Cover Image: The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front

The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front

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Member Reviews

This book from the beginning makes you think about human life and sacrice.  These children are resilient beyond belief.  These children are and could be out last surviving witnesses of World War 2.  It is important that their story is out there especially to our children of now.  The fact that these children were able to survive in the wild is remarkable and shows their resilience to survive.  A brilliant book that should be read to remind usnof the sacrifices that were taken during the war to live how we do today.
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A very informative book.   The trials and hardships of German children as young as 3 years old trying to survive in the forests of East Prussia after WW2.  Heartbreaking and amazing!  How their experiences effected the rest of their lives.
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Thank you NetGalley and Pen and Sword! 

I wish I could say that this one was a home run for me, unfortunately it just wasn't. 
The story was very cut and paste and came across as very dry. It was really hard to stay invested in with what was going on.
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The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front by Kerstin Lieff and Sonya Winterberg is the story of the "Wolf Children" and preserves a lesser-known piece history from the end of and the aftermath of World War 2.
With East Prussia first bombed by the RAF then swarmed by Russian invaders what remained of the population, mostly women and children,fled from the hordes of the Red Army. Amid scenes of chaos and carnage 20,000 children found themselves orphaned or lost by their families and headed for the relative safety of Lithuania.. Once there they scavenged begged and did menial work leading a feral lifestyle with the lucky few adopted by Lithuanians. Even then they were not safe and the Russians continued to hound them and sanction any of the kind Lithuanian families caught helping them.

The book tells the stories of a handful of the survivors and their often harrowing stories. As young children they saw things no child should ever see and experienced hardship and abuse with many dying. along the way. With Lithuania under Soviet control they were pariahs in their new home and many went through life uneducated and in poverty.

Lieff and Winterberg interview the now elderly survivors and even take some of them back to East Prussia,now Kaliningrad where in some very moving scenes some find the houses they were forced out of   as children still standing.

It's been a long time since a book has affected me as much as this one, the sheer horror and depravity of war,the worst and best of human nature is all here. At the back of my mind as I read it were recent events where history looks like repeating itself. 

An excellent,and essential,read.
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My reaction to this book was stunned. It is about children from East Prussia who were separated from their parents during the final stages of World War II. In the meantime, they became homeless in the forest of East Prussia or were adopted by Lithuanian families. Wolf Children were completely unknown to me. Besides reading about it, I watched a documentary on the subject. There is no way I can describe my sorrow for them and the difficult circumstances they have faced. The impact of war is always profound on those who have lived through it. Moreover, some of those children survived these terrible events and have sad memories of them. In some chapters, I was moved to tears imagining their suffering. Occasionally, I had to stop reading and reflect on things or even put myself in their shoes. If you can handle such cruelty, it might be worth your while. Furthermore, its strong narrative attracted me.
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This is a topic that has never been written about before,  Seems to have been left out of the history books.
Events that happened during the fall of Berlin, the retreat and surrender of Germany, not many accounts where written about the civilians that were left behind. How did they survive, what happened to them.  They have been erased from history.  This book brings to the fore that the atrocities of war has a devastating effect on children, 

This interested me due to what is happening in the Ukraine and what happened in Chechnya, children left behind or transported to Russia.

Well written, heartbreaking.
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I originally read a short article about the Wolf Children several years ago.  Children from Eastern Prussia who were abandoned after fleeing the Russian red army in the aftermath of WW2. This book is a collection of the tales from these survivors about their lives.

The author set out to collect the histories of the survivors. These narratives are often painful and heartbreaking to read. The brutality and cruelty suffered by these people is on a horrendous scale. Reading their experiences is hard to do, but it's also a humbling to see what a human can be subjected to, often at a young age, and still retain their own humanity. The impact of what they lived through goes through them all their lives.

This book is incredibly thought provoking. I found it difficult to read what those poor people were subjected to, simply because they were from Eastern Prussia. I learnt a great deal from this book and found it humbling to read.

Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing an E arc in return for an honest review.
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“The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front: Alone and Forgotten,” by Kerstin Lieff and Sonya Winterberg, Published Date: 30 November 2022, Kindle Edition (PDF) and ISBN 9781399014601, earns four stars.

This book focuses on a little-known aspect of WWII, i.e., what happened to German children living in East Prussia, which during WWII was the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast. Following Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945, East Prussia was divided between the Soviet Union, Lithuania, and Poland. The capital city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946. 

The German population of the province was largely evacuated during the war or expelled shortly after World War II. An estimated 300,000 Germans died either in wartime bombing raids, in the battles to defend the province, through mistreatment by the Red Army, or from hunger, cold and disease. However, this doesn’t include the 20,000 children who were separated from or lost their families (“Wolf Children”)—the focus of this book, which is filled with their testimonies. 

While many died, a few that managed to survive. Their experiences are unimaginable: freezing, endless hunger, rape, abuse, and death. Some were taken in by Lithuanian families, but even then, they largely grew up illiterate and oppressed by poverty, and ultimately, largely ignored and abandoned by the governments over them. Despite these most terrible challenges and obstacles, their will to live and their hope for a better life is arresting. In all my years studying WWII, this subject is new to me. These children, now senior citizens, tell their stories…and they are moving.

Sincere thanks to the author, and Kindle Edition (PDF) and Pen & Sword, Pen & Sword Military, for granting this reviewer the opportunity to read this Advance Reader Copy (ARC), and thanks to NetGalley for helping to make that possible.
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This book filled a gap in my knowledge of post-war Europe and it tells an important story which needs to be heard.  This is a difficult book to read and it is fraught and filled with tragedy, but it must be read as the experiences of this generation have shaped their future generations and no doubt continue to impact society today.
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It is easy to think that World War 2 ended in 1945 and life returned to “normal” across Europe. However, in the bitterly cold winter of 1944-45, thousands of Germans living it what was then East Prussia, fled their homes to escape from the invading Russian Red Army.
In this period, over 20,000 children lost their families. Some were simply separated amidst the chaos of crowded trains, whilst others lost family members to starvation, illnesses such as dysentery, or injury along the way. Children as young as 3 or 4 years old were suddenly alone in the world, desperately trying to survive. Over the next few years, these children sought refuge where they could, hiding in barns and derelict houses, foraging for food, begging for help. While many died, some managed to survive - they were known as the “Wolf Children”.
Lured by the promise of a “land of bread and cake”, many headed to Lithuania, where the lucky ones were taken in by Lithuanian farmers who often risked their own lives to help these children. Some were adopted into families, given new identities whilst others were exploited as free labour for agricultural work. Living in rural communities and unable to go to school for fear of being outed & thus putting their hosts at risk for harbouring a "little Fascist", the majority of the Wolf Children were illiterate. Growing up and living under Communism, they were unable to escape from the poverty they’d grown up with. Always hopeful that they would one day be reunited with an aunt, a cousin or even a parent or sibling in Germany, many of the children registered with organisations that were designed to reunite families after the war. However, illiteracy, coupled with new names and a lack of common language made it difficult, usually impossible, for them to return to Germany when the situation might have allowed it. They were hardly ever reunited with other family members and those who did manage to make contact were often shunned in fear that they would be expected to provide for these poor “Eastern cousins”. 

The book has been compiled from stories told by surviving “Wolf Children”, and follows some of them as they travel to rediscover their roots. The stories are painful and the reactions to seeing the wealth of West Germany for the first time is poignant. They clearly struggle to speak of the past, not wanting to revisit painful memories, yet all knew that their story needed to be told – and told first-hand, by the ones who lived it. 

