Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Children and the War

Title: Child soldier in China
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During World War II, millions of men and women around the world served in the armed forces of their respective nations. Millions of others contributed to the war effort by maintaining vital services and laboring in war-related industries. And children went to war as well. Even those far removed from the fighting were affected by the war. They collected scrap metal and other materials that would be vital to the war effort, participated in austerity programs, left school to work on farms, grew vegetables in urban plots, and suffered from the same shortages and wartime prohibitions as did their parents.

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.

Title: English children in bomb dugout
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Many children perished as a direct result of Soviet policies as well. Polish authorities estimated that about 140,000 Polish children were uprooted from their homes in the Soviet-occupied portion of Poland. Of these, perhaps 40,000 simply disappeared. In the Far East, Chinese children suffered along with their parents in the Japanese reprisal campaigns. Children were also the innocent victims of the indiscriminate bombing of cities conducted by both sides, beginning with German air attacks on Warsaw and ending with the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To avoid such bombings, many children in most nations under air attack were sent into the countryside to live with relatives or even with strangers. A number were also sent abroad, separated from their parents for years and, in many cases, forever; examples include the British children sent to North America and the Finnish children sent to Sweden.

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


Further Reading
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.
 

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