Claudia Heinermann – Wolfskinder

Claudia Heinermann


In the late summer of 1944 the Red Army reaches the border of East Prussia. Despite the imminent danger of a Soviet advance, Nazi authorities forbid evacuation of civilians. In October, the Russians eventually break through German lines, resulting in huge numbers of civilians starting to evacuate. Three months later, East Prussia is surrounded. 2.5 million people are desperately trying to save their lives; hundreds of thousands die. Thousands go missing trying to escape, while countless others remain behind. In both instances most of these are children. On both sides of the River Neman, they fight a battle of life and death against starvation, epidemics, bitter cold and Soviet despotism… On their own, these children struggled to survive in the forests of the Baltic countries. They were called Wolfskinder (German for ‘wolf children’). Some found shelter with Lithuanian farmers who secretly took them in and cared for them as best they could. In return, the children worked the land and looked after the livestock. Most of them were never able to attend school; even today, many cannot read or write. In general, the children were given a new identity and Lithuanian names to disguise their origins. Under these conditions they were able to escape deportation to Siberia. For decades they remained behind the Iron Curtain and were almost untraceable by relatives searching for their loved ones. Until now their fate has being unknown to the general public.

This essay was Shortlisted for the EPF 2016





Heinermann was born (1967) in Germany. She studied Fine Arts and Documentary Photography. She engages in long-term observational documentary projects with an emphasis on 20th century historical topics and the consequences of war. She made projects about German war graves in Russia, the Aftermath of war in Bosnia & Hercegovina, Young Bosnians in the Netherlands, Resistance Fighters, Aftermath of Genocide in Rwanda and about German war orphans (Wolfskinder) in Lithuania. Her work has been shown in several Memorials, War museum, Galleries, Photo festivals, and been published in magazines and photo books. Her book ‘Enduring Srebrenica’ was nominated for the Dutch Doc Award 2013 (best Dutch documentary photo stories) and her newest book ‘Wolfskinder A Post-War Story’ was nominated as one the 15 best photo books of 2015 in the Netherlands.

Heinermann lives and works in the Netherlands.


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Claudia Heinermann

9 Responses to “Claudia Heinermann – Wolfskinder”

  • Another essay on “lets bring in the bad old days” but despite that who are the so called “general public.” that should be concerned ………..

  • I find this an excellent piece of journalism and photojournalism, although its subject matter is not easy to view. I think that Peter Bundt’s voice in the caption of his photograph “‘I still find it difficult to talk about what I experienced in those days” is defence enough for showing these photographs. If he can relive such horrors the least we can do is listen. Those who forget the lessons of history are more likely to repeat it.

    As for the photographs, I love the mix of portraits, landscape and old photographs and also the colour palette; so very northern Europe. The captions are essential: I thought at first that there would be none but I was pleased to be proved wrong.

    Bravo Claudia and thank you. Thank you also to the brave subjects of her photographs.


  • If he can relive such horrors the least we can do is listen. Those who forget the lessons of history are more likely to repeat it. That is s cliche or just niave wishful thinking, one war along with its genocide follows another,it all comes quite naturally to us. There are no lessons to be learnt we either participate or don’t and as a race we choose to participate.

  • Very important story to be told. I appreciate the captions and the interviews and the survivors who were willing to be photographed and tell their very personal and painful stories of survival. I was not too impressed with the images, perhaps black and white could’ve worked better, or b/w for the subjects and color for the landscape; but either way I was not as moved by the photos as I was by the story. I respect the effort.

  • Yes, a noble effort. Not having known anything about the Wolfskinder I did a web search and found quite a few articles in German, including a long report in Der Spiegel. The Swiss SFR site has an interesting historical story on children that grew up in the wilderness, also recounting the story that is the subject of Truffaut’s 1970 film, “L’Enfant sauvage”. There’s also 2014 German film on the Wolfskinder in Lithuania.

    Because this is a photo book, and because this is not the first time that the story is being told, it seems to me that the photos need to have more impact, beyond simply showing the people and the places they live — a more imaginative approach would be better, or even just photographs that evoke more emotion.

  • A preference to digging up the past ……… while ignoring the genocides of the present. Yep the best way to learn…………….

  • ……….not that there is anything to learn

  • Imants – You mean in the sense of W.H. Auden’s statement, “For poetry makes nothing happen”, from his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”?

    ‘You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
    The parish of rich women, physical decay,
    Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
    Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
    For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
    In the valley of its making where executives
    Would never want to tamper, flows on south
    From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
    Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
    A way of happening, a mouth.’

  • Not really essays of this nature havewierd priorities or is it just about guilt yet they ignore the presence

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