The way that the book is structured is by topic, such as “Abandoned”, “Shelter and Kindness” and “The Allure of the New Germany”. I totally understand why the author chose to structure the book like this, but it made it harder to read as we get part of say one child’s story here, then again there & again 3 chapters later. I think I would have preferred the structure to be by child, or at least for the sections about each child to be longer to save me constantly flicking backwards & forwards to remember what had happened to each of them.
The photographs helped to bring it to life and provide the reader with a human connection to the children of the stories. 
It’s not an easy or “fun” read, but an important one, that is particularly recommended for anyone interested in history relating to the aftermath of WW2 and/or Communist era Eastern Europe.
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This moving document of Social History covers a subject with which I was not previously familiar: the fate of the so-called  "Wolf Children"-the young people, many of whom were little more than infants, who were abandoned by their families, or sometimes the sole survivors after East Prussia was invaded by the Soviet armies following the defeat of Germany in World War 2 and the invasion by Soviet troops. 

The authors have complied multiple eye-witness accounts by survivors, now elderly men and women, who had, in the aftermath of war and invasion, after seeing their mothers raped multiple times before their eyes, the elderly men and boys tortured and then killed by the invading soldiers,and being starved and beaten and terrorized themselves, taken to the woods, the highroads, and railways, in an attempt to survive. The towns and cities of East Prussia had been razed to the ground by bombs and tanks. In the countryside, farms were looted, cattle slaughtered, and crops destroyed. There was very little available to eat, so for those children who took to begging, there were slim pickings. Sometimes they travelled in groups, sometimes alone. Those whose families survived the immediate aftermath of war often had to watch as first one, then another of their siblings succumbed to fever, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, or malnutrition. Frequently they had to leave the corpses unburied, as the ground was too hard and they had no picks or shovels with which to dig their graves, let alone give them a decent burial. 
Often , older girls and boys, and sometimes even young ones, were victims of rape and sexual abuse, as well as cruelty and deprivation at the hands, not only of soldiers but of those farmers and others who took them in to work in exchange for meagre rations. Some were fortunate, finding kindly people who cared for them, gave them food, and even let them go to school, though this was rarer, as it was very dangerous in Lithuania, and other places to which these Wolf Children had often fled, to have a "little Fascist" sheltering under one's roof. 
The children had to take on new names, as well as adopting the different language and customs of their adopted countries. This made it difficult, sometimes impossible, for them to return to Germany when the situation might have allowed it. They were hardly ever reunited with other family members from whom they had been separated. 

These accounts are horrific, raising awareness that, however grotesque the cruelties perpetrated by the Nazis before and during World War Two, after the war had ended the suffering endured by the Germans, especially in the East, which was invaded by the Soviet armies, was extreme and horrible, and a generation of children was traumatized by what happened to them. That these people survived it all, and were able to come to terms with it, is laudable, as well as incredible. Often, they found it very difficult to speak of the past: they had repressed these memories in order to keep their sanity intact, and revisiting their childhoods was deeply painful, but they wanted to bear witness to what had happened.

I feel that this is an important book since it raises our awareness of what is, for many of us, an unknown element in the History of the 20th century. It also reminds us that the fate of the Wolf Children is not confined solely to their own particular time and place: similar things have happened throughout History, are still happening, and will continue to happen in the future, unless Mankind can change and understand that punishing the helpless, the weak and the children for the sins of the rulers, the politicians, and even their elders, is no answer and will not prevent future wars. Rather, it promotes them, for the resentments fester and boil over: tit for tat reprisals go on and on unto eternity, and it is the most helpless and blameless who inevitably suffer the most. 

Although I would have liked a closer, more in-depth focus on one or two individuals and their stories, so that I could fully empathise with the individuals involved-at times, the details are too sketchy, and become a bit repetitive, which causes the attention to wander- I feel that the authors wanted to document these many accounts in order to show we readers how widespread the suffering was and to enable the survivors to engrave their histories in our memories. I would therefore recommend this book to everyone who is interested in learning more and in being caused to think more deeply about war and its terrible consequences, both in the past, the present, and in the future.
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The plight of the civilians fleeing the advancing Red Army from the Baltics and Eastern Europe during WWII is well-known. The tragedy of millions of citizens that stayed and lost everything to pillage by the Soviets is also well-known and one of the main reasons people in those parts are hostile to Russia to this day. The crimes against the population in defeated Germany itself are super-well known, too. And the displacement of ethnic Germans from the Volga to East Prussia by the USSR has also become more known, or at least more talked about, in recent decades.

