NEWS

Seeking the ‘children of the Wehrmacht’

By Stavros Tzimas - Kathimerini

The «children of the Wehrmacht» have a tragic history. They came into the world during the German occupation of Europe, as the product of rape or of relationships between members of the Wehrmacht and women in the countries occupied by Hitler's troops. For obvious reasons, many were killed at birth, and those who survived had a troubled background that marked the rest of their life. For Russian women in the Soviet Union after the war, to have borne the child of a German soldier meant either execution or a gulag in Siberia for life. But in the so-called free world such women were not treated much better. Their own communities held them up to public ridicule and and treated their children as pariahs. Sixty years on, German psychologist and historian Kerstin Muth has begun a wide-ranging investigation, seeking out the children of the Wehrmacht in Greece, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. Burden «These children have led very difficult lives. They carry a heavy burden and, until 10 years ago, nobody was interested in them,» Muth told Kathimerini. She has already found a woman in Thessaloniki who was born in 1944 to a German father and a Greek mother. «An estimated 1 to 2 million children of German soldiers were born to women in the occupied countries,» she said. How easy is it to locate children who have spent a lifetime covering up a «sin» for which they bear no responsibility? «These children are now about 60 years old, and if they know about it and haven't entirely rejected it, now is the time to find out who they are. Now they are ready to do so.» Before setting out for Greece and the other countries in question, Muth made a meticulous study of the Wehrmacht archives in Berlin, where she discovered specific cases that she plans to research. «The records show that marriage to Norwegian women was allowed because they were racially related to the Germans, were tall, and blond and were popular. There were strict prohibitions on marrying Ukrainian and Polish women, because they were Slavs and hence 'subhuman.' Yet in spite of that, there were many marriages...» The case of Ukraine is striking. «Almost any child that was born in that country between 1942 and 1944 was the offspring of a German soldier. Ukraine was under occupation and the men were at the front without any right to take leave to see their families. When the Wehrmacht left, any mothers who were able to changed the birth date, because if the authorities learned the paternity of their children they could be sent to Siberia.» Silence Muth found plenty of information about the children in Norway, «which is very organized on the subject and which gave the women and children psychological support,» France, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. But nothing is known about Greece and Italy. The reason, according to Muth, for «the silence of the grave» that reigns in both countries is the patriarchal structure of the family and the role of the church. «The Catholic Church in Italy and the Orthodox Church in Greece played a part in imposing the silence,» she said. «There is an historian who claims that they also helped women get abortions. This is definitely a field that some historian should research.» Muth said she was lucky in the case of Greece because, with the help of the Evangelical community, she found a 60-year-old woman in Thessaloniki who confided in her. And she has some information about another person in the city, who does not wish to speak out, however. «It is difficult to bring up such a past. These people have been through hell in one form or another. Most of them guessed but their mothers never told them. They encountered discrimination at school, in the neighborhood, from relatives, everywhere. «In France they were called pigs. Women who had given birth to children of Germans, whether resulting from rape or a voluntary relationship, were pilloried in towns and villages. Their heads were shaved, they were banned from going outdoors and were persecuted in every way. Many of them were ashamed of their children. There was huge pressure on them.» The father rarely acknowledged his child or maintained his relationship with the woman after the war. «Quite simply, when the war was over, the soldiers left and never came back,» Muth explained. «They married other women in Germany and didn't care abut the children they had left behind. But, like the woman in Thessaloniki, many children found out about their fathers and some met them. «The usual reaction of the fathers was to say that it was nothing to do with them. One exception was a German soldier in France who, when the war ended, left the woman he was involved with in an advanced state of pregnancy. «Back at home in Germany, he got married and had children. The woman did the same in France. But after some years both were widowed and the woman wrote to her former lover. He didn't want to know anything about her and did not reply. She insisted, however, rang him up many times and managed to meet him. «After lengthy wooing, the German moved to France and now they are a loving couple. This is a very rare case. The usual thing is for the children to seek out their father, as the woman from Thessaloniki did.» Children of the allies «Many children faced similar problems in Germany after the war. They were children who had been born to German women who had relationships with British and American soldiers. It was really tough, especially for children whose fathers were black, and were noticeable from a distance. «Traumatized by defeat, German society in the 1950s was very inward-looking. Women who got involved with American soldiers were known as 'Amishuren,' meaning 'whores of the Americans.' They were accused of selling themselves for cigarettes and stockings even though most cases were love affairs. «Prejudice held sway. I came across the case of a girl who was born to an Austrian soldier and a German mother. Due to social prejudice she was not able to grow up with her mother and she was sent to a convent school, but they didn't want her there either and she was

Online