Encounters in the Rubble

American Interactions with German Children in Postwar Germany

Erica Lansberg

German children and American military personnel came into contact in complex and diverse ways in the American occupation zone during the immediate postwar period (1945-1949). Placing German children at a central role in the study of this period allows for greater understanding of the lived experiences of the American occupation, as well as of the significance of transatlantic exchange on a personal and political level. Interactions between Americans and German children challenge the simplicity of narratives about the supposed “success” and “goodness” of the occupation, which have emerged strong in present-day collective memory. Behind these interactions lies the deeper context of a complex transition period. Additionally, Americans active in the occupation as well as German children deserve to be considered as important historical actors. Both sides documented these personal interactions in materials ranging from personal diaries to photographs. These encounters not only shaped personal experiences and memories of the postwar era, but fundamentally molded the face of the occupation, impacting official policies of democratization and re-education to interpretations of German guilt.