Enfants Terribles: French Children Of German Soldiers Seek ClosureS

After decades of shame and secrecy, les enfants de Boches - the products of French mothers and German soldiers - are trying to get some acknowledgment before it's too late.

The legacy of World War II was a painful one for much of France, and those women who'd become involved with German occupiers were treated with particular contempt. Those who'd fought the Germans bore resentment; those perhaps less proud of their own collaboration were eager to condemn them as scapegoats. Approximately 20,000 women's heads were publicly shaved as a proof of their perfidy - but this was less galling than the enduring proof provided by the children of these liasions.

As a result, as a piece in the Times tells us, many of these "children of the Huns" - it's estimated there were about 200,000 - were put in orphanages or given up at an early age for adoption. The motivations must have been varied; while such a child certainly made the mother's life harder, it's also true that growing up in the knowledge of their parenthood was not easy for the children, who faced mockery and shunning. But as a result, many of them, now in their 60s, have very little knowledge of their heritage, and are eager to discover it while there's still a chance that their fathers are alive. In recent years, a number of them have formed groups and obtained cooperation from the French and German governments in tracking down records. The French goverment has finally acknowledged this population, offering an oblique apology, while the German government has declared that they will be eligible for German citizenship.

That, however, depends on whether they can prove their paternity, and given the lack of records and the culture of secrecy - to say nothing of the fathers' probable ignorance of many of these offspring - concrete details are thin on the ground. While the New York Times profiles a few enfants de Boches eager to find out about their fathers, one can't help but wonder if some prefer to let the past lie, or have inherited a sense of shame about their antecedents. Some of those children who were adopted at an early age doubtless have no idea of their paternity, and as their mothers' generation dies off, the facts of their birth will become even murkier. We hope that those who wish them, get answers, and that their histories can at some point come to be seen as personal, rather than always overshadowed by cultural shame.

Tracing Roots Fostered By War, Severed By Shame
[NY Times]