What happens during air raids during WWII

Childhood in World War II

What started as a game ...

The Second World War quickly spread to all of Europe after the German attack on Poland in 1939. People in England, France and Poland, the Ukraine and Belarus soon suffered the consequences of war and Nazi terror.

For many German children, the war initially appeared to be an adventurous game. The father in uniform was the greatest and was accordingly admired. Children played with cannons and armed soldiers, sang songs of war and were proud of their pictures of high-ranking military officials.

The National Socialists supported this development: In the Hitler Youth, brave soldiers were celebrated as role models, heroism and fighting spirit were promoted.

But the church also did its own thing. There it was said: Pray for leaders, people and fatherland. Children were at the mercy of such education and propaganda. How should they know what war means?

Bomb nights in the air raid shelter

Even the first bomb alarm was felt by many children as an adventure. But with the more frequent and more violent air raids, the fear of death grew.

Burning houses, buildings destroyed by bombs, countless dead and wounded - even children had to see and cope with all of this.

Many spent their nights in the air raid shelter for several years. Hundreds of thousands of them were bombed out and lost all their belongings, their homes or even their parents in the attacks.

The war had now become a struggle for survival for the children too. But because they knew nothing else, even the most terrible things became normal.

And while some coped with all these experiences surprisingly well, the others still contributed to the cruelty of their fate decades later.


The opponents of the war reacted to the German war of aggression by bombarding German cities. When the hail of bombs became more violent, the Nazi regime started the "Extended Kinderlandverschickung" campaign in 1940.

By the end of the war, around 2.5 million boys and girls had been sent to rural areas to bring them to safety from the bombed cities.

At the same time, the National Socialists used the emergency to influence the children ideologically. Because the children were often housed in school camps, tent camps, guest houses or youth hostels for months or even years and were thus removed from the influence of their parents.

Many were homesick. How the children fared far from home, however, largely depended on the people who looked after them. For some children, the separation from their parents, the fear for their relatives and the Nazi propaganda were so hard to bear that there was talk of the "kidnapping".

On the run

How many people fled the Soviet occupation from the Eastern Territories is uncertain. Estimates speak of half of the population living there. What is certain, however, is that most of them were women and children.

For many children, saying goodbye to their homeland was not as painful as the adults.

At first, almost everyone expected to return soon. And finally, hardly anyone could have guessed what was in store for them: the fear of the approaching Red Army, the concern for their relatives, low-flying attacks, hunger and cold, illness and death.

Children lost their parents on the refugee treks or had to witness their mother or sister being raped.

End of war and post-war period

After the war, hardship and misery did not end for many refugee children. Most of them were not welcome in their new surroundings. They spoke a different dialect and were bullied.

The loss of one's homeland was a bad fate, the loss of the parents was a worse one: there were an estimated 500,000 war orphans after the end of the war and around 20 million half-orphans. Most of them were without a father.

For all of them, many hard years followed after the surrender, which were marked by chaos and lack.

When memories come back

The war children were often silent about their personal experiences for decades. After the war they took part in the reconstruction, started their professional life, got married, started a family, maybe built a house.

Today most of them are retired. The children are out of the house, calm has returned. And suddenly memories of the war return: the nights of bombing, the destruction, the experiences of flight and displacement.

Some of them are only reacting now - more than 75 years after the end of the war - or suffering from depression. Others even fondly remember their childhood in the war: Those who hardly had to go hungry, had a roof over their heads and were safe, were lucky and sometimes got away without mental harm.

No matter how different the fate of the war children was, they all have one thing in common: the war shaped them.