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Children in the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, children were especially vulnerable to death performed by the Nazi regime. According to estimations, 1.5 million children, nearly all Jewish, were murdered during the Holocaust, either directly or as a direct consequence of Nazi actions.

The Nazis advocated killing children of unwanted or "dangerous" groups in accordance with their ideological views, either as part of the Nazi idea of the racial struggle or as a measure of preventive security. The Nazis particularly targeted Jewish children, but also targeted ethnically Polish children and Romani (also called Gypsy) children along with children with mental or physical defects (disabled children). The Nazis and their collaborators killed children both for these ideological reasons and in retaliation for real or alleged partisan attacks.[1] Early killings were encouraged by the Nazis in action T4, where children with disabilities were gassed using carbon monoxide, starved to death, given phenol injections to the heart, or hanged.

1,500,000 children, nearly all Jewish, were killed by the Nazis. A much smaller number were saved. Some simply survived, often in a ghetto, occasionally in a concentration camp. Some were saved in various programs like the Kindertransport and the One Thousand Children, in both of which children fled their homeland. Other children were saved by becoming Hidden Children. During and even before the war many vulnerable children were rescued by Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE).

Segregation in schoolsEdit

Segregation in schools began in April 1933 when the "Law Against Overcrowding in German schools" was enacted. A restriction was set that allowed only 1.5 percent of Jewish children to be enrolled in public schools; at the time, five percent of the children in Germany were of Jewish descent.[2] The Nazis continued to "Aryanize" as their regime progressed. Jewish children were required to learn from different sources than their classmates. Many Jewish children were also given worse grades than their peers, indiscriminately with regards to the quality of their work. Jewish children were not allowed to participate in most school activities; many were segregated from former friends. As time passed, most teachers incorporated more elements of the Nazi ideology in their classrooms; once quieter in their beliefs, they started using anti-Semitic terms in class.[2] Poor treatment of Jewish children was more common in rural schools, but there was also discrimination in large cities.

Many Jewish students felt distant from their classmates. Some Jewish children began to form small strikes in their schools, leaving without permission during class when anti-Semitic elements were used. Others tried to conform with no success, and some parents just took their children out of school. Many mothers were horrified to find out that their children were being emotionally and physically attacked by their classmates and teachers for being Jewish. Mothers were more likely to take their children out of school than fathers, seeing and hearing from their children the majority of what actually happened at school.[2]

Eventually Jewish schools were built, and the Jewish community supported the idea of teaching their children without fear of persecution. Consequently, the number of children going to private school increased from 14 percent in 1932 to 52 percent in 1936.[2] While most were happy that their children could learn, many parents feared that the segregation of the Jewish community from the Aryan community was a goal of the Nazis.

Causes of deathEdit

Ghetto children

German forces established ghettos early in the war in many Polish towns and cities such as Warsaw and Łódź. In them, Jewish children died from starvation and exposure as well as lack of adequate clothing and shelter. The German authorities were indifferent to this mass death because they considered most of the younger ghetto children to be unproductive and hence "useless eaters". Strict control was enforced over the inhabitants of the ghettos, and the food provided was deliberately limited. From 1942 onwards, the ghetto program ended. Inhabitants of the ghettos were murdered at various death camps. Because children were generally too young to be deployed as forced labor, they were particularly vulnerable to being killed: they were one of the main groups in the first deportations to killing centers or in mass shootings near mass graves along with the elderly, the ill, and the disabled.[3] Children who were healthy enough for labor were often worked to death doing jobs to benefit the camp; other times, children were forced to do unnecessary jobs like digging ditches.

Non-Jewish children from certain other targeted groups were not spared. In the Auschwitz concentration camp, Romani children were killed. Meanwhile, five to seven thousand children died as victims of a "euthanasia" program. Others were murdered in reprisals, including most of the children of Lidice; many children in villages in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union were killed with their parents.[4]

Medical incidentsEdit

Ghetto Litzmannstadt. Children rounded up for deportation to the Kulmhof extermination camp.
Jewish twins kept alive to be used in Mengele's medical experiments. These children were liberated from Auschwitz by the Red Army in January 1945.

The German authorities also incarcerated a number of children in concentration camps and transit camps. Physicians and medical researchers of the Schutzstaffel (SS), a Nazi paramilitary organization, used children, especially twins, in concentration camps for medical experiments that often resulted in the deaths of the children.

