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Lebensborn (Spring of Life, in antiquated German) was a Nazi programme set up by SS leader Heinrich Himmler that provided maternity homes and financial assistance to the wives of SS members and to unmarried mothers, and also ran orphanages and relocation programmes for children.
Initially set up in Germany in 1935, Lebensborn expanded into several occupied European countries during the Second World War. In line with the racial and eugenic policies of Nazi Germany, the Lebensborn programme was restricted to individuals who were deemed to be "biologically fit" and "racially pure", "Aryans", and to SS members. In occupied countries, thousands of women facing social ostracism because they were in relationships with German soldiers and had become pregnant, had few alternatives other than applying for help with Lebensborn.
After World War II, it was reported that Lebensborn was a breeding program. While individuals were not forced to have sex with selected partners,[not in citation given] the programme did aim to promote the growth of "superior" Aryan populations through providing excellent health care and by restricting access to the programme with medical selections that applied eugenic and "race" criteria.
During the war, Lebensborn also processed the adoptions by German families of children from occupied northern and eastern Europe, mostly orphans. At the Nuremberg Trials no evidence was found of direct involvement by the Lebensborn organisation in the kidnapping of thousands of Polish children who were subjected to "Germanisation" by sending them to re-education camps and fostering them out to German families. This project, also directed by Himmler, was carried out by other segments of the Nazi bureaucracy.
The Lebensborn e. V. (eingetragener Verein, "registered association") was founded on 12 December 1935 to halt the high abortion rate (as high as 800,000 per year in the interwar period) and falling birth rates in Germany, and to promote Nazi eugenics. Located in Munich, the organisation was partly an office within the Schutzstaffel (SS) and responsible for certain family welfare programmes, and partly a society for Nazi leaders.
On 13 September 1936, Himmler wrote the following to members of SS:
The organization "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:
- 1. Support racially, biologically, and hereditarily valuable families with many children.
- 2. Place and care for racially and 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 organisation 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 programme allowed them to give birth anonymously away from home without social stigma. In case the mothers wanted to give up the children, the programme 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
- North-eastern occupied Europe (Poland): 3
- Norway: 9 (or as many as 15)
- 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 8000 children were born in Lebensborn homes in Germany and 8000–12,000 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.
Although this was not their original purpose, the Lebensborn homes were also used to house very young Polish children (between two and six) kidnapped to be Germanized. While older children were sent to institutions specifically dedicated to Germanization, the younger ones would merely be observed for a time at the home before adoption.
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, the fact that Lebensborn was one of Himmler's race programmes, 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 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.
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 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.
- 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
- ^ a b c d e f Crossland, David (7 November 2006). "Nazi Program to Breed Master Race: Lebensborn Children Break Silence". Der Spiegel (Hamburg). http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,446978,00.html. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
- ^ Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, p 246, ISBN 03-076435-1
- ^ Eddy, Melissa. "Documents Shed Light on Secret Nazi Programmes." May 6, 2007 (AP).
- ^ 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. http://books.google.com/books?id=X9ivwlTAiQkC&pg=PA37. Retrieved August 15 2011.
- ^ a b Fountain of Life. Kate Bissell. BBC Radio 4. 13 Jun 2005. Transcript. Retrieved on 15 Aug 2011.
- ^ Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality (1946). "[Founding of the organization "Lebensborn e.V.", 13 September 1936]". Barrett, Roger W.; Jackson, William E.. eds. Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. 5. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. ISBN pages=465–6. http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/NT_Nazi_Vol-V.pdf. Retrieved Aug 16, 2011.
- ^ http://www.wernigerode.de/WRPortal/Landkreis/Buergerservice/Kreisgeschichte/Lebensborn.htm
- ^ 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
- ^ a b "Stolen Children"
- ^ Trial of Ulrich Greifelt and Others. United Nations War Crimes Commission. Part III
- ^ "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
- ^ Nazi 'master race' children meet, BBC News, November 4, 2006
- Further reading
- 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)
- 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.
- 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 Organisation Within the SS, the Nazi Regime, and Nazi Ideology. The Honors Journal II (1985: 5-23).
- Huston, Nancy, Lignes de faille, Actes Sud, ISBN 2-7609-2606-4, 2006
- Huston, Nancy, Fault Lines, Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-84354-852-2, 2007
- Nazi Program to Breed Master Race, Lebensborn Children Break Silence Spiegel Online International
- 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
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