Exposure when crying or wetting in front of other children, threats of a longer stay if the food is not eaten and other threats of punishment: according to a scientific study presented on Tuesday in Kiel, such experiences were experienced by so-called deportation children in German Red Cross homes in the 1960s and 1970s ( DRK) in Schleswig-Holstein. The master’s thesis by author Leonie Rundet from Kiel University comes to the conclusion that many of those staying in homes at the time were characterized by fear of punishment as well as feelings of helplessness and being at the mercy of others.

The DRK commissioned the University of Kiel to scientifically examine the history of “deportation children” after 1945. To do this, she combed through 4,300 pages of archive material on the five former DRK homes in Schleswig-Holstein and conducted five anonymous and detailed interviews with those affected, said Rundet when presenting her results. “The intention behind the children’s recreation and children’s cures was good, but in the implementation the children’s needs were often completely ignored.”

The prevailing image was that children only got better when they gained weight, said Rundet. According to the statements, children had to sit at the table until they finished eating. Otherwise they were threatened that their six-week stays would be extended. But that didn’t happen. One of her five interview partners revealed to the sociologist experiences of physical violence in a children’s recovery home in Glücksburg. It was the practice there to lock children up if they cried.

The DRK homes in the north mainly housed children from precarious backgrounds and especially from West Berlin, said Rundet. “Psychological violence prevailed.” Those affected have repeatedly reported “extreme severity”. You talked about a feeling of being at the mercy of your employees. Some of them still suffer from disordered eating habits or have problems sleeping in the same room with more than one other person.

According to the spokeswoman for the board of the DRK regional association, Anette Langner, the study is intended to help raise awareness of the violence experienced and to initiate future research. “It was very important to us as the DRK regional association to have the sometimes terrible situations and events in the DRK children’s spa and recovery homes scientifically examined by an independent party and, in particular, to allow those affected to have their say.” The DRK deeply regrets what happened in the homes, said Langner. The regional association no longer operates these homes. The study is an important step in the DRK’s review of children’s recreation in Schleswig-Holstein.

Stays in the homes were a health insurance benefit in the event of illness. According to Rundt, parents sometimes had to pay their own contribution. Poor parents could also get relief from this.

After the children returned, reports of their experiences were often not taken seriously, said Langner. To their knowledge, there was never a criminal investigation into the incidents at that time. “No one has come to court.” The DRK speaks of a sometimes frightening insight into the history of children’s recreation and treatment in Schleswig-Holstein. Despite changes in the legal framework over the decades, violence remains a central memory in the reports of former children who were deported. “In particular, the psychological violence, which was often carried out through threats of punishment and the staff’s distant behavior towards the children, shaped the lives of many former residents of the home.”

Study on children who were deported