Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros64Enfants acteurs et contextes inég...War Children

Enfants acteurs et contextes inégalitaires

War Children

Victims, Threats and Promises of the Future
Enfants de la guerre. Victimes, menaces et promesses d’avenir
Stefania Bernini
p. 62-73


La Seconde Guerre mondiale a signifié un effondrement complet de l’ordre éthique et moral sur lequel une grande partie du récit de l’Europe avait été construite au fil du temps. Outre la reconstruction matérielle et politique, le redressement d’après-guerre a nécessité la création de nouveaux récits, capables de réparer le désordre créé par la guerre et de proposer une vision d’un avenir en rupture avec le passé. Le but de cet article est d’explorer comment les références aux enfants ont contribué à donner un sens à une idée de reconstruction d’après-guerre qui englobe les domaines matériel et symbolique. Nous soutenons que dans le paysage dévasté laissé par la guerre, les références aux enfants étaient ambivalentes et mettaient d’une part l’accent sur la vulnérabilité et le manque de culpabilité, tout en soulignant l’altérité menaçante des enfants. C’était une fascination ambiguë qui voyait chez les enfants à la fois l’emblème du martyre innocent et la personnification d’un désordre dangereux qu’il fallait surmonter. Redonner aux enfants les rôles qui leur sont prescrits tout en envisageant de nouvelles façons de promouvoir leur bien-être devint ainsi un élément essentiel de la reconstruction de la société dans laquelle les adultes pouvaient vivre en toute tranquillité.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1The Second World War represented a complete collapse of the ethical and moral order on which much of Europe’s narrative had been constructed over time. The material ruins left behind by the conflict were only the superficial, most visible signs of a deeper destruction that threatened personal relations, individuals’ sense of self, and their ability to think about the future. As Jeffrey Eley wrote in 1945 “history’s continuum [had] become shattered in the most spectacular fashion” (Eley 2011: 305). As well as the material and political reconstruction, the postwar recovery required the creation of a new ethical and moral order capable of mending the existential disarray left behind by the war (Berger 2010, Naimark 2010).

2The aim of this essay is to explore how references to children contributed to give meaning to a notion of post-war reconstruction that encompassed material and symbolic realms. The argument put forward here is that in the devastated landscape left behind by the war, a double process took place. On the one hand, children’s suffering and vulnerability became a proxy for the vulnerability felt by adults, and for their failures. On the other hand, children appeared as the emblems of a social and moral disorder that had to be corrected. Restoring children to their prescribed roles, while envisaging new ways of promoting their wellbeing, became essential elements in the reconstruction of the societies adults would be able to live in comfortably.

3The Second World War did not represent an unprecedented experience for the children of the twentieth century. Young people had been fully entangled in the social mobilization that had accompanied the Great War, and their daily lives were permeated by the conflict, even in countries that were far away from the frontline (Pignot 2014a, 2014b; Fisher 2011, Kennedy 2014, Rollet 2007, Fava 1993, Ziino 2018). Still, a number of novelties introduced during WW2 affected children directly and made their experience different from anything that had happened before. The systematic violence unleashed against civilian populations, whether through carpet bombings, prolonged occupations, or mass deportations, turned children into direct targets of violence to an unprecedented extent. The involvement of civilians in military struggles, particularly in the context of Resistance movements, gave children new roles, often antithetical to those normatively ascribed to them, including by making them active agents of violence. The mass displacements that accompanied the war left hundreds of thousands of children separated from their families and made the issue of how to reintegrate young people in postwar societies both pressing and widespread. By the end of the war, it had become clear not only that the adults and their institutions had been unable to protect children, but also that they had turned them into specific targets of violence.

4According to Mathew Thomson, the Second World War has occupied a “surprisingly minor place” in histories of childhood that were primarily focused on “changing attitudes towards age”, because no major discontinuities emerged in this regard, particularly if compared to the interwar period (Thomson 2013: 47-8). Thomson suggested that the importance of WW2 increases when we look at conceptions of childhood in relation to space. I would add that an equally important discontinuity occurred in relation to politics. After the Great War, the collapse of liberal-democratic institutions had made children a privileged object of the political indoctrination by authoritarian regimes. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the recovery of children was seen as part of the effort to build new democratic institutions in which well-performing citizens could thrive.

5As recent historiography has shown, the plight of deported and displaced children had a particular impact on the postwar political discourse, from the development of humanitarianism to the effort to create uniform national spaces (Zahra 2011; Cohen 2011). Children such as those discussed in this article had a different but equally relevant impact as children who suffered neither deportation nor permanent separation from their families, and who, for the most part, experienced the war from the relatively familiar setting of their cities and countries, sometimes taking a direct part in the fights that went on around them. Even without going very far, children observed how the war transformed once familiar settings, rendering different and unfamiliar what had been usual and known. In fact, they themselves became a crucial part of these transformations. While children looked at how their domestic and social landscape changed under their eyes, adults looked at wartime children as something new and largely unknown. This new way of seeing each other left a crucial mark in the postwar imagination.

6Since the early 16th century, Western culture oscillated in its understanding of children, seeing them alternatively as the embodiment of pureness and the repository of wickedness (Becchi 1994, Higonnet 1998, Prout 2000, Turmel 2008). In the aftermath of WW2, references to children were also ambivalent, stressing their vulnerability and guiltlessness on the one hand, and their threatening otherness on the other. It was an ambiguous fascination, which saw in children both the emblem of innocent martyrdom and the personification of a dangerous disorder that had to be overcome. This ambiguous fascination is explored in the present article through three intertwined discourses: memoirs, literary and cinematic representations, and psychological analyses. Memoirs provide us with glimpses of the meaning attributed to war by young people, and of the way in which that experience was reconstructed and made sense of in later life. Literary and cinematic representations captured the anxieties that wartime children provoked in adult observers and help us to grasp the context in which the curative efforts put in place in the aftermath of the war occurred (Ferro 1987, Fantoni 2015). The psychoanalytical discourse that emerged in the postwar years, largely thanks to observations carried out in Britain during the conflict, provided a recipe for familial reconstruction, which shaped models and norms, particularly around the nature of motherhood.

7While these three discourses are usually dealt with as separate fields of historical analysis, the act of bringing them together reveals the all-encompassing transformation of the way in which children came to be seen and understood. The medical-psychoanalytical gaze became influential in the postwar approach to family and social reconstruction, precisely because wartime children had questioned generational norms and expectations that went to the core of the nature of human society.

A universal experience?

8The analysis proposed in this article pays particular attention to Italy and Britain. The focus on these two countries is based on different though related reasons. The specificities of Italy’s role in the war, from aggressor country to victim of occupation and theatre of a long and brutal civil war fought between anti-fascist Resistance fighters and Nazi-fascist militias, highlights the moral dilemmas that accompanied the Second World War. The complex nature of the war fought in Italy was reflected in the experiences of children and in the way in which their presence was understood and interpreted by adults. After years of fascist indoctrination in the glory of the fatherland, young Italians experienced the disarray of the Italian army, the fall of the regime they had been taught to think of as invincible, and the rapid descent of the country into chaos (Gibelli 2005). Together with the adults, Italian children had to confront the multifarious consequences of occupation and liberation (both fuzzy notions in the Italian context) and, in the North of the country, of the armed confrontations that often opposed villagers and sometimes even family members. Although in Italy the brutality of the war and the occupation did not result in the horrific means of death of Central and Eastern Europe, Italian children experienced the full spectrum of the material and moral consequences of a war that Italy had contributed to initiate.

