Nazi SS Leader Heinrich Himmler developed the Lebensborn (meaning Wellspring of Life) Program for the Third Reich. The program, which began in December 1935 and continued until the end of the Second World War, persuaded women of so-called pure blood, to mate with single and married SS Officers and ultimately give birth to blonde, blue-eyed children.
Himmler oversaw the Lebensborn Program throughout its tenure and frequently visited Lebensborn homes. He was arrested as a war criminal when the Second World War ended and killed himself by swallowing a cyanide capsule on May 23, 1945 while he was imprisoned.
10. The Goal of the Program
Beginning in the early 1900s, Germany’s birthrate was in decline. Due to tough economic times, and a shortage of marriage-age men, particularly after Germany’s defeat on November 11, 1918 in the First World War, the use of birth control and women seeking abortions became common practices. By 1933, the birthrate per thousand was only 14.7%.
The Lebensborn Program was a method for the Nazi’s to reverse the birthrate decline and at the same time create a superior Aryan master race, which would dominate Europe as part of German Fuehrer Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich, or Thousand Year Reich. Hitler’s plan was to complete the last third of a trio that included the First Reich (the Holy Roman Empire), and the Second Reich (the Hohenzollern Dynasty), both of which lasted about a thousand years each. As it turned out, the Third Reich only lasted 11 years.
9. Lebensborn Homes Locations
Pregnant women who could prove their children’s Aryan lineage were given special financial support and special treatment by the government. Alternatively, they could leave their children in Lebensborn homes, where the children would receive the best of care and, of course, a Nazi education.
Initially, there were 10 Lebensborn homes and all were located within Germany. The first opened in 1936 in Steinhoering, a small village near Munich.
As World War II raged on and the Nazi’s began to invade and conquer other countries in Europe, it gave Himmler an opportunity to expand the Lebensborn program. Eventually, nine Lebensborn homes were added in Norway, two in Austria and one each in Belgium, Holland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark. Himmler established more than 20 of these Lebensborn institutions altogether.
8. The Kidnappings
The Lebensborn Program was also responsible for the kidnapping of thousands of European children and many of these children were from Poland and Slovenia. Any children who looked Aryan enough were abducted and those who had virtually no Jewish traits were “Germanized”.
On July 25, 1942, Himmler instructed the SS to send children from Slovenia to Germany. 600 children between the ages of six and 12 were given to Lebensborn officials. In his book, Give a Child to the Fuehrer – the Lebensborn Organization, German historian Volker Koop says he found a list of these Slovenian children in a federal archive along with notes from SS Captain George Roedel who marked next to each child’s name “parents shot”.
These “Germanized” children were told that their parents were dead or had abandoned them and they were given new identities, including new names, birth certificates and even fake lineage and were then sent to Germany to live in institutions or with German families. Children two to six years old were sent to Lebensborn homes. The children who could not be “Germanized” were sent to concentration camps.
7. The Fathers
SS Officers needed state consent to marry and this consent depended on the officer’s prospective wife meeting the strict Lebensborn standards.
In 1936, an ordinance was issued advising every SS member that he should father at least four children. Many of the fathers of Lebensborn children were married members of the SS (the Nazi Party’s most feared military unit) with their own families, who had obeyed Himmler’s order to spread their Aryan seed, even out of wedlock. Due to the secrecy of the program, the identities of the fathers were not recorded on birth certificates.
6. The Mothers
If a woman wanted to participate in the Lebensborn Program, she had to have blonde hair and blue eyes, no trace of any genetic disorders and she had to demonstrate her Aryan ancestry, as far back as her grandparents. She also had to prove the identity of the father, who also had to have the proper racial characteristics. Only 40% of the women who applied to join the program actually passed the racial purity test. More than 60% of Lebensborn mothers were unmarried.
The Lebensborn Program had its own registry office system to keep the mother’s and father’s identities a secret and most of these documents were burned at the end of the Second World War.
