World War I and its aftermath produced a particularly vulnerable group of child victims: war orphans. This group included children whose fathers had fallen in battle, who had disappeared, or who had not (yet) returned home. Most of Europe’s war and postwar societies witnessed the massive presence of these child victims, and responded in various ways to rescue them and secure their future survival. This article offers an exploration of the ways in which the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and then later the post-imperial Hungarian state, became invested in providing care and relief to Hungarian war orphans. In contrast to other groups of child victims, whose parents were blamed for neglecting their parental duties, war orphans as the offspring of ‘war heroes’ profited from the public appreciation of their fathers’ sacrifice for the war effort and the Hungarian nation. The public discourse in the contemporary Hungarian media offers a glimpse into the emergence of a new public visibility of these child victims and of a new recognition of the societal obligation to care for them. Exploring World War I and its aftermath as a telling example of political transformation in the 20th century, the article showcases how war orphans were taken to personify essential notions of war- and postwar destruction, while also capturing visions of postwar recovery. It furthermore examines how welfare discourses and relief practices for Hungary’s war orphans were embedded in contemporary gender norms, notions of proper Christian morality and ethnic nationalism. On this basis, the article assesses the ways in which the case of Hungary’s war orphans not only mirrors the professionalization but also the fundamental transformation of child welfare in the aftermath of World War I.
Kind-Kovács, F. (2021). The heroes’ children: Rescuing the Great War’s orphans. Journal of Modern European History, 19(2), 183–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/1611894421992688
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