Researching WWII Children

I am the first to admit that I can justify almost any form of procrastination, but my hands-down favorite is research! This became such a problem while in graduate school that one of my professors made me parrot “It’s not done, it’s only due” every time she saw me about campus. I had missed too many deadlines because I kept finding awesome information that I wanted to work into my paper.

I find myself hit by the research bug again as I am working on my novels. Yes, I have more than one in the works–is that a problem? I actually have six that are rolling around in my head. One that is my first priority WIP (Work In Progress), two more that I am actively researching, and three others that just pop up occasionally to distract me. I have started taking notes on what the characters are telling me and then going back to work on the stories I have already committed to.

But then last night, while fighting a case of insomnia, I let the research muse/demon (?) free to take me where it would. I did focus on the story about four sisters who have to flee WWII Germany as little girls for safety in England, and then are sent to live with relatives in the US when England becomes too dangerous. I have done enough research to know that my story premise is absolutely historically accurate, and I have been fortunate to be able to interview some wonderful women who lived through this horrific time period. I don’t know that all my research will make it into the novel, but I thought you might find some of it interesting.evacuation poster

  • Most children in Germany had no toys or distractions with them in the bomb shelters, and would have to sit quietly on their cot in basements for days on end without talking or crying.
  • Thousands of blond, blue-eyed children from Northern Europe were kidnapped by Nazi soldiers and taken to German boarding schools to be “Germanized.”
  • 1938 children fleeing GermanyMany thousands of German children (of both Jewish and Gentile ethnicity) were smuggled out of Germany by loving family members in the late 1930s to avoid Hitler’s growing insanity and focus on the youth.
  • evacuation of English childrenHundreds of thousands of British children were sent to the US and Canada in the 1940s, some to stay with relatives, most sent to foster homes or orphanages in North America with volunteers.
  • Children in Allied countries engaged in air-raid drills which included hiding under their desks at school and wearing gas masks. Walt Disney allowed his characters to be built onto the gas masks to make them less frightening, and even created doll-sized masks. Children were expected to have their gas masks with them at all times, and wore the boxes over their shoulders like backpacks or messenger bags while playing.children in gas masks

Mickey Mouse gas mask

I can’t help looking at these pictures and wondering what happened to all these children. Did they survive? Were they ever reunited with their families? Did they live anything like a normal life? How did their experiences affect their relationships later in life? As parents, how did they treat or value their children? These are the questions that are at the heart of my next mystery novel. The working title is Four Flowers. The story is still developing, but it already has a vice-like grip on my imagination.

If you, or someone you know, were one of the children who was sent away for safety, I would love to talk with you. Feel free to email me at KathrynMcClatchy@gmail.com.

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