The Wandering Wolf Children Of World War II

From Faces of Ancient Europe

As the Red Army took control of East Prussia at the end of World War II, thousands of orphaned children were forced to flee the cities and enter the woods in search of food and shelter. They became known as wolf children because they traveled in packs and made regular night trips between Germany, Poland, and Lithuania to avoid Soviet detection.

In 1944-1945, millions of German Civilians from East-Prussia (what is today Kaliningrad and the eastern part of Poland) and other areas of the Baltics had to flee from the Red Army. Additionally, several hundreds of thousands of Germans were displaced by force from their homes in what are today Polish and Lithuanian territories. The Red Army’s revenge on civilians was merciless.

There are credible estimates that 25.000 German children lost their parents during the flight, and wandered around in East-Prussia on search for food and work. About 5.000 of these children reached Lithuania.

The groups of children had to avoid Soviet detection, too—if caught, they would be killed or forced to work for Russia. In some cases, Lithuanian farmers would offer the children food in exchange for work. The luckiest were adopted by nice families and grew up in Lithuania. The locals called them “Vokietukai” (“little Germans”) and thousands of children settled in the country in the wake of the war.

Only a few hundred of the children survived. Some were “adopted” by Lithuanian and Russian farmers. They represented free labour force, and were often treated purely as slave workers.

The Wolf Children were given a new Lithuanian or Russian identity, and many forgot their real names, origin and mother tongue. The Soviet rulers did not allow the adoption of German children. In fear of getting deported to Siberia, those who adopted German kids prohibited them to speak German. Mostly these children did not get a chance to go to school in their new country either.

After Lithuania had got its independence, a group of former German war refugees gathered in Klaipeda and formed “Edelweiss – Wolfskinder” – the organisation for the Wolf Children – in 1992. The organisation counted about 250 members on its biggest. Today there are less than a hundred German Wolf Children left in Lithuania.

Only few Wolf Children returned to Germany after 1991. The stories documenting wolf children didn’t reach the mainstream public.

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