9Things were different in Britain. Not only did the country never suffer the consequences of an occupation, but the conflict could be more easily presented as a fight against tyrannical powers, in the name of freedom and democracy. Unlike in Italy, Britain’s war could be constructed and memorialized as a good war, in which the home front (children included) took part with resilience and determination (Eley 2001). Compared to children in occupied countries, one might be tempted to say that young Brits escaped the worst of the war, and much popular history has insisted on representations of plucky young people facing evacuation and the Blitz (David 1989, Childs and Whorton 1989, Goodman 2005). Against these later reassuring narratives, however, stood the evidence of the peculiar resonance that children’s wartime experiences had in Britain. The experience of evacuation, in particular, became a focus for broader anxieties about human nature and the social consequences of war (Rose 2003). Crucially, the discussion of the impact on children of the war which took place in Britain quickly bore a relevance that went well beyond the national boundaries, to contribute to a specific understanding of the relationship between child, family and society that would dominate post-war western societies. The centrality gained by the child was partly due to the work of a peculiarly receptive group of experts, starting with the Austrian Jewish psychoanalysts that had found a home in London since the 1930s. Anna Freud and Melanie Klein shaped the tone of the psychoanalytical conversation about children in the aftermath of the war, while the popularity gained by Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby gave psychoanalysis a solid and lasting authority over conceptions of family life, child rearing and the role of mothers. Most importantly for this article, the discourse articulated by postwar British psychoanalysts and by Donald Winnicott in particular, went beyond the realm of the individual, to connect the nature of humans’ most intimate relationships (starting with the one linking mother and child) to the nature of democracy (Alexander 2012).

10These ideas went beyond the borders of Britain and shaped a new conception of the ties that linked democracy to the performance of the nuclear family, to the care of young children, and to the social organization of maternity and child rearing across the western world (Kynaston 2009, Thane 2003, Thomson 2006). The issue of how to write childhood into postwar democracy resonated in Italy, where a double challenge had to be confronted: how to respond to the trauma left by the war and how to overcome the imprint left by fascism on maternity, child care and education. Italian wartime and postwar literature and cinema provided striking examples of the disquieting characteristics that children had assumed during the conflict, and which had turned childhood into a troubling representation of the anxieties that filled the adults’ sense of both the past and the future. In postwar Britain, the discourse of psychoanalysis offered a roadmap to a democratic reconstruction that encompassed the private sphere. Only parts of these crucial overtures were received in Italy, largely as a consequence of the firm grip that Catholic interpretations of family life maintained over expert discourse after the war.

Children as quintessential victims

11From 1945 onwards, images of destroyed cities, maimed bodies and men and women struggling for survival became the powerful symbol of the fragility and vulnerability of once powerful societies. None of these images had greater symbolic strength and rhetorical appeal than those depicting children struggling for survival in the devastated landscapes left behind by the war. Whether photographed against the background of Warsaw’s ruins or among the Allies in the streets of Naples, famished, displaced, and orphaned children stood as the emblem of the devastation that had befallen European societies. Images of children’s bodies and descriptions of the material and moral dangers in which they lived became symbolic of the lasting damage caused by the war. It was a fascination that carried strong symbolic meaning.

12René Girard argued that the discourse of sacrifice can help to give meaning to the least comprehensible and acceptable of human events, allowing the reconstruction of a sense of individual and collective self in the most catastrophic of circumstances (Girard 1978, 1982; Voegelin 1970). According to Australian philosopher Joanne Faulkner, we worry so much about children in our societies because they “herald[s] our salvation, conceived as a redemptive return to a lost, primordial existence” (Faulkner 2011: 3, 23). In the aftermath of WW2, children, innocent and vulnerable by definition, offered the perfect representation of martyrdom and a proxy for adult sufferance. In children’s innocence, even the culprits saw a promise that the stains of war could be whitewashed (Forlenza 2012, Bernini 2015). To paraphrase Tony Judt, references to the sufferance of children contributed to crystallize the memory of “what they have done to us”, while swiftly removing the memory of what we had done to others (Judt 1996: 36).

13In 1924, the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child constituted the first assertion in the international arena of the idea that children had specific rights and entitlements that adults should respect and uphold. The Second World War showed how flimsy that notion of protection was (Zahra 2011, Audoin-Rouzeau 2006, Maida 2017). In Nazi occupied Europe, children of unwanted racial groups had been left to die in ghettoes, before being sent to extermination camps or used for forced labour. Across Eastern Europe, “Arian” looking children had been removed from their Slavic families to be “Germanized” or from their upper and middle-class families to be re-educated in Soviet camps. Everywhere, children had suffered bombings, experienced destitution and the risk of starvation (Giuntella 1997; Kirschenbaum 2017; Kucherenko 2011, 2016; Meda 2007; Stargardt 2006; Tuttle 1993; Werner 1999). Already before the fighting between countries had started, despotic regimes had been systematically exploiting children for the supposed interests of the state. Both in Italy and in Germany, children had been the object of aggressive educational politics, aimed at making them into ideal members of Nazi and fascist communities (Saraceno 1995, Pine 1997, Kater 2004, Mouton 2007, Ginsborg 2013). In the Soviet Union, Stalin had put forward similarly aggressive policies in an effort to create a radical new type of socialist citizen (Kelly 2005, 2006; Caroli 2006, Kucherenko 2016).

14Despots of various political persuasions had tried to mould children into little soldiers and patriots. Young people had learned that party, nation and state (or party and class) should come before the individual. They had often received contradictory messages at home and at school, and had been forced to make choices considered more typical of adult life. If authoritarian models of education had given many the illusion of being part of a huge collective effort, the war had revealed how empty those promises had been. Both in Germany and Italy, children were confronted as much as adults by the consequences of military defeats and political collapse. The disintegration of the social and political systems that had informed the more minute aspects of children’s lives produced an existential confusion that exacerbated the material losses. Brought up in the exalted celebration of the Arian body, the symbol and guarantee of national greatness, young Germans discovered that they had sacrificed their youth to a lost cause (Fisher 2007, Kalb 2016).

15Although arguably less pervasive than their Nazi equivalent, fascist youth organizations in Italy had also aimed to raise a new generation of Italians schooled in the cult of the Duce, devoted to military values, and zealous in their physical training. Diaries and memories preserve the traces of the fractures and disappointments faced by children when the regime finally collapsed. Felice Malgaroli recalled in his memoir how as a boy he had rejected the warnings of his father and fully trusted the promises of the regime, convinced as he was that “we had the best planes in the world and the most powerful guns. I knew that Italian soldiers had always been heroic and the officers valiant” (Ganapini 2012: 35). The defeat brought a burning sense of shame. Ester Maimeri, by contrast, admitted that even as an older woman, she remembered fondly the feeling of the fascist gathering (adunate) at school, which she associated with the pleasure of physical exercise and collective endeavour (Ganapini 2012: 33). The fall of the regime left her confused and uncertain of how to read her past.

