The German Kinderlandverschickung (Child Land Dispatch -- KLV) functioned during World War II (1939-1945). The children had to go to rural areas on "holiday" but really they should be out of the cities and towns that had difficulties feeding them and were being bombed by the Allies. I believe that both schools and the Hitler Jugend were involved in organizing the KLV. One reader reports that the HJ was especially important in the KLV organization beginning in 1940. About 2.5 million children were sent to 9,000 camps until end of World War II. I believe in many cases their teachers accompanied them. The camps were, however, run by Hitler Youth leaders. They were not very happy places. Strangely, unlike the extensive discussion of the British evacuation of children (1940-41), the German KLA evacuation and camps are little discussed.
The Allied bombing campaign not only caused civilian casualties, but made in increasingly difficult to supply German cities. The British staged some raids in 1940. A raid on Berlin had a major impact on German strategy in the Battle of Britain. The bombing campaign significantly intensified when America entered the War in December 1941 and the 8th Air Force arrived in Britain. The bombing technology in World War II did not permit the kind of precision bombing possible today. The British who bombed by night were doing good if they hit the assigned cities. The Americans bombed by day and using their Norden bomb sites attempted to hit assigned military, industrial, and transportation targets, but only a small fraction of the bombs hit the assigned targets.
One response to the bombing was the evacuation of children from the cities targeted by the Allies. The World War II evacuation of British children in 1939-40 has been well studied. Less well reported, at least in English-language books, are the evacuations of German children. About 2.5 million German boys and girls were evacuated into rural areas and accommodated in about 9,000 camps and other facilities located throughout the Reich. The KLV differed significantly from the British program in that the children were not placed in individual homes and supervised by foster parents. The KLV children were placed in camps and other facilities and supervised as a group by a commandant, Hitler Youth leaders, and teachers. The KLV program thus gave the NAZIs an additional opportunity for ideological training.
The Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) meant Child Land Dispatch. A German reader translates it as Kinder (child) Land (land with the sense of rural) Verschickung (evacuation). We do not yet have much information on the organization of the program and the Government agencies promoting it. A German reader writes, "I think before the war Verschickung had the sense of recreation, during bombing period it was for evacuation. It is a funny word in German meaning something like "to make a vacuum". [Wellershaus] [HBC note: This would be similar to the use of "evacuation" in English. The program was initiated in 1939, I'm not sure if this was before or after the War began. It was not a massive evacuation program like the British implemented when the War broke out. At any rate the KLV began well before significant bombing raids of German cities had begun. The KLV was heavily promoted by German propaganda. One report suggests that this was primarily justified as healthy holiday trips for city children. The Propaganda Ministry would not have wanted to spread fears about the dangers of the War.
The Hitler Jugend (HJ) was heavily involved in the KLV from the beginning. The HJ was given the actual responsibility for organizing the KLV camps in 1940. One KLA child reports that Hitler Youth leaders made organizational decisions at the camps rather than the teachers. [Koehn, p. 46.] The leaders made sure among other matters only positive comments on the KLV facilities appeared in the letters home to their parents. [Koehn, p.47] The Hitler Youth leaders were put in charge of the children, but in some camps there were tests of will between these leaders and the HJ leaders. [Koehn, p. 106.] One girl repeats this comment from one of the youth leaders engaged in an exchange with one of the teachers, "Frau Doctor Pfaffenberger! We have been sent here not only to help you keep order, as you put it, but to teach these girls the facts about our Führer and the Reich, to teach them the songs that they ought to know, and don't, and besides ... and besides it is Helga as the Lagermaedelführerin who is really in charge here. That's what we were told. The rank of Lagermaedelführerin is higher than the rank of any teacher." [Koehn, pp. 106-107.]
While the KLA was initially promoted as healthful holiday camps for city children, the NAZIs changed their depiction of the camps as the War continued and the Allied bombing campaign began in 1942. The NAZIs turned the need to evacuate children from bombed cities from a regime failure into an ideological virtue. The children could not only be protected from the bombing against the war, but they could receive political and ideological training at the camps. Children away from their parents were always more subject to ideological influence. The KLV may have been even more effective than the HJ as the children were at the KLV camps for longer periods. I am not sure if there was any paramilitary training for the children. A further benefit of the KLV was to free mothers for work in the armaments industry. This was something that Hitler was against. Germany did not mobilize women as done in Britain and America. It only occurred after Speer took over as armaments minister and began putting German industry on a true war footing.
