Wars Don't End
War is hell, but for the children of the occupier and the occupied, hell truly begins when peace comes - and it lasts a lifetime. With captivating narration, Liv Ullmann leads us through the lifelong struggles of five children born of the Second World War. 'Wars Don't End' shines light on valuable lessons from the past, equally relevant now, as they will be in the foreseeable future.
In the wake of the Second World War, thousands of children were born to German soldiers and mothers from occupied territories. Many of these innocent children stood without sorely needed protection and were treated as fair game. 70 years later, the Norwegian war children break the silence and share their soul-stirring stories. In their moving testimonies, they reflect upon the abuse they endured for being the carriers of the “Nazi genes” and the systematic discrimination they faced, being shunned by their communities and their government alike. As living witnesses still enduring abuse, they speak of their deep desire to make a positive difference and protect the future of children born of war today.
When peace came to Europe in 1945, a painful nightmare started for many of these so called Nazi children. Tens of thousands of unwanted children were shamed for their mothers’ choices and punished for their fathers’ sins. The story of the Second World War is a story of righteousness, written by the victorious. But in the shadows of that flourishing peace, persisted the craving for revenge. It was these small children and their mothers who were made to pay for it.
In 2007, after a decade-long battle in the national courts, a group of Norwegian war children stood before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Despite their feeling of indignity, they sought justice for years of discrimination, abuse and exclusion. The court was not in favor, and promptly declared the case 'outdated'. Thus, this film is also a reflection on the times we live in and how nations refuse to acknowledge and embrace their past with decency.
'Wars Don't End' is interview driven, and gives the viewer space to contemplate. The use of music is scarce, but delicate as it accentuates the narrative. The stories of our characters allow the viewers to lift their gaze from the pages of history and see the future through the prism of the past. It’s poetic and emotional, and at times horrifying. It offers a strong feeling of sincerity and of hope towards a better future where all children, regardless of their origin, are protected in the name of innocence.
Gerd is pure force – unafraid and fierce. She was born in a small town in the north of Norway & spent the first 7 years of her life in relative peace & harmony. She never speaks about how her life changed or the mistreatment & abuse she faced as a German child after her mother married an ex-Norwegian resistance fighter. She was an angry, rebellious teen who left home when she was 14 & since then, worked her way up. She took up odd jobs to pay rent & to put herself through school. The stigma of being a German child followed her everywhere, “Once a Nazi, always a Nazi, they say, right? But the children – they went through a brutal process of paying for their father’s sins. I have paid for both my mother’s & my father’s sins…”
Gerd decided to leave Norway by the time she was 19, purely in order to survive. She traveled the world & returned to her motherland after decades. For the last 30 years, she has been a respected activist, leading a Not-for-Profit organization called SEIF in Norway - A Center of Self-Help for Immigrants and Refugees!
She has been at the forefront of the only known legal battle for justice by a group of 159 children born of the Second World War, that features prominently in the film. In the film, Gerd says, “I tell my story once again, because the fight is not over yet.” She wants her story to help protect today’s children born of war all over the world.
“I remember thinking – it would have been okay to be born outside marriage, had I not been a German Child… The shame was incredibly heavy to carry and it followed me everywhere…”
Jorunn is dignity personified. She is reflective, wise and measured, but does not mince her words. She grew up in the countryside in Norway along with her half brother and her mother. She was heavily discriminated against and faced emotional and psychological abuse for being the child of a German soldier. From a very young age, she was forced to work on a village farm as a child laborer. Her’s is a story of quiet resilience. She survived her tough childhood and married early, but couldn’t be free of the prison of shame.
She hid her identity in order to protect herself. She got educated, found work and raised her children.
Her marriage imploded, partly due to her hidden past; but she carried on. Eventually, she came to terms with who she was and became a vocal participant in her fight for justice, appearing in the highest human rights court of Europe in Strasbourg with Gerd and other children born of the Second World War.
Tove-Laila is resolute strength and courage beneath her delicate beauty. Her father, a young German soldier, died in the war merely one year after she was born. Her mother was declared unfit to take care of her, so she was first sent to a Lebensborn Home in Gothaap for two years and then to Germany to her paternal grandparents who loved and adored her. But after the war ended, she was torn away from her caring grandparents and sent back to her mother and her stepfather. This was a defining moment in her childhood. She received no affection and was physically and sexually abused on a regular basis for years, until she finally escaped another attempted rape in her late teenage years. Her unflinching gaze and sharp words summarize her childhood when she says, “I never got a chance to be a child. I should not have been born.”
As a result of her childhood trauma, she developed bleeding ulcers and had to be operated several times in her adult years. She educated herself, found work, married and raised her children, but her health never recovered fully. She was amongst the first group of war children who organized and fought for justice, starting in the Norwegian courts of law in the late 90's.
Gerd-Synnove was abandoned by her mother at an orphanage when she was 2 years old. As soon as she arrived at this orphanage as a German Child, her abuse began. She was undressed and washed with boiling water that scalded her skin and induced in her fear of hot water until today. She was locked up in dark cellars for days without food and water. She was abused physically and sexually and never allowed to attend school. She had to work at the orphanage whilst other children attended classes. She met Knut, the love of her life and married him against the wishes of the orphanage. Before her marriage, the priest who was about to marry them advised Gerd-Synnove to get sterilized to avoid producing children as “retarded and dumb as she was”. She defied the priest and went on to have a happy family life with her husband and her children. Even in her adult years, she and her children were mobbed, called names and bullied on a regular basis. She, too, was amongst the first group of war children to fight in the courts of Norway and later in Strasbourg.
Bjorn is a unique combination of the insider and outsider. After he was born, he was placed in many different foster homes. But luckily, he never faced abuse. He understood the stigma and developed a reflective eye to study the children born of the Second World War in Norway. He could listen to their stories as an insider, but process them and verbalize them in his lectures and writings with the perspective of an outsider. Due to the lack of personal trauma, he could also study various publications, books and reports about war children. He is methodic in archiving material and a very reliable source of information. He was an active part of the legal battle right from its beginning.
Randi Hagen Spydevold
Randi is a well-respected, award-winning lawyer in Norway, who was approached by the war children to help them with their case. She accepted and fought the case for a decade without charging single kroner. She ended up collecting a lot of evidence against the Norwegian government, in addition to the war children stories. She is focused and determined and emotionally involved. She has expressed interest in re-opening the case, if and when the statute of limitations that stopped the war children from getting justice is abolished.
Liv Ullmann, Narrator
Liv Ullmann was born in 1938 in Tokyo, Japan and later moved to Toronto, Canada where her father, an aircraft engineer, worked at the Norwegian Air force Base during the Second World War. Liv’s grandfather was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp, also during the war for helping Jewish people escape Nazi occupation in their Norwegian town; he later died in the camp.
Liv has been known all over the world for her acting, writing and directing career on stage and screen for over 60 years. She has also been active in her humanitarian efforts during this time. She first got involved in the work of ‘The International Rescue Committee’ and then co-founded its sister-organisation – ‘Women’s Refugee Commission’ almost 30 years ago, of which she is an honorary chair now. She was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and traveled to over 50 countries for its work. She continues to be an active supporter of human rights, especially for women and children.