In many lands, children experienced the horrors of war firsthand, both as combatants and victims. Children were the most vulnerable part of the population, and many perished from starvation, malnutrition, or disease. Others fell victim to Nazi Germany's euthanasia programs. Some 1.2 million Jewish children throughout Europe died in the Holocaust.
In the Soviet Union, children helped patrol their neighborhoods at night to make certain that blackouts were being enforced. They filled sandbags and water buckets to prepare against incendiary bomb attacks and were enlisted to help in constructing antitank defenses before Moscow in the summer of 1941. Children were also actual combatants. They fought with partisan units in the Soviet Union and in Yugoslavia, among other nations. They also helped collect intelligence on Axis occupying forces. And in the last desperate fighting of World War II in Europe, Adolf Hitler pressed many young German boys into the army.
After the war, conditions were desperate in many parts of the world. In Vietnam, perhaps a million people perished in famine, including many children. Conditions were equally desperate in other states. Large numbers of people were displaced by the war, left homeless and hungry. There were perhaps 13 million abandoned European children at the end of World War II. Poland claimed a million orphans and France 250,000.
Adults were changed by the war, but so were the children who survived it. As they aged, their childhood experiences remained a reference point for their adult lives and served as a benchmark with which to measure future generations. John Morello and Spencer C. Tucker
Dwork, Deborah. Children with a Star: Jewish Children in Nazi Europe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.; Halls, W. D. The Youth of Vichy France. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.; Macardle, Dorothy. Children of Europe: A Study of the Children of Liberated Countries—Their War-Time Experiences, Their Reactions, and Their Needs, with a Note on Germany. Boston: Beacon Press, 1949.; Sosnowski, Kiryl. The Tragedy of Children under Nazi Rule. New York: Howard Fertig, 1983.; Werner, Emmy E. Through the Eyes of Innocents: Children Witness World War II. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.
John Morello and Spencer C. Tucker