The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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PARIS, Thursday—One of the most interesting opportunities I had in Stuttgart last weekend was to meet with personnel of the International Refugee Organization who are engaged in the work of the Child Search Center.

I think few people in the United States have the faintest idea of the difficulties involved in this work. Many of us do not even realize that the abducting of children was one of Adolf Hitler's long-term and most reprehensible plans. He actually planned to take away as many children as possible from Norway, Holland, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia and other European countries he overran to turn them into young and devoted Nazi citizens, leaving no trace if possible by which they could ever be found and returned to their own country.

Under Hitler, the children were brought into Germany and deposited at a child center. Soon they were moved to another, and finally were placed with a foster family. But their peregrinations did not end there. They usually were moved to two or three families before they finally were allowed to stay. They were trained to believe that to acknowledge they ever had any other nationality but German was a disgrace, and they would hastily insist, if questioned, that they were Germans. The master-race idea was well drilled into them.

In some cases the families they were settled with really became devoted to them and treated them as their own. Their hardships were only those of the average German child after the fortunes of war turned against Germany, but in some cases they were always the Cinderellas of the family, used as drudges whether they were boys or girls, and where any sacrifices had to be made they were the first to make them.

This, I think, was one of the refinements of the Hitler cruelty and the long-term planning, which makes one shudder at the thought that Fascism or Nazism should ever be allowed to reappear in any country under any guise.

The work of finding these children is difficult in the extreme. Even the extent of the problem is hard to gauge. Some 20,000 requests for missing children have been received from their countries of origin, but to date only some 2,100 have been found. Strangely enough, very few of the cases on the two lists tally, which leads one to believe that the problem is one of greater magnitude than has as yet been discovered.

As soon as a child is found a report is made to its country of origin, which in turn institutes a search for the parents or relatives. There has been a great demand for the return of children from the eastern European countries, even when no relatives are found to be still living. Where a nationality is proved and a country desires the return of a child and will provide care, the child is returned unless it is old enough to have a real desire to go elsewhere.

But in such cases, the original request is not ruled out. At the IRO they told me of one little girl who insisted she could speak only German and knew no Polish. However, as soon as the frontier was crossed and she was among the Polish people she began to chatter in her native tongue.

On the other hand, there are difficulties with certain children who had been integrated in groups from certain towns or villages and whose parents have not been located with certainty. Even in cases where the parents are located, if the child is old enough to make a real decision against his return, the policy has been not to force the child.

I read an exchange of letters between a Polish mother and her daughter, who had been adopted by a childless man and wife in Germany. They were tragic letters from every point of view: those of the real mother in Poland, those of the foster parents, and those of the girl herself. She was determined to stay with her foster parents and they evidently were giving her every advantage that is available today to a child in Germany and offering her a future inheritance of whatever they have.

The foster mother even invited the real mother to come on a visit to see that her child was happy and as well fed as anyone can be in Germany. The child insisted she wished to remain where she was, and the real mother was heartbroken. Such are the results of the dislocations of war. They are bound to occur, I suppose, but the sadness is keenly felt when one is working so close to it.

I have the greatest admiration for the work that is being done in carrying out these difficult tracing procedures, which are made no easier by the fact that on higher levels the setting of policy is difficult. When a certain policy is determined, the carrying out of decisions is also bound to be a slow process because of the many verifications and amount of procedure that must accompany every step.

E. R.


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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 29, 1948

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.