Lost Innocence, Part 1 - Little Fighters: Children in the Resistance

A Russian son kissing his mother goodbye as he leaves to join a guerilla detachment to fight for the liberation of their land from the Nazi invaders. Original Publication: (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A Russian son kissing his mother goodbye as he leaves to join a guerilla detachment to fight for the liberation of their land from the Nazi invaders. Original Publication: (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


A rebroadcast of the highly-acclaimed award-winning CBC Radio series commemorating the outbreak of World War II.  In this hour we hear the remarkable testimony of courageous children who fought against the Nazis in occupied Europe.

This year, with war going on all around us, we've been acknowledging the anniversaries of a number of historical wars. It's the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and the 100th anniversary of World War I. It's also the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.

Lost Innocence: The Children of World War Two is a five-part series that originally aired on CBC Radio in 1989. Each episode will be rebroadcast on Friday nights over the next five weeks. The series was hosted by Timothy Findley.

Little Fighters: Children in the Resistance

We think of children in wartime as frightened onlookers or tragic victims, swept up in an adult struggle they can barely understand. But in World War II, in the schools of France, the ghettos of Poland, the forest communities of the Partisans, and the hills of Czechoslovakia, children took part in the Resistance. All over occupied Europe, there were young bodies in the frontlines of the underground. Many joined to help their parents fight the anti-Nazi cause. Some wanted adventure. Some were desperate. Some were spurred by love of country.

Daddy taught me very, very young to fight for freedom. Fight for your country. Fight for humanity. Stay on the good side. Never be scared to lose all what you have, if it's for good cause. Go ahead with courage, perseverance, and your head up. And never be scared. And when you are 14, you have the spirit of Joan of Arc, starting immediately."

A note from CBC Producer Karen Levine about the series

It was the toughest, most terrifying, and most wonderful radio experience of my life.

It began with a call for ideas from the head of Radio Current Affairs, Alex Frame. He wanted CBC Radio to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two. It would air in September 1989. He wanted it to be special, and he wanted it to be original.

I got goosebumps.

I practically ran to his office.

Since I was very young, I had been drawn to stories of the Second World War. They were close enough in time to feel very real. And virtually every human emotion and struggle could be found in them.

I wanted to be part of this.

But what a challenge. The world, the media, governments, veterans would be all be taking note of the half century milestone. And, of course, historians had written extensively on many aspects of the war. How could radio do it differently? I proposed a child's eye view of the experience. Looking at the war through the eyes of children (and the adults they became) would allow us to hear a different perspective on the conflict, but also to follow the enduring impact of it on those who lived it. In that way, the series could be "current affairs", not just a slice of history.

I was given a week to spend in libraries, researching a proper proposal.  There were a few books, some scholarly papers, and some memoirs. But to my surprise, in 1989, children's experience in World War Two was largely untapped territory.

I put together a proposal for a thirteen-hour series, which was then cut to six hours (thank goodness!). It was accepted.

I had time, freedom, reasonable funding (my how the world has changed!) and a terrific team of people to work with: Paul Kennedy (now host of IDEAS), Grazyna Krupa (now program executive with CBC TV), Ira Basen (now freelance radio documentary producer) Kate Pemberton (now Executive Assistant, CBC News Programming ), Dave Field (now sound engineer, IDEAS). We began the thrilling and hard of work of putting these hours of radio together.

lost-innocence-timothy-findley.jpgWe really had to start from scratch. This was the pre-Internet, pre-computer age. We spent hours on the phone to people in Canada and around the world, searching for individuals who could bring their wartime experiences to life on the radio. We kept track of them on index cards. Made appeals in newspapers. And we discovered remarkable characters, many of whom had never told their story before - the young gunrunners and couriers in the resistance, the children of Nazis, the romantic Canadian teenagers. There were the two stark voices in Children of the Holocaust, chosen from the dozens who were interviewed. And of course, there was Timothy Findley himself - host extraordinaire - who agree to participate in the project because he had been a child in World War Two, and had his own stories to tell.

Working with this material, with these people, was a privilege and we took it seriously. We ached over edits, fashioned and re-fashioned structures, musical content, archival tape. And tape it was. Reel-to-reel, the cuts marked with white grease pencils the cuts made with razor blades. It was painstaking work, the kind that made for sleepless nights, but we all loved it.

The series aired in September 1989. The first program - Little Fighters: Children in the Resistance - aired on the program Sunday Morning. The rest were double broadcast for the next five consecutive days - on Morningside and on IDEAS.

The response from the audience was stunning. Long, beautiful letters poured in from people who had lived through the war, from younger people who understood their parents' and grandparents' experience for the first time. I still have them all, and treasure them.

Many of the people who shared their lives in these programs are gone now. But their voices still ring clear. And their stories of bravery, terror, loss, treachery, and love are timeless. In a world where armed conflict seems to be a constant, they remind us of the long term impact of war. They remind us to listen to the children.

Photograph: Timothy Findley (CBC Still Photo Collection/Fred Phipps)

Listen to other episodes in the series:

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