16The day of 8 September 1943, with the announcement of the armistice signed with the Allies and the switching of Italy’s military alliance, marked a watershed for young people as much as it did for adults, and forced them to take position and to mediate between contrasting values and expectations (Pavone 1991: 36). The sense of confusion and disappointment could be overwhelming for those who, like Ugo Piazzi, had grown up “believing in the myth of a country of saints and heroes, in the greatness of the fatherland, in its right to have a place in the sun, and in the mutilated victory” (Ganapini 2012: 149). Sometimes, anger and disillusionment resulted in hasty changes of allegiance. Maria Pagani had “happily worn” her “black uniform” at school, but at the age of 14 she entered the Resistance, partly as a result of the influence of her best friend’s brother, himself a young disillusioned volunteer, who had just returned from the Eastern front (Ganapini 2012: 94-95).

17For the most committed young fascists, however, the disappointment was not with Mussolini, but with those who had engineered his downfall. To the teenagers who joined the collaborationist front, the defeat of fascist Italy appeared as the result of a betrayal that had to be resisted. Many of them claimed that by taking up arms they were acting in the service of the fatherland, and were fighting to preserve its honour. “We had grown up with fascism and its beliefs had entered into our soul - wrote Zelmira Marazio - We could not become different from what we had always been. Fascists who were used to believing and obeying and, now, to fighting” (Ganapini 2012: 129). “Have you not yet understood that we are forging an iron people here?” wrote the sixteen-year-old Sanzio Cantagalli to his mother, after joining the collaborationist Folgore, rebuking her concerns. “The only important thing is our preparation!” In the hyper-masculine culture of the Italian Social Republic (RSI), there was no space for womanly uneasiness or for intimate mother-son talk. The call to duty by the “greatest mother, the Fatherland” was the only reason for action the boy was ready to acknowledge. Confident that “among men, we can understand each other better”, Sanzio admitted to his father that prospects were bleak and that he was aware of having given up “both his future and his past”. Still, he remained determined to “never put down arms, no matter what will happen”. The most exalted letters were written by Sanzio to Corso Buscaroli, his former high school teacher, who had taught him classics and fascism, inspiring an “unshakable faith” in the virtues of the fatherland. In Sanzio’s case, joining the RSI had been the last act of an ideological apprenticeship nurtured in the classroom (Sanzio 1960).

18The authoritarian turn of the interwar years had catapulted children into the realm of politics. The Second World War put them in direct contact with the possibility of both undergoing and exercising violence. Throughout the conflict, children displayed a full spectrum of behaviours: fragility, resilience, and even the propensity to get involved in violent acts. Many died as a result, and those who survived appeared to many transformed beyond recognition. If otherness is central to the idea of childhood, as the geographer Owain Jones has suggested, the Second World War did much to strengthen the liminality of children’s position (Jones 2008: 197). Unsurprisingly, many retrospective accounts of fascism and war have described those years as a denial of childhood, a lost time that would be longed for in later years. As well as stressing the violence committed against children, the image of a childhood denied reflected an idea of the child as a normatively innocent being that was antithetical to war and violence. It was an image that reduced the complexity of the position occupied by young people, reassuring adults that childhood, violence and guilt did not belong to the same realm.

A threatening presence? Cinematic and literary representations

19In the immediate aftermath of the war, fictional representations offered perhaps the most striking accounts of the anxieties that children’s position in the war elicited among adults. In movies dealing with war, children can provide the perfect victims: their blamelessness helping to “make the wrong of war seem all the more wrong” and rendering “the righteous and explosive response” of the viewers “all the more satisfactory” (Lury 2010: 105, Sorlin 1999). In 1946, the two young protagonists of Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià performed a metonymic function, standing in for all the children forced to fend for themselves by the catastrophic consequences of war and destined to be let down over and over again by adults and their institutions.

20Embodying such unmitigated victimhood, however, was not the only way in which cinematic (and I would add literary) children became “ciphers for adult anxieties, fantasies and fears” (Lury 2010: 106). In the postwar years, the often ambiguous position occupied by children constituted the best conduit for literary and cinematic portrayals that explored the moral dilemmas left by the war. In Germania. Anno zero, released in 1948, Roberto Rossellini used the perspective/ angle of a twelve year-old to narrate the undoing of a society in which an immoral ideology and the consequences of defeat had wiped out any sense of innocence. Rossellini’s Edmund was a victim of ideology and adult exploitation, but he was also a murderer who could find no redemption or future hope. The skeleton of Berlin provided more than a naturalistic setting to the story. As the film director Carlo Lizzani (who had taken part in the making of the film) wrote, the rubbles of the city acted as “the cinematic projection of the deep wounds left in the soul of an innocent creature by the war and the ideology that had provoked it” (Lizzani 2004). In a different context, Rossellini’s movie could have become the portrait of a passage from childhood to adulthood; but in the Berlin of 1947 “the familiar rites de passage [had] become speeded up and horribly distorted” and Edmund was “simply too young to shoulder the adult burdens, both physical and psychological”, which were placed upon him (Brunette 1996: 78). Tragically stretched between childhood and adulthood, between innocence and corruption, Edmund occupied an unsustainable existential position, which could only be resolved with the death of the character.

21In the moral corruption that Rossellini presented as a significant part of Edmund’s plight, a particularly conspicuous role was assigned to a degraded and predatory sexuality. Rossellini used the representation of debased sexuality as a proxy for Nazi moral depravity, best represented by Edmund’s homosexual teacher. The predatory sexual behaviour of the latter is a sign of his corrupting power, which will find its most tragic outcome in the incitement to Edmund to kill his father. In its perverse logic, Nazi philosophy had undermined the most intimate human bonds, including those holding families together, and the child was both a victim and an agent of this destruction. Killing his ailing father may appear to Edmund to answer the logic of Nazism, but the act precipitates him into an inescapable emptiness, where no solace can be found.

22Many critics have seen in Edmund’s suicide the inevitable outcome of Rossellini’s dissection of the catastrophic consequences of Nazism, while others have criticized it as a move towards a forgiving of Nazi crimes, through the transformation of perpetrators into victims (Oms 1958: 13; Borde, Boussy 1960: 37). The debate reflects the polyvalence of the film, which is itself the result of having a child as central character. It is the liminal position occupied by Edmund that allows him to be both victim and hangman, and therefore to embody an inevitably contradictory sense of existential and moral ruin left by the war. While Rossellini’s Edmund signified the fatal consequences of a deranged ideology, other authors cast their gaze on the troubling consequences that even the fight against the Nazi could have. Two Italian novels that were released over a short period of time by two very different personalities, and which were both destined to become classics, albeit of a different nature, revealed the anxieties that even the good side of the war could produce (Eagleton 1985).

23In 1949, Curzio Malaparte, a polemical and controversial figure in the Italian literary landscape, himself prone to swift changes of political allegiances, offered a bleak representation of corruption and debasement in liberated Naples in his novel La Pelle. Under Malaparte’s gaze, the supposedly benevolent American occupation became the source of a moral crisis that mimed both social and intimate relations (Malaparte 1949, Libeccio 2017, Grana 1973, Serra 2012). La Pelle was a controversial and provocative novel, which has been both criticised as a distorted historical portrait and endorsed as a visionary work of art (Barzini 1960: 66, Kundera 2008, Indiana 2008, Garrido 2016). What makes it interesting here is its historical and symbolic use of liminal figures, including children (Escolar 2012).

24In Malaparte’s novel, children stood out as the tragic representation of a collective destiny. As they were fully immersed in the moral and spiritual plague that beset the city, these fallen children were engaged in a desperate game of survival which left little space for hope of salvation.

