Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web

Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web

by Lynn H. Nicholas
To research her study of European children affected by Nazi policies, Nicholas interviewed many of the survivors and examined the governmental and military archives of several nations. She shows the relationship between Nazi policies and tactics used in the USSR in the 1930s and in the Spanish Civil War. She also recounts the stories of the Kindertransport children,


To research her study of European children affected by Nazi policies, Nicholas interviewed many of the survivors and examined the governmental and military archives of several nations. She shows the relationship between Nazi policies and tactics used in the USSR in the 1930s and in the Spanish Civil War. She also recounts the stories of the Kindertransport children, the teenaged children of the Reich, and the survivors of wartime famines, camps and factories. Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Editorial Reviews

Ruth Kluger
Cruel World ends with an account of the misery that followed the end of the war, when even huge repatriation efforts could not accommodate those whose parents were dead and who had nowhere to go to. Anyone who assumes that powerful adults are bound to come to the aid of helpless children will be sorely disabused by this book.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Nicholas's acclaimed The Rape of Europa helped galvanize the return of Nazi-looted art. While this work is unlikely to have such practical impact, it demonstrates a similar breadth of research and historical compassion. She looks at the effect of Nazi policies on children as a recounting of the nonmilitary story of WWII. Casting a wide net, Nicholas examines such phenomena as the Kindertransports-in which Jewish children were brought from central Europe to England on the eve of the war-and the transport of supposedly "Aryan" Norwegian girls to Germany to breed. Nicholas shows how the Nazis tried, with varying degrees of success, to export their eugenic theories and racist ideology to the educational realm throughout occupied Europe. And focusing on the homeland of the Third Reich, she delineates how German children were socialized into Nazi culture. Relying on a prodigious amount of primary and secondary sources as well as interviews, she emphasizes the resilience of the young. "Most of Europe's children would, in the next few years, develop a self-protective shell of voyeurism and casualness toward the monstrous events around them." But as she notes in conclusion, the horrors of the war years stayed with those who saw them through young eyes. At times, Nicholas loses her focus, retelling the much-told story of the war itself. But there is no doubt that she has put together a well-written, compelling history that makes us look at the war era anew. 39 photos, 3 maps. (May 14) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Lynn Nicholas's first book on a Holocaust-related subject, Rape of Europa, won awards and helped change history: it intensified the search for art looted by the Nazis. Her second volume on the subject may not move events, but it is a wonderful and remarkable book. By focusing on the Nazis' impact on children, she's found a way to take familiar topics and make them fresh, illuminating and newly horrifying. While the topic might seem limited at first glance, its scope really is huge. Nicholas covers eugenics, euthanasia and German education, occupations all across Europe and, of course, the politics and mechanics of extermination. But there's more: liberation, repatriation and, finally, the defeated German families and their children. The book's breadth is impressive, but beyond her prodigious research, it's Nicholas's eye for detail, her insight and sense of balance and proportion, that make the book a treasure. Also, it is well organized (easy to follow for student researchers), thoughtfully indexed, and has a few well-selected small photographs. While this is a lengthy, dense scholarly work with small print, it is clearly written and provides a wonderfully telescopic view of the lived impact of the Nazi era. A must for any Holocaust collection. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2005, Random House, Anchor, 632p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., $17.95.. Ages 15 to adult.
—Daniel Levinson
Library Journal
Although numerous studies examine Nazi racial policy and its implementation, independent scholar Nicholas deftly focuses her attention on how the application of these ideas affected the lives of children. Nicholas begins with an examination of how Nazi eugenics policies led to the killing of thousands of children deemed unworthy of life. She then moves into a discussion of the experience of refugee children, noting in particular the difficulty German Jewish and Austrian Jewish children had in reaching safety. Nicholas's analysis of how Nazi policy was applied in those areas conquered by Germany is particularly adept, especially in the chapter that juxtaposes the Russian and Greek experiences. One of the book's virtues, along with the depth of its research, is Nicholas's ability to maintain a narrative thread over a variety of nations, reaching from German-dominated Europe to the United States. Perhaps the best chapter is "Total War," where Nicholas links Goebbels's 1943 proclamation, which committed Germany to fighting until the bitter end, with a synthesis of the various aspects of the war that involved children. The chapter thus takes the book's diffuse subjects and molds them into a master narrative that is chilling in its detail. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“For anyone interested in an unglossed World War II history, Cruel World is a must read. . . . A historical gem.” —The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“A thoroughly researched and incisively written account. . . . This is not merely another book about the Holocaust, although the Holocaust is the most glaring event in these pages. Cruel World is more shocking and upsetting than any book that deals with ‘only’ one persecution.”—The Washington Post Book World

