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Children were at the center of the Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. In this groundbreaking study–based on a wide range of new sources–Nicholas Stargardt details what happened to children of all nationalities and religions living under the Nazi regime. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were sa Children were at the center of the Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. In this groundbreaking study–based on a wide range of new sources–Nicholas Stargardt details what happened to children of all nationalities and religions living under the Nazi regime. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were saved or damned according to their race. Drawing on an untouched wealth of original material–school assignments; juvenile diaries; letters; and even accounts of children’s games–Nicholas Stargardt breaks stereotypes of victimhood and trauma to give us the gripping individual stories of the generation Hitler made.


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Children were at the center of the Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. In this groundbreaking study–based on a wide range of new sources–Nicholas Stargardt details what happened to children of all nationalities and religions living under the Nazi regime. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were sa Children were at the center of the Nazi ideology; now we have their history of those years. In this groundbreaking study–based on a wide range of new sources–Nicholas Stargardt details what happened to children of all nationalities and religions living under the Nazi regime. Their stories open a world we have never seen before. As the Nazis overran Europe, children were saved or damned according to their race. Drawing on an untouched wealth of original material–school assignments; juvenile diaries; letters; and even accounts of children’s games–Nicholas Stargardt breaks stereotypes of victimhood and trauma to give us the gripping individual stories of the generation Hitler made.