  • 1 Malaparte, La pelle, 166; my translation from the Italian “Non s’erano mai viste cose simili a Na (...)

25Under the American occupation, and for the first time in Naples’ history, wrote Malaparte, children were bought, sold, and dealt with mercilessly in interactions among adults. “Over so many years of misery and slavery, everything had been sold in Naples, always. But children, never. […] In Naples children were sacred. They were the only sacred thing that existed in Naples”.1 For Malaparte the departure represented by this new mercato dei bambini, was the emblem of the moral abyss opened up by the war. Here too, as in Rossellini’s Germania. Anno zero, sexual depravity stood out as the main sign of moral decay.

26However, although Malaparte’s children were exploited, they were not merely passive objects of adult dealings. They also manipulated and took advantage of others, starting with the American soldiers, who were often reduced to acting as miserable old children themselves, confused and bound to commit horrific acts, sometimes despite themselves. In La pelle, the exploitation of children and their ability to trick others featured side by side. This apparent paradox reflected the subversion of roles brought about by the war. Throughout the war, children had worked, fought, and learned to survive in extraordinary circumstances, often without adults’ help or, even worse, in the face of adults’ threatening presence. They had lived in disturbing proximity to violence and death, had helped families to survive, and sometimes had contributed to their ruin. In endless different ways, children had stepped out of their prescribed role as recipients of adult care and as the embodiment of powerlessness. Most crucially, children had proved able to act independently and to take decisions, and to both resist violence and commit it. They had broken the rule according to which “the maintenance of innocence require[d] the absence of moral knowledge, harm and desire” (Faulkner 2011: 8).

27One of the most troubling manifestations of children’s willingness to act in the conflict, was their participation in the civil wars that accompanied it in many parts of Europe. As we have already seen, diaries and memoirs map the trajectories that brought many young people to join one of the contending camps. What in diaries and memoirs is often rationalized as an almost inevitable consequence of personal history and circumstances, did not reduce the fascination that young participants to the Resistance could elicit among contemporary observers. Italo Calvino’s Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno, is a good example of how the perspective of a child could be appropriated to reveal something about the world of adults.

  • 2 McLaughlin among others noted the peculiar place occupied by Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno in the (...)

28The book, published by Einaudi in 1947, was Calvino’s first novel and his first effort to write about the Resistance, in which he himself had taken part.2 (McLaughlin 1998: 19, Re 1993). As Calvino explained in the preface to the 1964 edition of the novel, adopting the child’s perspective “in a world of rascals and bums” had allowed him to remain “at the margins of the partisan war”, while “bringing up its colour, its bitter taste, its rhythm” (Calvino 1964: xii). The outcome was a portrait of the Resistance that conjured up all the messiness of a movement in which political ideals existed side by side with personal grudges, existential dilemmas and moral shortcomings. The character of Pin, the young protagonist of the novel, was loosely based on a boy Calvino had met in the mountains. As the writer explained, the role of the young protagonist had expanded because “the relationship between the child Pin and the partisan war had a symbolic correspondence” to Calvino’s own relationship with it. “The inferiority of Pin as a child faced with the incomprehensible world of adults corresponded to what I felt as a bourgeois”, wrote Calvino. The boy’s irreverence and arrogance mirrored the writer’s intellectual effort never to betray either his surprise or his emotions. “The symbolic protagonist of my book was therefore an image of regression: a child” (Calvino 1964: xx-xxii).

29According to Daniele Fioretti the decision to put a child “who was too young to understand the motivations of the war” at the center of the novel, allowed Calvino to create “a light-hearted, almost fairy tale-like representation of the anti-fascist fight” (Fioretti 2017: 91). However, while several passages of Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno displayed a fairy tale-like atmosphere, Pin was far from being “the innocent child protagonist of myth and fable” (De Leòn-Jones 1997: 366). His liminal position between adult and child worlds, underlined by the boy’s desire to belong to both communities and by his exclusion from both, made Pin’s perspective far from reassuring or heroic. Pin was also far from representing a potential young martyr or a sacrificial victim. Even before joining the partisans, his figure evoked uneasiness in the adults that surrounded him; Pin’s canniness contradicted his young age, as did his “hoarse voice”, da bambino vecchio, who smoked and drank without pleasure, but with irresistible rage (Calvino 2012: 4). Similarly to Edmund and to Malaparte’s children, Pin is both a victim and an offender. Deprived of any protection, he is able to take advantage of theoretically powerful adults, including the German soldier who routinely visits his sister and from whom he steals the gun that will mark the beginning of his adventure in the world of adults.

  • 3 Having conducted an analysis of linguistic concordances in the novel, McLaughlin observed that th (...)

30Wherever he is, Pin inhabits a lonely and uncertain space: disliked by both children and adults, he is condemned to oscillate between his own fears and the fear he instils in others.3 Adults fear Pin because his young age makes him unpredictable and impulsive. In a context of extreme insecurity, age ceases to elicit sympathy to become a sign of instability and potential danger. Although the messy environment of the gang of partisans who are camped in the midst of dangerous forests provides Pin with something akin to a home, and any sense of belonging is precarious in the book. Pin’s “inability to conform to the belief system of any group” reinforces his liminal state and contributes to his exclusion (De Leòn Jones 1997: 364). Pin’s uncertainty, and his confusion with regard to sexual feeling play a crucial role in his destructiveness, particularly towards women. Sex and violence emerge as a recurring element when Pin thinks of adults, both exercising an inescapable mixture of attraction and disgust on the protagonist. Pin carries with him a misogyny whose effects can be fatal. His revelation of the adultery committed by the commander’s lover creates mayhem in the gang, while his willingness to expose the whereabouts of his sister, the traitor-lover of German soldiers, brings about her ruin.

31Unlike in other more orthodox literary portraits of the Resistance, such as Vittorini’s Uomini e no, there is no clear line that separates good and evil in Calvino’s first novel. As De Leòn-Jones observed, even the closing scene of the novel, with Pin walking away hand in hand with Cugino, his only adult friend and himself a misogynist who never fully grows up, is filled with ambiguity. As l’omone e il bambino (the big man and the boy) walk hand in hand through the night, no easy conclusion can be drawn, neither concerning Pin’s future, nor about the outcome and consequences of an exclusively male bond built on violence and distrust. Although there is no death of the hero, as in Edmund’s case, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno is not a tale of progression from childhood to adulthood either. Pin’s trajectory is halted and his future is uncertain. And so, perhaps, is the future of his country. What stands out in Calvino’s novel is the avoidance of any consoling ending, and the resistance to the temptation of a reassuring morale, something that would mark most Resistance writings only a few years later.

Children in a dangerous world

32In a place like Italy, a country guilty of aggression that was defeated and marked by the experience of a double occupation, evoking the image of the good war was an impossible mission. And yet, through the celebration of the Resistance as a collective rebirth, here too a consoling narrative that emerged and became more clearly from the mid-1950s, sought to represent the war as a formative period which had transformed children and young people into resilient adults. In this light, children had not only survived dangerous environments, but had also gained experiences that gave them strength, character and determination. The creation of narratives in which excitement and adventure took the place of fear and death was less problematic in countries like Britain, which had not experienced occupation and was free from the charge of aggression. Here, the landscape of war, at once hostile and exciting, was more easily normalized and reassuringly sanitized, to the extent that the war could be described as a “wonderful” time for children: a time when “kids rampaged through the ruins, the semis opened up like doll’s houses, the precious privacy shamefully exposed” (Boorman 2003: 19, Thomson 2013: 62, Harrisson 1976). Such upbeat narratives became an important part of the general myth about national resilience. This retrospective image of plucky children doing their bit through the war and emerging from it more or less unscathed, ran against contemporary psychological observations, which stressed that even coping and reacting with excitement to the danger of war did not mean emerging from it undamaged.

