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Lebensborn e.V. (literally: "Fount of Life") was an SS-initiated, state-supported, registered association in Nazi Germany with the goal of raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children via extramarital relations of persons classified as "racially pure and healthy" based on Nazi racial hygiene and health ideology. Lebensborn encouraged anonymous births by unmarried women, and mediated adoption of these children by likewise "racially pure and healthy" parents, particularly SS-members and their families.
Initially set up in Germany in 1935, Lebensborn expanded into several occupied European countries with Germanic populations during the Second World War. It included the selection of "racially worthy" orphans for adoption and care for children born from Aryan women who had been in relationships with SS-members. It originally excluded children born from unions between common soldiers and foreign women, because there was no proof of racial purity on both sides.
At the Nuremberg Trials, no evidence was found of direct involvement by the 'Lebensborn' organization in the kidnapping of Polish children. However, Heinrich Himmler directed a programme with other segments of the Nazi bureaucracy, whereby thousands of Polish children were kidnapped and subjected to 'Germanisation.' Germanisation involved a period at one of the 're-education camps,' followed by being fostered out to German families.
The Lebensborn e. V. (e.V. stands for eingetragener Verein or registered association), meaning "fount of life", was founded on 12 December 1935, to counteract falling birth rates in Germany, and to promote Nazi eugenics. Located in Munich, the organization was partly an office within the Schutzstaffel (SS) responsible for certain family welfare programs, and partly a society for Nazi leaders.
On 13 September 1936, Himmler wrote the following to members of the SS:
The organisation "Lebensborn e.V." serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children. The organisation "Lebensborn e.V." is under my personal direction, is part of the race and settlement central bureau of the SS, and has the following obligations:
It is the honourable duty of all leaders of the central bureau to become members of the organisation "Lebensborn e.V.". The application for admission must be filed prior to 23 September 1936.
- 1. Support racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families with many children.
- 2. Place and care for racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and the progenitor's families by the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children.
- 3. Care for the children.
- 4. Care for the children's mothers.
In 1939, membership stood at 8,000, of which 3,500 were SS leaders. The Lebensborn office was part of SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt (SS Office of Race and Settlement) until 1938, when it was transferred to Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the Reich Leader SS), i.e. directly overseen by Himmler. Leaders of Lebensborn e. V. were SS-Standartenführer Max Sollmann and SS-Oberführer Dr. Gregor Ebner.
Initially, the programme served as a welfare institution for wives of SS officers; the organization ran facilities—primarily maternity homes—where women could give birth or get help with family matters. The programme also accepted unmarried women who were either pregnant or had already given birth and needed of aid, provided that both the woman and the father of the child were classified as "racially valuable". About 60% of the mothers were unmarried. The program allowed them to give birth secretly away from home without social stigma. In case the mothers wanted to give up the children, the program also had orphanages and an adoption service. When dealing with non-SS members, parents and children were usually examined by SS doctors before admittance.
The first Lebensborn home (known as Heim Hochland) opened in 1936 in Steinhöring, a tiny village not far from Munich. The first home outside of Germany opened in Norway in 1941. Many of these facilities were established in confiscated houses and former nursing homes owned by Jews.
While Lebensborn e. V. established facilities in several occupied countries, its activities were concentrated around Germany, Norway and the occupied north-eastern Europe, mainly Poland. The main focus in occupied Norway was aiding children born to Norwegian women and fathered by German soldiers. In north-eastern Europe the organisation, in addition to services provided to SS members, engaged in the transfer of children, mostly orphans, to families in Germany.
Lebensborn e. V. had facilities, or planned to, in the following countries (some were merely field offices):
- Germany: 10
- Austria: 3
- Poland (General Government - the occupied Polish territory and annexed lands of Poland): 7 (8 if Stettin is included)
- Norway: 9
- Denmark: 2
- France: 1 (February 1944 – August 1944) – in Lamorlaye
- Belgium: 1 (March 1943 – September 1944) – in Wégimont, municipality of Soumagne
- Netherlands: 1
- Luxembourg: 1
About 8,000 children were born in Lebensborn homes in Germany and 8,000–12,000 children in Norway. Elsewhere, the total number of births was much lower. For more information about Lebensborn in Norway, see war children.
In Norway, the Lebensborn organisation handled approximately 250 adoptions. In most of these cases, the mothers had agreed to the adoption, but each was not informed her child would be sent to Germany for adoption. The Norwegian government recovered all but 80 of these children after the war.
