USA TODAY ran an article on Friday that told of Russian President Vladmir Putin’s program of placing war-displaced Ukranian children either with Russian families or into camps for the purpose of converting them into Russian citizens.
A State Department-funded report estimates that as many as 6,000 Ukrainian children have been sent to at least 43 re-education facilities that stretch from the Black Sea coast all the way to Siberia.
Michael Scharf, a human rights lawyer who tries cases at the International Criminal Court, said the real number of Ukranian children being relocated is likely closer to 400,000 children, based on “numerous reports of Russian forces seizing children from orphanages, schools, and hospitals in areas of Ukraine under Russian occupation and transferring them to Russia where they are sent to foster families to be transformed into Russians.”
Getting a firm grip on the actual numbers is complicated because Russia has refused to permit the kind of independent centralized registration system that’s required by the international laws of armed conflict to track and protect children in war zones.
The article draws parallels between Putin’s actions and Hitler’s efforts to convert non-German children into German citizens (who could then be drafted as soldiers or workers). In October of 1939, with the invasion of Poland, Hitler created the office of the Reich Commissioner for the Strengthening of German Folkdom, with Heinrich Himmler as its head. Its aim was to help resettle the newly occupied territories with a German population. They found in Poland, however, an abundance of children who resembled the ideal Aryan German—blond hair, blue eyes, a similar length of the nose, the thickness of the lips, and an erect posture.
To reconcile this problem, the Nazis propagated the idea that these children were actually descended from German blood. Therefore, these children should be taken away from their Polish parents and repatriated to German families, that the children could be “returned to the Fatherland.” This was not only true of Polish children, but of any Aryan-looking children from Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, or other recently German-occupied countries.
Between 1939 and 1944, approximately 200,000 Polish children were stolen by the Nazis and sent away to be “Germanized”. Using a list of 62 physical characteristics, children were identified, photographed, and analyzed, and if the children were found to be suitably Aryan, then those between two and six were sent to maternity, or Lebensborn, homes in Germany. After their adoption by a proper SS family, the children were provided false birth certificates with new German names and birthplaces. Children not found suitable were sent on to concentration camps and gas chambers.
The goal of the German parents was to erase any trace of their native heritage and reshape them as loyal Nazis. They were taught to speak German (if they spoke their mother tongue they were deprived of food or whipped with a strap), forced to wear uniforms with swastikas, sing military songs, and were taught Nazi beliefs. They were also forced to endure countless hours of drills and marches to destroy any sense of individuality.
Older Polish girls with Aryan characteristics were sent to SS maternity homes where they became “breeding material” for SS officers.
Putin’s program is less selective and he is no longer limiting the program to displaced or abandoned children. He’s even using one of the same ploys that Hitler did: Ukranian parents are being tricked into signing consent forms for their children to be sent to summer camp facilities to be “out of harm’s way”, while Himmler sent notices to parents to bring their children to the local train station at a certain time to go on a holiday to “improve their health”. The children never returned from their holiday and there are still thousands of them or their descendants who live in Germany today unaware of their true identity and heritage.
Putin’s purpose for Ukraine, however, seems to be the same as Hitler’s for Poland. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made this statement: “It…speaks to the fact that President Putin has been trying from day one to erase Ukraine’s identity, to erase its future.”
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.