Medicine: The Babies Never Smiled

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Doctors know what to do about the undernourished bodies of European children. What to do about their war-warped personalities is not so simple. Last week UNRRA workers described some 200 stick-legged, spare-ribbed children now housed at Kloster-Indersdorf Monastery north of Dachau. All are under 16 and all were former inmates of Dachau.

The 18-month-old babies could not sit up at first—and they never smiled. Those old enough to remember anything remember most vividly the separation from their parents at railroad sidings where their parents were crowded into trucks.

When first released, the starving children wanted to talk more than they wanted to eat; they seemed to need a sympathetic listener more than food. Talking steadily, they followed workers around, telling their stories. Those who had been in many different camps wanted to describe the differences. Two Polish boys kept wanting to tell how they had stoked crematorium fires at Auschwitz. A Jewish boy insisted on telling his friends again & again how he used to cut down the bodies of the hanged.

In the Lancet, Britain's Lieut. Colonel F. M. Lipscomb wrote: "The most conspicuous psychological abnormality [of adults and children] was a degradation of moral standards characterized by increasing selfishness . . . more or less proportional to the degree of undernutrition. . . . Even among those not grossly undernourished, there was a blunting of sensitivity to scenes of cruelty and death. Children who had grown up in concentration camps were almost unmoved by the sight of these horrors."

Even when they learned that there was plenty of food at the monastery, the children stole it from the table; they explained that they couldn't help it. Some still steal. Others who have broken themselves of the habit leave the dining room proudly with their open hands held ostentatiously out from their sides.