The Nazi’s believed that women from Norway were perfect for their program, as most were fair-haired with blue eyes. It is estimated that about 50,000 Norwegian women had affairs with German soldiers. They were thought of as German Whores, by other Norwegians and were disciplined with treatments like publicly having their heads shaved, once the war ended. Their children were taken away from them and most never saw them again.
5. The Doctors
Doctors were a vital part of the Lebensborn Program. It is believed that Medical Director Gregor Ebner went to school with and was a close friend of Himmler’s. At the Steinhoering home, he not only supervised the births of 3,000 Lebensborn babies, but also carried out reproduction experiments on many women. Ebner was captured near the end of the Second World War and was tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes. When he died in 1974, he still held firm to his Nazi beliefs.
Hundreds of doctors (and nurses) at Lebensborn homes were there not only to care for the children but to also indoctrinate them as Nazis. They also helped determine whether a child was German enough to be adopted or sent to his or her death in a concentration camp.
4. The Children
About 8,000 Lebensborn children were born in Germany. They were baptized in ritualistic ceremonies involving an SS dagger and their parents (adoptive or otherwise) promising the child’s loyalty to the Nazi cause.
Those children who were left by their single mothers in Lebensborn homes were taken care of by doctors and nurses who were employed by the SS. Many were eventually given to rich Nazi families to rear as their own.
In Norway, between 1940 and 1945, approximately 8,000 to 10,000 Lebensborn babies were born and about half of those were born in Lebensborn institutions. The Nazi Party automatically considered these children German.
3. The Lawsuits
When the Second World War ended and Germany pulled out of Norway, there were thousands of Lebensborn babies who, through no fault of their own, were either unwanted or had been taken away from their mothers, many of whom had been arrested because they’d had children with German soldiers.
Some of these unwanted Lebensborn children from Norway say that they were locked up in state sanctioned institutions, subjected to medical experimentation, sexually abused and made to feel shame because of who they were.
A group of Lebensborn children sued the Norwegian government and some settlements have been made. Norway’s Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik made a public apology for the state’s mistreatment of Lebensborn children on December 31, 1999.
2. Famous Lebensborn Babies
Folker Heinecke, a blonde haired, blue-eyed little boy, was kidnapped from the Crimea in 1942. Himmler was apparently fascinated by him and, as was common among kidnapped Lebensborn babies, had him examined by German doctors to make sure he didn’t show any traces of Judaism.
Adalbert Heinecke, a wealthy and honorary SS member, adopted Folker. During the past 60 years, Folker has searched for his birth parents and was one of the Lebensborn children featured in a 2009 BBC Film called Children of the Master Race.
American actress Marta Kristen was born Bridget Annalisa Rusanen on February 26, 1945. Her mother was from Finland her father was a German soldier. Bridget was only two months old when her mother left her in an orphanage in Oslo, Norway. In 1949, an American couple adopted her and her name was changed to Marta. In l969, Marta found her birth mother, Helmi Rusanen, who was living in Finland. Marta appeared in many television shows, like Dr. Kildare, My Three Sons and Wagon Train in the 1960s and is probably most famous for her starring role as Judy Robinson in Lost in Space.
1. The Most Famous Lebensborn Baby
The most famous Lebensborn child is Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad, a founding member of the Swedish pop group Abba. Born on November 15, 1945, Anni-Frid’s father was a German sergeant named Alfred Haase. After the Second World War ended and afraid of retaliations against those who had any dealings with the Germans during the occupation of Norway, Anni-Frid’s Norwegian mother Synni Lyngstad and her maternal grandmother Arntine Lyngstad, took her and moved to Sweden. Soon after moving to Sweden, Synni died from kidney failure. Her grandmother raised Anni-Frid.
Anni-Frid had been told that her father had died during the war but he had actually survived and was a pastry chef living in Germany. She met Haase for the first time in September 1977. Haase died in 2009.
Bonnie Byrne also writes a regular blog.