Mateusz Wyrwich talks with Stefan Hambura, a Polish-German lawyer

MATEUSZ WYRWICH: - Jugendamt – an institution which appeared in the beginning of the 20s of the last century, became got covered with brutal fame during the Second World War, when taking away children on territories occupied by the Nazis to give them to German families. It particularly concerned Poland. Reputation of Jungendamt has been scaring till today. Why?

STEFAN HAMBURA: - Particular pressure of Jugendamt was visible during the Second World War. The Germans were taking away Polish children to make them German. It particularly concerned the so-called children of Zamojszczyzna. They were selected and passed over to German families. Today it is said that if a richer family has got a photo of a child from the 40s of the last century, for example from the second or the third year of the child’s life, it means that the child might have been adopted. Otherwise, kidnapped. We can suggest so especially that strangely enough, documents of Jugendamt from the times of the Second World War concerning children of Zamojszczyzna, were destroyed. For those people who are deprived of their identity, it is deep trauma. A lot of them have been looking for their real family.

Luckily today such methods are not used like in the past, but the policy of Jugendamt towards families is still brutal…

Indeed, it happens so. According to German statistics, in 2015 over 77 thousand children were taken away from their families, and in 2016 over 83 thousand. But taking away children by organizations of the so-called care over children are used also brutally in Belgium, Holland, Norway or Great Britain…

In order to defend Jugendamt, the German government says that this is an excellent institution, as it takes care of children who are persecuted in their families. So what is it like? Is it a good or bad policy of the country?

It is definitely bad, as when a family enters the ‘action’ of Jugendamt, it is often difficult to get out of it. Children often are taken away to foster families or the so-called orphanage houses and regaining them by their real parents is nearly impossible or it takes many years. A big problem with Jugendamt is faced up by mixed families, or foreign families. Even a tiny suspicion that a child may be maltreated, becomes the basis for interference by Jugendamt, and as a result, for depriving a family of their child or children. A pretext for action of Jugendamt may be the fact that a child is sad at school or that he or she has a bruise. Sometimes only a phone call by a neighbor to Jugendamt that one of parents raises his/her voice at a child can cause the situation. Officers can enter home and take away a child, also a baby. Uncertainty that it may happen at any time, is very dangerous for families – it may happen to everybody. It also concerns native Germans. Once I represented a German mother who had been deprived of her child. The basis for taking away her child was an opinion given by a doctor on quite an unclear basis. One of judges, asked by me about the opinion of the doctor – and the case is taking place in the higher national court – could not find it. And why? Because the court was not interested in it at all. It was only necessary as a starting point to take away a child. It was a cognitive shock for me, as we did not have reality but we only had judicial reality. And it was terrifying to me.

This example of indifference of judges from your case was published in a German Report about the state of basic rights in Germany (Grunderchte-Report).

That is right. The earlier proxy of my client warned that there would be some attempts to incapacitate her, so she left Germany in case. A native German woman! After some time she died. We can say that she died on exile. And another case like that concerning a Polish family – purely Polish one, but living in Germany. I was asked by a grandmother to help, as Jugendamt wanted to deprive parents of care about their child. I suggested them leaving Germany. When a father and child had already left Germany, he got a phone call from an official from Jugendamt asking where he was. He answered that he was in Poland. She asked him whereabouts. He answered that in Poland and nothing more. And what was it about? The official wanted to find out whether the father was about 60 m away from the border with Germany, as according to a contract with Poland, German police can pursue a Polish or German citizen on the area of Poland within this distance. Today I remind my clients, parents that no German institution, if there is no decision against the family, has a right to intervene in their life. Parents have full parental rights – I repeat. But in order to avoid interference from outside, it is necessary to leave the area of the Federal Republic of Germany as soon as possible. As till today what is the good of child, and what is not, is defined in any way by a German official. And the country stands on his side in most cases.

It is said that Jugendamt often takes away children from families as it earns on it. How true is it?

Indeed, this is the idea for business. If a child is ‘taken out’ from his biological family, he is taken away to a foster family, or an orphanage house. And a parent of the child must pay for it. A few months ago I saw a bill for over 4600 euro monthly given to one of the parents. I suggested that if it cost the German country so much monthly, then we should give a biological family 1000 euro, so that the family could raise their material status. Not only will the country save over 3 thousand euro, but the child will stay in a biological family…

And what does the German country say to it?

In 2008, during my discussion with Ursula von der Leyen, the minister for family, elderly people, women and youth issues at that time – the interview is available on YouTube – I suggested solving out Jugendamt. She gave a hysterical laugh as she knew that German politicians would not agree to it. The key word is: impossible as it is necessary to change the German constitution. During one of talks in the German parliament I said: How is it – impossible? After all the German constitution had been changed so often since the times of the war that it was no problem. Only a political willingness is needed. And then I was told that there was no political willingness.

However, there is willingness from the Polish side, to change at least life of Polish families touched by Jugendamt. You have contributed to it a lot.

An important role was played here by Michał Wójcik, a secretary of state in the Justice Ministry and the very ministry. Until recently when Polish children were taken away from their parents, and were given to accidental German families. Now they are to be taken to Polish families. Min. Wójcik is also preparing a Visegrad initiative in this issue – so that children would be taken to ethnic families in case of their allocation – not only the culturally but also linguistically ethnical families. I am moving further. We are on the common European area in the European Union, so that these children from Germany would get to Poland straightaway. Why must they be taken by Jugendamt? Anyway in the country there are often grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. And if the Germans seriously take the need of children upbringing, they should introduce this provision. Certainly, we know that not in all families life is good. After all there are children of alcoholics or abnegates neglecting their families but we cannot generalize here. We should consider the problem in a human way. We should not do business out of it. Now I have, for example, a grandmother who lives in Poland and she was legally given care about her grandchildren living in Germany. The decision was translated into German and what…? The woman still has to prove her rights in the German court. And I say that if we are in the EU, Polish offices are also EU offices. It should happen ex officio. Why must we carry out proceeding to the German court again? It must be changed and we are aiming at it. I think that we need lots of strength and lots of courage of the Polish government. So, we should do something about it, as it is possible.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 7/2018 (18 II 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl