in Greece?

Marriages between German soldiers and Greek women were not allowed in general. Abortions were encouraged. Many children probably did not even know about their heritage, as the names were not entered in church books, they were left at other families' doorsteps or were adopted.

Frequently, the whole town knew the truth but not the children themselves.

Most of the children I interviewed told me that the topic was discussed in private by the neighbors, never openly.

Time to give them a place in Greek society

How many years did you spend on this project and what were the difficulties you had to overcome? Did you find any Greek sources on the subject?

I have been researching for 2 years, Mega Channel aired a movie and still, I found only a few children [12]. Only 6 agreed to talk. The reason for that is that the topic is still taboo in Greece. This is also demonstrated by the fact that no Greek publisher is interested in publishing the book in the Greek market.

Why did you focus particularly on the Greek experience and how has your study been received so far? Do you think the question has been neglected by historians here and, if so, why?

I did not find this topic being dealt with by the scientific community, which made me curious, (so I decided) to look for children and find out the reasons for it.

As I said, even 60 years after the war it's still taboo in Greek society and many «children» still do not dare speak openly about the terrible things that happened to them.

Do you hope that your book will trigger a debate on the issue?

It would be great if I managed to translate my research into Greek and start a debate with it, to give the children their place in Greek society. It is about time - all of them have the age of grandparents, they are all over 60.

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