Prior to 2013, little was known about the psychosocial impact of growing up as a German Occupation Child. To address this, the University of Leipzig in co-operation with the University of Greifswald decided to initiate research to investigate their life experiences; decades after the end of WWII. At the beginning of the study, there was no existing network or association for those occupation children and no official way for them to search for their biological family. Subsequently, the universities created a network allowing researchers to exchange with occupation children.
It’s been three years since the German “Russian Children” met each other for the first time in Leipzig, and since that time, the group has experienced real success, in providing a voice to the German Occupation Children fathered by Russian soldiers and born to local mothers. The group started with 9 members, but quickly grew to 25 members, who have published some of their life stories in newspapers and the TV, in an attempt to engaging those affected in the search for their roots and being connected through their website (www.russenkinder-distelblueten.de), they have also published a book (“Distelblüten – Russenkinder in Deutschland”).
In the search for their identification, the group named themselves “Thistleflowers”, because when reading Tolstoi’s “The Tatarthistle”, one of their members saw a connection to their special story of being fathered by a Russian soldier and born to a German mother. In the story the thistle is described as strong and resilient, it’s beautiful blossom vulnerable. It does not fit in with the other, more delicate field flowers. For this reason a relative of one of the members painted a picture showing a steel helmet with the red star on German soil and a thistle growing out of it, as a symbol of these children.
This year’s gathering of the group took place in Leipzig, organized by its board Winfried Behlau and Birgrit Michler.
On the first evening, there were readings from members presenting their life stories, which were open to the public. Dr. Heide Glaesmer, Vice Head of the Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology at the University of Leipzig addressed some words to the guests in regard of the research results from the initial study and introduced ongoing psychosocial research on the topic. This was followed by Dr. Agatha Schwarz, Professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Ottawa, who was presenting the current research project of her team on “Children of the Enemy”, narrative constructions of identity following wartime rape and transgenerational trauma in post-WWII Germany and post-conflict Bosnia.
ESR Sophie Roupetz moderated questions from the audience and introduced the CHIBOW network by talking about her research on Occupation children born of war rape and the research of her colleague, ESR Saskia Mitreuter on identity issues of Occupation children.
On the second day of the gathering the group discussed various aspects and thoughts about similar recently published books on their topic. When pilgrimaging the Camino Frances, organizer and Child born of war rape Winfried Behlau, met with people whom he told his story and who then also have opened to him by telling similar stories of discrimination and stigmatization.
One particularly fascinating story is that of Elfrun Josiger, the child of a love affair between a Ukrainian, Jewish soldier and a German mother. When Elfrun’s mother became pregnant the romance went public and Elfrun’s father was recalled due to imminent fraternization and had to return to his homeland. A few years ago Elfrun heard about her biological father for the first time and started to search for her father and possible half siblings. She was ready to give up the search but she found out the name of her half-brother, which her daughter put the name into Facebook and received a reply. Today, Elfrun and her half-brother, who currently is living in Tel Aviv are in regular contact, visiting each other and talking about their father.
The meeting was also attended by a journalist from the German radio station Deutschlandradio, asking questions to the group and interviewing some of the members for a feature which is going to be on air in October this year.
Before the meeting closed members of the network were invited by Dr. Glaesmer to discuss the impact of the act of ‘disclosing’ ones story, with a focus on wellbeing and personal development, with a view to understanding the extent to which participation in the study has influenced their current life situation? This initial discussion will contribute to the development of continued research in this area.
After a successful weekend, the members underlined once again the importance of the group and no longer being an individual standing alone; being seen and understood and no longer living in the shadows.