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Europe

French Minister Seeks Recognition for "Forgotten Children"

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner appealed for both Germany and France to acknowledge the suffering undergone by some 200,000 born to French mothers and fathered by occupying German soldiers during World War II.

Book cover of Enfants Maudits

Many of these children now in their sixties want their stories to be heard at last

Speaking to students at Berlin's Humboldt University, Kouchner called for a "recognition of those who belong to both" Germany and France."

"France and Germany have until now remained deaf to the suffering of these innocent victims of a conflict that they did not know," he said on Thursday, April 24.

"I speak of the children of war, those who were damned in France as the offspring of the Boches," he said, using a pejorative term for Germans, by which many of the children became known.

Henri-Philippe Pétain

The popularity of Marshall Petain's pro-German Vichy government became taboo

In post-war France, many of these children were treated as a personification of the German enemy and were abandoned by their mothers, spurned by their families and ostracized by society.

Kouchner stressed that the identity of these children -- born of war and suffering, of love and hatred -- mirrored the identity of Europe itself.

For decades, the existence of these children remained taboo in France -- tangible proof that French resistance to the German occupation was not as widespread as many wanted to believe. Jean-Paul Picaper spent 10 years trying to find a publisher for his book, "Enfants Maudits" (Cursed Children), which finally appeared in both Germany and France in 2004.

In Germany, too, very little was done to acknowledge this particular war legacy.

"It should have set up a fund for them," Picaper said. "They should have been given help in finding their fathers."

Symbolic recognition for their dual origins

German chancellor Konrad Adenauer und French president Charles de Gaulle embracing in 1963

The freeze in Franco-German relations began to ease in 1963, but not all problems were solved

In calling for recognition of these children, Kouchner said that not all of these children wanted dual nationality. But he said that most wanted a "symbolic gesture."

The French minister said he would like historians, archivists, lawyers, philosophers and others from both countries to work together examine what shape this could take.

"I am far from waking up the ghosts of the past," he said, but "no person in France or Germany should have to hide his origins on the grounds that they lie on the other side of the Rhine."

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