Claudia Heinermann Wolf Children

Post War Stories

Post War Stories

Claudia Heinermann

Wolf children”

In 1945 when the Red Army conquered East Prussia, Königsberg was destroyed while the entire civilian population was forced to flee or face death. Tens of thousands of children were left behind or orphaned. Roaming the countryside and forests in small groups looking for food and shelter, they were called “Wolf Children” (“Wolfskinder” in German). Many crossed the Neman River into Lithuania begging for bread and leftovers, moving from one homestead to another. An estimated two thousand of these “Vokietukai“ were eventually taken in or adopted by Lithuanian families, most of whom lived in the countryside where the children helped out with farm work. These brave Lithuanians faced the threat of deportation to Siberia and other severe punishments if the Soviet authorities discovered they were sheltering German children. To mask their origins, the children were given Lithuanian names and new identities – and told not to speak German or disclose where they came from. No one talked the existence of these “wolf children” until Lithuania regained independence decades later, and only then did their true story begin to emerge. Some 80 surviving “Wolf Children” still live in Lithuania today. Claudia Heinermann, together with journalist Sonya Winterberg, has been recording their incredible stories over several years. In her images, Heinermann uncovers their past while at the same time observing their life today, capturing moments of great pain and loss as she reveals this almost forgotten story of wartime childhood trauma.
Claudia Heinermann (b.1967) is a German born, Dutch-based artist. She specialises in long-term observational documentary projects with an emphasis on 20th century historical issues and the consequences of war.