Heriot Watt University

‘The Greatest Detective Story in History’

The Search for Stolen and Hidden Children under Allied Occupation in Postwar Germany (1945-49)

Buchenwald Children 90250Katherine Rossy, Queen Mary University of London

15:15 – 16:15 on Tue 9 May 2017 in room MBG14


On May 16, 1950, the BBC Home Service aired a broadcast called “The Greatest Detective Story in History”, an hour-long special that featured the search for displaced, orphaned, abandoned, stolen and hidden children in Europe after the war.[1] But the broadcast, which generated an overwhelming response from listeners, was hardly news. Children’s displacement was, and would continue to be, a constant reality between 1933 and 1945, where children of all backgrounds were moved from place to place. Some were moved clandestinely to safe havens and places of refuge while others were hoarded onto trains and deported to institutions and camps. This certainly did not change in the aftermath of war. From domestic uprooting to forced evacuations, and from repatriation convoys to resettlement schemes, children were constantly on the move. This was especially true in postwar Germany, the site of a contentious humanitarian operation designed to recover the ‘stolen’ and ‘hidden’ children of postwar Europe. Since these children had been deliberately targeted and uprooted during the war, they were often hiding in plain sight in the Germany community and were thus among the most difficult to trace and return home.
The size and scope of the stolen and hidden child problem posed a serious challenge for the military authorities and international organisations mandated to locate and assist young people in need during the postwar era. The collaboration (and clashes) between the military authorities in Germany – the French, British, Americans, and Soviets – and the United Nations agencies in operation on the ground – the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA, 1943-1947) and the International Refugee Organisation (IRO, 1947-1950) – led to one of the largest recovery schemes in history designed to carry out the search and tracing of stolen and hidden children.
Building upon extensive research from the International Tracing Service (Bad Arolsen, Germany), the Archives Nationales (Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, France), the Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes (La Courneuve, France), the National Archives (Kew, United Kingdom), and the Wiener Library (London, United Kingdom), this paper will chart the efforts of the UN agencies and military authorities in postwar Germany during one of the twentieth century’s great watershed moments. It will examine key policy challenges that emerged in the field and will shed light on the interaction between child migrants and humanitarian intervention in post-conflict contexts.

About the speaker:
Katherine Rossy is in the final stage of her PhD in modern European history at Queen Mary University of London and is working under the supervision of Professor Julian Jackson. She is a recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Doctoral Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Her research interests include refugees and statelessness, war and military occupation, and humanitarian intervention.

[1] “Statement for BBC”, undated, Archives pour l’Organisation Internationale pour les réfugiés, Archives nationales, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, France, AJ/43/302.

Our People

Regional Expertise: Lithuania, Republic of Ireland
Research Interests: displacement, human ecology
Regional Expertise: Romania
Research Interests: heritage, Old Believers

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