  • 4 By 1940, Anna Freud was a recognized voice in child psychoanalysis, with an extensive experience (...)

33Among the main protagonists in the debate on how to best protect children during war were Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham. On the basis of the observations conducted in the war nurseries they ran in London, Freud and Burlingham warned that young children needed to be sheltered from war not because war was antithetical to childhood, but because it was too close to it. The idea that children would be “saddened by the sight of destruction and aggression”, stemmed from “a common misunderstanding of the child’s nature” (Freud, Burlingham 1947: 162, Young-Bruhel 1988, Dyer 1983).4 The real danger, posited Freud and Burlingham, was not that the child, “caught up all innocently in the whirlpool of war” would be shocked by it, but rather “that the destruction raging in the outer world may meet the very real aggressiveness which rages in the inside of the child”. Children had to be sheltered from the horrors of war not because they were “so strange to them”, but because “at this decisive stage of their development” they needed “to overcome and estrange themselves from the primitive atrocious wishes of their own infantile nature” (Freud, Burlingham 1947: 163). On these bases, Freud and Burlingham cautioned against the dominant idea that the best way of protecting children was to send them away from the city to the safety of the countryside, even if this meant separating them from their parents.

  • 5 A crucial contributor to the debate on the relationship between children’s internal dynamics and (...)

34Against the evacuation approach, adopted by the British government since the beginning of the conflict, Freud and Burlingham argued that the war had its worst impact on children when it broke down family life and uprooted “the first emotional attachments of the child within the family group”. The paradoxical conclusion was that “London children […] were on the whole much less upset by bombing than by evacuation to the country as a protection against it” (Freud Burlingham 1947: 171-73; Bowlby, Winnicott, Miller 1939: 1202-1203). Separation from the mother was the event most likely to produce lasting damages in children (Howarth 1941, Odlum 1941). The age of the child and the way the evacuation was organized, argued Freud and Burlingham, were crucial in determining the likely outcomes. On the whole, the analysis carried out in the Hampstead Nurseries, like those conducted among evacuated children by Susan Isaacs in 1941, put forward a stark picture of the impact of war on British children and cast a shadow on what would happen in its aftermath (Isaacs 1941).5 By turning their attention to children’s deepest and often hidden reactions to war, Freud and Burlingham suggested that even an apparently undamaged child could harbour the seed of later psychological and emotional sufferance. They gave voice to a fear that would remain at the core of postwar reconstruction.

35If even children too young to take an active part in the fight, and living in countries that had been spared the most horrific outcomes of the conflict, brought within themselves the menace of pathologies in later life, what were the implications for social reconstruction? Was it possible to reassert an idea of childhood more in line with an ideal of the civilized society that had vanished during the war?

Back to childhood, and to the family

36One element that emerged clearly across post-war Europe, albeit with different emphasis across national contexts, was the reassertion that adult responsibility for the protection of children required both the creation of new forms of social intervention and the restoration of those institutions and norms that the war had undermined, starting with the domestic sphere of the home. The enlistment of fathers and the enrollment of mothers in factory work, as well as the preventive evacuation of children from major cities and the destruction of dwellings had resulted in an unprecedented number of children living outside their domestic setting, often in institutions (Welshman 2010, Macnicol 1988, Parsons 1998).

37Introducing their pioneering study, Freud and Burlingham remarked that the phenomenon they were observing was destined to last well into the post-war period and should therefore be treated not as a short-time emergency, but as something of lingering social consequences. As Michal Shapira has observed, the worries for the potentially negative impact of separation were twofold and concerned both young people’s individual wellbeing and the health of the democratic polities that were to be built after the war (Shapira 2013: 63). This double concern was clearly expressed by Donald Winnicott and Clare Britton in 1944, in a pamphlet dedicated to The Problem of Homeless Children, in which wartime experiences were directly related to the “qualities of citizenship” to be expected (Winnicott, Britton 1944). Many of the observations made in the pamphlet would be carried forward in the debate on neglect, maladjustment and juvenile delinquency that would flourish in the postwar years (Bowlby 1944, Fishman 2002). Similar concerns for the destiny of the many thousands of children now living in institutions, and for the social impact of this situation, were expressed in Italy by child health experts and paediatricians who in the postwar years increasingly lamented the lack of attention that the political class seemed willing to pay to the issue (Vigorelli 1948, Pini 1951, Bernini 2007: 81-84).

38The questions posed were political and social as much as medical and psychological. War and occupation had undermined the connection between the position of the child in the family, its socialization, and the creation of responsible citizens. In the absence of a well-organized family life, where could children be “first charged with a social role and binding responsibilities to others” (Faulkner 2011:85) Which other outlet could be relied upon to transmit values suitable to the liberal democratic polities that should emerge from the ashes of war? The overall answer given in the postwar years was that there is no alternative to the nuclear family and to gendered caring roles.

39A number of interpretations of the debate over child care and family reconstruction have emphasized the role British child psychology had in transforming a culturally specific experience into “a universal lesson in human development” (Zahra 2011: 64, Down 2006). Zahra and Shapira among others have charged postwar psychoanalysts not only with the responsibility of putting forward a normative notion of family life, based on the almost exclusive responsibility of mothers for the upbringing of children, but also of making the domestic sphere the main dimension of citizenship. Donald Winnicott, observed Shapira, saw motherhood as “woman’s main role in democracy”, and the mother herself not “as a person in her own right”, but only as “a person for the baby” (Shapira 2013: 112-113, 126, 132). The domestic turn of postwar psychoanalysts, stressed Tara Zahra, contrasted with the effort to theorize the relationship between the “authoritarian family” and the rise of fascism that occurred in the 1930s. While “Fromm and his colleagues” saw the family “as the very source of political attitudes”, the prevailing stance in the aftermath of WW2 was to stress the private and protective nature of the domestic, seeing “parental authority as a bulwark against totalitarianism” and warning “against state intrusion into family life”. (Zahra 2011: 94, Herzog 2017).

40There is little doubt that child psychology contributed to putting the family not only at the center of the child’s world, but also at the center of social reconstruction. It is also undoubted that the emphasis on the maternal role contributed to reinforce the male breadwinner model as the family configuration that was best suited to the postwar welfare state (Mitchell 1974, Wilson 1980, Davin 1978, Riley 1979). Relegating postwar psychoanalysts to the role of champions of traditional family life, however, underplays the novelty and the democratizing potential that the popularization of the psychoanalytical discourse entailed. It also undermines the role played by the concern for the future of children in the postwar era. Western European reconstruction was to a large extent an effort to reassert families’ sovereignty against the risk of new totalitarian assaults, and this was largely motivated by the determination to avoid the repetition of the aggressive nationalist educational turn of the ‘20s and ‘30s. The understanding of what kind of family would best protect the individual from a potential assault of the state varied greatly. In Italy, where Catholic pediatricians and public health experts dominated the discussion, the inviolable autonomy of families from the state was also invoked. For many, however, this equaled a return to being guided by the Catholic Church and to a model of domestic life structured around clear lines of gender and generation, under the authority of the father. The responsibility of mothers in family life was amply evoked, but without attributing to them “as much psychic power” as Winnicott did (Alexander 2020: 155).

