In the Children’s Best Interests: Unaccompanied Children in American-Occupied Germany, 1945-1952, by Lynne Taylor (2017)
- Do we care for children not our own?
- How do we care for the children and their best interests?
- Are children without parents our responsibility?
Lynne Taylor’s In the Children’s Best Interests is a timely reminder of the universal plight of migrating children throughout history. It highlights the chronic inadequacy of government mechanisms for the management of their needs and lives. More telling, it shocks us with the recognition that our current national and global controversy over refugees from violence is just the latest in a string of moral failures.
The book reflects Taylor’s thoroughly researched study of the plight of those post-World War II children who wandered the globe without protection.
The relationships and institutional arrangements among military, governmental, and intergovernmental agencies were conflicted and inadequate, and their legal and ethical challenges were great. The book chronicles in detail the roles of these authorities, whose stated intention was to help children, as they were caught amidst conflicting political values.
Wandering children, children in temporary homes and orphanages, kidnapped children, and the parentless require oversight. Governments and civil organizations were not up to the task in the past, nor are they in the present. In the Children’s Best Interests provides a guide through the complexity of post-war military and agencies, their politics, and their policy differences.
The book explains the institutional arrangements and disputes among military and civilian bodies from the end of hot war through cold war, focusing on the US-occupied sector of Germany. This post-World War II experience provides important lessons for the development of future global infrastructure for displaced children.
The book is not comprehensive of the larger picture of unaccompanied children in the other post-war occupied sectors, but it provides a valuable focus on inadequate American government initiatives related to children.
Unfortunately, In the Children’s Best Interests offers little insight regarding the role of charities and non-profit organizations in general. This applies particularly to Quakers and Quaker organizations.
For the time period of this book, those familiar with Quaker war relief work1 will find only one reference to American Friends Service Committee, describing its accompaniment of a small residual group of children in a transfer from one facility to another (p. 277).
Nonetheless, this book provides occasion and opportunity for AFSC leaders to rebuild that organization’s infrastructure for managing those unaccompanied children who will struggle with future wars and climate displacements.
The documentation and experience provided in this book offers a context for the Quaker post-war service that led to the Nobel Peace Prize of 1947, and using these resources might help AFSC to regain some of its role and recognition in such work.
Taylor’s introduction provides a useful roadmap to the various current literatures impacting a clear picture of children in this period. The book provides a thorough index, significant bibliography, and exhaustive endnotes.
Question for readers: What do Quakers do in the face of chronic unmanaged unaccompanied children resulting from war and climate disruption?
1 See “ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHTS: World War II and its aftermath” for details of the work by American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
The Archives offers a wealth of primary sources from WW II and its aftermath. Photos, reports and letters demonstrate our continued emphasis on the welfare of women and children, our concern for prisoners of war, and our refusal to take sides where human life was concerned.
One of the most interesting aspects of the sample documents below is the rigorous self-assessment of our actions and use of resources. How could we do better? Be more efficient?
Reports also reveal an internal dialogue about how AFSC could avoid having our work identified with the United States government and its agenda, as opposed to remaining a neutral, humanitarian organization with no political aims.
Two finding aids, created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum using AFSC records from France and North Africa, appear at the bottom of this page.