Lebensborn e.V. (literally: "Fount of Life") was a Nazi association that sought to raise the birth rate in Germany 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.
Lebensborn commenced in Germany in 1935, having been founded by Heinrich Himmler, and 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.
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, and Norway — 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, in full view of the parents. The kidnapped children were administered several tests and were categorised into three groups:
The children classified as unwanted were taken to concentration camps to work or were killed. The children from the other groups, if between the ages of 2 and 6, were placed with families in the programme to be brought up by them in a kind of foster-child status. Children of 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 a concentration camp.
- those considered desirable to be included into the German population,
- those who were acceptable, and
- the unwanted.
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.
Help, recognition, and justice for Lebensborn survivors have been varied.
In Norway, children born to Norwegian mothers by 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, but they were each offered a £8,000 token from the Norwegian government.
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 music group ABBA. Her father was a sergeant in the Wehrmacht, and her mother was Norwegian; to escape persecution after the war, her 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.
Christening of a Lebensborn child, c 1936
A Nazi nurse shares the light rays as scientists try vainly to lighten the hair coloring of Super Race children
A Lebensborn birth house.
Another birth house.
“Germanized” children were given a new name, new birth certificate, falsified genealogy and shipped into Germany to live in institutions or be adopted into German families.
The Nazis also encouraged more prolific breeding among the desirable class. The ideal was four children, so “eugenically desirable” parents (blond Aryans) were offered a federal subsidy to have children, given out in increments of 25%. To get the full subsidy, one needed to have four (blond) children, as seen in this ideal family above.