At the height of “Children at war”


In Kharkiv, after a bombardment, on January 30, 2023.

“Children at war. “Without family” in the conflicts of the XXe century”, under the direction of Laura Hobson Faure, Manon Pignot and Antoine Rivière, CNRS Editions, 418 p., €26, digital €19.

Among the most moving figures bequeathed by contemporary conflicts are undoubtedly those of children brutally separated from their families. Since the beginning of the XXe century, wars multiplied these uprootings: countless orphans, hidden or entrusted children, without succeeding in finding their loved ones, as well as all those deliberately targeted by criminal or even genocidal policies. Practices reactivated in the present, as underlined by the arrest warrant recently issued by the International Criminal Court against Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova (“commissioner for the rights of the child” of the Russian regime) for the illegal deportation of thousands of children from Ukraine to Russia and to Ukrainian territories controlled by the occupying army.

The collective book edited by Laura Hobson Faure, Manon Pignot and Antoine Rivière sheds light on this topic in a subtle way, by multiplying the views on child vulnerability during the wars of the past century. Subtle, because, through contributions varied in their fields and their methods, covering the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, but also the Algerian War of Independence and the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, the work places itself constantly at child’s level to grasp the experience of separation and its effects over time.

We discover in particular the complex identity construction of Jewish children saved from the Holocaust because they were able to be welcomed at a very young age into Polish Catholic families, but for whom the revelation of their Jewishness after the war constitutes a backlash. , upsetting the stereotyped, sometimes even anti-Semitic landmarks that they had been able to construct, as for Ludwik Jerzycki, 9 years old in 1947: “I was crying, I didn’t want to go back to the Jews, because it was said that the Jews killed the children. » Others never knew their exact origins, such as Joseph Nadanowska, born in Paris in 1938, entrusted to public assistance in 1942, and who believed until his death in 2004 that his mother had abandoned him, because the institution refused to tell her that she had been deported to Auschwitz.

The dilemmas of adults

While childhood emotions and their lifelong effects are central to this work, it also sheds light on adult dilemmas. Save the children, of course, but how and when? To whom should they be entrusted, when should they be sent, for example, to a neutral country? How to hope or guarantee that the separation is not final? Several contributions usefully recall that, far from retrospective evidence, these choices were extremely difficult, both for the parents and for the members of philanthropic associations and relief works mobilized in the emergency and uncertainty.

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