41What British psychoanalysts prefigured was a domestic reconstruction informed by a deeper understanding of individual needs and by a non-moralistic account of human nature. The effort to make psychoanalytical concepts accessible to large audiences fostered not only a new awareness of infants and children’s needs, but sought to do so in an inclusive and non-judgmental way. Winnicott’s BBC Radio broadcasts, generally considered as the main expression of the unprecedented popularity of psychoanalysis, were remarkable in their effort to avoid rigid prescriptions and expert jargon. Not only the notion of the “good enough mother”, but also Winnicott’s style of communication, based on the principle “I cannot tell you what to do, but I can tell you what it means”, avoided a normative and prescriptive tone (Winnicott 1957).

42No less important was the attempt of certain key protagonists in the postwar debate to move away from an established interpretation that linked class to mental and emotional trouble. When Susan Isaacs praised the family solidarities that could be found among the “simple and the poor”, her language may have sounded patronizing, but her message represented an important corrective to the usual celebration of middle class ways of life, and to the common prejudice that poor families (and even working class neighbours) needed physical and moral reforming (Isaacs 1941:9, Young, Willmott 1957, Graham 2009). In a similar vein, Freud and Burlingham underlined that against the stereotypical expectation that working class parents would have gladly been able to “dump” their children in their nurseries, the parents they had encountered had been cooperative and happy to participate, as well as able to appreciate the value of what was offered to their children (Freud and Burlingham 1947: 9).

43Far from acting simply as an agent of conservation, postwar child psychology provided an often uncomfortable window on domestic life, while also challenging enduring assumptions about the class-based nature of so-called problem families. Most importantly for this article, post-war child psychology managed to popularize rather uncomfortable ideas about “the darker side of childhood fantasy, and about the gulf between child and adult understanding of the world” (Thomson 2013: 52). Contrary to received wisdom about the damage that a dangerous environment could produce on innocent but corruptible children, postwar psychoanalysts made it explicit for a broad audience that young children experienced great proximity to violence and destruction and that, in fact, containing the child’s destructive tendencies was part of good parenting.

44According to Sally Alexander, Winnicott’s “simple and profound” contribution rested in the notion that “the world was recreated anew with the birth of each infant, and because real equality rested on the maternal environment […] it was perhaps unobtainable but should be striven for nonetheless” (Alexander 2012: 159). After the mayhem of the war, British psychoanalysts called for a transformation of human relations and for the creation of domestic and public environments in which children, and therefore future citizens, could thrive. It was a recipe that did not deny the child’s proximity to violence nor its destructive instincts, but that sought to govern them, making it part of human growth. Medical and psychological advice on child rearing became part of the system of regulations that accompanied the development of the welfare state (Donzelot 1978, Rose 1989). This had both positive and negative consequences. On the upside, it supported significant transformations in fields such as institutional care for children in the form of hospitals and nursery services, something which, as Pini and Vigorelli complained, did not take place in Italy. What was more problematical was the emphasis on the early relationship between mother and child, which contributed to legitimizing the male breadwinner model of social policy as the only solution conducive to creating stable and prosperous societies, and perpetuated a norm of family life based on deeply unequal sets of responsibilities and duties (Spence 1946, Bianchi 1948, Gavron 1966: 78). Unsurprisingly, even some Italian catholic experts saw in Bowlby’s attachment theory a confirmation of “the irreplaceable role of the monogamous, exclusivist family” and of the natural law that governed Christian marriage (Bigatello 1951, Trabucchi 1955). Deprived of its more radical potential, child psychology could become a tool in the restoration of a conservative social order built on clear lines of gender and generational dependency.


45As European countries emerged from the ashes of war and sought to make sense of the catastrophe that had befallen their societies, children appeared both as the ultimate victims of war and as the embodiment of the disorder which the conflict had left behind. The symbolic meaning given to children depended to some extent on the national context: in Italy, children acted first as a reminder of the dilemmas and existential conundrums that had accompanied the conflict, and later, as a symbol of victimhood and sacrifice. In Britain, popular historical reconstructions emphasized their pluckiness and resilience as part of the narrative of the good war fought by the Brits. Beyond such differences, however, common anxieties emerged in the immediate aftermath of the conflict around its short and long term impact on children and on postwar societies.

46The celebration of the nuclear family, with its clear gender and generational power structures, could be seen as a sign of the normalizing efforts that were underway. In reality, however, the message that emerged from much post-war psychoanalytical writings, and even more dramatically from cinematic and literary representations, highlighted the vulnerability of contemporary homes as much as their relevance to the process of reconstruction. The families that emerged from the war resembled less a haven in a troubled world, than fragile vessels in search for a harbour.

47It was only an apparent paradox that the heralding of the family as the ultimate place of individual protection should happen when the domestic sphere appeared most fragile, both in emotional and in material terms. Resuming normal family life required and allowed adults to assert an authority the war had done much to shatter. After the messiness of years during which children had played disturbingly adult roles, the postwar discourse recast childhood as a specific and separate existential and social dimension, to be lived under the protection and control of adults. Protecting children allowed for a reassertion of social norms with which adults could live comfortably, both in the domestic and in the public sphere. Recreating domestic and political communities in which children could thrive meant restoring the responsibility and power of adults. As well as entering narratives of war as emblems of victimhood and sacrifice, children informed the storyline of reconstruction as the ideal beneficiaries of new caring democracies that were based on inclusive notions of citizenship and respectful of individual rights.

Haut de page


Alexander S. (2012), Primary Maternal Preoccupation: D.W. Winnicott and Social Democracy in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain, in Alexander S., Taylor B. (eds), History and Psyche: Culture, Psychoanalysis, and the Past, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 149-171.

Audoin-Rouzeau, S. (2006) « Enfances en guerre au vingtième siècle: un sujet? », Vingtième siècle. Revue d’histoire, 89, 1, p. 3-7.

Barzini L. (1960), Curzio Malaparte, Encounter, 15, 2, p. 64-67.

Becchi E. (1994), I bambini nella storia, Roma-Bari, Laterza.

Berger S. (2010), Remembering the Second World War in Eastern Europe, 1945-2005, in Pakier M., Strath B. (eds.), A European Memory? Contested Histories and Politics of Remembrance, New York-Oxford, Berghahn Books, p. 119-136.

Bernini S. (2007), Family Life and Individual Welfare in Postwar Europe, Basingstoke, Palgrave-Macmillan.

Bernini S. (2015), “Mothers and Children in Postwar Europe: Martyrdom and National Reconstruction in Italy and Poland”, European Review of History, 22, 2, p. 242-258.

Bianchi A. (1948), Matrimonio Cristiano. Istruzioni, Bergamo, Editrice Sant’Alessandro.

Bigatello S. (1951), L’uomo, la donna, il matrimonio, Milano, La Casa.

Boorman J. (2003), Adventures of a Suburban Boy, London, Faber and Faber.

Borde R., Boussy A. (1960), Le Néo-réalisme italien: une expérience de cinéma social, Lausanne, La Cinémathèque Suisse.