“A well-written, compelling history that makes us look at the war era anew.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Powerful, passionate. . . . The combination of the authoritative overview with the searing detail makes this an invaluable reference source as well as riveting history.”—Booklist

"Passionate, powerful, riveting,"
—Hazel Rochman, starred review for Booklist

"Compelling history that makes us look at the war anew,"
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"This book is an extraordinary achievement, particularly because, although the author's theme is Europe’s children, she is in fact, with astonishing research, writing a new history of World War II. And remarkably, in writing about the children, she does - as one might expect - write not only about their suffering, but also about their joys."
—Gitta Sereny

“A work of impressive scholarship . . . Cruel World is a historical gem. For anyone interested in an unglossed WWII history, it is a must read. It revives memories that the world forgets at its peril.”
—Jackie Loohauis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

". . .a thoroughly researched and incisively written account of horrendous crime, suffering , folly, and indifference, as well as of heroism, sacrifice, and the will to survive . . . Cruel World's originality lies in its broad sweep—more shocking and upsetting than any book that deals with 'only' one persecution. By broadening her scope to include every affected nationality . . . Nicholas makes us aware how children across Europe were caught up in the Nazis' cruelty."
—Ruth Kluger, Washington Post Book World

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Cruel World

By Lynn Holman Nicholas

Random House

Lynn Holman Nicholas
All right reserved.

ISBN: 067977663X

Chapter One


Just before lunch on May 29, 1945, three weeks after the formal end of the Second World War, Sister Worle, head nurse of the children's wards at the Kaufbeuren-Irsee Mental Institution near Munich, approached the bed of four-year-old Richard Jenne and put him to death by lethal injection. She had plenty of experience, having, as she readily stated to her interrogators, previously so injected "at least 211 minors." The time of death was 13:10. Richard, classified as a "feebleminded idiot" had been taken to the hospital some months before and put on a diet carefully calculated to bring him to the brink of starvation. By May 29 he had reached the desired state of weakness and was ripe for Sister Worle's visit. The death certificate, intended for dispatch to Richard's parents in the town of Ihringen in the German state of Baden, did not mention the injection, but listed the cause of death as typhus.

The American troops who had occupied the picturesque town of Kaufbeuren in the hilly, blossom-laden countryside of Swabia on April 26 were unaware of Richard's demise, and indeed would not discover his body and those of a number of other victims of Sister Worle and her colleagues for five more weeks. The Americans had arrested the Nazi director of the institution but, put off by a large sign warning of typhus in the hospital, had not ventured inside, where routine continued as usual. On July 2, two medical officers finally entered the premises. What met their eyes was beyond belief: some fifteen hundred disease riddled patients confined in the most squalid conditions, among them a ten-year-old boy who weighed twenty-two pounds, and a stifling morgue filled with bodies which had not been buried and which could not be disposed of quickly as the shiny new crematorium, finished in November 1944, had been closed down (i).