The need for the KLV of course became much more pressing in 1942. With America in the War, the most intensive bombing campaign of World War II began. Land transportation links and war related industrial sites in Germany's industrial cities were the principal targets. Given the state of bombing technology in World War II, the cities themselves became targets, especially for the British bombing at night.
The KLV was at first voluntary. Later I think whole schools were evacuated. This may have been compulsory, although I am not sure at this time. All Berlin schools except for a few were evacuated in 1942. [Koehn, p. 98.] We note that as long as parents did not imply a criticism of the regime, that parents could appeal these assignment of their children to KLA camps. [Hermand] One KLV girl recalls a terrible shouting match between her grandmother and the camp commandant, but her grandmother armed with a doctor--signed and notarized medical emergency slip got her out of one camp. [Koehn, p. 90.] In other instances, camp authorities refused to let parents take their children out of the camps. [Koehn, p. 149.]
The KLV program was a massive effort, but very different from the British evacuation effort. The children were not placed in private homes, but in HJ sponsored facilities. Authorities sent some 2.8 million German children to the KLV camps. An unlike the British program, it was not voluntary. As in England, many parents were reluctant to send their children., but in Germany they were not given an option. Many schools in the cities were closed as the children were evacuated. There were separate KLV camps for the boys and girls. We have noted various estimates as to the number of KLV camps. The estimates range from 5,000 to 9,000 camps. The wide range may come from counting boys ad girls camps located close to each other and even run together as two rather than one camp. The camps were very different. One camp had only 18 children. There were also large camps, the largest cared for 1,200 children.
The KLV was organized and paid for by the Government. There was no cost to the parents. The children in many cases, however, were used for labor, especially during the harvest season to bring in the crops.
Teachers were assigned to the KLV camps and other facilities along with the children. It was not, however, practical to assign each school to a KLA camp. The schools were thus often broken up. Presumably primary teachers stayed with their classes, but I do not yet have confirmation of this. Often some secondary children found themselves with some of their teachers. [Koehn, p. 44.] The authority of the teachers at the camp was not always clear and was sometimes challenged by the teenage HJ youth leaders.
Each camp or facility had a commandant. In the early stages of the program and as new facilities were opened, the children and teachers sometimes arrived before a commandant was assigned or arrived. In these instances the relationship of authority between the teachers and youth HJ/BDM youth leaders was often ill defined.
Sometimes there were conflicts between the HJ youth leaders and the teachers. We wonder whose idea it was that she should be in the middle of the portrait. She wears a plaited cord (Kordel, Fangschnur). If it was green she was the head of a organizational group called Fähnlein (little flag) of may be 100 girls (or boys respectively). We have seen different reports about these youth leaders. One German reader reports, "Often these Fähnleinführer (Faenleinfuehrer) were rather charismatic persons and loved by the younger ones." A girl
who was at three KLV camps found the BDM youth leaders to be generally demanding little tyrants. [Koehn, multiple references] The youth leaders could be identified by the different colored lanyards that they were awarded. The lanyards had whistles attached.
I am not sure what age children were involved in the KLV. The image here shows children as young as about 10 years of age (figure 1). This of course is the age that children were inducted into the HJ and of course the HJ was a program organized by the HJ. I'm not sure to what extent younger children were involved. A German reader writes, "I think you are correct that the KLV was for the older children in the HJ. The younger children tended to remain with their mothers. Fathers of course were mostly at the front in the military. Some mothers were sent to the countryside with their children where they could be safe and she could help with the farming. With so many men conscripted by the military, there was a tremendous need for agricultural labor." Many younger children were also evacuated privately, that is sent to live with relatives in the country side or small towns and villages not targeted by the Allied strategic bombing campaign.
There were KLV camps for both boys and girls. We assumed that the youth leaders at the boys camps' were boys and at the girls' camps were girls. We believe this normally to have been the case. Note in the image here that there is a BDM girl youth leader with the boys. She is clearly a youth leader as she has a lanyard and whistle. Perhaps BDM girls were assigned to help with the younger boys.
Some children were at KLV camps for only a few months. Others spent several years there. Some children stayed in more than one KLV camp. A reader writes, "In 1943, I spent one year in Trenchin-Teplitz in a Hitler-Youth camp. Trenchin-Teplitz had 24 Camps for girls and boys. I was fortunate to spend my time with about hundred other girls in the Burg." [Condon]
The KLV camps were set up in rural and village locations all over the Reich, especially in eastern Germany and even outside it. Here the sites were in the outer limits of the Allied bombers. Many KLV camps were located in East Prussia, the Warthegau section of occupied Poland, Upper Silesia. Some camps were even set up outside the Reich in Slovakia. Sites selected included ?Schullandheimen (school land homes), HJ summer camps, and pensions or youth hostels. A problem developed with the Easter sites, as a result of Operation Bagration and the destruction of Arny Group Center, the advancing Red Army began to approach them (late-1944).