In their "search to retrieve 'Aryan blood'", or the perfect race, SS race experts ordered hundreds of children in occupied Poland and the occupied parts of the Soviet Union to be kidnapped and transferred to the Reich to be adopted by racially suitable German families. Although the basis for these decisions was "race-scientific," often blond hair, blue eyes, or fair skin was sufficient to merit the "opportunity" to be "Germanized." On the other hand, female Poles and Soviet civilians who had been deported to Germany for forced labor were often forced sexual relations with a German man; many cases resulted in pregnancy, and the women were forced to have abortions or to bear their children under conditions that would ensure the infant's death, if the race experts determined that the child would have insufficient German blood.[5]

Transit campsEdit

Transit camps were temporary stops on the way to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Many children were brought with their families to transit camps, unsure of what awaited them. Some hoped for starting a new life and making friends in the camps, while many others were scared. Children brought to the transit camps came from many different backgrounds.

In the transit camps, children were surrounded by bare bodies. Their beds were merely metal frames. There was a lack of food along with a fear of trains coming for deportation. No school supplies were provided. Children began to see their relatives in a different light because each family member dealt with various hardships in the transit camps.[6]

Children had few resources at the transit camps to foster growth. A group of Hungarian Zionists made a rescue committee to negotiate and prevent deportations. Older girls took care of young children. Physicians, nurses, and musicians organized lectures, concerts, and activities for children.[6] Voluntary interns and philanthropic organizations supplied food, clothing, and organized secretive teaching rooms to help the children continue their education. Childcare workers taught children about the ideas of Zionism and the spirit of democracy; they additionally encouraged an affectionate atmosphere. These groups also helped ease the hunger issues in the camps.

A notorious case of the Nazis holding a child in a transit camp is the case of Anne Frank and her sister in Bergen-Belsen. Other notable cases include the children held in the Majdanek concentration camp, some of whom were orphaned because their parents were killed in anti-partisan operations.[7]

Auschwitz and Josef MengeleEdit

Czesława Kwoka, child victim in Auschwitz

Josef Mengele was a physician who worked at Auschwitz, a concentration camp. His research subjects were better fed and housed than other prisoners and temporarily safe from the gas chambers.[8] He established a kindergarten for children who were the subjects of experiments, along with all Romani children under the age of six. The facility provided better food and living conditions than other areas of the camp and even included a playground.[9] When visiting his child subjects, he introduced himself as "Uncle Mengele" and offered them sweets.[10] However, he was also personally responsible for the deaths of an unknown number of victims.[11] Author Robert Jay Lifton describes Mengele as sadistic, lacking empathy, and extremely anti-Semitic, claiming that he believed that the Jews should be eliminated entirely as an inferior and dangerous race.[12] Mengele's son Rolf said that his father showed no remorse for his wartime activities.[13] A lack of regulations on his experiments allowed Mengele to perform his experiments freely.

A former Auschwitz prisoner doctor said:

He was capable of being so kind to the children, to have them become fond of him, to bring them sugar, to think of small details in their daily lives, and to do things we would genuinely admire ... And then, next to that, ... the crematoria smoke, and these children, tomorrow or in a half-hour, he is going to send them there. Well, that is where the anomaly lay.[14]

Photo from Mengele's Argentine identification document (1956)

Mengele had a fascination with twins. He was interested in the difference between identical and fraternal twins as well as how genetic diseases affected them and where they originated. The experiments also distinguished between genetic traits and those developed by the environment of the child. Mengele was known to pretend to be off duty while a train of new prisoners arrived so that he could personally select any twins whom he saw. He operated on children, partly to find genetic weaknesses in the makeup of Jewish or Romani people in order to provide scientific evidence for the ideas of the Nazi party. Mengele hypothesized that his subjects were particularly vulnerable to certain diseases because of their race. In addition to that, he believed that they had degenerative blood and tissue based on his samples.[15]

Mengele or one of his assistants subjected twins to weekly examinations and measurements of their physical attributes.[16] He performed experiments such as unnecessary amputation of limbs; in another experiment, he intentionally infected a twin with typhus or another disease and transfused the blood of the infected twin into the other one. Many of his subjects died while undergoing these procedures.[17] After an experiment was over, the twins were sometimes killed and their bodies dissected.[18] Miklós Nyiszli, a prisoner at Auschwitz, recalled one occasion where Mengele personally killed fourteen twins in one night through a chloroform injection to the heart.[19] If one twin died of disease, Mengele killed the other so that comparative reports could be prepared after their deaths.[20]

