For the Nazis, the ability of “Aryan” women to give birth was a prime directive. Low birth rates pushed them to desperate measures, including mass kidnapping.
Imagine, if you can, the harsh reality of war and occupation. You’re a child – just a tiny girl in a rural part of Norway. But you’re not a “true” Norwegian because, though your mother is a fair-skinned, blue-eyed daughter of Norway, you were fathered during the war by a member of the occupying army, a German. Your mother wasn’t raped, but you might be less ostracized if she had been. At least then you’d all have the same enemy.
Instead, you’re what the locals call one of the Tyskerbarn, children bred and kept in relative comfort by the Germans during the World War II occupation. But in 1945, when the Nazis fell, these children and their mothers were shunned, expelled, and rejected from their communities, branded “collaborators,” with the evidence of it literally in their arms. Many were intensely bullied, some even placed in homes for the mentally ill. A few others, luckier, were able to escape their surroundings.
The end of the war didn’t solve any problems for these abandoned mothers. Rather than being honored as the symbol of Aryan motherhood, their lives were made miserable. As millions cheered the end of German rule, the collapse of the Nazi’s dreams came down especially hard on these deserted “harbingers” of the New Order. Forgiveness might not have been possible under the circumstances, but one can still imagine those mothers and their Tyskerbarn having wondered how it had come to this.
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German authorities, both before and during the Nazi era, were concerned about the great loss of young men during the blood-letting of the First World War. Catastrophically for the country, more than 2 million German men died in the conflict. After the war, between 1920 and 1932, Germany’s birth rate fell by 43 percent, a dramatic drop. But how would Germany effect a significant repopulation of its citizenry?
When Adolph Hitler and his closest confidants, including Schutzstaffel (SS) head Heinrich Himmler, grabbed the reins of power in 1933, they were fixated on shepherding a “master race” into supreme power – politically, militarily, and demographically. Their plan to repopulate the Fatherland was far-reaching. It would delve deeply into the most intimate details of private citizens’ lives, both in Germany and, as the war progressed, in occupied countries.
The first major step toward the Nazis’ depraved aspiration was to separate “true” Germans from minority populations. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were implemented. Under cover of legality, these policies codified wide-spread separation and oppression of Jews and other non-Aryans, as well as political opponents, the mentally ill, and homosexuals. There is a through-line of inevitability from these laws to the genocidal horrors of the Final Solution.
But among lesser known consequences, these laws also permitted the Nazi state to become a veritable sex investigation machine. People were instructed not to have sexual relations outside their “race,” marriages between Aryans and non-Aryans were forbidden, and “undesirables” (for racial or health reasons) were to be sterilized to prevent them from reproducing. It was a monstrous imposition of inhuman values into a society of more than 60 million. But the Nazis were by no means done.
Illnesses that flagged a person for forced sterilization included such conditions as alcoholism, feeblemindedness, and schizophrenia. In this period, some 400,000 Germans were sterilized. In addition to illness, race and ethnicity were factors in determining who went under the knife. Groups affected included many Eastern European populations such as the Serbs, Poles, and Slavs, as well as mixed-race persons and the disabled.
Over just a few years, the noose tightened. It was in 1939 that systematic mass killing started. Hitler chose to call it “mercy killing,” though there was no mercy given. Homes for the disabled and mentally ill were systematically emptied, their inmates transported to newly constructed gas chambers for the efficient murder and disposal of the undesirables. And, as we know all too well, from the ghettos and shtetls of Central and Eastern Europe came the trainloads of Jews and other “undesirables” to be exterminated by the millions.
Members of the League of German Girls, gymnastics performance, 1941.
While the separation – and ultimate mass murder – of “inferior” peoples proceeded down one track, the Nazis simultaneously implemented elements of their plan literally to seed Germany with children who would become the vanguard of the Master Race. To this end, two complementary organizations for boys and girls were created.
Most people with even superficial knowledge of Nazi history are aware of the Hitler Youth. This male-dominated organization represented the Aryan ideal of blond hair and blue eyes, preparing boys for their later service in a militaristic future.
The organization for young girls is less well-known. Germany’s League of German Girls, also known in translation as the Band of German Maidens, aimed to produce perfect Aryan females, ready for the esteemed position of mothers in the future Nazi state. The development of acceptable girls would be carefully overseen as they grew into their highest ordained role – to receive SS-approved sperm from acceptable men and to deliver their infants into the hands of the state for nurturing.
These “racially valuable,” physically healthy, fair-haired female children were favored in the Third Reich. Their passage to the next level of development by the Nazi state reveals the dark rot at the heart of this so-called elevation of women and mothers.
Once girls matured to their child-bearing years, they became eligible to enroll in the Reich’s “fecundity encouragement” program. If they were accepted, by proving their Aryan-ness back to their great-grandparents and passing a detailed medical exam, they were welcomed to live in a special group home environment where they were made available to meet SS officers, whether married or not. This arrangement was, in essence, the heart of the Nazis’ Lebensborn organization.
