Children Were Key Parts of the Conflict
In more ways than one, World War II was the war of the children. You may not have been told this, but children fought and died on both sides.
They started out cheering and wound up dying. That's not an exaggeration, that's the reality.
|“Youth serves the Fuehrer! All 10 year-olds join the Hitler Youth.”|
|This boy looks remarkably like the one in the above poster.|
|The culture of the time on both sides encouraged a martial indoctrination.|
|3.SS Panzer Division 'Totenkopf', Warsaw 1944.|
|A soldier of the 94th Infantry Division searching two young anti-aircraft gunners who surrendered in Frankenthal, 23 March 1945|
|U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Hart H. Spiegal tries to communicate with two Japanese child soldiers captured during the Battle of Okinawa. June 17, 1945|
Added to that is the very real understanding that by, for instance, manning a Flak gun, you were defending not only your homeland but the lives of everyone you loved. Propaganda encouraged the young warriors every step of the way. Books telling the tales of heroic exploits by soldiers were the norm, but nobody in the books mentioned that they were complete fiction aside from the names and outcomes.
Thus, the youngest soldiers were often the most fanatical, and also the ones who were most determined not to give up.
|A Hitler Youth during a moment he will always remember.|
Still, it took an extreme act of will for a child with romantic notions of valor to 'give up' and admit defeat. It was especially difficult because surrendering took away all the shortcuts to prestige and pathways to success that had been laid out for them by everyone they knew. A boy could be taken seriously as a soldier when otherwise he would be just another face in middle school.
|German WW2. The post says: " Youth ( Join ) in Air defense. " Children manned many anti-aircraft batteries in the major cities, and usually were not asked to do so - they were told to do it as part of their normal routine.|
Children, of course, didn't know any better and were not ready to make adult choices. While from our perspective they fought for the enemy, it's possible for many to feel sympathy for them. The peer pressure on them and their lack of perspective doomed them to joining up and dying for nothing.
|Berlin 1945 (Ang, Federal Archives).|
|This lad, Hans-Georg Henke, believed that he had lost everything when the war was lost because he knew of nothing else. He went on to a great life, but he had no way of knowing that could happen.|
|Here he is, Hans-Georg Henke - the 16-year-old German soldier crying - recently.|
|Young Soviet soldier.|
Hitler Youth being awarded medals, 1943. That's a touch more realistic than the usual propaganda shots (Federal Archive).|
|11-year-old "soldier" killed during the Warsaw uprising in 1944. Really, what can you say about such a horrible scene?|
|German youth in uniform surrender to Allied troops in Belgium. New Years, 1945. They knew nothing but the Third Reich and no doubt felt it could never end.|
|A 12-year old Hitler Youth leader receives the Iron Cross, Second Class for combat performance, March 1945. The Iron Cross meant he did... something.|
|A teenage German soldier, who served with the Hitlerjugend division, is taken prisoner by US troops near Forbach (Alsace), March 1945.|
|A 13-year-old POW from a Hitler Youth unit captured by the US Army in Martinszell-Waltenhofen, May 1945.|
|Three 14-year-old German prisoners of war eating rations in front of a group of other POWs, 29 March 1945. The boys were captured by 6th Armoured Division, Third US Army, near Frankfurt-am-Main.|
|13-year-old Soviet Partisan. Nice uniform - too nice. Obvious propaganda shot.|
|World War II - Prisoners of war - 42-35302875 - Rights Managed - Stock Photo - Corbis. Adolescent German prisoners of war - almost children - in an American prison camp shortly after the end of World War II.|
|A Japanese soldier-to-be. They indoctrinated them early. Kids love to play war.|
|A Son of the Regiment wearing Red Star. These sort of mascots fought and died.|
|A wounded German Hitler Youth. It's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.|
|Young scout reports to the commander of the partisan detachment G.V. Gvozdev about the location of the Germans. Undoubtedly a propaganda shot, but accurate.|
|Propaganda photos make espionage by children look glamorous. Sometimes, it isn't. Spies are spies. Here, a firing squad of the US. Ninth Army executes 16-year-old Heinz Petry of Hitler Jugend for espionage, Germany,1945.|
|A young German wounded prisoner of war captured by the First US Army in Simmerath, Germany. December 1944.|
|A boy soldier in China during the 1930s.|
|Boy soldiers captured at Kronach, Germany by 11th Armoured Division April 25, 1944.|
|Captured German soldier boy, happy to be out of it.|
|Child soldier in China ca. 1942.|
|Ten-year-old Chinese child-soldier in Burma in 1944.|
|15-year-old French Legion boy soldier on Eastern Front 1941.|
|15-year-old German soldier 1945, Kronach|
|Teenagers captured east of the Rhine 1945|
|The kid appears to be receiving a medal, see picture below.|
|A propaganda photo that went disastrously wrong, it appears to be a partisan unit.|
|16-year-old Wilhelm Hübner proudly accepts the Iron Cross Second Class from Joseph Goebbels.|
|This was taken from a movie, it's a little too ... real|
Allied Children at WarWell, we all know that the Germans sent their kids to die in defense of a lost cause. But certainly civilized British and Americans wouldn't do that, would they? Well...
It was against US policy to induct anyone under the age of 18. However, a few did sneak in. Well, more than a few. Many of them bragged about it in later years, but at the time, if they had let on about their true age, they would have been dishonorably discharged like the fellow below.
|Calvin Graham was an extreme case. He was only 12 years old when he lied to get into the U.S. Navy. He wasn't found out until he was wounded at Guadalcanal. He was dishonorably discharged, but his benefits were restored eventually.|
|The Royal Oak took over 120 boys to their deaths in October 1939.|