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The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front at the Boulder Book Store

The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front at the Boulder Book Store


Newly translated book draws parallels between children caught in war in WWII & Gaza, Ukraine today

On a bitterly cold night on January 11th, 2024, a story sat, about to be lost to history. Tucked away on the upper floor of the Boulder Book Store the history of “Wir sind Die Wolfskinder,” — The Wolf Children —  was begging to be shared. The Wolf Children were a group of roughly 25,000 orphaned children from East Prussia, modern-day Lithuania. These children were left to fend for themselves after World War II. Only 25 are alive today, and with each passing day, their story is at risk of erasure. Besides the historical importance of recording tragedies to avoid their repetition, their story shares stark parallels to the current conflicts in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip.

The team keeping this story alive is author, documentarian, and journalist Sonya Winterberg and writer and journalist Kerstin Lieff. They felt an obligation to immortalize the Wolf Children in their new book, “The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front.” The book is an English translation of Winterberg’s original “Die Wolfskinder” as a way to bring the story to the English-speaking world.

This history is truly harrowing. Children, some as young as five years old, were forced into Eastern European forests, during the winter, with no food, supplies, and often no shoes. During the reconstruction of Europe in the 1940s and 50s, the Soviet government criminalized the existence of these children. Local Lithuanians were barred by law from helping them. Aiding any German, regardless of age, was punishable by forcible relocation to the Siberian gulags that claimed the lives of uncountable amounts.

This event was set to have both Lieff and Winterberg speak and promote their work, but sadly, bad weather in early January canceled Winterberg’s flight from her home in Nova Scotia, Canada. Despite this, Lieff pressed on with her intimate showcase. The event was mainly attended by the older generation, with a handful of young faces watching from the sidelines. The reading of the first few pages left the crowd waiting in hushed breath, but a rather interesting parallel whispered through Lieff’s presentation and spread through the crowd — the children of Ukraine and Gaza.

Children, families, caught in the crossfire

Regardless of what people might think about the conflict with the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas, a simple fact is clear. The civilian population of Gaza is caught in the crossfire. Parents, children, and families are being displaced, and much like the Wolf Children, they have no safe place to escape.

Kerstin Lieff

As Lieff continued this event, more and more parallels between the conflicts grew. The Wolf Children had no access to supplies, clothing, or shelter. So much so that the majority of these children died during their first winter in the Eastern Bloc. The Children of Gaza face the same problems as water, food, and shelter are cut off. During mandatory civilian evacuations in post-WWII liberated territory, mothers with five or more children were forced on the last train out of Warsaw, Poland, and sometimes, one or two kids were left behind.

As Winterberg explained in a separate interview, this incident – almost identically – happened recently in Ukraine during the first assaults of Russian forces. Mothers in both periods were forced to flee as military forces were only days or hours away. Most of the time there would only be one or two trains left and in the chaos, children were often lost. Some mothers would give their children some kind of identification. Whether that was a handwritten note or magic marker on their arms, oftentimes it wouldn’t matter. The fog of war tends to wash away everything that people know to be true.

Sonya Winterberg

Both Lieff and Winterberg made a point to explain that during the forced exodus of the Wolf Children, a large number of them forgot the German language, their identities, and sometimes their names. It only stands to question what will happen to modern-day Wolf Children of Gaza and Ukraine.

By the end of the event, the room fell silent with a complex mixture of emotions, questions, and tears. Out of all the questions asked, one — later asked to Winterberg in a separate interview — stood out. What did the Lithuanian people do when confronted with a humanitarian crisis of that scale?

The simple answer is the right thing. The more complex answer is they risked their safety for the lives of strangers. Farms and families took in as many children as they could. They offered food when they had barely anything to eat. They gave beds to keep children of their enemy warm in subfreezing temperatures. They risked their freedom and in many ways, their lives, not because it helped them or gave them some kind of future investment. As both Lieff and Winterberg explained, the people of Lithuania risked everything because it was the only thing to do.

If you want to pick up a copy of “The Wolf Children of the Eastern Front,” visit the Boulder Book Store


Parker Hicks is a Colorado-based writer and journalist working to uncover the most important stories based in the state. When he is not writing, he climbs, snowboards, and enjoys far too fancy of coffees.

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