Children of World War 2.
This film (originally titled as Seeds of Destiny) is a 1946 short propaganda documentary about the despairing situation faced by millions of children during and after World War 2, who were homeless, parentless, orphaned, and in poor health.
The film concentrates on postwar life, placing children in the context of the environment in which they were living at the time. In countries throughout Europe, as soon as an area had been liberated by the Allied forces or as a consequence of retreat of the enemy, the U.S. Army Signal Corps filmed dramatic images of neglected children in displaced persons’ camps, refugee camps or wandering the streets in the rubble of bombed out cities. The film outlines the work carried out by relief agencies and how Europe began to rebuild itself, how the children were fed and made healthy, and how, where possible, they were reunited with their families.
The film was produced by the Defense Department of The U.S. Army War Department to keep the world’s attention focused on the suffering of displaced and orphaned refugee children. The revenue raised from the distribution of the film was pledged to relieve suffering of the civilians affected by the war, and to assist in their repatriation. It returned more than $200 million for war relief, making it one of the highest grossing films in motion picture history. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1946, though few Americans have ever heard of it.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND / CONTEXT
During World War 2 (1939–1945), children from every country involved were as affected by the fighting as their parents. Their homes were bombed or burned, their fathers were called up to fight, and their mothers went to work in factories or war industries. For some children in mainland Europe and eastern Asia, their countries were occupied by enemy soldiers or they were caught in the middle of fighting. Jewish children were in danger of being sent to concentration camps by the German authorities. British and German children were afraid of the threat of bombs and gas attacks from the other side. Children from those cities most at risk of being bombed were evacuated to safer places, such as rural Wales in the UK. As well as ordinary lessons children learned air raid drills, leaving classrooms when the sirens sounded to go to air raid shelters. Child soldiers fought in panzer units in France and Hungary, and many children were recruited in a last-ditch attempt to defend the German capital, Berlin.
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was an international relief agency, largely dominated by the United States but representing 44 nations. Founded in 1943, it became part of the United Nations in 1945, and it largely shut down operations in 1947. Its purpose was to “plan, co-ordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of the World War 2 in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services“. Its staff of civil servants included 12,000 people, with headquarters in New York. Funding came from many nations, and totaled $3.7 billion, of which the United States contributed $2.7 billion; Britain $625 million and Canada $139 million.
UNRRA cooperated closely with dozens of volunteer charitable organizations, who sent hundreds of their own agencies to work alongside UNRRA. In operation only three years, the agency distributed about $4 billion worth of goods, food, medicine, tools, and farm implements at a time of severe global shortages and worldwide transportation difficulties. The recipient nations had been especially hard hit by starvation, dislocation, and political chaos. It played a major role in helping Displaced Persons return to their home countries in Europe in 1945-46. Its UN functions were transferred to several UN agencies, including the International Refugee Organization and the World Health Organization. As an American relief agency, it was largely replaced by the Marshall Plan, which began operations in 1948.