30 review for Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Wow. I've read a number of books about WWII Germany and what the Nazis did. But this is the first time that I actually started having dreams/nightmares about that time period. This book talks about a number of children and what they experienced during the war. Jews, "Aryans" and others had a variety of experiences - some good, some bad - and it really put a human face on the story. I hadn't realized just how many people died of starvation - prisoners, mental patients, the mentally and physically Wow. I've read a number of books about WWII Germany and what the Nazis did. But this is the first time that I actually started having dreams/nightmares about that time period. This book talks about a number of children and what they experienced during the war. Jews, "Aryans" and others had a variety of experiences - some good, some bad - and it really put a human face on the story. I hadn't realized just how many people died of starvation - prisoners, mental patients, the mentally and physically disabled, Jews, etc. Children deemed unfit were often killed outright by bullets or were left to waste away from starvation. One thing that stuck most with me was the fact that, after the war was over, Germans weren't able to commemorate or honor those who died for their country - the war was unjust, and therefore the soldiers were villans, not victims. Imagine a child having a father who died for their country but who can't be proud of that fact. I have another book about children in Nazi Germany that I want to read soon. I've decided to read another book or two so I can keep the two books separate in my mind, since they're about similar topics.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Extremely meticulously researched, this book deals with the effects of Nazi propaganda, war, and deprivation on those who were children in the WWII years. The author uses original materials from the time as much as possible (children's diaries, letters to fathers/brothers serving, children's artwork, adult descriptions of children's games and school activities) as well as later adult recollections of their childhoods, which of course are colored by the knowledge of history after the fact. The au Extremely meticulously researched, this book deals with the effects of Nazi propaganda, war, and deprivation on those who were children in the WWII years. The author uses original materials from the time as much as possible (children's diaries, letters to fathers/brothers serving, children's artwork, adult descriptions of children's games and school activities) as well as later adult recollections of their childhoods, which of course are colored by the knowledge of history after the fact. The author tells the stories of Jewish survivors of concentration camps/mass shootings, witnesses to atrocities, German children who towards war end who were often called up to man flak batteries or guard prisoners at age 15 or so, Polish children who survived the Warsaw ghetto and fed their families through smuggling or black market deals, children affected by evacuations, children affected by the rapes of their mothers/sisters during the Red Army's occupation of Berlin, and much more. Chilling reading as expected, but the author does a great job of presenting an objective view of his subjects without passing judgment.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    This is a book about how children experience and understand war. Stargardt looks at the experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe of Jewish children, Polish children, Czech children, German children--some of them Nazis, some of them "juvenile delinquents" (this term includes an eight-year-old girl sent to the reformatory because she was being sexually abused--in the view of the child psychology of the day (and not just Nazi, either), she "seduced" the teenage boys and adult men who abused her), others This is a book about how children experience and understand war. Stargardt looks at the experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe of Jewish children, Polish children, Czech children, German children--some of them Nazis, some of them "juvenile delinquents" (this term includes an eight-year-old girl sent to the reformatory because she was being sexually abused--in the view of the child psychology of the day (and not just Nazi, either), she "seduced" the teenage boys and adult men who abused her), others disabled or "mentally ill" children (again, that tag covers a lot of ground). All of the children in this book are victims, and Stargardt is clear about that, but he's also clear that you can't do book-keeping with suffering: "There can be no cancellation of one horror by invoking another" (Stargardt 365). One of the most thought-provoking aspects of the book is the way he weaves back and forth from the Jewish children in Birkenau to the German children in Berlin, and does his best to be compassionate to both, without ever losing sight of the larger truth of the Holocaust. Many of the German children whose diaries and experiences Stargardt recounts and analyzes are ardent Nazis. And Stargardt talks about why that is, both in the binary simplicity of Nazi morality and in the romanticism of its call for duty and self-sacrifice. Nazism taught children that they should desire to lay down their lives for their Führer, and they embraced that teaching. The Nazis claimed to value and protect children--the future of the Volk, etc. etc.--but when push came right down to shove, they sacrificed the future of the Volk by the thousand in completely futile actions, trying to prolong a war they had already lost. Not content with genocide, Nazism also ate its own young. Those are the parts of the book that I didn't expect. The Holocaust is familiar, terrible ground; the lives (and deaths) of Jewish children followed patterns that I expected, although expecting them does not make it easier to read about and does not make me any less helplessly furious at people long dead. Likewise, the murder of disabled children--by and large, they were slowly starved to death, and this continued EVEN AFTER THE END OF THE WAR because the Allies left the hospital staffs in place, and the hospital staffs continued to do what they perceived as their duty--was something I was at least aware of, having read Robert Jay Lifton's excellent The Nazi Doctors. And I knew that Nazism went to great trouble to indoctrinate children, to twist them to its service. But I did not know how readily it discarded them. Not, of course, that I should have found that surprising, either. Like Stalinist communism (which I am reading about in The Gulag Archipelago), Nazism always considered actual people--as opposed to the ideological Volk, which must be protected at all costs, and especially those costs visited on Poles and Ukranians and other untermenschen--expendable. Solzhenitsyn says in The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II: Ideology--that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and give the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem god instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses, but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations. Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. How, then, do we dare insist that evildoers do not exist? And who was it that destroyed those millions?(Solzhenitsyn 173-4) And Stargardt is addressing that question, too, noting the ways in which ideology was used on children, the ways in which the evil being perpetrated was seen as good, not merely by the Nazi party leaders and other men in power, but by ordinary Germans. And how in turn that evil became the justification for more evil, for the atrocities committed by the Red Army and the debasement, oppression, and slaughter of ethnic Germans by Czechs and Poles after liberation. (And then there are the anti-Semitic pogroms, proving that new evil and old evil can get along just fine, thank you.) The evil done to Germans does not change anything about the evil done by Germans, but at the same time, the evil done by Germans does not change anything about the evil done to them. Two wrongs continue to fail to make a right.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Engaging read about the experience of children during WW II. Far more engaging than Cruel World. Stargardt focuses on all children, spending equal time with the German children as well as the children of occupied countries. He deals with the build up to the war as well its aftermath. Engaging read about the experience of children during WW II. Far more engaging than Cruel World. Stargardt focuses on all children, spending equal time with the German children as well as the children of occupied countries. He deals with the build up to the war as well its aftermath.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Excellent account, must have been painstakingly researched, of children's views and experiences of the rise of the Nazi party and new rules, the war and the aftermath. Mostly heartbreaking, at times very poignant, it really shows that some victims of the war are forgotten. And in many cases, told to repress memories, or simply asked to grow up way before their time, as this particular generation of children in Europe were asked to do. Excellent account, must have been painstakingly researched, of children's views and experiences of the rise of the Nazi party and new rules, the war and the aftermath. Mostly heartbreaking, at times very poignant, it really shows that some victims of the war are forgotten. And in many cases, told to repress memories, or simply asked to grow up way before their time, as this particular generation of children in Europe were asked to do.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Vos

    The detail on what happened to law-breaking or delinquent children in The Third Reich was new to me. The handling of a hugely wide variety of experiences, especially in the conclusion (memory, retrospective views) is done sensibly and without relativisation.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Moscovici