Richard Jenne was probably the last person to be put to death by the Nazi extermination machine, which in performing this act had come full circle. For it was in this institution, and a network of similar ones, that basic training, using German nationals, had been provided for those who would run the death camps so recently liberated by the Allies. Richard was not alone in his death: millions of other children were deliberately murdered in the Nazi era. Tens of thousands would die of conflict-induced starvation in Leningrad, Athens, the Netherlands, and other war zones. Others did not survive the unprecedented forced transfers of populations engendered by Nazi racial policy and carried out under the most primitive conditions. Thousands of teenaged Hitler Youth died in battle, and children of all involved nations were sterilized, perished during evacuations, died of war-borne diseases, or succumbed as forced laborers. They wasted away in concentration, refugee, and disciplinary camps, and died in the bombings of cities and in the Nazi revenge burnings of hundreds of doomed villages in the USSR, Greece, France, and Czechoslovakia, of which Distomo, Oradour-sur-Glane, and Lidice are merely the best known. A precise figure can never be compiled, but it is vast. The historian Alan Bullock estimates the total number of military and civilian deaths due to World War II in the European nations to be some forty million. Mortality of this magnitude defies comprehension and tends to destroy normal human reactions to the reality of the events, a phenomenon which was highly evident among both perpetrators and victims during the conflict itself. It is therefore necessary to remember, as Bullock puts it, that the statistics are important,

...but because they can have the effect of numbing the imagination, which cannot conceive of human suffering on such a scale, it is equally important to underline that every single figure in these millions individual human being like ourselves-a man, a woman, a child, or even a baby (ii).


The discoveries at Kaufbeuren, coming weeks after the more horrendous accounts of conditions in the death camps, and coinciding as they did with the formal entry of Western Allied forces into Berlin, received small mention in the international press. But the Army was sufficiently embarrassed to replace the detachment occupying the town with another. The incident was only a detail in the gigantic mosaic of efforts underway to cope with the tremendous human needs of liberated Europe. The London Times of July 6, 1945, reported that the Combined Civil Affairs Committee of the Anglo-American allies had announced that they had, so far, found 5.8 million displaced persons in Germany. Of these 2.3 million had already been repatriated, which left 2.5 million to be cared for in camps. Their optimistic assessment was that the problem might "resolve itself" by September 1 into "the care of the residue of stateless persons and those who cannot be sent home." No figures were given for this group, whose fate would then be determined by an Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees which would "have the task of finding places" for them.

The bland Civil Affairs announcement was fine as far as it went. But much is left out of its statistics. Other estimates put the number of the displaced at war's end in Germany alone as high as 12.5 million. The announcement does not mention the 7.8 million expellees from Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia who would arrive in Germany in 1946 or the hundreds of thousands who would continue to move westward from areas controlled by the Soviet Union. It does not include the malnourished populations of newly liberated countries from Greece to Norway, the bombed-out millions of Warsaw, Stalingrad, Berlin, and London, or the exiles and evacuees trying to get home from all over the globe, whose numbers would burgeon after the defeat of Japan. A large percentage of these had, or would, become the responsibility of the Allied armies and help organizations, who were soon faced with situations beyond their most extreme imagining or preparation and challenged in their charitable desires by political policies, racial attitudes and nationalistic self interests not in the least moderated by the events of the war.

For large numbers of the children of Europe who had escaped Richard Jenne's fate, life was far removed from the norm. In every liberated nation wild, streetwise groups attached themselves to troop formations and scrounged for food. Parentless children waiting for transfer out of concentration camps played among stacks of corpses, or lay near death in makeshift hospitals. Others, taken to still inadequate refugee camps with their families, fared little better. Evacuated children nervously boarded ships and trains to reunions with parents they no longer knew, while others waited in vain for parents who would never return from concentration camp or battlefield.

Thousands more roamed the countryside alone, moving towards the last homes they had known along with the masses jamming the roads and trains. Everywhere, children who had been hidden for years, sworn to silence and subterfuge, emerged to deal with a strange world. Many who had been sent from occupied countries at a very young age to foster families in the Reich for "Germanization" would stay hidden until ferreted out, and some would never find out who they really were.

