The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front
Alone and Forgotten
by Kerstin Lieff, Sonya Winterberg
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Pub Date 30 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 09 Nov 2022
Pen & Sword, Pen & Sword Military
'If this doesn’t move you, I suggest you check your pulse.' –John Kay, frontman of Steppenwolf (born in East Prussia in 1944)
Told by the children who survived, these stories could well be the last eyewitness report of the aftermath of the Second World War. As the land where they once lived was integrated into the Eastern Bloc, their accounts remained hushed until after the Iron Curtain fell. Now, in The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front, they break their silence.
During the bitter winter months of 1944-45, hundreds of thousands of Germans fled East Prussia from an advancing Red Army. With sometimes only minutes’ notice, families escaped in horse-drawn carriages, or they simply ran on foot. In desperation, mothers threw babies onto handcarts, pushing ahead through snowstorms and freezing temperatures. Exhausted, horses broke down, left to die in roadside ditches. Pounding artillery filled the air.
In the ensuing chaos, 20,000 children lost their families – to the mayhem, to starvation, epidemics or gunfire. Even the youngest suddenly found themselves alone in the world, needing to forage for food and find shelter. They hid in bullet-riddled barns and wandered from house to house, begging for help. While many died, there are the few that managed to survive. Their experiences are unimaginable: toes frozen off, endless hunger, rape, physical abuse. Those considered lucky were eventually taken in, even lovingly cared for, primarily by Lithuanian farmers, but nearly to the last of them, they grew into adulthood illiterate and poverty-stricken. Yet a surprising truth lives within nearly every one of these victims – an overwhelming sense of hope and forgiveness.
They are the Wolf Children.
Photographs by Claudia Heinermann.
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