    Children were the most innocent casualties of WWII. Killed in concentration camps, orphaned by battles throughout Europe, languishing from starvation, destroyed by disease, targeted for their race, traumatized by violence, tens of millions of children throughout European countries suffered and died. Nicholas Stargardt’s informative and well-documented book, Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis (New York: Vintage Books, 2007) draws upon children’s school assignments, journals and le Children were the most innocent casualties of WWII. Killed in concentration camps, orphaned by battles throughout Europe, languishing from starvation, destroyed by disease, targeted for their race, traumatized by violence, tens of millions of children throughout European countries suffered and died. Nicholas Stargardt’s informative and well-documented book, Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis (New York: Vintage Books, 2007) draws upon children’s school assignments, journals and letters to recreate for contemporary readers an invaluable historical picture of children’s lives under the Nazi regimes. For me, the most inspiring and heartbreaking true story in the book is his account of life for the Jewish orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto and the heroic deeds of their caretaker, Doctor Janusz Korczak. Selfless and courageous, Korczak provided for the orphans even in the harshest conditions—resorting to begging for food for them—and stayed with them to the end to comfort them as they were boarded on death trains, refusing the chance to survive without them. Stargardt describes how on the morning of August 6, 1942, after finding out about the Nazi plan to liquidate the children of the orphanage, “Stefa Wilczynska and Janusz Korczak instinctively moved together to calm the children and get them to gather together their things as they had been shown. One of the teachers went out into the courtyard and obtained a quarter of an hour from the Jewish police to allow the children to pack up and come out in good order… As they lined up in fifty rows of four abreast Korczak set off with the younger children in the lead so that they would not be outstripped by the older ones… That day, all the children’s homes in the ghetto were cleared by the Germans…” (182). Stargardt also depicts children’s unhappy lives in concentration camps and their powers of adaptation. Because of the wealth of documentation, he focuses in particular on the group from Theresienstadt, called “the Family Camp” at Auschwitz because it was the only camp in which young children were allowed to survive for awhile and continued to live with their families--until they too were killed en masse between July 10-12, 1944. (see my earlier review about Theresienstadt, http://literaturadeazi.ro/content/rea...). “Racial outsiders” were not the only victims of the Nazis, however. Even privileged categories of children—German children themselves—suffered during the Nazi regime, though not for the same reasons as Jewish, Polish or Gypsy victims. Towards the end of WWII, many German children were, like their parents, casualties of war. Stargardt describes, for instance, the bombing of Hamburg, which “marked a turning point in the war. Its scale was completely unprecedented, and it came at a time when both British and German governments that such attacks on German civilians might decide the fortunes of the war” (233). Child survivors recall feeling very frightened by the bombing and praying to stay alive. “The conjunction of sudden awakening out of deep sleep and the sound of the sirens was particularly potent,” the author explains. “In Bochum, Karl-Heinz Bodecker repeated each night as he got into bed, ‘May the Tommies leave us in peace tonight.’ Among Ute Rau’s first stumbling words were ‘Quick, quick, coats, cellar’” (234). Perhaps the deepest suffering of German children was a result of losing their fathers. According to Stargardt, 4,923,000 German soldiers died during the war, two thirds of them perishing during 1944 and 1945. (337) Consequently, millions of German children of that generation grew up not knowing what it’s like to have a father. Furthermore, about 13 million abandoned and orphaned children were displaced during and shortly after WWII. (351) Many were victims of forced evacuations, slave labor, “Germanization”, concentration camps and the rare survivors of the liquidated Jewish ghettos. Although their numbers can be quantified, their suffering cannot. These children were the victims of a war that was largely outside their control and, for the youngest, also beyond their comprehension. Claudia Moscovici Holocaust Memory

