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A little girl holds her doll in the rubble of her bomb-damaged home. England. 1940. Fox Photos/Getty Images
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A Jewish boy raises his hands at gunpoint after Nazi SS soldiers forcibly removed him and other ghetto residents from the bunker in which they'd taken refuge during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of civilians against the Nazis. Poland. Circa April-May 1943.Wikimedia Commons
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London children wear their gas masks as they skip in the park at their temporary homes on the south coast of England. 1940. General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
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A young child named Freddie Somer cries upon arriving at King's Cross Station in London for wartime relocation. 1939.Central Press/Getty Images
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Children play on the bomb sites and wrecked tanks in Berlin in the aftermath of the fighting there. 1945. Fred Ramage/Getty Images
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A group of child survivors stand behind a barbed wire fence at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland on the day of the camp’s liberation by the Red Army. January 27, 1945. Alexander Vorontsov/Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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Children perch on a tree near the Brandenburg Gate to watch a U.S. cargo plane arrive during the Berlin Airlift. June 24, 1948. Charles Fenno Jacobs/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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A horde of children wearing gas masks carry out a practice evacuation of a school in Kingston, Greater London, after a canister of tear gas was discharged. 1941. Parker/Fox Photos/Getty Images
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An elderly woman and several children walk to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Poland. 1944.Wikimedia Commons
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Three young evacuees sit on their suitcases ready for their journey away from the danger of the city. England. 1940. Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images
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Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home. September 1940.National Archives
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A mother and child wear gas masks during a tear gas exercise in Kingston-On-Thames, England. Circa 1941.Keystone/Getty Images
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Jewish children, survivors of Auschwitz, stand with a nurse behind a barbed wire fence. Poland. February 1945. Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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Evacuee children sent away from London greet their parents during a special one-day reunion. December 4, 1939. Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images
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A homeless boy points out his bedroom to his friends after his home had been wrecked during a random bombing raid in an eastern suburb of London. 1940. Central Press/Getty Images
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Mothers and their children step out of the train at Auschwitz concentration camp. Poland. Date unspecified.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Two little girls read a board advertising carrots instead of ice pops. Wartime shortages of chocolate and ice cream made such substitutions a necessity. Location unspecified. 1941. Fox Photos/Getty Images
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A group of London children inspect bomb damage outside their front door. 1944. Express/Express/Getty Images
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A boy retrieves an item from a rubble-strewn street after German bombing raids in the first month of the Blitz in England. September 1940. Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Children play in a bomb-damaged area of London. March 1946.Charles Hewitt/Picture Post/Getty Images
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London schoolchildren try on their gas masks. 1941. Keystone/Getty Images
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A young refugee hangs onto his dog's leash whilst awaiting wartime evacuation. Location unspecified. 1940. A. J. O'Brien/Fox Photos/Getty Images
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American Supply Sergeant Ralph Gordon kneels in a street to give a piece of gum to a barefoot German girl during the Allied occupation after the war. Scheinfeld, Germany. October 1945. David Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Some of the first children to be evacuated from London under a new law, which compels parents to send away any child suffering in any way from shelter life, participate in a gas mask drill at a residential school near Windsor. Date unspecified.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Child survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp stand near the fence just before being liberated by the Red Army. Poland. January 27, 1945.TASS/Getty Images
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A porter pushes the luggage of evacuees bound for Wales on a trolley at a London railway station, with a young boy perched on top of the suitcases. 1940. Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images
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An abandoned boy holds a stuffed toy animal amid ruins following a German aerial bombing of London. 1940. Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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Young boys swing from a lamp post in the midst of rubble left by a bombing raid on London during the Blitz. 1940. Keystone/Getty Images
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A young "Sergeant Major" inspects some British schoolboys who have been evacuated to Kent at the start of the war. The "soldiers" are carrying carry wooden guns. 1939.Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images
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Although "Ramshaw" the eagle is hooded, this little evacuee decided to take no chances, and made use of her gas mask to take a closer look at the eagle. England. 1941. Fox Photos/Getty Images
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Father Christmas hands out toys and games, including a set of building bricks, to children at a home for evacuees in Henley-on-Thames, England. 1941.Wikimedia Commons
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A woman fits a child with a gas mask at school. England. Circa 1940.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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A little girl waits nervously with her doll and luggage before leaving London for her billet. 1940.David Savill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
“The Forgotten Victims”: Heartbreaking Photos Of The Children Of World War II
Countless children were affected by the atrocities of World War II. Throughout the war, the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths may have been as high as three to one — and some countries were affected much worse than others.
The country most affected was Poland. Approximately 6 million people, more than one-sixth of the country's pre-war population, died during World War II. Almost all of these victims were civilian, and many of them were children.
However, getting caught up in a mass execution or a bombing raid were not the only things that Polish children had to worry about. Many of them faced the threat of being kidnapped. Under Generalplan Ost — the Nazi plan for genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe — scores of Polish children were kidnapped and brought to Germany to be "Germanized."
An estimated 200,000 Polish children were kidnapped during World War II. As many as 75 percent of these children never made it back to their families in Poland.
Beyond Poland, other countries that suffered particularly horrendous civilian casualties during World War II include the Soviet Union, China, Germany (where an estimated 76,000 children died as a result of Allied bombing raids), Japan, India, and the Philippines.
More than 1 million Jewish children were killed by the Nazis and their allies or crowded into ghettos across Eastern Europe. In these ghettos, children often died from starvation and lack of shelter. Those that did not die were either sent to the death camps to be gassed or were shot on the edges of mass graves.
Only those that were considered productive were spared and even then, their fate was effectively sealed by horrendous working conditions designed to keep them only barely alive. What made these mass killings even worse was the fact that, during the war, most of the world thought that these stories of mass extermination and death camps were only that — stories.
Taken before those death camps were even built, many of the most poignant photographs that capture children during World War II depict Britain during the Blitz. These images show children, and sometimes even babies, wearing gas masks or sitting on the curb of the pavement beside the ruins of their former homes.
Meanwhile, other British children were sent away to the countryside as part of the government’s evacuation scheme known as Operation Pied Piper. The evacuation scheme has been hailed as a huge success in the media but in actual fact, by early 1940, more than 60 percent of children had returned home, just in time to witness the Blitz. All told, at least 5,028 children died during the Blitz.
As the British historian Juliet Gardiner has said, in a statement that applies to Britain, Poland, and beyond, “The forgotten victims of World War Two were the children.”
Next, take a look at the most incredible World War 2 photos that bring history's greatest catastrophe to life. Then, see some of the most heartbreaking Holocaust photos ever taken.