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Lebensborn e.V. (literally: Fount of Life) was an SS-borne, state-supported, registered association in Nazi Germany with the intention of raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children from extramarital relations of "racially pure and healthy" parents on the basis of Nazi racial hygiene and health ideology. Lebensborn aimed to do this by encouraging anonymous births and mediating adoption to likewise "racially pure and healthy" parents, particularly families of SS-members.
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 the birth of children from Aryan love interests of SS-members. It was not intended for children 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 himself directed a programme with other segments of the Nazi bureaucracy, where 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. Furthermore, the programme accepted unmarried women who were either pregnant or had already given birth and were in need of aid, provided that both the woman and the father of the child were "racially valuable". About 60% of the mothers were unmarried. The program allowed them to give birth anonymously 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 homes were confiscated Jewish houses and former nursing homes.
While Lebensborn e. V. established facilities in several occupied countries, activities were concentrated around Germany, Norway and the occupied north-eastern Europe, mainly Poland. The main focus in occupied Norway was aiding children born by German soldiers and Norwegian women. In north-eastern Europe the organisation, in addition to services provided to SS members, engaged in the movement 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, though not all were informed that their child would be sent to Germany. The Norwegian government brought back all but 80 of these children after the war. The Norwegian Lebensborn records are intact, the majority stored at the National Archival Services of Norway.
Starting in 1939, the Nazis started to kidnap children from foreign countries including Russia, Ukraine, Czech, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, but mainly from Yugoslavia and Poland 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" as stated by Himmler.
The Nazis would take children from their parents without question, right in front of the parents. The kidnapped children took several tests and were categorised into 3 groups: those that were desirable to be included into German population, those that were acceptable, and those that were unwanted. The children who were categorised as unwanted were taken to concentration camps to work or were killed. The children from the other groups and between ages 2 to 6 were taken to be brought up by families in the programme, children ages 6 to 12 were taken to German boarding schools. The schools gave the children new German names and would teach them to be proud to be part of Germany. They would also force the children to forget their parents and erased any records of their heritage. Those that were unwilling to be become part of the German population were beaten and if continued to rebel they would be sent to concentration camps.
In the final stages of the war, the files of all kidnapped children for the programme were destroyed. As a result it is nearly impossible to know how many children were actually 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 therefore acquitted on charges of kidnapping.
The court did find ample evidence of an existing kidnapping/forced movement programme of children in north-eastern Europe, but indicated 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 in Nazi camps.
However, the programme did aim to promote the growth of Aryan populations, through encouraging relationships between German soldiers and Nordic women in occupied countries, and access to Lebensborn was restricted in line 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, indeed, widely rumored within Germany at the time.
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, even though many 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.
In November 2006, an open meeting took place between several Lebensborn children, with the intention of dispelling myths and encouraging those affected to investigate their origins.
Several general documents still existing on Lebensborn activities are administered by International Tracing Service and by German Federal Archives. The association Verein kriegskind.de publishes among others search efforts (Suchbitten) for Lebensborn-children.
- 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 given to junta supporters to raise.
- 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.
- 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] 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"
- *"The Lebensborn" Jewish Virtual Library's description of the Lebensborn program
- "The Lebensborn Orgization"
- 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" an article by Times Online dated 6 nov. 2006
- Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, p 246-7, ISBN 03-076435-1
- ""Super Babies": Illegitimate chiildren of SS men are housed in a German chateau". Life. 13 August 1942. p. 37. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
- Nazi 'master race' children meet, BBC News, 4 November 2006
- 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 at kriegskind.de
- 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 2-2530-1592-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 978-2-8433-7505-7
- 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
|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