MLC Logo 

Annual 5 Chapter 2
 

Non-Jewish Children in the Camps
by Sybil Milton

The general subject of non-Jewish children in the camps has received no systematic coverage in the growing literature, in part because the number of such children was statistically insignificant. The obvious must also be stated at the outset: children as such were seldom the targets or victims of Nazi violence because they were children. They were persecuted along with their relatives for racial, religious, or political reasons. Furthermore, it is difficult- probably impossible-to conceptualize persecuted children as a single or unified group because of the enormous and complex variations in their backgrounds and the distinct needs of different age groups from infants to teenagers. This paper will thus examine selected case studies as a way of opening several windows into the historical experiences of non-Jewish children. I have selected material about the abduction and deportation of Polish children from the Zamosc region (eastern General Government), 1942- 1943, and the development of a policy toward the abandoned children of partisans in occupied Latvia and White Russia during the first half of 1943; as well as several examples from the persecution of children of gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Spanish republican refugees. Although it is still too early to understand the contours or common aspects of this subject on a pan- European basis, it is clear that the fate of non-Jewish children must always be placed into the context of the fate of Jewish children of similar nationality and background.

Let me digress for a moment. The umbrella concept children covers at least three distinctive age groups irrespective of gender: first, infants and toddlers up to age 6; second, young children ages 7 to 12; and third, teenagers from 13 to 18. Their respective chances for survival and their ability to perform physical labor varied enormously by age, as did other factors such as the place and date of deportation and Nazi ideological tenets about the national, group, or ethnic identity of the children.1

Let us begin with the first case: The treatment of Polish children. We must remember that in Hitler's well-known speech to his military commanders at Obersalzburg on 22 August 1939, there was not only the famous reference to the Armenian genocide, but also a discussion essentially authorizing the

kill[ing] without pity or mercy [of] all men, women, and children of Polish race or language.2
Nearly one year later, Heinrich Himmler elaborated his views about "The Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East" in a top-secret memorandum with limited distribution, dated 25 May 1940. That document also outlined the administration of incorporated Poland and the General Government, where Poles were to be assigned to compulsory labor, and racially selected children were to be abducted and Germanized:
Regarding the treatment of alien racial groups in the East, it is important that we cultivate and recognize as many individual groups as possible....
A fundamental issue in the solution of these problems is the question of schooling and thus the question of sifting and selecting the young. For the non- German population of the East, there must be no higher school than the fourth grade of elementary school. The sole goal of this schooling is to teach them simple arithmetic, nothing above the number 500; writing one's name; and the doctrine that it is divine law to obey the Germans.... I do not think that reading is desirable.

Obviously, Himmler's plan combined the cultural with the physical enslavement of occupied Poland. But let us continue with the text of his May 1940 memorandum:

Apart from this schooling, there are to be no [other] schools at all in the East. Parents, who from the start want to give their children a better education ... must apply to the Higher SS and Police Leaders. The [outcome of such] application will depend on whether the child is racially above reproach and conforms to our conditions. If a child is recognized to be of our blood, the parents will be notified that the child will be sent to school in Germany and will remain permanently in Germany....

Apart from examining such parental applications, there will be an annual screening of all children, ages 6 to 10, in the General Government to separate racially valuable and non-valuable juveniles. The racially valuable will be treated in the same way as children admitted by approved parental applications.... The population of the General Government during the next decade, as a result of the consistent implementation of these measures, will be composed of the remaining inferior population supplemented by those deported from the eastern provinces.... This population at our disposal will consist of laborers without leaders, and will furnish Germany annually with migrant workers and labor for special tasks (roads, quarries, construction of buildings).3

The racial and geographical consolidation of Nazi-occupied eastern Poland thus involved colonization by German settlers, depolonization with the forced resettlement of the original inhabitants, and the kidnapping and forced Germanization of Polish children. In a letter of 18 June 1941, Himmler wrote Arthur Greiser, Reich Plenipotentiary and Gauleiter of the Wartheland:
I would consider it proper if young children of Polish families with specially good racial characteristics were collected and educated in special children's homes which must not be too large. The seizure of these children would have to be explained by danger to their health.... Genealogical trees and documents of those children who develop satisfactorily should be procured. After one year, such children should be placed as foster children with childless families of good race....4
In late July 1941, Himmler visited the districts and towns of Lublin and Zamosc (the latter to be renamed Himmlerstadt) and selected four districts for depolonization and the "search for German blood." That operation was directed by SS Lieutenant Hermann Krumey, who opened in Zamosc a branch office of the Central Resettlement Office Litzmannstadt. In mid-October 1941, SS and Police Leader Odilo

Globocnik suggested that operations commence, since the proposed zone of German settlements in the eastern part of the General Government would consolidate German control from the Baltic in the north to Transylvania in the south.5 From November 1941 to August 1943, mass expulsions affected 110,000 native inhabitants, including 30,000 Polish children, from 297 villages in the Zamosc region. This was 31 percent of the Polish population of the region. (In Poland as a whole, an estimated 200,000 Polish children were kidnapped between 1939 and 1945.)

The expellees were forced to leave all property behind except for hand luggage and 20 zlotys. One of the deported children later recalled:

They began to rap at windows and doors. Chattering in German proved that we were surrounded and there was no escape.... I also had a package with a doll, but when the Germans rushed into the dwelling they gave us only five minutes to prepare and to take some things and immediately pushed us out of the house, disregarding the weeping of children and the requests of our parents. My parents took only the bundles with bedding.6
After the initial trauma of loss and separation from their homes and familiar milieus, the evicted Polish families in the General Government were transported to transit camps at Zamosc (as well as an auxiliary overflow facility at Zwierzyniec). Although there are no complete statistics available for the entire period, it is believed that the highest number of prisoners at Zamosc was 12,079 in July 1943. The average number of children hovered around 1,000 at all times.

At Zamosc, all new arrivals were confined to the overcrowded barracks, where they slept on floors and were vulnerable to exposure, malnutrition, and disease. Each barracks building was surrounded by barbed wire. After initial registration, the expellees were processed into one of four possible racial groups: (1) ethnic Germans; (2) those with German blood or racial features; (3) those assigned to compulsory labor in Germany or the General Government, ages 14 to 60; and (4) the sick and disabled, the very young and very old (under 14 and over 60 years). The first two groups were considered wiedereindeutschungsfahig and were approximately 5 percent of those examined. The third group, classified as either Arbeitseinsatz Altreich or Arbeitseinsatz Generalgouvernement, made up 74 percent. The fourth category comprised 21 percent, and frequently members assigned to this category were transferred directly to Auschwitz or Maidanek.

After the racial examination and categorization, housing was assigned by group, and the prisoners stayed at Zamosc for two to six additional weeks. After racial examination, children selected for Germanization were also separated from their mothers. A similar facility existed for the incorporated Wartheland in Lodz. Located adjacent to the Jewish ghetto, it was opened in 1942 and processed children of both genders, ages 12 to 16.7

Although we do know that the abducted Zamosc children were separated from their parents and kept in Sammellager, we do not know their ultimate fate. However, there are some indications. The Auschwitz Kalendarium informs us that 39 boys, ages 13 to 17, arrived from Zamosc in the Auschwitz Stanunlager on 23 February 1943 and were murdered almost immediately by phenol injections to the heart.8

Let us now turn to the second case: The abandoned children of partisans in occupied Latvia and White Russia, during the first half of 1943. After the SS Einsatzgruppen had killed most Jews and gypsies in the Baltic and Russia, they were regrouped as so-called Bandenkampfverande to engage in pacification and antipartisan operations. These operations killed large numbers of adults; the orphans posed a problem for the killers. A summary of interoffice correspondence, part of the Nuremberg documentary evidence, shows the evolution of Nazi policy toward these children. The correspondence was conducted between Heinrich Himmler; SS Lieutenant General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who headed the antipartisan operations; the heads of Einsatzgruppen B and D; and the commanders [BdS] of the Sipo and SD for Ostland and Ukraine. The first entry in the file is a Himmler order of 6 January 1943:

The racial and political sifting of juveniles is to take place in collection centers [Sammellager]. Male and female children without racial value are to be assigned as apprentices to factories in concentration camps. Such children have to be raised and educated for obedience, diligence, unconditional subordination, and honesty toward their German masters. They must be able to count to 100 ' know traffic signs, and be trained as farmers, blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, etc. Girls are to be trained as farmhands, spinners, knitters, and for similar jobs.9
Notice the parallels in language and policy to Himmler's May 1940 memorandum mentioned earlier. The next significant entry in the file is a request on 21 April 1943 from SS Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Brandt that 3,735 unsupervised orphans from Soviet territory held by Army Group North be seized. He further reported that 266 of those children were under the age of two; 1,006 were between the ages of two and five; and 2,463 were between six and 14 years old. Von dem Bach's response noted that no housing was available for 2,500 of these children under the age of ten.10 Further, on 15 May 1943, Einsatzgruppe B reported that children were "continuously turning up" with their mothers and recommended that mothers and children not be separated, since housing them together in the camps was expedient:
One of every 10 or 20 women could always take over the supervision of the children in order to let the others work undisturbed. Women with children do not try to escape as quickly and this would simplify the transfer of partisan families.11
The file closes with a 21 June 1943 request from Dr. Brandt:

The Reichsfuhrer SS [Himmler's office] wants monthly reports about the number of children in the camps in the East, their ages, and data about their education, care, and feeding.12

The surviving historical record provides us with only scattered material about the detailed fate of these children.

For the third case let us now turn to an entirely different facet of the subject: German children of political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, Spanish Republicans, and Gypsies. Obviously, the repressive apparatus of the early Nazi state, commencing shortly after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, extended incidentally to the family life and child-care arrangements of arrested dissidents, a precursor of later Nazi policies of using immediate family members as hostages and for reprisals. Women were often made hostages for the political activities of male relatives who had been arrested or had fled Germany, and this in turn affected the children of such families. We all know that when Gerhart Seger published his account about his experiences in and escape from the Oranienburg concentration camp in Czech exile in 1934, his wife and daughter were arrested in reprisal and released only after international protest.13 Similarly, when the socialist Franz Muller fled to Czechoslovakia, his wife was arrested in June 1935 and held in custody for 11 months, although their four minor children, ages six to 12, were left bereft of parental support.14 Moreover, in November 1935, the Cologne Gestapo mailed notices to all police stations nearby that both spouses in Jehovah's Witness families were not to be arrested simultaneously, since "their children would become a burden on public welfare and also suffer emotional as well as economic damage.15 These few examples suggest the need for further research about the families of political opponents and religious dissidents.

The first children in concentration camps arrived in the late 1930s, usually with their parents. This was the case with Austrian gypsy female children included in the first gypsy transport to Ravensbruck in June 1939 and the Spanish republican refugee children interned in the French transit camps after 1939 and deported with their fathers to Mauthausen in the fall of 1940.16

The fate of both Jewish and non-Jewish children-after 1939 present in increasing numbers in the ghettos, concentration camps, and labor camps- usually fell into one of four patterns: (1) those killed immediately on arrival as, for example, Jewish children sent directly from the ramp to the gas chambers in Birkenau or the Zamosc children, mentioned before, murdered by phenol injections; (2) those killed shortly after birth (not to mention forced abortions), such as 870 infants born in Ravensbruck between 1943 and 1945; (3) those born in ghettos or camps and surviving, such as three-year-old Stefan Georg Zweig, born 1941 in the Cracow ghetto and deported to Buchenwald in 1944, or Gemma LaGuardia Gluck's infant granddaughter in Ravensbruck; and (4) those children, usually above the age of 10, utilized as prisoners, laborers, and as subjects for medical experiments.

