War is a difficult subject to broach, since most prefer to forget the horrors of the past. Those of us born after the conflicts tend to slip into cocoons of comfort, enjoying our day-to-day activities and the excitement of pastimes like playing at a casino without a second thought.
Such is life. But then, what were those fighting in wars aiming for, if not future generations who are spared the brutal exchanges that occurred in their time? So perhaps it is best to forget the worst, while hopefully retaining the lessons.
However, for those who experienced the various tragedies, there is no forgetting. The survivors simply have to endure, get on with life and take their darkest memories with them to the grave. However, if you care to listen and remember with those survivors who yet remain, you can perhaps help them carry the burden of tragedy.
In the late stages of World War II, many orphans were separated from their families. With no support or safety, these children were forced to wonder the streets and beg, and some even vanished into the forests. They struggled for survival on a daily basis, scavenging where possible, and gradually becoming feral. As the isolation from humanity grew more pronounced, it was said that the human children were eventually indistinguishable from wolves. These are the forgotten Wolf Children of Prussia.
The Story of Liesabeth Otto
Sadly, the very existence of these children was outright denied until the 1990’s. The surrounding circumstances that created the Wolf Children were not only shockingly distasteful, but the Soviet Union had also made the effort to ignore the existence of Germans still living within their borders. Hence the combination of denial, combined with a lingering hatred of Germans created a situation in which orphaned German children were shunned by surrounding society.
One such orphan was Liesabeth Otto. Her mother died of starvation and she fled with brothers and sisters to Wehlau. Here, through begging, stealing and scavenging, she managed to survive until 1953. But upon being caught stealing clothing, she was separated from her brothers and sent to a detention camp. Between the 1950’s and 1970’s Liesabeth underwent her transformation into a so-called Wolf Child. She recalls escaping and being recaptured on multiple occasions, landing up at more detention camps than she can keep track of. Much of the time was simply spent in the wilderness, where she survived for periods of time on scavenged fruit, and occasionally even animal carcases. Thankfully, upon seeking work in the Soviet Union, she finally managed to track down one of her brothers, who had found her father. Her journey has a happy ending, but only through sheer determination, and a fair amount of luck.
Her story is one of thousands. Most Wolf Children did not survive to tell the tale.
Survivors Still Struggling
Today, hundreds of Wolf Children survivors still live in Lithuania. But even after the war, these forsaken individuals continue to struggle on a daily basis. Many have fought tooth and nail for German citizenship, but have been denied. According to still standing laws, the Federal Office of Administration insists that those who left Königsberg territory after the war officially renounced citizenship. The battle is on going, but as far as the law is concerned, the Wolf Children will never be citizens. Given how overlooked the situation is, that is probably the truth.
Though there is some relief. Lithuanian laws were altered on 1st January 2008. Those residents who suffered as a result of the war and the occupation by Soviet forces are not granted government assistance. Wolf Children are given additional pension funds, though it is still argued that the extra amount is still far too meagre to really be of any help. Meanwhile in Germany, no such compensation is granted, and the Wolf Children are still almost entirely ignored.
Wolf Child Association
The Wolf Child association is called the Edelweiß-Wolfskinder, and is located in Vilnius. It is supported by donations from German citizens, and allows those who were orphaned during the war, obtaining the title of a Wolf Child, to interact. Many use the opportunity to simply share stories and otherwise be friends. But others use it as a means to try and track down lost family members.
The German Red Cross assists those that seek lost relatives, but have only been able to do so since the fall of the Soviet Union. This means that many search in vain, being far too late to ever have a chance of reconnecting with surviving relatives. Even still, since the 90’s roughly 200,000 missing persons have had their fate clarified by the German Red Cross and other organisations. Some remaining Wolf Children still hold out hope that relatives will finally surface, but by now this is extremely unlikely.
Valdas Adamkus, The Lithuanian President, recently made an announcement that may offer some solace. He declared that a memorial and exhibition would be opened in Bad Iburg. It will be titled The Lost History of East Prussia: Wolf Children and Their Fate, recognising once and for all the travesty that befell the youngest victims of a terrible war.