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christophe Bernier

    Livre que j’ai trouvé difficile à lire. Ne fait pas dans la dentelle et va au cœur de sujets souvent oubliés ou évités par les historiens. Eugénisme, adoptions forcés, déportations, vie sous l’occupation, endoctrinement de la jeunesse, camps de famille (où les visites de la Croix-Rouge ont été circonscrites et d’où les inspecteurs sont sortis avec l’idée que tout était beau), l’entrée de l’armée soviétique à Berlin (les viols massifs qui ont suivie), le retour des victimes de déportations, des m Livre que j’ai trouvé difficile à lire. Ne fait pas dans la dentelle et va au cœur de sujets souvent oubliés ou évités par les historiens. Eugénisme, adoptions forcés, déportations, vie sous l’occupation, endoctrinement de la jeunesse, camps de famille (où les visites de la Croix-Rouge ont été circonscrites et d’où les inspecteurs sont sortis avec l’idée que tout était beau), l’entrée de l’armée soviétique à Berlin (les viols massifs qui ont suivie), le retour des victimes de déportations, des membres des jeunesses hitlériennes et des pères en provenance du front dans leur famille pas toujours évident et du devoir de mémoire qui a suivi.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Roughly chronological, the text, accompanied by photographs and drawings, relays the experiences of a wide variety of children who lived under Nazi rule, beginning in 1933. Some of the material is drawn from contemporaneous source material, correspondence, diaries, drawings, some from later studies and interviews. A number of well-documented children's stories run throughout, concluding with repatriation and reconstruction accounts. Some other stories end with untimely deaths, documented or simp Roughly chronological, the text, accompanied by photographs and drawings, relays the experiences of a wide variety of children who lived under Nazi rule, beginning in 1933. Some of the material is drawn from contemporaneous source material, correspondence, diaries, drawings, some from later studies and interviews. A number of well-documented children's stories run throughout, concluding with repatriation and reconstruction accounts. Some other stories end with untimely deaths, documented or simply presumed. Most interesting is the author's attempt to distinguish the mentalities of those raised before from those raised during Nazi rule, the former generally adjusting better to post-war circumstances than the latter. They had, after all, the experience of another world which younger people lacked. Also interesting, and most poignant, were the accounts of children's fates during the years of rollback and restructuring, 1942-c. 1950, when many suffered a second, if not a third or fourth, radical readjustment.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    An interesting and necessary subject, with rather a less successful execution. The experience of children during the Holocaust turns out not to differ too widely from that of adults, which has been extensively recorded and analyzed. Thus much of this information seems familiar, even when Stargardt is careful to document the lives of both German and Jewish children (an equanimity that's much appreciated). Nothing here is all that revelatory; a perfunctory overview of daily lived experiences, a cu An interesting and necessary subject, with rather a less successful execution. The experience of children during the Holocaust turns out not to differ too widely from that of adults, which has been extensively recorded and analyzed. Thus much of this information seems familiar, even when Stargardt is careful to document the lives of both German and Jewish children (an equanimity that's much appreciated). Nothing here is all that revelatory; a perfunctory overview of daily lived experiences, a cursory examination of the way children coped, and some end matter tying the whole thing together. The focus of the book is singular, but not its content, which has been covered elsewhere more engagingly. Optional.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    It was absolutely excellent. While I had a good knowledge of what generally happened, (It helps that I can read German :) it was the amount of detail and the variety of sources in the endnotes that helped make this book very good. I will be reading a very similar book by him soon and am looking forward to the detail.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lysergius

    A fascinating view of the second World War and its aftermath from the point of view the children of countries of Europe affected by the upheavals of the conflict. Filled with personal anecdotes and incident, it manages to personalise much of the raw statistics. 13 million orphans post war is a frightening figure, and immeasurably worse is the damage to the minds and spirits of the survivors.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I found this book fascinating as a historical record, but most important as a warning of how children internalize what they hear and see from society, and how war and strife and hate can affect their development. It gives uit a lot to think about.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Une Passion des mots

    C'était une lecture très enrichissante et intéressante, remplie de beaucoup d'informations qui ont pu me perdre un peu parfois, mais aussi de réflexions et de témoignages qui permettent d'apprendre et d'avoir une meilleure vision sur le passé et le présent ! C'était une lecture très enrichissante et intéressante, remplie de beaucoup d'informations qui ont pu me perdre un peu parfois, mais aussi de réflexions et de témoignages qui permettent d'apprendre et d'avoir une meilleure vision sur le passé et le présent !

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tomi

    Education can be used for good or evil. In Nazi Germany, it was indoctrination that was so evil...this book disturbed me because it showed how easily children can be taught hateful theories.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Cassandra

    All we thought we knew is nothing compared to this book's reading. All we thought we knew is nothing compared to this book's reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Gelert

    This was a very long and intense book. Looking at the war through the eyes of all children - Jew, Polish, German and so on. How the horrors shaped them and made it hard for them to function in the real world. The trauma of starving, bombings, thirst and the fear of what the Nazis and the Red Army could do to them. Even in their playing those horrors took center stage. From Jewish children at family camp concentration camps acting out gas chamber, to German children playing rape and shooting squa This was a very long and intense book. Looking at the war through the eyes of all children - Jew, Polish, German and so on. How the horrors shaped them and made it hard for them to function in the real world. The trauma of starving, bombings, thirst and the fear of what the Nazis and the Red Army could do to them. Even in their playing those horrors took center stage. From Jewish children at family camp concentration camps acting out gas chamber, to German children playing rape and shooting squads in the manner of the Red Army. With Hitler getting rid of all German children and youth that would not become the best example of the German people, to those that were the shining example being sent to the front at the ages of 10, 11 and up. No matter what the horror, they all acted the same. Forgetting how to talk, attachments to parent figures, reverting back to bed wetting. Some can barely remember who they were. Especially those Polish children who looked German and were snatched from their families and placed in German families and trained to be a German. A sad and tragic event in our history of the world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Gillespie

