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Children fathered by British soldiers in Austria after World War II: Childhood experiences and the c

Children fathered by Allied soldiers and growing up with single mothers in Austria and Germany, commonly referred to as „Besatzungskinder“ (Occupation Children), often experienced adverse socioeconomic conditions in childhood and adolescence. Against this background, the University of Leipzig – in cooperation with the University of Greifswald and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on Consequences of War in Graz – carried out two quantitative research projects on the psychosocial consequences of growing up as a “Besatzungskind” after World War II. Learning about the theoretical and methodological background of the scholarly projects, Lukas Schretter completed a research residence at the University of Leipzig in December 2017: He studied published as well as unpublished results of the quantitative research projects and analysed items of the questionnaire studies.

Quantitative research on “Besatzungskinder” in Austria and Germany

The first questionnaire study on „Besatzungskinder” in Germany was conducted in 2013. Questionnaire items focused on the living conditions in childhood and adolescence, stigmatization and discrimination, identity, and the study participants’ mental and physical wellbeing. Based on 146 questionnaires, the results of the study – published among others by CHIBOW network members Marie Kaiser, Heide Glaesmer and Philipp Kuwert – revealed that “Besatzungskinder” were more likely to experience emotional, physical and sexual abuse than the general population. They are also a subgroup of the general population with high levels of mental distress. After completion of data collection, PhD projects and Master and Bachelor theses at University of Leipzig have also focused on identity patterns and identity development in “Besatzungskinder” in both Germany and Austria.

The questionnaire study on “Besatzungskinder” in Austria, conducted in 2013 and 2014, attracted more than 100 participants. One third of the study participants in Austria had American fathers and one quarter had fathers who were members of the Soviet army. 13.9 percent of the study participants were fathered by members of the French army. 15.8 percent had British fathers.

Exploring the life stories of British “Besatzungskinder” in Austria

In his PhD project, Lukas Schretter explores the life stories of children fathered by British soldiers and born to Austrian mothers after World War II. In the Children Born of War research field, an increasing number of studies deals with the life stories of Soviet, French, and American “Besatzungskinder”. However, little attention has been paid to the comparatively small number of children of British soldiers. Approaching the topic from the perspective of political history, Lukas Schretter analyses official documents preserved in official and privately-owned archives located across Europe. Interview narratives of both “illegitimately” and “legitimately” born children of British soldiers and Austrian mothers provide additional information on facets of the topic which otherwise, for the lack of sources, would remain unknown and give insight into personal experiences and biographies.

Next to researching childhood experiences on the basis or archival sources and interview narratives, Lukas Schretter makes use of the “Besatzungskinder” questionnaire study conducted in Austria in 2013 and 2014. Relying on the findings during his research residence in Leipzig, he draws upon existing results and analyses additional questionnaire data to come to conclusions about the long-term effects of growing up as a British “Besatzungskind”. Open-ended questions, where respondents were invited to provide information in free text format, add richly to the quantitative data provided in the questionnaires.

Exchanging research results

During his research residence, Lukas Schretter also had the opportunity to present his preliminary findings on children of British soldiers and Austrian mothers to Heide Glaesmer, vice head of the Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology at University of Leipzig, and Sophie Roupetz, Saskia Mitreuter, and Amra Delic, three fellow researchers in the CHIBOW network. Considering various methodological and theoretical approaches, the researchers discussed how findings about “Besatzungskinder” in Austria and Germany can be transferred to Children Born of War in current conflict and post-conflict situations. They also emphasized the need for preventive interventions to reduce hardship and distress, which can have a long-term effect on the mental health of Children Born of War and lead to disadvantages even decades later.

Lukas Schretter is an Early Stage Researcher within the European-Union funded research network “Children Born of War. Past Present Future” (CHIBOW), based at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on Consequences of War in Graz, Austria. He writes his dissertation on children of British soldiers and Austrian women after World War II.

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