Starting in 1939, the Nazis started to kidnap children from foreign countries - mainly from Yugoslavia and Poland - but also including Russia, Ukraine, Czech, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, for the Lebensborn program. They started to do this because "It is our duty to take [the children] with us to remove them from their environment... either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people or we destroy this blood," Himmler reportedly said.
The Nazis would take children from their parents, right in front of the parents. The kidnapped children were administered several tests and were categorised into three groups:
- those considered desirable to be included into German population,
- those who were acceptable, and
- the unwanted.
The children classified as unwanted were taken to concentration camps to work or were killed. The children from the other groups, if between ages 2 to 6, were placed with families in the programme to be brought up by them in a kind of foster status. Children ages 6 to 12 were placed in German boarding schools. The schools assigned the children new German names and taught them to be proud to be part of Germany. They forced the children to forget their birth parents and erased any records of their ancestry. Those who resisted Germanisation were beaten and, if a child continued to rebel, he or she would be sent to concentration camps.
In the final stages of the war, the files of all children kidnapped for the programme were destroyed. As a result, researchers have found it nearly impossible to learn how many children were taken. The Polish government has claimed that 10,000 children were kidnapped, and less than 15% were returned to their biological parents. Other estimates include numbers as high as 200,000, although, according to Dirk Moses, a more likely number is around 20,000.
After the war, the branch of the Lebensborn organisation operating in north-eastern Europe was accused of kidnapping children deemed racially valuable in order to resettle them with German families. However, of approximately 10,000 foreign-born children located in the American-controlled area of Germany after the war, in the trial of the leaders of the Lebensborn organisation (United States of America v. Ulrich Greifelt, et al.), the court found that only 340 had been handled by Lebensborn e. V.. The accused were acquitted on charges of kidnapping.
The court found ample evidence of an existing kidnapping/forced movement programme of children in north-eastern Europe, but concluded that these activities were carried out by individuals who were not members of Lebensborn. Exactly how many children were moved by Lebensborn or other organisations remains unknown due to the destruction of archives by SS members prior to fleeing the advancing Allied forces.
From the trial's transcript:
The prosecution has failed to prove with the requisite certainty the participation of Lebensborn, and the defendants connected therewith in the kidnapping programme conducted by the Nazis. While the evidence has disclosed that thousands upon thousands of children were unquestionably kidnapped by other agencies or organisations and brought into Germany, the evidence has further disclosed that only a small percentage of the total number ever found their way into Lebensborn. And of this number only in isolated instances did Lebensborn take children who had a living parent. The majority of those children in any way connected with Lebensborn were orphans of ethnic Germans. Upon the evidence submitted, the defendant Sollmann is found not guilty on counts one and two of the indictment.
Himmler's effort to secure a racially pure Greater Germany and sloppy journalism on the subject in the early years after the war led to false assumptions about the programme. The main misconception was that the programme involved coercive breeding. The first stories reporting that Lebensborn was a coercive breeding programme can be found in the German magazine Revue, which ran a series on the subject in the 1950s. The 1961 German film, Der Lebensborn, purported that young girls were forced to mate with Nazi men in their camps.
The programme did intend to promote the growth of Aryan populations, through encouraging relationships between German soldiers and Nordic women in occupied countries. Access to Lebensborn was restricted in accordance with the Nordicist eugenic and racial policies of Nazism, which could be referred to as supervised selective breeding. Recently discovered records and ongoing testimony of Lebensborn children—and some of their parents—shows that some SS men did sire children in Himmler's Lebensborn program. This was widely rumored within Germany during the period of the programme.
After Germany's surrender, the press reported on the unusually good weight and health of the "super babies". They spent time outdoors in sunlight and received two baths a day. Everything that contacted the babies was sterilized first. Nurses ensured that they ate everything given to them. Until the last days of the war, the mothers and the children at maternity homes got the best treatment available, including food, although others in the area were starving. Once the war ended local communities often took revenge on the women, beating them, cutting off their hair, and running them out of the community. Many Lebensborn children were born to unwed mothers. After the war, Lebensborn survivors suffered from ostracism.
Self-help groups and aftermath
Help, recognition, and justice for Lebensborn survivors have been varied.
