Berlin, Germany April 11, 1940

On this date in 1940 Reichsfuerhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the second-most power­ful man in Nazi Germany, appointed SS-Standarten­fuehrer (Colonel) Max Soll­mann to be managing director of the Lebens­born Program (German, Lebens­born e.V), which was heavily in debt. It was Himm­ler, head of the Schutz­staffel (commonly abbre­vi­ated to SS), who founded Lebens­born, meaning “Fount of Life,” on Decem­ber 12, 1935, in the Bava­rian capital of Munich. Lebens­born’s two-prong mission: reverse the decline in Germany’s birth rate, which had shrunk to less than half the 1900 figure. And just as impor­tantly, it was to promote Nazi eugenics, the racially based set of beliefs and prac­tices that aimed to improve the gene­tic quality, or racial hygiene, of the nation’s Aryan, or Nordic, popu­la­tion whose virtues, in the popu­lar imag­i­na­tion, included good health, high intel­li­gence, and noble char­acter. Lebens­born was attached to the Reich­­fuerhrer-SS’s per­sonal staff (Haupt­amt Persoen­licher Stab Reichs­fuehrer-SS) and was closely over­seen by Himmler him­self, who gave the office broad respon­si­bility for certain family wel­fare programs. At the same time Lebens­born, a regis­tered asso­ci­a­tion (denoted by the “e.V.” in its legal name) and charity (Wohl­fahrts­organi­za­tion), con­ferred finan­cial and other bene­fits on its mem­bers. In 1939 Lebens­born member­ship stood at 8,000, of which 3,500 were SS leaders.

Adding to widespread worries about falling birth rates as well as the desire to cleanse the nation’s gene pool of con­geni­tal cog­ni­tive and physi­cally dis­abled people, lumped into the cate­gory of “life unworthy of life” (German, “Lebens­un­wertes Leben”), was the rising number of abor­tions per­formed in Germany (600,000 annually in an undated letter Himmler addressed to Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the German Armed Forces High Com­mand. Nazis needed more chil­dren from “the best sections of German society” (Himmler’s words) if Germany was to accom­plish twin national goals: (1) wresting Lebens­raum (living space) from resources-rich coun­tries to its east (namely, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) pur­portedly popu­lated by inferior races (minde­rwertige Rassen), and (2) estab­lishing Aryan supre­macy over the whole of Europe. Racially pure Aryan boys needed to be born to grow up and join the Wehr­macht (German armed forces) and equally pure Aryan girls were needed to give birth to the next generation of über-soldiers.

The Lebensborn Program provided three SS-funded ser­vices to the Third Reich: it ran mater­nity hos­pitals where preg­nant women, married or unmarried, could give birth to their babies and receive the best medi­cal care; it launched a selec­tive breeding pro­gram designed to create babies for the Vater­land pro­duced by men and women of certi­fi­able “German blood,” i.e., Deutsch­bluetige, as attested to in a person’s Arier­nach­weis (Aryan Cer­tif­i­cate) or Ahnen­pass (Ancestor Pass); and it estab­lished places to raise and indoc­tri­nate chil­dren who had Aryan-Nordic fea­tures after they had been snatched from their families in the eastern-occupied countries and transported to Germany.

In 1936 the first Lebensborn-Heim, named “Hochland,” opened in Stein­hoering, a small village roughly 25 miles east of Munich. Even­tu­ally the Lebens­born Program would estab­lish more than 25 homes across Europe: 10 Lebens­born homes in Germany, where about 8,000 chil­dren were born, 9 homes in Norway, where over 6,000 were born, 2 homes in Austria, and one home each in Belgium, France, and Luxem­bourg. Two homes, one in Den­mark and the other in Nether­lands, were never used. Sadly, after the war the off­spring of German fathers and non-German mothers were fre­quently ostra­cized and verbally, physically, or even sexually abused for years on end.