Bowlby J. (1944), “Forty-four juvenile thieves: their character and home life”, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 25

Bowlby J., Miller E., Winnicott D. W. (1939), “Evacuation of Small Children”, British Medical Journal, 16, p. 1202-1203.

Brunette P. (1996), Roberto Rossellini, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Calvino I. ([1964] (2012), Il Sentiero dei nidi di ragno, Milano, Mondadori.

Caroli D. (2006), Ideali, ideologie e modelli formativi. Il movimento dei Pionieri in Urss (1922-1939), Milano, Unicopli.

Childs D., Whorton J. (eds.) (1989), Children in War: Reminiscence of the Second World War, Nottingham, University of Nottingham.

Cohen G.D. (2011), In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

David K. (1989), A Child’s War: World War II Through the Eyes of Children, Peterborough, Ryan.

Davin A. (1978), “Imperialism and Motherhood”, History Workshop Journal, 5, p. 9-65.

De Leòn-Jones K. (1997), “Language and Identity in Calvino’s il Sentiero dei Nidi di Ragno”, Forum for Modem Language Studies, xxxiii, 4, p. 360-168.

Lee Down L. (2006), “‘A Very British Revolution?’ L’évacuation des enfants citadins vers les campagnes anglaises, 1939-45”, Vingtième siècle. Revue d’histoire, 89, p. 47-60.

Donzelot J. (1979), The Policing of Families, London, Hutchinson.

Dyer R. (1983), Her Father’s Daughter: The Work of Anna Freud, New York, J. Aronson.

Eagleton T. (1985), “Literature and History”, Literature and History, 27, 4, p. 23-6.

Eley G. (2001), “Finding the People’s War: Film, British Collective Memory and World War II”, American Historical Review, 106, p. 818-38.

Eley G. (2011), A Disorder of Peoples: the Uncertain Ground of Reconstruction, in Reinisch J., White E. (eds.), The Disentanglement of Populations, Basingstoke, Palgrave, p. 291-314.

Escolar M. (2012), “Sleights of Hand: Black Skin and Curzio Malaparte’s La pelle”, California Italian Studies, 3, 1, p. 1-20.

Fantoni G. (2015), A Very Long Engagement: the Use of Cinematic Texts in Historical Research, in McGarry F., Carlsten J., (eds.), Film, History and Memory, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 18-31.

Faulkner J. (2011), The Importance of Being Innocent. Why We Worry About Children, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Fava A. (1993), L’infanzia negli anni della Grande Guerra, in Giuntella M.C., Nardi I. (eds.), Il bambino nella storia, Napoli, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, p. 145-200.

Ferro M. (1987), “Does a Filmic Writing of History Exist?”, Film and History, 17, 4, p. 81-89.

Fioretti D. (2017), Utopia and Dystopia in Postwar Italian Literature, New York, Palgrave-Macmillan.

Fisher S.R. (2011), Boys and Girls in No Man’s Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War, Toronto, Toronto University Press

Fisher J. (2007), Disciplining Germany: Youth, Reeducation, and Reconstruction after the Second World War, Detroit, Wayne University Press.

Fishman S. (2002), The battle for children: World War II, youth crime, and juvenile justice in twentieth-century France, Cambridge, Mass.-London, Harvard University Press

Forlenza R. (2012), “Sacrificial Memory and Political Legitimacy in Postwar Italy: Reliving and Remembering World War II”, History and Memory, 24, p.73-116.

Freud A., Burlingham D. (1942), Young Children in War-Time. A Year’s Work in a Residential Nursery, London, Allen and Unwin.

Freud A., Burlingham D. (1947), Infants without Families. Reports on the Hampstead Nurseries, 1939-45, London, Allen and Unwin.

Ganapini L. (2012), Voci della guerra civile. Italiani nel 1943-1945, Bologna, Il Mulino.

Gavron A. (1966), The Captive Wife: Conflicts of Housebound Mothers, London-Boston, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Gibelli A. (2005), Il popolo bambino, Infanzia e nazione dalla Grande Guerra a Salò, Torino, Einaudi.

Ginsborg P. (2013), Famiglia Novecento. Vita Familiare, rivoluzione e dittature, 1900-1950, Torino, Einaudi.

Girard R. (1978), Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde, Paris, Bernard Grasset.

Girard R. (1982), Le bouc émissaire, Paris, Bernard Grasset.

Giuntella M.C. (1997), Gli occhi dei bambini: vittime, testimoni, giudici, in De Rosa G., Cattolici, Chiesa, Resistenza, Bologna, Il Mulino, p. 401-434.

Goodman S. (2005), Children of War: The Second World War through the Eyes of a Generation, London, John Murray.

Graham P. (2009), Susan Isaacs. A Life Freeing the Minds of Children, Abington and New York, Routledge.

Young M., Willmott P. (1957), Family and Kinship in East London, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Grana G. (1973), Malaparte, Firenze, La Nuova Italia.

Harrisson T. (1976), Living through the Blitz, London, Collins.

Herzog D. (2017), Cold War Freud. Psychoanalysis in the Age of Catastrophes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Higonnet A. (1998), Pictures of Innocence: the History and Crisis of the Ideal Childhood, London, Thames and Hudson.

Howarth H.E. (1941), “Impressions of Children in a Heavily Bombed Area”, Mental Health, 2, p. 98-101.

Indiana G. (2008), Curzio Malaparte, in Indiana G., Utopia’s Debris. Selected Essays, New York, Basic Books, p. 171-181

Isaacs S. (1941), The Cambridge Evacuation Survey: A Wartime Study in Social Welfare and Education, London, Methuen.

Jones O. (2008), “‘True geography […] quickly forgotten, giving away to an adult-imagined universe. Approaching the otherness of childhood”, Children’s Geographies, 6, 2, p. 195-212.

Judt, T. (1996), “The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe”, Theoria. a Journal of Social and Political Theory, 87, p. 36-69.

Kalb M. (2016), Coming of Age: Constructing and Controlling Youth in Munich, 1942-1973, New York, Berghahn Books.

Kater M. (2004), Hitler Youth, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press.

Kelly C. (2005), Comrade Pavlik: the Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero, London, Granta Books.

Kelly C. (2006), Shaping the “Future Race”: Regulating the Daily Life of Children in Early Soviet Russia, in Kiaer C., Naiman E. (eds.), Everyday Life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, p. 256-281.

Kennedy R. (2014), The Children’s War: Britain, 1914-1918, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Kirschenbaum L. (2017), “The Meaning of Resilience: Soviet Children in World War II”, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 47, 4, p. 521-536.

Kucherenko O. (2011), Little Soldiers. How Soviet Children Went to War, 1941-1945, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Kucherenko O. (2016), Soviet Street Children and the Second World War: Welfare and Social Control Under Stalin, New York, Bloomsbury Academic.

Kundera M. (2008), Un incontro, Milano, Adelphi.

Kynaston D. (2009), Family Britain, 1951-57, London-New York, Bloomsbury.

Libeccio L. (2017) “Céline, Malaparte. Malaparte, Céline: una poetica del disincanto”, Cahiers d’études italiennes, 24. <>.

Lizzani C. (2004), “Germania anno zero” Enciclopedia del cinema, Enciclopedia Treccani, <>.

Lury K. (2010), The Child in Film. Tears, Fears and Fairytales, London, Tauris.

