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I am often asked by clients where they should search if they cannot find a record in the British Library or The National Archives, or online at sites such as the FIBIS database, Family Search, Find My Past, Ancestry, or India Office Family History Search. The answer I have to give is, contact the church in India.

Emma Jolly, in the article St Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Book Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)

    Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)

    Hitler’s Forgotten Children is a powerful, personal history of the Nazi Lebensborn programme and its long-lasting effects.

    Next year marks 80 years from the beginning of the Second World War. This book highlights just one of many aspects of that conflict that are yet to enter mainstream historiography.

    As we move further from the end of the war, more secrets of the conflict are being revealed. Ingrid von Oelhafen was born in 1942 as ‘Erika’. Although Yugoslavian, she was forcibly adopted into a Nazi family and given a new identity as part of the Lebensborn programme. This was created in 1935 by the SS, under the charge of Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945).

    . . . the older I became, the more I wondered about my personal history. I am not alone in this: it is part of the human condition to revisit the past as the years slip away.

    Von Oelhafen’s story, told here with the help of filmmaker and author Tim Tate, covers not only her wartime struggles in Nazi Germany but what happened after she discovered she was adopted and her attempts to understand the truth. These enquiries would reveal the full scale of the Lebensborn scheme, including the kidnapping of half a million babies and the deliberate murder of children born into the programme who were deemed ‘substandard’.

    Van Oelhafen wrote, ‘All those I have met – whether born into the Lebensborn program or kidnapped to strengthen it – have been scarred by their experience.’ Not all history stays in the past. This book raises many questions, not just about the war, but also of the subsequent division of Germany, and the manner in which Europe recovered from the conflict – often leaving truths hidden and crimes unsolved. The troubled history of Eastern Europe is something about which many of us in the West still do not know enough. This is not just a story of the tragedy of war, but of the suffering that continued long after it. Many families were ripped apart forever, as the conflict left a dark legacy for decades ahead.

    With the current climate of tension across Europe, and as extremist parties are again on the rise, personal testimonies such as this make an essential contribution to a period many today are yet to fully understand. Von Oelhafen dedicates the book to, ‘all the victims of Nazi Germany – men, women and, above all, children – and to those throughout the world today who suffer from the persisting evil which teaches that one race, creed or colour is superior to another.’

    . . . the Lebensborn experiment had been based on the Nazi’s belief in blood as the determining factor of human worth. Himmler’s obsession with blood and bloodlines was the reason I had been plucked from my family – whoever they were – in Yugoslavia and reborn as a German child.

    A thought-provoking book about identity, which is a subject close to the hearts of all family historians. Although much work is being done in genetic genealogy to combat false beliefs, sadly the Nazi’s pseudo-scientific concept of racial purity has not fully been destroyed. Roma, amongst others, remain persecuted in the 21st century.

    The book ends in hope, illustrating how von Oelhafen has been able to move forward with her life. The survivors of Lebensborn have created an organisation, the Fount of Life, to help with their understanding and recovery. Members chose the following quotation from French activist and philosopher, Simone Weil, to head their articles of association. Its words will resonate with anyone who has thought about investigating their family history.

    Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous disease to which human society is exposed.                                           Whoever is uprooted, uproots others.                                                                                                                                          Who is rooted, himself doesn’t uproot others,                                                                                                                                 To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.

  2. Gender & the Great War – The myth of the ‘superfluous woman’

    Thank you to writer and researcher, Suzie Grogan, for contributing this guest post on the myth of the ‘superflous woman’ which followed the Great War of 1914-18. Suzie’s latest book, Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health, which is published by Pen & Sword History in October 2014, considers the concept in more detail.

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    Historians have written widely on the roles of women during and after the First World War. From their vital war work to their role as mother of the Empire there has been much discussion around the true nature of the change to the society that emerged after the Armistice was signed in 1918. Pre-war views of women as wife and home maker had to change, but by how much, and how widely, offers room for debate. Previous assumptions about the liberating effects of the war, the wages available to women for the first time and the jobs they could secure have been challenged and misogyny in the establishment and the press of the time exposed. My research for Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health helped me understand that despite the changes wrought by war, there was much work still to be done.

    However, one myth that simply won’t be laid to rest is that of the ‘superfluous woman’ – an army of spinsters left on the shelf following the deaths of more than 700,000 of the nation’s finest in the four years of fighting. I am still asked to comment on the subject at talks, and certainly some people who lived through that period perceived this to be a real issue. The press referred to ‘millions’ for whom marriage had become an impossibility. Surely there were not enough men to go round?

    Virginia Nicholson in her marvellous book Singled Out focusses on the two million unmarried British women across all ages and classes as indicated by the 1921 Census. Her figures were rounded up from a number closer to 1.75 million and although the largest gap is in the 25-35 year old age group, where 1.1 million are unmarried as opposed to 919,000 men, it is clear that the figure of 2 million single, desperate women is way off the mark. Women have always outnumbered men in census records. In the 1870s there were 1,054 women to 1,000 men; in 1911 the figure had risen to 1,068 to every 1,000. So for it to have reached 1,095 to 1,000 by 1921, it is clear the war simply amplified a continuing trend. Further analysis indicates that it was women born between 1894 and 1902 of the middle and upper classes who had their chances of marriage to the ‘right sort’ reduced. This is the generation of young, public school educated men who took junior officer posts and were in relative terms much more likely to be killed or seriously wounded than the men who served under them.

    I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Professor Jay Winter, author of Sites of Memory Sites of Mourning, a key text in the debate about the emotional impact of the war. He maintains that the war made marriage more popular than ever. In 1919 and 1920 the marriage rate was 30% higher than the pre-war figure and re-marriage was up by 50%. But those marrying were more likely to be working class, often driven by economic necessity. For the middle and upper class girl or woman post war, things were more complex. Agony columns in the press saw letters from melancholy women who could not attract one of the ‘few men’ available. ‘Competition is keen and my chances do not seem very bright’. Dr Murray Leslie, the Daily Mail reported, berated the ‘jazzing flappers’ who tempted away young men with their provocative ways and revealing outfits. Like others, often supporters of the Eugenics movement, he was concerned that only women of the ‘lower orders’ were left to repopulate the Empire.

    However, the post-war period and a seemingly restricted marriage market supported the ambitions of many women who sought fulfilment outside home and family. Unlike Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, they did not want to be ‘always giving parties to cover the silence’ or be one of the women criticised in the press for living on tea and aspirin and complaining about their nerves. For some, their war work did open doors into the professions, but these were still largely closed off to women and some careers, such as teaching and nursing, were only available to unmarried women in any event.

    In Shell Shocked Britain I examine this issue in relation to the emotional impact of the war, and of post-war attitudes that made dealing with mental health issues challenging for all classes and both genders. Like the shell shocked soldier, women had to face life in a changed society. They were not, in numerical terms anyway, ‘superfluous’ but like some war veterans, many did wonder whether they had a useful place in the Britain of the 1920s and 1930s.

    Suzie Suzie Grogan is a London-born professional writer and researcher in the fields of social and family history and mental health. Suzie’s first book Dandelions and Bad Hair Days: Untangling Lives Affected by Depression and Anxiety was published in 2012 and she also writes for a wide variety of national magazines. Suzie also runs a popular blog, ‘No wriggling out of writing’, and presents a local radio show on literature, called ‘Talking Books’.

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Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists