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Claudia Heinermann: Unknown war stories

Claudia Heinermann (1967) portrayed forgotten victims of the Second World War: the German wolf children who fled from the Russian army to Lithuania.

September 26, 2016
Text: Guido van Eijck

BP2016 Claudia Heinermann lo-res 3

Waltraut Minnt (1936) was seven years old when Russian soldiers raided her home in East Prussia. They raped her mother and put the family on a train to Siberia. Her heavily injured mother died on the way. Waltraut and her older sister were set to work in the Gulag. Only Waltraut survived. At the start of the 1950s she was deported to Lithuania. She didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language and wandered across the countryside for years. Finally, a family of farmers took her in. Waltraut grew up and mar­ ried a heavy drinker. She had six sons with him. Now she lives in a small cottage near the forest. Waltraut still prefers the outdoors.

At the end of 1944 the Russian Red Army conquered East Prussia. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the advancing troops, among them many children. They ended up in Lithuania where they tried to survive in the woods and the countryside.

The lucky ones were adopted by Lithuanian families and received a new Lithuanian name so the Soviet regime wouldn’t discover their real identities. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union did the stories of these wolf children (wolfskinder) surface.

Claudia Heinermann and journalist Sonya Winterberg tracked the remaining wolf children. With portraits, landscapes, historical documents and old pictures they trace their tragic histo­ries. Heinermann wants to save these stories for future generations, because, she says, in every war innocent children are involved and traumatised for life.

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