CAEN, France - Ugly words on the playground were his first hurtful clue.
At age 12, a furtive glance at a medical record deepened Jean-Jacques Delorme's doubts about who he was. Throughout adulthood, he unearthed relics of his long-hidden history.
He was the product, he discovered, of a shame-tainted liaison between his French kitchen-servant mother and an officer in the German army occupying France - one of an estimated 200,000 such children, many of whom grew up stigmatized, their identities confused.
Now, in a striking example of the healing powers of the European Union, Delorme and others like him are being offered dual German and French citizenship in a belated effort by both countries to come to terms with the past.
For Germany it is atonement for invading France and subjecting it to four years of brutal occupation. But France also feels a need to atone - for the ferocious score-settling that followed its liberation, in which supposed collaborators were summarily executed and women accused of "horizontal collaboration" with the enemy had their heads shaved, were paraded through jeering crowds and were jailed.
In the Normandy town of Lisieux, liberated by Allied forces after the D-Day invasion of 1944, Delorme's mother became one of those "shaven women."
"We in France have yet to work through our memories of the war. I regret that France never had its own Nuremberg trials," Delorme said, referring to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. In France, he said, "Everyone was a collaborator until April 1944; then they all became resistance fighters."
"The truth is more difficult," he said.
No one told him of the humiliation of his mother, "whose only crime was to love someone." The man she married adopted him, yet shunned him. Schoolmates and even his own uncles called him a "bastard" or "son of a Boche," a slur word for Germans.
His suspicions about his real father were aroused when he was 12, but it took more than 10 years before he confronted the family at a Sunday dinner.
"I said, 'I'm an adult now, I deserve to know. Who is my father?"' he recalled.
His mother stormed out. His grandmother summoned him to an old wardrobe, where she extracted an envelope from under a pile of sheets.
Inside were photographs: A grinning brunette woman in a tidy double-breasted coat, gazing up at a man with heavy brows, broad shoulders and a military orchestra uniform; the same man in civilian clothes, mustachioed, standing beneath a weeping willow.
That discovery came in 1967. It would take four decades of searching before he found his father's family, in Mainz in southwest Germany.
Today, France and Germany have the same currency, they have troops in Afghanistan, their border is barrier-free, and they share diplomatic chores.
In February German lawmakers approved a law offering citizenship to those who can prove their fathers served in German wartime forces. Eleven have since received citizenship, according to the German Embassy in Paris. Delorme submitted his application in August. It is not an attempt to relinquish his Frenchness - all applicants keep their French nationality.
Delorme learned that his father, Hans Hoffmann, was a married man when he met Delorme's mother in 1941, and had a family back in Mainz. In 2006, Delorme found his half brother and half sister and visited them.
"I speak no German. They speak no French. We stayed up until 3 in the morning," reconstructing their father's wartime double life, Delorme said. "We cried a lot." They took him to the grave of his father, who was killed in a clash with American troops days before the Germans surrendered in May 1945.
The German citizenship offer for now only extends to France, home to the largest number of German-fathered war children. But across Europe, up to 800,000 people are believed to have been born of German occupiers, and others are hoping the French program could lead to a Europe-wide gesture to recognize the children of war.
Delorme's mother died in the 1990s. He has no children of his own and spends part of every Christmas holiday season with his newly found siblings in Mainz.
"I feel French and German. I am at ease," he said.