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Children's Tracing Service

The Children's Tracing Service of the German Red Cross is dedicated to children who were separated from their families in connection with the Second World War due to flight or expulsion, as a result of bomb attacks on German cities or during evacuation to supposedly safe areas.

Were you separated from your relatives as a child during or after the war? Still today, you can submit a tracing request to the GRC Tracing Service to initiate investigations into your relatives or you can personally contact the Tracing Service of a GRC regional or district branch near you.

Children's fates during the Second World War

Most inquiries made to the Children's Tracing Service are related to the events of the Second World War: They come from people who to this day feel the need to finally know who their biological parents were, where their roots are and where they belong. Since 1945, the GRC Tracing Service has clarified around 300,000 of these children's fates and was able to reduce the number of open cases to less than 5,000.

The Children's Tracing Service focus has for many years been on the 33,000 so-called “foundlings”: Most of them were separated from their families during flight and therefore were still too young to know their own name and age. This makes the search for their relatives all the more difficult: In advertisements in newspapers and radio announcements, the children's appearance, their clothes and toys and the location where they were found are described in detail and the population is asked to help identify them. Shortly afterwards, photographs become the central instrument of the investigation. Soon, the first children's picture posters are printed and displayed at railway stations, youth welfare offices and tracing services, thus helping to reduce the number of foundlings to around 400.

Alongside the foundlings, the Children's Tracing Service also focuses to this day on the so-called “wolf children”. These are children and young people, mostly from East Prussia, who lost their parents during the Second World War or as a result of flight and expulsion. After the war they found themselves on their own and roamed the country or hid in the woods. These children were usually forced to conceal their German origin, identity and language before later being taken in by Lithuanian families. These families gave them Lithuanian names and - for lack of knowledge - new dates of birth. As a consequence, those affected are hardly able to provide any information about their biological parents and origins if they want to find out their true identity or to re-establish contact with family members still living.

Even if such fates are very difficult to clarify, the GRC Tracing Service still strives to help those affected.

Since the 1990s, an increasing number of people from Norway and other Scandinavian countries have been contacting the GRC Tracing Service via their respective National Red Cross Societies to search for their biological fathers. During the German occupation from 1940 to 1945, numerous cases of relations between Norwegian women and German soldiers arose, resulting in an estimated 12,000 children. After the end of the war in Norway, mothers and children were exposed to public repression, so that the search for the German fathers or contact with their families often only became possible decades later.

Do you belong to this group of people and do you still want to clarify your father's identity and fate? Please first contact the competent National Red Cross Society of your country of residence.

Forced adoptions from the former GDR

The Children's Tracing Service is also contacted by people who were forcibly adopted in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), for example because their parents had fled the republic or wanted to do so. In many cases, the now adult victims only found out about this after German reunification. At least from that point on they could start searching for their roots.

These children, and in some cases also their parents, still feel a great need to clarify their fates.

The GRC Tracing Service, in cooperation with and through research at other agencies, can help to shed light on one’s own ancestry history. Another contact point is the Central Information and Referral Centre (ZAuV) at the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues, which was set up as part of the process of dealing with politically motivated adoptions in the GDR. It provides counselling and assistance for all questions related to (suspected) forced adoptions during the SED regime.

Information on the search for unaccompanied minor refugees in current crises and conflicts can be found here “Trace the Face -Kids-“.

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