Public history

Children Born of War as a Shared History: David Seymour's Photographs of "Bastard" Children in Vienna, 1948

In 1948, on assignment for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), David Seymour completed a three-month mission that took him to his home country of Poland as well as to Greece, Italy, Austria, and Hungary, where he visited cities and villages ravaged by war. He focused on children and young adults: how they had suffered because of the destruction and the physical and emotional damage induced by war, how they were coping with poverty, desolation, and abandonment, and how local educational initiatives and the interventions carried out by United Nations agencies were affecting their situation. Seymour explored Europe as a place where it was believed that the younger generation and education would come together to create a better future for all. His mission helps us to rewind history back to before the Cold War era and tells us a story “before all theory” (Susan Sonntag, 1966). Seymour’s contact and caption sheets made in post-war Vienna are both a filmic archive and textual traces of important moments in European history that speak of hope and a belief in education. Seymour’s Viennese caption and contact sheets depict court sessions on juvenile crime, children in refugee camps, children playing in ruins, anti-tuberculosis facilities for children, sentenced boys and girls in a prison for juvenile delinquents, and a home for 93 children born of war. Therefore, Seymour’s work presents a broad horizon of comparison of how children’s lives were affected by war in 1948 Vienna. The children kept in the home for children born of war were all under three years old. Seymour’s caption sheets indicate that their mothers were raped, and that the children’s national belonging was linked to their fathers’ home countries (Russia, The United States of America, France, United Kingdom, Czechia, etc.). Seymour's pictures are visual traces of a “multi-national” place for children. These children were, at the time, labeled as “bastards” and together had built a temporary and transitional community.

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