But who has heard about the Wolfskinder? Probably nobody without a degree in history or personal knowledge. The author of this book says she had never heard about them before and was shocked at such a finding, and I can understand why given the scarcity of information. In my own case, I did know, and I did know only because I'm an inveterate history buff. But even I only knew about these children from brief mentions in WWII history books, paragraphs at most.

Who were the Wolf Children? They were German children from East Prussia, mostly from Königsberg and surrounding area, who were fleeing with their parents towards mainland Germany to escape the now victorious Soviets, and during their flight lost their parents and/or older siblings in charge to the cold, starvation, exhaustion, shelling, etc., so finding themselves completely alone. In 1944-1945, it's estimated that 20,000 children of German origin were orphaned this way, and left to survive by foraging, stealing, and begging. It's possible they were far more than this number, and in any case this applies only to the East Prussian children, not the children of ethnic Germans living in other territories now in the hands of Russians. The scope of this book is limited to them, and the moniker Wolf Children also applies to these little ones born in the formerly prosperous German enclave of East Prussia.

The author of this book came to meet and interview several still-living Wolf Children, accompanying them on their quest to find their roots, and hopefully some relatives still alive, in Germany after the USSR fell and they could finally go to the West. Their stories are awfully horrible! Children as young as 2 and 4 years old were banding together with other children hardly older than themselves to help each other, older siblings no more than 12 years old were carrying toddlers in tow, and sometimes they were all alone. The roamed the countryside searching for food, sleeping wherever they could, and enduring the indifference and brutality of the adults, who'd often beat them, shoot them, or rape them. The most fortunate ones were able to reach Lithuania, where they were taken in by farmers. The compassionate ones would give them work and treat them fairly, some even adopted them as their own, but others exploited them as free labour for agricultural work. Many of them grew up illiterate as a result. And all of them forgot their native tongue. None of the Wolf Children that still lived and talked to the author knew German anymore.

Add to their burden the misfortune of having to grow under Communism into adulthood, with all its disadvantages. The poverty they lived in till old age is heartbreaking. There's an anecdote here about one of the Wolf Children who went to Germany for the first time and couldn't believe the abundance of food there; when she was served, she took a portion of it and put it in her purse before eating the rest, because "you never know."

And to further traumatise a few of them, when they went to Germany to contact relatives and with no other hope or expectation than to perhaps see them, get a picture of their parents of themselves from happier times, hear anecdotes, they were received coldly or outright got the door slammed in their face. Why? Because the Germans, used to living in prosperity and resentful of having to bankroll the poorer East Germany that'd just recently rejoined the country, were suspicious of these "poor cousins" from the East and thought they'd want money or be kept. Nothing further from the truth, of course.

Thus, the lives of these Wolf Children are a long series of grief after grief, with a few bright exceptions. It's a hard book to read, as all good books about the human side of wars are, and not recommendable to read if you're on a sad day. But it's never unneeded to learn about tragedies of this proportion, especially tragedies that tend to be repeated in some way or another decades later. The stories in this book are personal, it's not a "general history" book nor does it adopt a general narrator tone; you'll get first person perspectives, names, dates, and pictures. You'll put a face to everything you read here, so you won't look away.

It was very painful, but I liked it all the more for eliciting this caring response. It also made me wonder what the orphans of Ukraine displaced into Russia are experiencing now. Are they being treated well by their "adopted" parents or are they being exploited like the Wolf Children were? Will they return home or be doomed to live in poverty in a foreign country like the Prussian kids? Will they forget their native tongue like the German children did? We have the chance now to prevent another Wolf Children-like situation, and that's why books with stories like this are necessary nowadays.
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