We have little information about how the children's education was pursued at the KLV camps. We believe that their academic education suffered and that they were often used in agricultural labor [Koehn, pp. 80-81]. We believe that some attention was given to their ideological training and that the children were hardened in a way that they could have proved useful to the NAZIs if Germany had won World War II. One KLV girl reports that a class schedule was on their bulletin board, in case there was an inspection, but in fact there were virtually no classes. There was a lot of drill, marching, and war games. [Koehn, p. 50.]
The KLV camps were not popular places. The experience was a very unhappy one for many children. Not only were the children separated from their parents, but life in the camps was very harsh. There was a dreary, unchanging routine. The children had to go through roll calls, paramilitary field exercises, hikes, marches, and political indoctrination with constant recitation of Nazi slogans and propaganda. They sang the same Hitler Youth songs and Nazi anthems over and over. While teachers accompanied them, academic work was commonly neglected because the camp was run by the older HJ members chosen fir their political commitment. The HJ program experienced problems in the mid-30s as many youth were not particularly interested in the rather dull routine of marching and political indoctrination. Changes were made to make the program more interesting. Now that the HJ leaders had the children at camp, they did not have to worry as to whether the children liked the program or not. Many of the camps were run like strict military boarding school. Boys were expected to comply with orders immediately and snap to attention as required.
One KLV girl provides a account of her camp on a Baltic island, "The barracks surround a barren square with the tall, lonely flagpole in the center. Every morning at six-fifteen, one thousand uniformed children march out of these barracks in perfect formation and form another square around the pole. Hands outstretched in the NAZI salute, we have to stand immobile when the Hitler Youth band plays, the swastika is raised, and the daily motto read and repeated by all of us. On command we turn and march back. 'No one moves, no one talks during all this,' Hanka, the woman commandant, told us the first day. 'I run this camp with an iron hand. There'll be discipline here.' There is. We might as well be in prison." [Koehn, p. 81.] conditions were often worse for the boys, especially boys not athletically inclined. Some authors have described a kind of lord if the Flies situation with the larger, dominant boys making life miserable for the weaker boys. The HJ staff often did not interfere as they also despised weakness. The parents could not intervene as the camps were mandatory and often they were unaware of conditions at the camp. The HJ camp staff censored letters home ad the children were punished if their letters were critical. Ironically the letters the German soldiers at the front wrote home were not censored.
We have little information on how the children dressed at the camps. We do know that their rooms and clothing were regularly inspected. We had thought that they always wore their Hitler Youth uniforms. The image here, however, on a special trip shows only about half the boys in uniform (figure 1). Other photographs show the children wearing entirely their HJ uniforms. The boys brought their clothes from home when evacuated. I am not sure precisely what they were instructed to bring.
We have only a few photographs of KLV camps and activities at this time. Not are all are dated so we have to estimate some of the dates.
Here the boys look well dressed, but not all are wearing their HJ uniforms.
This photograph was taken during the cold winter of 1944. Not all of the boys appear to have their winter uniforms. Some of the boys look very cold.
As a result of the evacuations, German children at the end of the War were scattered all over the country. Getting home was not as easy as it may sound. The country was in a shambles. Berlin and other major cities were immense piles of rubbles. All those ruins we see were primarily apartment buildings that had been destroyed. Miraculously, the German people mostly survived the bombing because of the effective NAZI civil defense system. The buildings did not. This left a huge number of families homeless. A vast swath of dwellings in the hear of virtually every German city were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The damage was of course the greatest in the cities, the very areas from which children were evacuated. Many parents both military or civilians were dead or injured. Many fathers were in POW camps. Jobs were almost nonexistent. Thus even if the parents had survived the War, the homes were gone and the ability to support a family was gone. Thus many parents parents, especially single mothers were in no posiition to care for their children. And combined with this, there was no way to get the children home. Few Germans had cars, and fewer still had cars that survived the War. Obtaining gas was virtually impossible. The children had been primarily evacuated by rail. And Germany's renownded rail system was wrecked. Destroying Germany's rail system, including locomotives, rolling stock, bridges, and stations had been a priority of the Allied strategic bombing campaign in an effort to destroy the NAZI war economy. And they largely succeeded. Thus even if a home was in tact, there was no way to get the Germany home immediately after the War. The Red Cross played a major role in getting the children home. It would be more then a year before all the evacuated children were able to get home.