He was known for experimenting with eyes. One of his particular studies regarded heterochromia iridum, a condition where people's eyes are differently colored.[21] After he killed heterochromatics, he removed their eyes and sent them to Berlin for study. Another of Mengele's experiments with eyes involved attempts to change eye color by injecting chemicals into the eyes of living subjects.[22] His experiments on dwarfs and people with physical abnormalities included taking physical measurements, drawing blood, extracting healthy teeth, and treatment with unnecessary drugs and X-rays.[23] Many of the victims were sent to the gas chambers after about two weeks, and their skeletons were sent to Berlin for further study.[24] Mengele sought pregnant women, on whom he would perform experiments before sending them to gas chambers.[25] Witness Vera Alexander described how he sewed two Romani twins together back-to-back in an attempt to create conjoined twins.[17] The children died of gangrene after several days of suffering.[26]

Sisak concentration campEdit

During the existence of the Independent State of Croatia during World War II, the Croatian Ustaše established numerous concentration camps like those in Jasenovac,[27] Đakovo,[28] and Jastrebarsko[29] in which many Serbian, Jewish, and Romani children died as inmates.[30][31] Among them, there was Sisak concentration camp, which was specially formed for children as part of Jasenovac concentration camp.[32][33]

Sisak children's concentration camp was founded on 3 August 1942 following the Kozara Offensive.[34] It was part of an assembly camp, officially named the "Refugee Transit Camp".[34] This concentration camp consisted of a special part officially called the "Shelter for the Refugee Children" under the auspices of the "Ustasha Female Lineage" and "Ustasha Security Service", and under the direct control of Antun Najžer. The camp was located in several buildings in Sisak: the former Yugoslav Falconry Association ("Sokolana"), the Sisters of St. Vincent nunnery, a rice warehouse, Rajs Saltworks warehouse, Novi Sisak elementary school, and the "Karantena" (Quarantine). All these buildings were considered unsuitable for the housing of children.[according to whom?] For example, in the Falconry Association, there were no doors; it was drafty because it was built for drying salt. Children, even those who were only a few months old, had to lie on the floor with only a thin layer of straw without any clothes or blankets. When a typhus epidemic broke out, Najžer ordered the transfer of the infected children to an improvised hospital, only serving to increase the number of deaths.

The first group of children arrived on 3 August 1942;[34] there were 906 of them. The very next day another group of 650 children was brought; a third group arrived on 6 August with 1,272 children. In Teslic glasshouse and the newly built barracks, which were named "Karantena", a general concentration camp for men, women, and children had been established. During August and September 1942, Ustaše took parents away from 3,971 children by sending the parents to forced labor. From August 1942 to 8 February 1943, there were 6,693 detained children, mostly Serbs from Kozara, Kordun, and Slavonia. Despite the actions of Diana Budisavljević and a group of humanitarians – Jana Koh, Vera Luketić, Dragica Habazin, Ljubica and Vera Becić, Kamil Bresler, Ante Dumbović, and the sisters of the Red Cross – up to 40 children died every day.

Dr. Lazar Margulješ testified about conditions at the concentration camp:[citation needed]

I've noticed that the food parcels sent by Red Cross have never been given to the imprisoned children. My duty as a medic was to research these small prisoners, therefore I often visited these places: Sokolana building, where the children laid on bare concrete or, if they had little luck, on a little straw. The so-called hospital, in a small school in Old Sisak, had no beds so the children were lying on the floor with a little distracted and contaminated straw matted with blood and excrement and covered with swarms of flies.

Jana Koh, former secretary of Croatian Red Cross stated following about the conditions in the Camp:

The barracks were connected by the corridors guarded by the Ustashas. Not far from the ambulance, from another barracks, the sad cries of the children were heard. There was set, on the bare floor, four hundred children: newborns, children from a few weeks or months, up to ten years of age. How many children came, and where they were dispatched, could no longer be found out. The children in the children's barracks cried inexorably and were calling their mothers, who were only a few steps away from the children, but the fascist criminals did not let mothers to approach their children. Older children tell us through tears, that they can not calm the little ones, because they are hungry, there are no one to change diapers of the little ones, and they are afraid that everyone will die. These children, who have not yet reached the age of ten, swear to us, "Come on, sister, bring us mothers, bring at least mothers to these little ones. You will see, if you do not bring them their mothers, they will suffocate, by the tears alone."