* * *

This was Hitler's legacy. The evil Utopian dream of the Nazis, which envisioned a world controlled by a physically perfect people of pure ethnicity in which the racially unacceptable and economically useless would be eliminated, had lasted only a brief moment in history. But in that time it had grown to monstrous proportions, fertilized by indifference and unwitting support in the nations which had, with enormous human cost, put an end to it.

Hitler's undeviating progress toward the creation of the Aryan super-empire he described in 1926, in Mein Kampf, was carefully paced and politically astute. He was only too willing to adjust his ideology as necessary to procure temporary political support or economic advantage, even allying himself for a time with the "Judeo-Bolshevik" rulers of the Soviet Union the better to devour Poland. Not even his obsession with race was inviolable. Hermann Rauschning, an early colleague, quoted Hitler as stating:

I know perfectly well...that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race. But you, as a farmer and cattle breeder, cannot get your breeding successfully achieved without the conception of race. And I as a politician need a conception which enables the order which has hitherto existed on historic bases to be abolished and an entirely and new anti-historic order enforced and given an intellectual basis...And for this purpose the conception of race serves me well... With the conception of race, National Socialism will carry the revolution abroad and re-cast the world (iii).

But first, it would be essential to establish total control of German society. New visions must be promoted to replace the bad aftereffects of the First World War and the economy must be revived by stringent elimination of waste and by full employment. Above all, there must be no more factionalism or variance of point of view, but total obedience to a particular leader, and it must all be achieved without arousing domestic resistance or foreign sanctions.

From the beginning, Hitler recognized the importance of children in his scheme. The state must "declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people."(iv). But not all children. They must be healthy "Aryans," free of "hereditary weakness," and they must also be properly educated. Those not complying with the first criterion would be eliminated. The rest would be removed at a pliable age from the influence of family and religion and be inculcated with Nazi ideology, ranked from high functionary to serf-like laborer according to certain rigid mental and physical standards, trained accordingly, and then be used as commodities where most convenient. The children of the conquered lands would be included. In occupied areas populated with unworthy beings such as Slavs, the indigenous would be eliminated or enslaved and the area would be repopulated with individuals "subject to special norms," who would be chosen and resettled by "specially constituted racial commissions." In this way it would be possible to found "...colonies whose inhabitants are exclusively bearers of the highest racial purity and hence of the highest racial efficiency." (v).

As a result of these theories, expressed in Mein Kampf and implemented by gigantic overlapping bureaucracies, thousands of children would have experiences no child should ever have, spend years in wandering and exile, be separated from their families forever, and die. The process would begin at home.

Notes on Chapter 1: Prologue
i. NA RG 338/54 ETO/USFET Detachment F1F3 Report "Asylum at Kaufbeuren, Swabia" 5 July 1945; NA RG 238 Nuremberg Doc.1696-PS; Klee, Ernst, Euthanasie im NS-Staat (Frankfurt, 1985), pp. 452-454.
ii. Bullock, Alan, Hitler and Stalin. Parallel Lives (New York, 1993), pp. 983, 805.
iii. Rauschning, Hermann, Hitler Speaks (London, 1939), pp. 113, 229-30, as cited in Pipes, Richard, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime (New York, 1993), p. 280.
iv. Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf (London, 1974), ed. D. C. Watt, p. 367.
v. Ibid., p. 368.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from Cruel World by Lynn Holman Nicholas Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Lynn H. Nicholas was born in New London, CT, and educated in the U.S., England, and Spain. The Rape of Europa, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, has been translated into eight languages. It inspired an international movement to locate and repatriate works of art and other property confiscated and stolen by individuals and governments before and during World War II. Ms. Nicholas was elected to the Légion d'Honneur by the government of France and was named an Amicus Poloniae by Poland. She has become widely known as a lecturer on the issues addressed in The Rape of Europa and Cruel World and has appeared as an expert witness in art-repatriation trials and before Congress.

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