The KLA program is today little discussed. Given the size and extent of the program, this is quite surprising. This is in sharp contrast to the British evacuation of children from their cities (1940-41). We have noted relatively limited discussion of the German KLA evacuation and camps. Perhaps this is because that works are not translated into English, but we see relatively few works in German. The same is true of media treatment. While there have been many movie and TV programs about the British evacuations, we note few productions about the KLA. We suspect that because of the NAZI taint, many Germans were reluctant to discuss the program.
The British also implemented an evacuation program in 1939. Eventually about 3 million children were evacuated, roughly the same size as the German program. The British program, however, was very different. It has also been described and discussed much more extensively than the German KLA program.
There is a huge literature describing the World War II accounts of British evacuees. Much less is available on the KLV evacuations, despite the huge numbers of children involved. We have, however, found a few accounts about the World War II evacuations. A HBC reader, Margot Condon, tells us about her experiences during World War II as a Hitler Youth girl, some of which involved her time at a KLV camp. Some children were evacuated privately to relatives living outside the big industrial cities that the Allies targeted. Hans tells us about his boyhood experiences during 1941-45. There are also published accounts. These reports suggest that there were some differences at these cmps, depending on the inviduals in charge, bit there were also many similrities.
A HBC reader, Margot Condon tells us about her experiences during World War II as a Hitler Youth girl, some of which involved her time at a KLV camp. She tells us, "The Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) operated during World War II (1939-1945). Here are my experiences. I have tried to get as much on paper as possible, but much after all these years is forgotten."
Hermand had a very negative experience ith the KLV and view himself as a victim of the War and NAZIs. He unlike Oberle views the KLV program as anything but innocent. Teachers from his high school in Berlin were evacuated with the boys to a site in German occupied Poland, at the limits of the range of Allied bombers. Athis camp, HJ squad leaders controlled the boys' daily lives. Despite the presence of the teachers, any serious academic education rapidly evaporated. The HJ leaders put the emphasis on ‘brutal field exercises’ to build the boy's physical condition. He related that stronger boys were given "... carte blanche to mercilessly beat up the smaller and weaker ones among us, and to derive sadistic pleasure from such acts.". He describes in detail the ‘... various punishments invented by the camp squad leader" which he describes more like tortures.
And even worse was what happened at night. He reports that sexual chaos and physical brutality ran rampant. The goal of the program was apparently to create the "... brutal, domineering, fearless, and cruel youth’ Hitler wanted for his wars.
As the last camp was in German-occupied Poland, he and the other boys along with the teachers as the Red Army approach became part of the chaotic ‘great trek’ by wagon, train, and foot back to the Reich. [Hermand]
Frank Oberle had agenerally positive experience with the KLV. H describes the idea of the KLV evacuations as, "...an innocent enough program to remove children from harm’s way to a safe and wholesome environment in the countryside." At his KLV camp, one person functioned as both administrator and teacher. Apparently the HJ staff deferred to him. Oberle describes him as, "...a gifted teacher and a Prussian army officer in the finest tradition.". The boys were not subject to corporal punishment. They were, however, "... cut off from any ties to family, the school quickly became a substitute to which we transferred our reliance and trust." As the last camp was in German-occupied Poland, Oberle also became part of 'great trek’ back to the Reich. [Oberle]
Some children were evacuated privately to relatives living outside the big industrial cities that the Allies targeted. Hans tells us about his boyhood experiences during 1941-45. "I would like to give some personal views from the time 1941-45 from my childhood related to the HBC pages on World War II and the bombing of Germany. Here are some of my memories as a German boy of 7-10 years of age during the War."
Condon, Margo. E-mail message, September 24, 2007.
Hermand, Jost. Als Pimpf in Polen. (Fischer Verlag. Frankfurt a.M. 1994). The English title is A Hitler Youth in Poland: The NAZI's Program for Evacuating Children During World War II Margot Bettauer Dembo (Translator).
Koehn, Ilse. Mischling, Second Degree: My Childhood in NAZI Germany (Puffin Plus: 1981).
Oberle, Frank. Finding Home: A War Child’s Journey to Peace (Surrey, British Columbia: Heritage House, 2004).
Wellershaus, Stefan. e-Mail, August 21, 2002.
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