Creating the Herrenvolk (Master Race) by Genetic Selection

Lebensborn Program: Mothers and childrenLebensborn Program: Germans kidnapping Polish children, late 1942 to early 1943

Left: To qualify for the Lebensborn Program, potential mothers had to prove that they were pure (rein­rassig) Aryans going back for at least three gen­er­a­tions on their mother’s and father’s sides. This obstacle pre­vented some 60 per­cent of the appli­cants from being accepted. Women con­ceived their off­spring and spent their preg­nan­cies in Lebens­born homes. The homes acted as a kind of state-sponsored brothel that encouraged sex between single and married SS men and suit­able Aryan women. Men bedded multi­ple part­ners during week­long visits. Ideal genes to pass on to offs­pring were those that pro­duced tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and blond-haired chil­dren—the Nordic look. Women renounced all claims to their new­born chil­dren, who, at two weeks, would be placed by the state in special houses and settle­ments or given to qualifying families to be raised.

Right: Kidnapping Polish children on direct orders from Heinrich Himm­ler during the German ethnic cleansing opera­tion in Zamość county in the Lublin region of South­eastern Poland. Zamość was chosen as the first area for German colo­ni­za­tion under the General­plan Ost (Master Plan for the East). Over 100,000 Poles were rounded up and expelled from the region between Novem­ber 1942 and July 1943 to make way for incoming fami­lies of Reich Germans and ethnic Germans from out­side the Reich (Volksdeutsche). Some of the kidnapped chil­dren aged 6 to 10 doubt­less ended up in Himmler’s Lebens­born Program. During the war the Nazis abducted between 200,000 and 400,000 chil­dren from all over Europe thought to possess “racially valu­able” traits. More than half those abducted came from German-occupied Poland, while Ukraine, Hun­gary, Romania, Czecho­slo­va­kia, Esto­nia, Latvia, and Yugo­slavia con­trib­uted their share. Favor­ite hunting grounds of SS kid­nappers were orphan­ages and schools. SS doctors made the final deter­mi­na­tion after the captured children were racially eval­u­ated against 62 phy­sical char­ac­ter­is­tics (eye and hair color, shape of head and nose, height, skin color, etc.), passed a medical exam, and per­formed well during psycho­log­i­cal testing. The victims were then forci­bly “Ger­man­ized” (Kinder­ein­deutschung) in Lebens­born Kinder­er­ziehungs­lager (chil­dren’s edu­ca­tion camps), given Aryan iden­ti­fies with false birth cer­tif­i­cates proving they were native-born Germans, sent to state boarding schools if they were between 6 and 12, and put up for adop­tion by suit­able Reichs­deutsche (German) fami­lies.

Lebensborn Program: Lebensborn home, nurse, SS flag, 1943 Lebensborn Program: Letter to prospective family, 1943

Left: A Schwester (nurse) and her charges in an unnamed Lebensborn home, 1943.

Right: Letter dated Munich, December 18, 1943, from a Lebens­born office to Herr Karl Mueller in Langen­feld, Germany, informing him that two boys had been found for the family and inviting him to choose one of them. The boys’ names in the letter had already been Germanized to Sepp Piehl, age 6, and Eugen Bartel, age 8. Because the Nazis falsi­fied birth certif­i­cates of Lebens­born chil­dren and records of kid­napped chil­dren were destroyed in the final stages of the war, less than 15 per­cent of Lebens­born children were ever reunited with their bio­log­i­cal families. Some German families refused to give back their adopted chil­dren, and in some instances the chil­dren them­selves found it too pain­ful to be uprooted to return to their orig­i­nal family. Of the chil­dren who were reunited with their bio­log­i­cal families, many were trau­ma­tized by embracing a “new” family and adopting a “foreign” life­style. A few children even today con­tinue searching gene­al­ogi­cal data­bases for infor­ma­tion on their biological parents.

Ten Interesting Details About the Lebensborn Program