There were 10 Lebensborn homes in Germany, and even more in Nazi-occupied territories. The furnishings in these homes were quite lavish, as they were generally appropriated from the homes of Jews whose property had been forfeited to the Nazis.
Lebensborn, literally translated as “fount of life” or “spring of life,” was Heinrich Himmler’s fiendish program to achieve numerous objectives through this single organization spread throughout Germany and its occupied lands. Ostensibly, the primary objective of Lebensborn was to counter the high rate of abortions among “racially valuable” women, especially unmarried ones.
Lebensborn’s group homes were places of comfort and recuperation from the rigors of pregnancy, as well as another opportunity for the participants to meet eligible SS men. The women were afforded the highest quality of medical care available in the Reich, and were allowed to actively participate in the program as frequently as once per year.
Inevitably, the mission of the Lebensborn organization started to broaden. If providing a safe alternative to abortion was a preliminary goal, a complementary goal was to encourage the fertility of young, healthy Aryan and Nordic damsels. To foster this, homes became available not only to pregnant wives of SS officers but also to unmarried, unattached women who could be convinced to mate with SS men and hand over their newborns to be raised by the state.
Lebensborn homes were officially places for married wives of SS brass to give birth. Still, according to statistics from the era, of the 8,000 Lebensborn children born in German birthing centers, 60 percent of their mothers were unmarried at the time of birth.
Interested women, including girls brought up in the Band of German Maidens, were subjected to rigorous testing, and a mere 40 percent of young women who applied to the program were accepted as both “racially pure” and physically healthy. The young women, some barely past puberty, were instructed to select a potential mate whose hair and eye coloring matched their own. If the authorities approved, this newly minted couple was offered private time for fraternization and fertilization.
A Lebensborn birth house. (Image Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-010-11 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Often, due to the occasional rarity of male partners, some SS members reported having more than one assignation per day. This was all in line with Nazi objectives to build an omnipotent “race” of “supermen.” Himmler ordered all SS members to “spread their Aryan seed even out of wedlock.” Hitler agreed, chiming in that so-called racially “valuable” men “should reproduce extra generously.”
And what of the women? The Lebensborn mothers had all pledged their honor to the state, along with the fruit of their wombs. Their loyalty was their bond. Some mothers, especially in occupied areas such as Norway (where there were 12,000 Lebensborn children born) were allowed to keep and raise their own children. But most were assigned to SS group homes or to individual SS families, for the process of Germanization. Through that indoctrination, the children were forced to learn German and to pledge their loyalty to Nazi ideals. (Dropouts from the program were sent to concentration camps for forced labor and eventual death.)
Himmler and Hitler shared a goal of adding as many as 30 million Aryans to Germany’s population within a generation. Given that lofty yet absurd aim, the results of the program, which produced a total of approximately 8,000 Lebensborn children born in Germany during the Nazi reign, were a disappointment.
So the Nazi leaders doubled down. If they couldn’t get the numbers up through “normal” means of encouraged reproduction, then literally stealing children from occupied countries for evaluation and eventual Germanization would be the diabolical idea to move their aims forward.
Why did they do this? And how? First, the Nazi brain trust, such as it was, had managed to convince itself that some ethnic communities had enough Aryan blood coursing through their veins to support the “harvesting” of some children who would thrive in a Germanic home. Second, they had so terrorized occupied lands that the German military could roll into towns and villages, demand that the young people gather, and then forcibly march them to secure sites for the initial separation into “salvageable” children and “undesirables.” And as you can imagine, the undesirables found themselves shunted to medical facilities for experimentation, to concentration camps, and to mass death sites.
The Nuremberg Trials declared that this program was genocide committed against, among others, the Poles, who lost thousands of young children. Of all the forced removals of young people, and estimates range as high as 100,000, only about 25,000 children were able to be reunited with their birth parents after the Nazis were defeated.
Naturally, a program this dark could not stand the light of day once Hitler was vanquished and Germany and its satellite states liberated. There was a frantic rush among the Lebensborn staff to destroy all records related to the program. What we know was uncovered by Allied interrogation and the reminiscences of the many children and mothers scarred by this macabre program. Especially in occupied nations such as Norway, mothers who had given birth to a Lebensborn child were shunned, their hair often shorn to mark them as collaborators.
Perhaps more tragically, the children themselves were treated even worse. Once hailed as the future of the Reich, these children outside Germany were frequently accused of being genetically inferior; ironically, many were confined to mental institutions for the social crime of being part German.
It is hard to underestimate the damage done to so many children – and adults – by the Nazi’s insane German repopulation scheme. One little girl did manage to survive, later to thrive. Remember the little Norwegian girl trapped with her mother in a cycle of bullying and repression? The pair slipped out of their home country and into Sweden where, 17 years later, the little girl, Anni-Frid, was to become better known throughout the world as Frida, one of the two main vocalists of musical supergroup Abba.
Kevin Martin is Senior Writer with MagellanTV. He writes on a wide variety of topics, including outer space, the fine arts, and history. He has had a long career as a journalist and communications specialist with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. He resides in Glendale, California.
Title Image: Members of the League of German Girls. (Credit: uncensoredhistory.blogspot.com)
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