“The Forgotten Victims”: Heartbreaking Photos Of The Children Of World War II

A Girl Holding A Doll
Jewish Children World War 2
Girls Wearing Gas Masks Playing
Child Crying
“The Forgotten Victims”: Heartbreaking Photos Of The Children Of World War II
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Countless children were affected by the atrocities of World War II. Throughout the war, the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths may have been as high as three to one — and some countries were affected much worse than others.

The country most affected was Poland. Approximately 6 million people, more than one-sixth of the country's pre-war population, died during World War II. Almost all of these victims were civilian, and many of them were children.

However, getting caught up in a mass execution or a bombing raid were not the only things that Polish children had to worry about. Many of them faced the threat of being kidnapped. Under Generalplan Ost — the Nazi plan for genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe — scores of Polish children were kidnapped and brought to Germany to be "Germanized."

An estimated 200,000 Polish children were kidnapped during World War II. As many as 75 percent of these children never made it back to their families in Poland.

Beyond Poland, other countries that suffered particularly horrendous civilian casualties during World War II include the Soviet Union, China, Germany (where an estimated 76,000 children died as a result of Allied bombing raids), Japan, India, and the Philippines.

More than 1 million Jewish children were killed by the Nazis and their allies or crowded into ghettos across Eastern Europe. In these ghettos, children often died from starvation and lack of shelter. Those that did not die were either sent to the death camps to be gassed or were shot on the edges of mass graves.

Only those that were considered productive were spared and even then, their fate was effectively sealed by horrendous working conditions designed to keep them only barely alive. What made these mass killings even worse was the fact that, during the war, most of the world thought that these stories of mass extermination and death camps were only that — stories.

Taken before those death camps were even built, many of the most poignant photographs that capture children during World War II depict Britain during the Blitz. These images show children, and sometimes even babies, wearing gas masks or sitting on the curb of the pavement beside the ruins of their former homes.

Meanwhile, other British children were sent away to the countryside as part of the government’s evacuation scheme known as Operation Pied Piper. The evacuation scheme has been hailed as a huge success in the media but in actual fact, by early 1940, more than 60 percent of children had returned home, just in time to witness the Blitz. All told, at least 5,028 children died during the Blitz.

As the British historian Juliet Gardiner has said, in a statement that applies to Britain, Poland, and beyond, “The forgotten victims of World War Two were the children.”


Next, take a look at the most incredible World War 2 photos that bring history's greatest catastrophe to life. Then, see some of the most heartbreaking Holocaust photos ever taken.

Laura Martisiute
Laura is a freelance writer based in Tramore, Ireland. In her spare time, she likes to explore secret beaches, pet cats, and read.
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