Child Migration and Family Division: Cold War Negotiations in Berlin, 1945–52

Michelle Mouton, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

German children participated in three migrations at the end of the Second World War and in its aftermath. The first migration began in 1944 and brought millions of Germans out of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe in advance of the Red Army. The Potsdam Agreement that led to the expulsion of millions of Germans from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland created the second migration. Before those refugees had even been settled, another wave of inner-German migrations began as Germans fled from the Soviet Occupation zone/East Germany across the Iron Curtain to the western zones/West Germany. Among these migrants were thousands of children and youth. Some came with their parents; others came in advance of their parents or tried to follow their parents. Still others fled from one parent to the other. Finally, a small number came alone despite the explicit opposition of their parents and caregivers. This complicated situation – an embarrassment for authorities in the East and a growing burden for authorities in the West – challenged the newly developing relationship between the Soviet Zone and western zones, between East and West Germany. It raised a host of questions for the western authorities and unleashed an ever-shifting negotiation with eastern authorities. Did children have a right to decide where they wanted to live? Did politics mandate cooperation between the two new countries or did ideology necessitate acceptance of any child who succeeded in coming west? Was children’s welfare paramount and how should it be defined? What role should parents and guardians play in children’s migration? The paper I propose will use archival records and personal stories to examine the evolution of policy that governed the migration of German children across the Iron Curtain.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 125. Youth and Families in Migration