Coroner David Egić officially recorded that out of 6,693 children, 1,152 died in the Camp, while teacher Ante Dumbović later claimed that the number was 1,630.[34][35]

Means of survivalEdit

In spite of their acute vulnerability, many children discovered ways to survive. Children smuggled food and medicine into the ghettos, in turn smuggling out their own personal possessions to trade for said goods. Children in youth movements later escaped the ghettos to join underground resistance activities such as Soviet partisan units; others formed their own units to harass the German occupiers. Many children escaped with parents or other relatives to family camps run by Jewish partisans; others had to escape on their own.[4][36]

Many Jewish children were forced to fake their identity for their own safety. They obtained false identity papers that usually came from anti-Nazi resistance in order to pretend to be Aryans.[37] Even though this was one of the only ways to survive for children, it imposed major security risks. The police and other Nazi authorities closely examined documents in their search for Jews to detect disguised Jews.[38]

Circumcision, a Jewish tradition in which the foreskins of infant male Jews are removed,[39] was an easy way to identify Jews because non-Jews usually did not go through the procedure. Boys had to be mindful about using public restrooms and participating in team sports because their Jewish identity could be exposed.[37] As a solution, they had to go through additional procedures that would hide circumcision[example needed] or at times even dress up as girls.[40]

The United States attempted to help Jewish children. Inspired by the Kindertransport, Congress was urged to allow up to 100,000 Jewish children to come to America. Efforts around the United States allowed the rescue of 1,000 Jewish children from Nazis. Unlike the English work, the actual rescue efforts were not backed up by the government in any way. Those who wanted to help had to find their own ways to fight immigration quotas.[41]

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus were a couple who brought 50 Jewish children to the United States to save them from Nazis in 1939 before the war started. They selected the 50 children by interviewing their families, who were close to obtaining a US visa. Most of the children, who had moved to Philadelphia, were eventually reunited with their families.[42]

Between 1938 and 1939, the Kindertransport (Children's Transport) was a rescue effort organized by the British government in cooperation with Jewish organizations. It brought about 10,000 refugee Jewish children to safety in Great Britain from Nazi Germany and German-occupied territories, although their families did not come with them. Likewise, Youth Aliyah (Youth Immigration) was responsible for integrating thousands of children into life in Palestine for their survival as well as the revitalization of the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Palestine.[43]

Meanwhile, some non-Jews hid Jewish children; sometimes, as in the case of Anne Frank, they hid other family members as well. In some cases the Jews were actually hidden; in other cases, they were adopted into the family of their "hider". A unique case of hiding occurred in France. Almost the entire Protestant population of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, as well as many Catholic priests, nuns, and laymen, hid Jewish children in the town from 1942 to 1944. In Italy and Belgium, many children survived in hiding.[44]

In Belgium, the Christian organization Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrètiene hid Jewish children and teenagers with the backing of the Queen-Mother Elisabeth of Belgium.[45]

After the surrender of Nazi Germany, which ended World War II, refugees and displaced persons searched throughout Europe for missing children. Thousands of orphaned children were displaced in camps. Many surviving Jewish children fled eastern Europe as part of the mass exodus (Brihah) to the western zones of occupied Germany en route to the Yishuv. Youth Aliyah continued its activities after the war by helping child survivors to move to Palestine, which soon became the state of Israel in 1948.[46][47]

