Teenagers in the Holocaust

Jewish and non-Jewish Children Ethics Tragedies and Triumphs

When World War II enveloped Europe, children throughout the continent were impacted. Many children were sent to concentration camps while others became part of their country’s Resistance Movements, opposing Nazi orders and policies.

Sometimes authors use the story of real children to write historical novels. Sometimes the real stories are as compelling as the fictional ones.

Take Shadow on the Mountain, for example. Espen, the main character, is based on Erling Storrusten. Who was he? What role did he play during the war?

When Germany invaded Norway, Erling’s country, he decided to fight back. Sixteen at the time of the invasion, in 1940, Erling became a courier for distributing forbidden and illegal underground newspapers.

As time went by, and Erling grew older during the war, he took-on more resistance responsibilities. During one key event, he pretended to be who he was not in order to gain entrance into Germany’s headquarters in Lillehammer, Erling’s home town. He was able to draw the layout of the headquarters, then turn that important document over to Resistance leaders.

When the German secret police, the Gestapo, learned Erling’s identity, he had to flee Norway. Traveling hundreds of miles over five days, mostly on skis, he reached safety in Sweden. Margi Preus has retold Erling’s story in Shadow on the Mountain.

Joan Wolf takes a similar approach in her story Someone Named Eva. Although she doesn’t have a specific character on which to model her heroine, Wolf uses the events of a town called Lidice as the backdrop of her tale.

Hitler believed that people in the Czech town of Lidice were providing shelter for the assassins of one of the Fuhrer’s top men. Women and children were rounded-up, and seven children were initially selected for Germany’s “Lebensborn” program.

The Lebensborn program, devised by SS head Heinrich Himmler, focused on children who had Nordic features like blue eyes and blond hair. Nazi policy allowed those children to be kidnapped from their parents, then sent to centers where they would be “Germanized” (before being sent to live with German families who supported Hitler and his Third-Reich ideas).

Once those children were examined and measured, to be sure they fit the “Aryan” profile, they had to learn German customs and the German language. In the case of Milada, the heroine of Someone Named Eva, that process took two years.

During that entire two years, the twelve-year-old Czech girl was forbidden to speak her own language and was not allowed to see her real family.

In truth, the men of her family would have no-longer been alive since the Nazis killed all of the men of Lidice in retaliation for the death of Hitler’s protégé. Whether the townspeople were actually hiding the partisans who shot Reinhard Heydrich seemed not to matter. The Nazis’ perception of responsibility was enough for them to destroy the town and kill the men.

When she is sent to live with a German family, Milada is now known as Eva. With her Nordic features, she fits into her new life, but (as her Grandmother had insisted before they were parted), she must also remember who she really is.

At the end of the war, Eva/Milada struggles with leaving her foster family whom she has grown to like.

In real life, there were people who returned to a rebuilt Lidice after the war. Only 153 women and 17 children survived, however. In her story, Joan Wolf makes two of those people Milada (Someone Named Eva) and her mother (who’d spent the war, like other Lidice women, at the Ravensbruck concentration camp).

In both of these cases, the hero and the heroine of fictional novels have their roots in real-life events. Their lives were profoundly disrupted by the war, in major ways, but neither of these individuals was Jewish. That fact helps us to realize the impact of Hitler’s policies was widespread throughout the European continent, negatively effecting the lives of many different nationalities.


Original Release: Mar 17, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"Teenagers in the Holocaust" AwesomeStories.com. Mar 17, 2015. Feb 19, 2020.
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