A quick survey of the children interned in Mauthausen between 1938 and 1945 reflects the changing conditions and patterns of internment in the vastly expanded concentration camp system during the war.17 It is probable that a few gypsy juveniles were deported from Burgenland and Lower Austria to Mauthausen in 1938-1939, arrested as criminals or as so-called asocials (a category that included prostitutes, vagrants, alcoholics, and any person the police thought unfit for civilian society). In the fall of 1940, 49 Spanish children aged 13 to 18 were deported from the French transit camps to Mauthausen. (Although relatively few Spanish juveniles were sent to Mauthausen, 20,000 republican Spanish children were detained in the southern French camps throughout the war.)18 During 1944 and 1945, increasing numbers of Polish and Hungarian Jewish children arrived. The last transport to Mauthausen on 9 March 1945 included gypsy infants and children transferred from Ravensbruck. Most children were assigned to work as stone masons, in the armament factories, or in construction. Several of the Spanish juveniles were released from Mauthausen and assigned to compulsory labor for local firms.19 The weaker children were assigned to KP duty peeling potatoes.

The available Mauthausen inmate statistics from the spring of 1943 show 2,400 prisoners below the age of 20, 12.8 percent of the 18,655 inmate population. (For our concern, the cut-off age of 20 is too high; however, it does give some indications about the number of juveniles present.) By late March 1945, the number of juvenile prisoners in Mauthausen increased to 15,048, 19.1 percent of the 78,547 Mauthausen inmates. The number of incarcerated children increased 6.2 times, whereas the total number of prisoners in the same period multiplied by a factor of only four.20 These numbers reflect the increasing use of Polish, Czech, Russian, and Balkan teenagers as slave labor as the war continued. Statistics showing the composition of the juvenile inmates shortly before liberation reveal the following major child prisoner subgroups: 5,809 foreign civilian laborers; 5,055 political prisoners; 3,654 Jews; and 330 Russian POWs. There were also 23 gypsy children, 20 asocials, 6 Spaniards, and 3 Jehovah's Witnesses.21 Mauthausen's children are probably representative for the composition of child prisoners in the camps after 1940.

There is probably no need to stress that children were among the most vulnerable of prisoners. Homeless, orphaned, and often present at the death of parents or siblings, they also faced malnutrition, epidemics, physical abuse, medical experimentation, and long hours of work. Unlike the adults, younger children were unprepared with specific strategies of survival; however, unlike the adults, their youth permitted them to adapt more easily to camp conditions. Still, they depended heavily on assistance from supportive adults. Thus, Stefan Georg Zweig, born 1941 in the Cracow ghetto, was hidden at the age of three by his father and carried in a specially prepared rucksack during transports to the forced labor camp at Cracow-Prokocim (Julag II) and to Buchenwald. In the latter camp, German communist prisoners hid and protected the child, and both father and son survived.22 Other vignettes from memoirs show that women prisoners collectively saved bread and marmalade to provide extra rations as gifts for the incarcerated children in Ravensbruck during Christmas 1944.23 Extending the already limited quantities of food was familiar to most adult women, who could draw on previously acquired household management skills that became survival strategies in the camps. Women also taught each other and the children songs, poetry, and even foreign languages. Children also continued to improvise games; a popular one in Ravensbruck in 1944 was called Appell, "modeled on the camp's daily roll calls.24 Rags and straw were used to make puppets, children's plays were performed, and children's choirs performed in Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, and Bergen-Belsen.25

Moreover, in Theresienstadt where only 1,000 of the 15,000 Jewish children survived, the Jews assisted the small Lutheran and Catholic communities in helping Christian children celebrate Christmas. (The Lutheran and Catholic communities consisted of converts, Mischlinge, and even some Jews arrested with forged identity papers that nominally changed their religious affiliation.) In late 1943, the Jewish Elder Dr. Murmelstein assisted the Lutherans in finding and decorating a Christmas tree with handmade ornaments and candle stubs; he also arranged the performance of Christmas carols by a children's choir, several children's plays, and even a magic act to entertain the children. The adult Lutheran prisoners also held Bible study groups, lectures, and religious services, which were attended by both children and adult inmates.26