See alsoEdit


  2. ^ a b c d Kaplan, Marion (1998). Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 94–118.
  3. ^ Doin’ it for the kids! Archived 16 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b "CHILDREN DURING THE HOLOCAUST". Archived from the original on 6 May 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2009.
  5. ^ "Children During the Holocaust". Archived from the original on 1 April 2009. Retrieved 1 April 2009.
  6. ^ a b Dwork, Deborah. "Transit Camps." Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe, Yale University Press, 1993, pp. 113–154.
  7. ^ "Lublin" chapter from Pinkas Hakehillot Polin (cont.)
  8. ^ Nyiszli 2011, p. 57.
  9. ^ Kubica 1998, pp. 320–321.
  10. ^ Lagnado & Dekel 1991, p. 9.
  11. ^ Lifton 1986, p. 341.
  12. ^ Lifton 1986, pp. 376–377.
  13. ^ Posner & Ware 1986, p. 48.
  14. ^ Lifton 1985, p. 337.
  15. ^ "Josef Mengele". Holocaust Encyclopedia. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  16. ^ Lifton 1986, p. 350.
  17. ^ a b Posner & Ware 1986, p. 37.
  18. ^ Lifton 1986, p. 351.
  19. ^ Lifton 1985.
  20. ^ Lifton 1986, pp. 347, 353.
  21. ^ "Josef Mengele". Holocaust Encyclopedia. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 6 November 2018.
  22. ^ Lifton 1986, p. 362.
  23. ^ Astor 1985, p. 102.
  24. ^ Lifton 1986, p. 360.
  25. ^ Brozan 1982.
  26. ^ Mozes-Kor 1992, p. 57.
  27. ^ "List of individual victims of Jasenovac concentration camp". Jasenovac Memorial Site. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  28. ^ ABSEES (January 1973). ABSEES - Soviet and East European Abstracts Series. ABSEES.
  29. ^ "Jastrebarsko Camp". Jasenovac Memorial Site. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  30. ^ Fumić, Ivan (2011). Djeca — žrtve ustaškog režima [Child Victims of the Ustaše Regime]. Zagreb, Croatia: Savez antifasistickih borca I antifasista republike Hrvatske [Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists of the Republic of Croatia]. ISBN 978-953-7587-09-3.
  31. ^ Lukić, Dragoje (1980). Zločini okupatora i njegovih saradnika nad decom kozarskog područja 1941–1945. godine [The Crimes of the Occupiers and their Collaborators Against Children in the Kozara region 1941–1945]. Kozara u narodnooslobodilačkoj borbi i socijalističkoj revoluciji (1941–1945) [Kozara in the National Liberation War and Socialist Revolution: (1941–1945)] (27 – 28 October 1977). Prijedor, Yugoslavia: Nacionalni park "Kozara". pp. 269–284. OCLC 10076276.
  32. ^ Marija Vuselica: Regionen Kroatien in Der Ort des Terrors: Arbeitserziehungslager, Ghettos, Jugendschutzlager, Polizeihaftlager, Sonderlager, Zigeunerlager, Zwangsarbeiterlager, Volume 9 of Der Ort des Terrors, Publisher C.H.Beck, 2009, ISBN 9783406572388 pages 321-323
  33. ^ Anna Maria Grünfelder: Arbeitseinsatz für die Neuordnung Europas: Zivil- und ZwangsarbeiterInnen aus Jugoslawien in der "Ostmark" 1938/41-1945, Publisher Böhlau Verlag Wien, 2010 ISBN 9783205784531 pages 101-106
  34. ^ a b c d "SISAK CAMP". Jasenovac Memorial Cite. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  35. ^ Review of International Affairs, Volume 33, Issues 762-785, Federation of Yugoslav Journalists, 1982 page 31
  36. ^ Study Guide Sonia Orbuch: A Young Woman with the Russian Partisans[permanent dead link]
  37. ^ a b "Hidden Children of the Holocasut". Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  38. ^ "How a WWII-era forger saved lives, one fake document at a time". Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  39. ^ "B'rit Milah: The Circumcision Ritual". 19 December 2012. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  40. ^ "Life in Shadows: Hidden Children and the Holocaust". Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  41. ^ Call, Dan Sheehan and Samantha Marcus, Of The Morning. "Jewish children were placed in foster homes to escape Nazis". Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  42. ^ "The Immigration of Refugee Children to the United States". Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  43. ^ Kaplan, Marion A. (1999). Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish life in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 116-117.
  44. ^ Elizabeth Altham, Catholic Heroes of the Holocaust Archived 12 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  45. ^ Lazar Wall, "A survivor’s musical link to now", The Jewish Advocate, December 12, 2018
  46. ^ Dalia Ofer, Holocaust Survivors as Immigrants: The Case of Israel and the Cyprus Detainees
  47. ^ Shivat Tzion- The Return to Zion

External linksEdit