Social and Psychological issues surrounding the “Lost Children”

Tara Zahra’s book, The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II, describes the psychological impacts and social problems of war on displaced children. The psychological problems that occurred with children being separated from their families arose after the First World War, but became more of an issue after World War II. There was complete chaos in Europe with the children being in the center of social and political upheaval.

After World War I, families were separated and there were a lack of resources. Campaigns were created to protect children. These campaigns focused on getting enough food and water, and having shelter for the children to rest in. Many children, during the war, were sent to live with a foster family in a neighboring country where they were well nourished and supported by their foster parents. After the war there was a movement to reunite families, but this created an issue. Children were sent to their home state to be reunited with their families, but their families lacked adequate resources, including food, housing, and income. Another issue that arose was that families had been separated for such a long period of time that they didn’t reconnect, so children wanted to be sent home to their host families. “Children were central objects of population politics, nation building projects, and new forms of humanitarian intervention in the twentieth century, as they represented the biological and political future of national communities.” (Zahra 20).

After World War II, Germany divided into four zones by the Allies. Many organizations, including social workers, German foster parents, and Jewish agencies, fought for the “lost children” to determine their fates.  This became the social problem: “The lost identity of individual children is the Social Problem of the day on the continent of Europe.” (Zahra 3). The psychological problems came about because of Europe being in ruins after World War II.  “They linked the physical ruin of European cities to the psychological disorientation of their residents.” (Zahra 3).

The psychological problem with the children being uprooted all of the time was that they would never forget what happened to them during the war. During war, children were starving, put in concentration camps, and forced into labor. The government believed that it was better when the children were reunited with their families because it was in their best interest and their psychological problems would diminish if they were safe and sound.

Much of what is stated in Zahra’s book can be compared to Hoffman’s articles on social welfare and the modern state. In Hoffman’s modern state article, he argues that using social science is key to eradicate problems that are occurring in a nation. The social science will tell the public statistics about a certain issue, such as how many children were displaced during and after the war. These statistics helped the government to see how many children were reunited with their families after being displaced. Hoffman’s social welfare article is extremely relevant to Zahra’s introduction and first chapter of her book. His thesis in this article is that social welfare is for the betterment of the country and not the people. In Zahra’s article she refers that the governments force children to return to their families, when in actuality their host family was a better psychological environment for them. The government is more concerned about the state because it wants maximum production, so sending a child back to his or her home country will help the output of that country.

The Shift From Material to Psychological Humanitarian Efforts in Post-war Europe.

Tara Zahra’s book, The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II is a heartbreaking account of displaced and impoverished children lacking national identities. In the introduction and first chapter, parallels are drawn between both the physical reconstruction of post-war Europe and the reconstruction of childhood identity. These children were at the center of political conflicts and were the social problem that dominated Europe from the onset of World War I. The state of Europe’s children represented the civilization itself in chaos. Organizations after World War 1 sought to supply these children with immediate material needs. After the Spanish Civil War and World War II, however, humanitarian efforts were ideologically transformed. While some intense nationalistic and political goals still lay underneath the surface, the primary function of these social organizations were now to serve the psychological needs of a child with an incomplete family, empty stomach, and no national identity.

The responses to World War 1 and the Armenian Genocide set the stage for future humanitarian endeavors. These interwar campaigns focused on the obvious immediate needs to a child. Food, shelter, water, and so on. However, they also largely focused on reuniting parents with their children that were sent away for their safety. With this came a larger issue; the denationalization of children. Children that were sent away during the Armenian Genocide were largely sent to to Turkey and learned Muslim practices. Efforts to reclaim these children and to “renationalize” them were crucial to these international organizations. After World War 1, children were exiled and then reclaimed again for “their own good”. However, “all the improvements in a child’s life may dwindle down to nothing when faced with the fact that it has to leave the family to get to them”. (18) This was the major issue governments were missing. People believed that the memories and possible psychological traumas would be minimal as long as the were physically safe and healthy, but we know today that that is not true.

This idea changed dramatically after the Spanish Civil War. While the aftermath left the Spaniards wanting their children back from exile in France to be reassimilated back into Spanish culture, the individual’s psyche was beginning to be taken into account. These loyalist approaches to repatriation wouldn’t go away until well after World War 2 when identities were no longer defined by where they came from, but rather where they called home. Still, strides were being made to get these “lost” children psychological help along with their material needs. Light was now shedding on the moral and social risks of a divided family and after World War II, in an effort to move forward from the depths of depravity found in the Nazi Regime, and to reclaim democracy, the child’s individual welfare was now being focused on far more than the countries desire for a unified nation. Each war and genocide set the the foundation for new improvements in humanitarian efforts.

Much of this content relates to Hoffman’s ideas on social welfare and the modern state. Children were the objects of popular politics all throughout the first half of the 20th century. After they were exiled for their safety, the children were sought after to become assimilated members of a homogenous society. Hoffman’s main idea is that social welfare is for the good of country far more than for the good of individual. The countries wanted a healthy person to increase economic output in an industrial society. Industrial society was the modern state. In the book the reader learns that the countries sent away their children and then brought them back for family stability which was a core value of Europe at this time. Leaders believed that children wouldn’t grow up to be functioning members of society if they don’t have a normal family upbringing. Eventually, they moved to a practice in which these agencies and governments did what was psychologically best for the child. This reconstruction of childhoods mimicked the reconstruction of Europe itself.