Category: Children's Books

Barbara Warning
Kindheit in Trümmern
[Shattered childhoods]


Shattered childhoods

World War II ended 71 years ago. It left in its wake 55 million people dead around the globe, the European continent in ruins, countless homeless and millions of people wounded and traumatised. If we want to know something about this war, we can still ask the people who experienced it, at least those who were young when it happened. Psychotherapist Barbara Warning did just that, and recorded the fate of 21 war children. Kindheit in Trümmern (Shattered Childhoods) is the name of her book, written for young people. Very quickly you realize this book is not just about that particular war, but about war itself. These children’s experiences are absolutely comparable to the experiences of children in war zones around the world today, whether it is in the Ukraine or Uganda, Somalia or Syria.
No one can better caution us again war than those who experienced it first hand. The narratives Barbara Warning shares with us are dramatic, horrific and sometimes also hopeful stories of childhood. These children were born before or in the midst of the chaos of the Second World War. They endured hunger, bomb hail and the fear of death. Many of them had to flee with nothing but the clothes they wore, with unfathomable suffering in plain view. Others survived in bombed out cities. And all of them still carry the wounds of their childhood today, wounds that often only surface when these people reach retirement age. Anyone who reads these accounts can certainly imagine that children living through war today will still be suffering from the traumas of their childhood 50 years from now.
The fate of each child is unique and leaves behind very personal scars and suffering. And yet there are a great many similarities. Barbara Warning has carefully placed the life stories of the war children, and thus the reality of that past time, in different groups. She reports about children who went missing, about life in the occupation zones and camps for displaced persons, about the missing fathers or what it was like to learn amidst ruins. Naturally there are overlapping elements, but that is not important. It is critically important to her that finally, after much processing of the Holocaust, the suffering of the Germans—and especially the children—is talked about. And that today’s young people take away the message: “Never again war!” That should be universal and timeless!
This did not, however, become a depressing book, in great part due to the lively presentation and design used in its creation. Barbara Warning relates the stories of “her” war children with objective distance, yet sensitively and with great sympathy. The subjects are often quoted, expressing themselves in their own words. The individual stories are complemented by explanations and brief texts providing details on certain subjects. Many personal documents and harrowing photographs are included, as well as a wise foreword and an historical overview of the period from 1932 to 1990.
By now, the third post-war generation is being born in Germany, children who take for granted unhindered and friendly interactions with their European neighbours. But peace is anything but self-evident; in fact, it is a luxury. It requires hard work in opposing religious prejudices and cultural classifications, because only the knowledge of how deeply horrifying war is can prevent us from jeopardizing peace. So when there is an opportunity to hear the stories of those who experienced the war, but have never talked about it, we should take advantage of it, regardless of whether the war took place in Europe, in South America, or in the Middle East.

Sylvia Schwab

By Sylvia Schwab, 14.06.2016

​Sylvia Schwab is a radio journalist with a special interest in literature for children and teenagers. She serves on the jury for the monthly ‘Best 7’ list of books for young readers produced under the aegis of Deutschlandfunk and Focus, and works for Hessischer Rundfunk, Deutschlandfunk and Deutschlandradio-Kultur.

Translated by Tammi Reichel