To be a child in mid-twentieth-century Europe was to be not a person but an object, available for use in the service of the totalitarian state. Very soon after Adolf Hitler came to power, policies of eugenic selection and euthanasia began to weed ill or disabled children out of the New Order by poison, gas, and starvation. Defect-free "good blood" children were subjected to an "education" based on racism, propaganda, and the glorification of the Fuhrer, and were deliberately deprived of free time that would allow independent thought or action. Once the war began, "Nordic"-looking children were kidnapped from families in the conquered lands and subjected to "Germanization." Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of "bad blood" children--Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians(were separated from their families and condemned to forced migration, slave labor, sadistic experiments, starvation, and mass execution. At the end of the war, uprooted children of every origin wandered the bombed-out cities and countryside, some having been taken from home at such a young age that they did not know where they had come from or even their own names.
Nicholas's acclaimed The Rape of Europa helped galvanize the return of Nazi-looted art. While this work is unlikely to have such practical impact, it demonstrates a similar breadth of research and historical compassion. She looks at the effect of Nazi policies on children as a recounting of the nonmilitary story of WWII. Casting a wide net, Nicholas examines such phenomena as the Kindertransports-in which Jewish children were brought from central Europe to England on the eve of the war-and the transport of supposedly "Aryan" Norwegian girls to Germany to breed. Nicholas shows how the Nazis tried, with varying degrees of success, to export their eugenic theories and racist ideology to the educational realm throughout occupied Europe. And focusing on the homeland of the Third Reich, she delineates how German children were socialized into Nazi culture. Relying on a prodigious amount of primary and secondary sources as well as interviews, she emphasizes the resilience of the young. "Most of Europe's children would, in the next few years, develop a self-protective shell of voyeurism and casualness toward the monstrous events around them." But as she notes in conclusion, the horrors of the war years stayed with those who saw them through young eyes. At times, Nicholas loses her focus, retelling the much-told story of the war itself. But there is no doubt that she has put together a well-written, compelling history that makes us look at the war era anew. 39 photos, 3 maps. (May 14) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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May 08, 2006
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