Macnicol J., (1988), “The effect of Evacuation of School Children on Attitudes to State Intervention”, in Smith H. (ed) War and Social Change: British Society in the Second World War, Manchester, Manchester University Press, p. 3-31.

Maida B. (2017), L’infanzia nelle guerre del Novecento, Torino, Einaudi.

Malaparte C. ([1949] 1964), La pelle, Firenze, Vallecchi.

Martinez Garrido E. (2016), “Tra scrittura e immagine: La pelle di Curzio Malaparte”, Forum Italicum, 50, 3, p. 1143-1160.

McLaughlin M. (1998), Italo Calvino, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Meda J. (2007), E’ arrivata la bufera. L’infanzia italiana e l’esperienza della guerra totale (1940-1945), Macerata, eum.

Mitchell J. (1974), Psychoanalysis and Feminism, New York, Basic Books.

Mouton M. (2007), From Nurturing the Nation to Purifying the Volk: Weimar and Nazi Family Policy, 1918-1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Naimark N.M. (2010), The Persistence of ‘the Postwar’: Germany and Poland, in Biess F., Moeller R.J. (eds), Histories of the Aftermath: Legacies of the Second World War, New York, Berghahn Books, p. 13-29.

Odlum D. (1941), “Some Wartime Problems of Mental Health”, Mental Health, 2, p. 33-27.

Oms M. (1958), “Rossellini: du fascisme à la démocratie chrétienne”, Positif, 28, p. 9-18.

Parsons M. (1998), ‘I’ll take That One’: Dispelling the Myths of Civilian Evacuation, 1939-1945, Peterborough, Beckett Karlson.

Pavone C. (1991), Una guerra civile, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri.

Pignot M. (2014), Children in Winter J. (ed), The Cambridge History of the First World War, 3, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 29-45.

Pignot M. (2014), French Boys and Girls in the Great War: Gender and the History of Children’s Experiences, 1914-1918, in Hammerle C., Uberegger O., Bader-Zaar B. (eds), Gender and the First World War, New York, Palgrave-Macmillan, p. 163-175.

Pine L. (1997), Nazi Family Policy, Oxford-New York, Berg.

Pini I. (1951), “Duecentomila bambini negli istituti italiani per l’infanzia”, Maternità e Infanzia, 2, p. 8-9.

Prout A. (2000), Childhood Bodies: Construction, Agency and Hybridity, in Prout A. (ed), The Body, Childhood and Society, Basingstoke, Palgrave-Macmillan, p. 1-18.

Re L. (1993), Calvino and the Age of Neorealism: Fables of Estrangement, Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

Riley D. (1979), War in the Nursery, London, Virago.

Rollet C. (2007), The Home and Family Life, in Winter J., Robert J.-L. (eds.), Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin 1914-1919, 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 315-353.

Rose N. (1989), Governing the Soul. The Shaping of the Private Self, London-New York, Free Association Books.

Rose S. (2003), Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1939-1945, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Saraceno C. (1995), Costruzione della maternità e della paternità, in Del Boca A. et al. (eds), Il regime fascista. Storia e storiografia, Roma-Bari, Laterza, p. 475-497.

Sanzio C. (1960), Lettere di caduti della Repubblica Sociale Italiana, Milano, Associazione nazionale famiglie dei caduti e dispersi della RSI, p. 83-85.

Serra M. (2012), Malaparte, Vita e leggende, Venezia, Marsilio.

Shapira M. (2013), The War Inside: Psychoanalysis, Total War, and the Making of the Democratic Self in Postwar Britain, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Sorlin P. (1999), Children as Victims in Postwar European Cinema, in Winter J., Sivan E., (eds), War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 104-124.

Spence J.C. (1946), The Purpose of the Family. A Guide to the Care of Children, London, The Epworth Press.

Stargardt N. (2006), Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis, London, Pimlico.

Thane P. (2003), Family life and “Normality” in Postwar British Culture, in Bessel R., Schumann D. (eds), Life after Death: Approaches to a Cultural and Social History of Europe during the 1940s and 1950s, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 193-210.

Thomson M. (2006), Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture, and Health in Twentieth Century Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomson M. (2013), Lost Freedom. The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Trabucchi C. (1955), Parole chiare di un medico agli sposi, Varese, La Tipografica Varese.

Turmel A. (2008), The Historical Sociology of Childhood: Developing Thinking, Categorization and Graphic Visualization, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Tuttle W.M. (1993), “Daddy’s gone to war”: the Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children, New York, Oxford University Press.

Vigorelli A. (1948), “Orfanotrofi”, Maternità e Infanzia, 3, p. 135-136.

Voegelin E. ([1970] 1990), Equivalence of Experiences and Symbolization in History, in The Collected Works, 12, Published Essay 1966-1985, London: Baton Rouge, p. 115-133.

Welshman J. (2010), Churchill’s Children: the Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Werner E.E. (1999), Through the Eyes of Innocents: Children Witness World War II, Boulder, CO, Westview Press.

Wilson E. (1980), Halfway to Paradise: Women in Post-War Britain, London, Tavistock Publications.

Winnicott D.W., Britton C. (1944), “The Problem of Homeless Children”, The New Era in Home and School 25, p.. 155-161.

Winnicott D.W. (1957), The Child and the Outside World: Studies in developing relationships, London, Tavistock Publications.

Winnicott D.W. (1957) The Child and the Family: First Relationships, London, Tavistock Publications.

Young-Bruhel E. (1988), Anna Freud: A Biography, New York, Norton.

Zahra T. (2011), The Lost Children. Reconstructing Europe’s Families after World War II, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press.

Ziino B. (2018), “They Seem to Understand All About the War: Australian Children and the First World War”, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 11, 2, p. 227-247.

Haut de page


1 Malaparte, La pelle, 166; my translation from the Italian “Non s’erano mai viste cose simili a Napoli, in tanti secoli di miseria e di schiavitù. S’era venduto di tutto, a Napoli, sempre, ma non mai i bambini. […] A Napoli i bambini son sacri. Sono la sola cosa sacra che vi sia a Napoli”.

2 McLaughlin among others noted the peculiar place occupied by Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno in the history of postwar Italian literature, at once heralded as a “canonical text of neorealism”, and “eccentric […] to that movement”, McLaughlin (1998).

3 Having conducted an analysis of linguistic concordances in the novel, McLaughlin observed that the adjective most applied to Pin is “solo”, meaning alone, McLaughlin (1998).

4 By 1940, Anna Freud was a recognized voice in child psychoanalysis, with an extensive experience of working with children from difficult backgrounds which she had gained in Vienna; the Hampstead War Nurseries were opened to care for children who for different reasons had not been evacuated. On Anna Freud, Young-Bruhel (1988), Dyer (1983).

5 A crucial contributor to the debate on the relationship between children’s internal dynamics and the external dynamics of war was Melanie Klein, who I do not discuss here for her presence, while crucial in the psychoanalytical community was less embedded in public discussion, see among others Shapira (2013).

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Stefania Bernini, « War Children »Revue des sciences sociales, 64 | 2020, 62-73.

Référence électronique

Stefania Bernini, « War Children »Revue des sciences sociales [En ligne], 64 | 2020, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2020, consulté le 21 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Stefania Bernini

Department of Asian and North African Studies
Ca’ Foscari University, Venice

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la Revue des sciences sociales sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search