    Having read widely on the topic of World War II, especially recently, I found that Witnesses of War still stood out for it’s unique perspective in tracing the events of World War II and its aftermath through the eyes of children involved in the conflict. From kids who grew to teenagers in the Hitler Youth to children from the ghettos and concentration camps, the book looks at diaries, letters, and drawings to build a narrative of how the war looked to impressionable and adaptable young people. Th Having read widely on the topic of World War II, especially recently, I found that Witnesses of War still stood out for it’s unique perspective in tracing the events of World War II and its aftermath through the eyes of children involved in the conflict. From kids who grew to teenagers in the Hitler Youth to children from the ghettos and concentration camps, the book looks at diaries, letters, and drawings to build a narrative of how the war looked to impressionable and adaptable young people. The whole book is worthwhile, but it’s particularly strong in its depiction of post-war life. I learned a lot from the author’s insight into how kids dealt with the aftermath of the war. Adults had memories of pre-war life, and a framework for imagining peace. Children who had grown up steeped in Nazi ideology or bearing the brunt of occupation and persecution had to reimagine everything. Stargardt’s excellent scholarship and readable style made Witnesses of War a fascinating and worthwhile account, and I’d recommend it if you’re interested in the time period. Originally posted on A Spirited Mind.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    One does not see many books which concentrate on wars' effects on the young. This book, like "Cruel World" by Lynn H. Nicholas, does just that. "Witnesses of War" covers both Aryan children and their buy in to Nazi propaganda and those children who were on the other side as it were. What really comes out in the end is Germans were a lot more aware of what was going on but suppressed it. It was when they were being bombed in 1943 and 44 that they began to think it was because of what Nazi Germany One does not see many books which concentrate on wars' effects on the young. This book, like "Cruel World" by Lynn H. Nicholas, does just that. "Witnesses of War" covers both Aryan children and their buy in to Nazi propaganda and those children who were on the other side as it were. What really comes out in the end is Germans were a lot more aware of what was going on but suppressed it. It was when they were being bombed in 1943 and 44 that they began to think it was because of what Nazi Germany had done and was doing to European Jews that their cities were being destroyed. When the war ended and they were undergoing deprivations they tried to equate what they were going through to what they had put others through. While it might be considered only a matter of degree, there is a wide gulf between attempting to exterminate whole peoples and going hungry and living in ruins for a few years.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    This book is disturbing as anything with Holocaust content would be. Some of the things discussed are uncomfortable but the book gives a good picture (sometimes in first hand accounts) of what life for European children was like under the Nazi regime. It talks about the persecuted and those on the other side. It's definitely a fascinating yet sad account of the sort of brutality that went on during those years. This book is disturbing as anything with Holocaust content would be. Some of the things discussed are uncomfortable but the book gives a good picture (sometimes in first hand accounts) of what life for European children was like under the Nazi regime. It talks about the persecuted and those on the other side. It's definitely a fascinating yet sad account of the sort of brutality that went on during those years.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    The research underpinning this highly original book is profound and the data in the narrative are very precise. The author presents a very harrowing and deeply moving account of the experience of children during the Nazi era in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, covering the awful events involved in the second world war. Recommended reading for anyone who values the freedom we enjoy at the present time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Mahowald

    Like "The Hunger Games" this book is about an evil government taking children away from their parents and placing them into a fight for their lives. Unfortunately, this book is based upon fact, not fiction. It provides a sobering historical account of the lives of children during WWII. Like "The Hunger Games" this book is about an evil government taking children away from their parents and placing them into a fight for their lives. Unfortunately, this book is based upon fact, not fiction. It provides a sobering historical account of the lives of children during WWII.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Travis

    One of the books I had to buy for a WW2 class I took. The selections I read were well put together. It's always nice to find scholarship on the Second World War that deals with these little niche issues -- just one more reminder of how much there is left untold. One of the books I had to buy for a WW2 class I took. The selections I read were well put together. It's always nice to find scholarship on the Second World War that deals with these little niche issues -- just one more reminder of how much there is left untold.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ricardo Moreira

    Dá que pensar (e muito)...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I think I will read Hunt's "On Hitler's Mountain" first. I think I will read Hunt's "On Hitler's Mountain" first.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This book has alot of good information, but I had trouble getting through all the "dry data". Interesting view of the war and occupation through eyes of children. This book has alot of good information, but I had trouble getting through all the "dry data". Interesting view of the war and occupation through eyes of children.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sumi

  28. 5 out of 5

    vivamarzullo

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elsa

  30. 5 out of 5

    Paul

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