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The Situation of Young People in Aachen (1947)

The harsh living conditions in postwar Germany had an especially negative effect on children and young people. As this 1947 report from the city of Aachen attests, a lack of food and care, irregular school attendance, the loss of paternal authority, and disordered family lives promoted neglect, immoral behavior, and criminality among youth.

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If the question is posed – when does this misery of youth begin and when it will end? – then the answer must be that it begins in the mother’s womb, and that no end is in sight as long as the unhappy current conditions persist.

Malnourished mothers give birth to their children; often there is a lack not only of the most necessary cloths to diaper the babies, but of almost everything that is needed for the care and adequate feeding of these small mortals. In their early youth, shortages and need are their constant companions. Small pleasures, like candy or other sweets, are foreign to these children. They hardly know fruit; in most cases they cannot even get their fill of dry bread. It is fortunate if they perhaps get an egg for Easter.

When children are enrolled in school upon turning six, they lack food, but that is not all, since the schools also lack the necessary teaching materials. They sit on inadequate benches, hungry and freezing, in overcrowded classrooms where lessons are held in shifts. Again and again, the teachers are given notes explaining that the children cannot attend school because they lack clothes and shoes [ . . . ]

In many cases, this general misery of youth is saddled with an additional burden. Regrettably enough, many fathers are still prisoners of war, after having already been taken from them for years by the war itself. During the difficult developmental years, the mother is often not able to handle raising the children by herself; in many cases, mothers cannot curb the doings of their children, since the children have become too much for them to handle.

Frequently, the separation of the spouses also leads to a moral threat to the wife and the children. The matrimonial bonds have often been loosened by the long separation. In a great many cases, economic misery and a lack of food and consumer goods are the driving forces behind women’s attempts to improve their living conditions through sexual favors. Often a grim confusion of moral concepts can be observed. Mothers excuse their behavior by saying that they have to get bread for their children [ . . . ]

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