In Norway, children born by Norwegian mothers and Nazi fathers were often bullied, raped, and abused after the war, and placed in mental institutions; their mothers became slave labourers in concentration camps. The Norwegian government attempted to deport Lebensborn to Germany, Brazil, and Australia but did not succeed. A group of survivors attempted to fight the Norwegian government into admitting complicity; in 2008, their case before the European Court of Human Rights was dismissed.
In November 2006, in the German town of Wernigerode, an open meeting took place among several Lebensborn children, with the intention of dispelling myths and encouraging those affected to investigate their origins.
Sweden took in several hundred Lebensborn children from Norway after the war. A famous survivor is Anni-Frid Lyngstad, a member of the ABBA music group. Her father was a sergeant in the Wehrmacht, and her mother was Norwegian; to escape persecution after the war, the mother took Anni-Frid to Sweden, where their personal history was not known.
Other countries that had Lebensborn clinics include France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Luxembourg.
General documents on Lebensborn activities are administered by International Tracing Service and by German Federal Archives. The association Verein kriegskind.de is among those that published search efforts (Suchbitten) to identify Lebensborn-children.
In popular culture
- Georg Maas directed Two Lives (2012), a German/Norwegian drama film based on a then unpublished novel, Ice Ages, by German author and journalist Hannelore Hippe. It is inspired by the cases of Lebensborn children taken from Norway, raised in orphanages, and recruited by the Stasi in East Germany after the war to be returned to Norway as agents, claiming places in Norwegian families.
- Roy Havelland's Cold War novel The Lebensborn Boy (2014), set in Denmark, Hamburg, and East Berlin, deals with Stasi espionage and the shadow of the Lebensborn as they affect a Danish family with a Lebensborn skeleton in its cupboard. The story stretches from the Second World War to the re-united Berlin of 1990.
- European sexuality leading up to and during World War II
- Nazi eugenics
- War children
- RuSHA Trial
- Desaparecidos – Children of the Desaparecidos in Argentina were taken by the military junta in the Dirty War and placed with junta supporters for adoption and raising.
- Albanese, Patrizia (2006). Mothers of the Nation: Women, Families and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Europe. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-8020-9015-7. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Kate Bissell (13 Jun 2005). "Fountain of Life". yes. BBC Radio 4. Missing or empty
- Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality (1946). Barrett, Roger W.; Jackson, William E., eds. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression [Founding of the organization "Lebensborn e.V.", 13 September 1936] (PDF) 5. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 465–6. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- [dead link]
- Crossland, David (7 November 2006). "Nazi Program to Breed Master Race: Lebensborn Children Break Silence". Der Spiegel (Hamburg). Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- Bydgoszcz, Kraków, Helenówek pod Łodzią, Otwock, Połczyn-Zdrój, Smoszew koło Krotoszyna, Smoszewo; 8 if you include Stettin (the city became a part of Poland after the war)
- Eva Simonsen: "Into the open – or hidden away? – The construction of war children as a social category in post-war Norway and Germany " In: NORDEUROPAforum (2006:2), p. 25-49, http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/nordeuropaforum/2006-2/simonsen-eva-25/PDF/simonsen.pdf
- *"The Lebensborn Origination", Southern Illinois University
- *"The Lebensborn", Jewish Virtual Library's description of the Lebensborn program
- "The Lebensborn Orgization", Southern Illinois University
- A. Dirk Moses (2004). Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. p. 255. ISBN 978-1-57181-410-4. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
- Trial of Ulrich Greifelt and Others, United Nations War Crimes Commission. Part III
- d/europe/article626101.ece "Himmler was my godfather", Times (UK) Online, 6 November 2006
- Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, p 246-7, ISBN 0-03-076435-1
- ""Super Babies": Illegitimate children of SS men are housed in a German chateau". Life. 13 August 1942. p. 37. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- Rob Sharp, "The chosen ones: The war children born to Nazi fathers in a sinister eugenics scheme speak out ", The Independent, 20 January 2008. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- Andrew Malone, "Stolen by the Nazis: The tragic tale of 12,000 blue-eyed blond children taken by the SS to create an Aryan super-race", Daily Mail, 9 January 2009 . Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- "Nazi 'master race' children meet", BBC News, 4 November 2006
- David Crossland, "Nazi Program to Breed Master Race: Lebensborn Children Break Silence", Spiegel, 07 November 2006. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- Kate Connolly, "Torment of the Abba star with a Nazi father", The Guardian, 29 June 2002. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- New "Findbuch" (register) to still existing general „Lebensborn“-documents its-arolsen.org, site looked at on 30 March 2012
- "Search efforts (Suchbitten) for Lebensborn-children", kriegskind.de
- Ella Taylor, "A Legacy Of War, Hitting Home Decades Later In Norway", NPR, 27 February 2014, accessed 10 July 2014
- Catrine Clay & Michael Leapman: Master race: the Lebensborn experiment in Nazi Germany. Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995. ISBN 0-340-58978-7. (German version: Herrenmenschen – Das Lebensborn-Experiment der Nazis. Publisher: Heyne-TB, 1997)
- "Children of World War II: the Hidden Enemy Legacy." Ed. Kjersti Ericsson and Eva Simonsen. New York: Berg Publishers, 2005.
- Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry: Of Pure Blood. Published 1976. ISBN 0-07-028895-X (French version: Au nom de la race. Publisher: Fayard)
- Trials of War Criminals – Before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10. Vol. 5: United States v. Ulrich Greifelt, et al. (Case 8: 'RuSHA Case'). Publisher: US Government Printing Office, District of Columbia, 1950.
- Thompson, Larry V. Lebensborn and the Eugenics Policy of the Reichsführer-SS. Central European History 4 (1971): 54–77.
- Wältermann, Dieter. The Functions and Activities of the Lebensborn Organization Within the SS, the Nazi Regime, and Nazi Ideology. The Honors Journal II (1985: 5–23).
- Marc Hillel, Au nom de la race, Éditions Fayard, 1975. ISBN 2-253-01592-X
- Nancy Huston, Lignes de faille, Éd. Actes Sud, 2006. ISBN 2-7427-6259-0
- Nancy Huston, Fault Lines, Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-84354-852-2, 2007
- Katherine Maroger, Les racines du silence, Éditions Anne Carrière, 2008. ISBN 978-2-84337-505-7
- Boris Thiolay: Lebensborn. La fabrique des enfants parfaits. Enqête sur ces Francais nés dans les maternités SS. (Titel aus dem Französischen übersetzt: Lebensborn. Die Fabrik der perfekten Kinder). Éditions Flammarion, Paris, 2012.
- Dorothee Schmitz-Köster: Deutsche Mutter bist du bereit – Alltag im Lebensborn. Publisher: Aufbau-Verlag, 2002.
- Gisela Heidenreich: Das endlose Jahr. Die langsame Entdeckung der eigenen Biographie – ein Lebensbornschicksal. Published: 2002.
- Georg Lilienthal: Der Lebensborn e. V. – Ein Instrument nationalsozialistischer Rassenpolitik. Publisher: Fischer, 1993 (possibly republished in 2003).
- Kare Olsen: Vater: Deutscher. – Das Schicksal der Norwegischen Lebensbornkinder und ihrer Mütter von 1940 bis heute. Published 2002. (the authoritative resource on Lebensborn in Norway and available in Norwegian: Krigens barn: De norske krigsbarna og deres mødre. Published: Aschehoug 1998. ISBN 82-03-29090-6)
- Jörg Albrecht: Rohstoff für Übermenschen. Published: Artikel in Zeit-Punkte 3/2001 zum Thema Biomedizin, S. 16–18.
- Benz, W.; Graml, H.; Weiß, H.(1997): Enzyklopädie des Nationalsozialismus. Published: Digitale Bibliothek, CD-ROM, Band 25, Directmedia GmbH, Berlin.
- Kåre Olsen: „Vater: Deutscher.“ Das Schicksal der norwegischen Lebensbornkinder und ihrer Mütter von 1940 bis heute. Campus, Frankfurt 2002, ISBN 3-593-37002-6
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lebensborn.|
- Nazi Program to Breed Master Race, Lebensborn Children Break Silence Spiegel Online International
- "The Lebensborn Organization" Southern Illinois University
- Trial of Ulrich Greifelt and others Law Reports of the Trials of War Criminals, Unite Nations War Crimes Commission, London 1949 (copy at University of the West of England website)
- "The Lebensborn" Jewish Virtual Library's description of the Lebensborn programme
- "Himmler was my godfather" An online press article
- The Last Nazis: Children of the Master Race BBC documentary about the Lebensborn project
- Third Reich Poster Child Portrait of a Lebensborn child in EXBERLINER magazine
- National Archival Services of Norway
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