Children lay at the heart of the Nazi war. The Nazis murdered Jewish, gypsy and disabled children, so that the pure-bred German child would inherit the new colonial empire being conquered in the East. Yet in the final weeks of the war, the regime would devour its own, calling on the very teenagers it had so lauded to sacrifice themselves on the 'altar of the fatherland', as it sent teenage girls to flak batteries and boys to fight Soviet tanks, or to hunt down escaped concentration camp inmates. lthough the Nazi regime separated children on the basis of race and national identity, the experience of children does not fall into tidy categories. Even in this most murderous of European wars, children were not merely passive victims of genocide, bombing, mechanised warfare, starvation policies and mass flight. They were also active participants, going out to smuggle food, ply the black market, and care for sick parents and siblings. As they absorbed the brutal new realities of German occupation, Polish boys played at being Gestapo interrogators, and Jewish children at being ghetto guards or the SS. ithin days of Germany's own surrender, German children were playing at being Russian
Nicholas Stargardt, the son of a German-Jewish father and Australian mother, was born in Melbourne and brought up in Australia, Japan and Britain. He teaches modern European history at Magdalen College, Oxford.