Eespecially Roma and Sinti - were equally vulnerable. The persecution of German and Austrian gypsies intensified after 1936, when they were arrested as asocials; and by 1938 gypsy children were expelled from Austrian schools. Surviving photographs of the deportation of a gypsy caravan on the Simmeringer Hauptstrasse, in Vienna's eleventh ward, during the summer of 1939 show children playing near the wagons of their parents as the police arrive.27 Once the deportation of German gypsies to the concentration camps of the East commenced in 1943, gypsy children were to be deported together with their families. Himmler's so- called Auschwitz Order of 16 December 1942 concerning gypsies stipulated in Section IV, Item 1:

Families are to be sent en bloc to the camps, including all children who are not economically independent. If such children have been placed in special homes, schools, or institutions, they are to be reunited with their clan [Sippe] at the earliest opportunity prior to their arrest. The same applies to gypsy children whose parents are deceased, already in concentration camps, or held elsewhere.28
There was one exception to this rule. In November 1938, as part of the increasingly restrictive policies toward gypsy children in Wurttemberg as well as in response to changes in state welfare legislation, all pure gypsy children in St. Josefspflege were not reunited with their parents before the latter were deported. It is probable that this exception can be attributed to the fact that the children were the subject of "racial biological research" conducted by Eva Justin. Justin, a former nurse and associate of Dr. Robert Ritter, was completing a dissertation and study for Ritter's Rassenhygienisches und Bevolkerungsbiologisches Institut in the Reiclisgesundheitsamt in Berlin. Upon completion of her research, the children were deported in January 1944 to Auschwitz Bile, the gypsy camp in Birkenau, where most perished.29

These case studies about the fate of non-Jewish children suggest that future research must be conducted comparatively and on a pan-European basis. Moreover, since the subject of children as such is both emotional and open to exploitation, it is essential that it always be treated within the context of the fate of European Jewish children.

NOTES

This article was originally presented at a conference about "The Other Victims, " held under the auspices of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, D.C., February 1987.

1. See Henry Friedlander and Sybil Milton, "Surviving," in Genocide: Critical Issues of the Holocaust, ed. Alex Grobman, Daniel Landes, and Sybil Milton (New York and Los Angeles, 1983), pp. 233-35.

2. Office of United States Chief of Council for Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression [Red Series], 8 vols. and 2 suppl. (Washington, 1946- 48) 7:752-54 (Doc. L-3). See also Winfried Baumgart, "Zur Ansprache Hitlers vor den Fiffirern der Wehrmacht am 22. August 1939," Vierteljahrshefte ffir Zeitgeschichte 16 (1968): 120-49; ibid., 19 (1971): 294-304; and Kevork B. Bardakjian, Hitler and the Armenian Genocide (Cambridge, MA, 1985), pp. 52- 58.

3. Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10 [Green Series], 14 vols. (Washington, 1950-52) 13:14751 (Docs. NO-1880 and NO-1881). See also H[elmut] Kr[ausnick], "Denkschrift Himmlers uber die Behandlung der Fremdvolkischen im Osten, Mai 1940," Vierte1jahrsheftef fur Zeitgeschichte 5 (1957): 194-98.

4. Washington, National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 238 [hereafter cited as NARA, RG 238], Doc. NO-3188. I would like to thank Harry E. Rilley of Modern Military Records Reference Branch, NARA, for providing me with photocopies of these documents. The quoted excerpt can also be found with a slightly different translation in Green Series 5:103.

5. NARA, RG 238, Doc. NO-5875: situation report from SS Captain Hellmut Mueller, Lublin, to SS Major General Hofmann, Berlin, 15 Oct. 1941 (21/2 typed pages).

6. Roman Hrabar, Zofia Tokarz, and Jack E. Wilczur, The Fate of Polish Children During the Last War (Warsaw, 1981), p. 51.

7. Zygmunt Klukowski, "How the Eviction of the Poles by the Germans from the Area of Zamosc Was Carried Out," in German Crimes in Poland, ed. Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland, 2 vols. in one (1946- 47; reprint, New York, 1982) 2:67-85; idem, Verbrechen an polnischen Kindern, 1939-1945: Line Dokumentation (Munich, Salzburg, and Warsaw, 1973).

8. Kazimierz Smolen and others, From the History of the KL Auschwitz (New York, 1982), p. 199.

9. NARA, RG 238, Doc. NO-2513: Ubersicht uber bisherige Anordnungen und Anregungen betr. Bandenkinderunterbringung.

10. Ibid., p. 2.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 5.

13. Sybil Milton, "Women and the Holocaust: The Case of German and German- Jewish Women," in When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, ed. Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann, and Marion Kaplan (New York, 1984), p. 299.

14. New York, Leo Baeck Institute Archives, E. J. Gumbel Papers: chronological press clippings, "Frauen als Geisel," Sonderdienst der deutschen Informationen: Das Martyrium der Frauen in deutschen Konzentrationslagern, no. 41 (11 June 1936), mimeographed.

15. Hauptstaatsarchiv Dusseldorf, RW 18-3, p. 60: circular from Staatspolizeistelle fur den Regierungsbezirk Koln, 11 Nov. 1935, concerning "Schutzhaft gegen Bibelforscher."

16. See G. Zorner, ed., Frauen-KZ Ravensbruck (Berlin, 1977), p. 52; and Hans Marsalek, Die Geschichte des Konzentrationslagers Mauthausen: Dokumente (Vienna, 1980), pp. 111-13,137-39. See also Sybil Milton, "The Community of Fate: The Interaction of German and Spanish Refugees, 1938-1945," paper presented at the Conference for Exile Studies, College Station, Texas, Oct. 1986 (conference proceedings now in press).

17. On the -amp system, see Henry Friedlander, "The Nazi Concentration Camps," in Human Responses to the Holocaust, ed. Michael Ryan (New York and Toronto ' 1981), pp. 33-69.

18. Louis Stein, Beyond Death and Exile: The Spanish Republicans in France, 19391955 (Cambridge, MA, 1979) does not deal with the Spanish children. For the figure 20,000 children, see Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA, Informe del Comite de Coordinacion e informacion de Ayuda a la Republica Espanola (Mexico, 1940), unpaginated; see also the records of the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia.

19. Marsalek, Mauthausen, pp. 137-39.

20. Ibid., p. 138.

21. Ibid.

22. Internationales Lagerkomitee Buchenwald, Konzentrationslager Buchenwald (Weimar, n.d.), pp. 42-45. That incident was the basis for Bruno Apitz's 1958 novel Naked Among the Wolves.

23. Zorner, Ravensbruck, pp. 54-55; and Milton, "Women and the Holocaust," pp. 311-12.

24. Gemma Gluck, My Story (New York, 1961), pp. 38-39. Gemma LaGuardia Gluck was the sister of the New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia; she had married a Hungarian Jew and was deported to the Prominentenbaracke in Ravensbruck in 1944, along with her daughter and grandchild.

25. See Milton, "Women and the Holocaust," pp. 311-14.

26. Arthur Goldschmidt, Geschichte der evangelischen Gemeinde Theresienstadt, 1942-1945 (TiIbingen, 1948), p. 17.

27. Vienna, Dokumentationsarchiv des Osterreichischen Widerstandes, files 1127/3, 2041/1-3.

28. The entire text of this order is reproduced in Selma Steinmetz, Osterreichs Zigeuner im NS-Staat (Vienna and Frankfurt, 1966), pp. 53-55.

29. Johannes Meister, "Schicksale der Zigeunerkinder aus der St. Josefspflege in Mulfingen," Wiirttembergisch Franken jahrbuch (1984):197-229; Christoph Knodler and Hans-Joachim Treumann, "Zigeunerkinder in Mulfingen, " in Alltag im Nationalsozialismus 1933 bis 1939: jahrbuch zurn Schulerwettbewerb Deutsche Geschichte urn den Preis des Bundesprasidenten, ed. Dieter Galinski and Ulla Lachauer (Hamburg, 1982), pp. 246-58.

Chap 3

 

[Home] [Index] [Courage to Remember] [Glossary of the Holocaust] [Educational Resources] [36 Questions About Holocaust] [Library] [Bookstore]

Copyright © 1997, The Simon Wiesenthal Center
9760 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90035