French Boys Clothes: Displaced Children--World War II

Figure 1.--The photograph shows Edwige after she had been found in Germany and returned to her French family. The photograph was taken in 1950 a year after her return to France. She is the older child on the right and was 7 1/2 years old when the photograph was taken.

A HBC reader describes the experiences the experiences of his mother-in-law's family. He points out that it is a rare testimony concerning displaced children. Certain details will be forever unknow because my parents-in-law have passed away. Though they did speaking of this period, unfortunatly did not always listen with great attentioin. I recently spoke with Edwige and she was crying as she provided me the dretails. I dind't realize that what happend to her was so tragic.

Forced Labor

Our reader's mother-in-law and her husband were forced by were forced by the German occupation authorities to work as slave laborers on a farm in Germany. She was luckier than many as the farmers she worked for usually saw to it that the worers had food. The farm was in northern Germany near the Poland. Her husband had been captured at the beginning of the war and was in a POW-camp. During the day he was forced by the Germans to work on different projects outside the camp. It was on one of these projects he came into contact with his wife.

Birth in Germany

Their daugter Edwige was born in November 1942. It was very dangerous for the prisoners to have children. Both the mother and father could be punished. This did not happen. Edwige told the German authorities that the father was a German. If the authorities had known the truth they both ould have been terribly punished and the baby perhaps killed. The German authoritiesnamed the baby Edwiga. It is only about 1970 that my sister-in-law changed to the French name Edwige.

Forced Adoption

Very quickly Edwige was given to a adopted family. They were elderly, but still had children. They lived very close to the the [Polish?] frontier. She was acepted like their own little girl. (This was quite common during the NAZI period). She was raised with tenderness and her adopted parents given even their family name. Edwige remembers them as being strict and rather severe but doting parents. Edwige loved them and realy considered them to be her very own parents . The father was too old to be a soldier. They were living in north-eastern Grmany which was part of the Soviet ocupation zone.

End of the War

The War ended in May 1945. The POW camps were liberated. The slave laborer in Germany made their way back to their own countries. Shortlyvafterwards Edwige's parents mairred. A second child came; and the third. Edwige's parents contacted the French authorities to get back Edwige. It seems that vthere were difficulkties. Edwige was in the Soviet sector and the Soviet authorities were in no hurry to respond to the French requests. Edwege's situation was complicated by the fact that her bityh certificate had a Polish name and the place of birth was aftr the war shifted to Poland. After the Germans seized Poland in 1939, many Poles were Aranized. Many fair (light) complexioned displaced children were often adopted by German families. At any rate, there were many problems for Edwige's return. A lot of documents were destroyed.

Return to France

Her parents did not manage to find her and bring her back to France until 1949. It was the worse period of Edwige's life. She had not even been told by her German foster parents that she was adopted. She could only speak German. She had become attached to her adopted parents. Still to day she would have preferd to have stayed with her adopted family. She continues to have tender feelings for her German family. She was taken by her adopted family to France. At first she refused to go to France. She was sick on the train.

Difficult Adjustment

Edwige was traumatized at first to be brought back to France where she could not even speak the language. She found she had three younger brothers and sisters. Her parents were perhaps not as understanding with her as they could have been. Edwige was constantly sad and worse and worse, she insisted on seeing her adopted Parents. Of course hr parents hated the Germans for what they had done and could not understand their daughter's attachment to her German family. No one of course can realy understand how these children suffered. Some months after her return she began to realize that she could never return to her German family. She wanted to jump out the window!

Edwige fell ill and had to be cared for in a preventorium for 2 years. The photograph shows Edwige with her family in 1950 a year after her return to France. She is the older child on the right and was 7 1/2 years old when the photograph was taken. Throughout her life she never she forgot her adopted family and thought her life was happier there. Even today her opinion has not changed. Interestingly. today Edwige can't quite speak german. Her mother could speak it fluently, but she refused to speak german with her daughter. [HBC note: Our experience is that young children who nspeak a lanuge at an early age will often not retain it if they do not continue speaking it after about age 10.]

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Created: December 17, 2001
Last updated: January 21, 2002