The Women Who were Used for Breeding by the Nazis
Among a truly mind boggling number of atrocities the Nazis and their cohorts committed, that even closing in on a century later still have us all collectively occasionally surprised by their extent, is a little talked about program that saw hundreds of thousands of children kidnapped and many thousands more bred by the Nazis for the sole purpose of expanding the so-called ideal Aryan race. While the methods for encouraging such reproduction were numerous, perhaps one of the oddest was the use of thousands of young volunteer women called to do their duty for their country by living in special facilities dedicated to human breeding. Here now is the little told, sad story of the Lebensborn children.
After WWI, let’s just say conditions in Germany weren’t exactly ideal for a variety of reasons. Most pertinent to the topic at hand, birth rates had plummeted some 43% in the decade following the war. Contributing factors included the simple fact that well over 2 million young German men, most of whom were otherwise in the ballpark of prime age for starting families, died as a result of the war to end all wars. Needless to say, this was a problem, especially when combined with the mass and very extreme social stigma surrounding having a child out of wedlock. On this note, it was estimated by the German brass that around this time approximately 800,000 abortions were being performed within the country every year. While most of those weren’t too much of a concern for them, about 100,000 of these abortions were done on women carrying what the Nazis considered “biologically valuable” racial stock- children they wanted to see born, regardless of their parent’s marital status.
To attempt to begin to solve this baby making issue, Hitler and his cronies strongly encouraged the women of the country who fit a certain profile to get hitched and get busy letting their men shampoo the wookiee until the woman attached to said wookiee contained a Nazi fetal parasite. To encourage this, on August 12, 1938, Hitler instituted the Mutterehrenkreuz, which we’re pretty sure, as ever along with the Dutch, is just the Germans all poking fun at us by randomly mashing their fingers on the keyboard and then claiming to the non-German speaking world said combination of letters is actually a word… In this case meaning “Mother’s Cross of Honour”. We’re on to you my German and Dutch speaking friends.
But in any event, the point of this award was to encourage married German women of proper background to get busy between the sheets and pop out babies like some sort of human MG-3 Machine Gun. Towards this end, there were three well known classes of awards, bronze, silver, and gold. There also are references to a fourth level here that included diamonds placed on the swastika of the medal, but what the qualifications to get this one were isn’t known. Other than there is one woman who received it who had managed to give birth to an astounding 16 babies. As for the gold, this was for women who had at least 7 children. Women who gave birth to 6 got a silver, and the bronze went to women who had five babies.
As for the other general requirements, both parents had to be German and otherwise deemed of good Aryan stock. The mother had to be deemed “worthy” of the award via exemplifying various traits they deemed made a good mother and woman. And finally, all the babies had to have survived being born.
Beyond the medal itself, recipients of it were also given various privileges and honors, in some ways very much akin to honoring the country’s soldiers. For example, any member of the Hitler Youth organization was trained to salute any recipient of the Mother’s Cross. On top of this, one account from the book Youth-Glossary National Socialism- Terminology from the era of dictatorship 1933-1945 notes, “…they were always given the best of everything: housing, food, clothing, and schooling for their children. Old people even had to give up their seats on the bus or streetcar. They were treated like royalty with the greatest respect. No standing in line for them. At the butcher’s shop the best cuts of meat would go into their baskets.”
Noteworthy here is that a recipient of the award could also lose it later if they were found to have neglected their children in some way, cheated on their husbands, or otherwise stopped exhibiting the traits of the then ideal of a mid-20th century German woman and mother.
But this was just one piece of a multi-faceted plan to increase birth rates within the country among those the Nazis wanted breeding. Enter head of the SS Heinrich Himmler who, besides being one of the principal architects of the holocaust, in his spare time came up with the idea of encouraging young women to be used as breeding stock for his SS soldiers then take their babies from them and give them to good Aryan homes… He also thought it would be just a smashing idea to kidnap other peoples babies with the ones deemed racially valuable sent to good German homes and the rest murdered or experimented on brutally. Because, Himmler’s gotta Himmler.
As to the breeding side and why he chose SS members, Himmler had cultivated people in the SS who, in his view, were only of ideal Aryan stock. He stated of this, “like a nursery gardener trying to reproduce a good old strain which has been adulterated and debased; we started from the principles of plant selection and then proceeded quite unashamedly to weed out the men whom we did not think we could use for the build-up of the SS.”
Ironically, the man at the top, Himmler, did not actually meet his own qualifications here, but we digress…
Towards this end, in 1931 he even required any SS wishing to marry and start a family to produce documents proving their family tree going all the way back to 1800, with every member on that tree needing to be of Aryan descent. If they could not produce proof of this, they were given the boot from the SS. Those and their prospective spouses who fit the bill were then encouraged to have a minimum of four children.
But in any event, after such vetting, Himmler had his stock of their view of the ideal men. Now he just needed the women and babies… Enter the Lebensborn e.V (essentially “Fount of Life Association”), which was founded on December 12, 1935.
Outlining what the organization was all about, on September 13, 1936, Himmler penned the following to his SS concerning the Lebensborn and its goals, to “support racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families with many children. Placement and care of racially, 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. Care for the children. Care for the children’s mothers.” He also noted, “It is the honorable duty of all leaders of the central bureau to become members of the organisation ‘Lebensborn e.V.’.
As a perk of all this, wives of the SS could use the Lebensborn for its birthing facilities and other such pregnancy aid, but it was also open to any women who were pregnant, whether out of wedlock or not, so long as they were of good racial stock and their baby would likewise be likely to be. As previously alluded to, this was seen as a way to help put a stop to the common practice of aborting babies born out of wedlock, at least, so long as they were of proper racial background. On this note, approximately 60% of the women who took advantage of the Lebensborn were unmarried.
But all that wasn’t producing the birth rates the brass desired, so they decided to become a little more proactive in two ways. First, to attempt to begin recruiting young women willing to breed with members of the SS more or less anonymously. And, later, also to kidnap children of conquered lands who fit what they were looking for.
We’ll get to the mass child kidnappings and murder, as well as Kinder KZ, the concentration camp for children, in a bit. But, for now, let’s talk specifically about the breeding program. Enter Hildegard Trutz to tell us all about it from her personal experience.
Trutz was a dyed in the wool Nazi supporter and a product of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (Band of German Maidens). She states, much like many of her countrymen, “I was mad about Adolf Hitler and our new better Germany.”
It’s noteworthy here that Trutz was also a picture of the blond hair, blue eyed Aryan ideal. She also states, “I was pointed out as the perfect example of the Nordic woman, for besides my long legs and my long trunk, I had the broad hips and pelvis built for child-bearing.”
And so it was that in 1936, freshly out of school and ready to face the world, Trutz didn’t really know what to do with herself. It was at this point her Bund Deutscher Mädel leader suggested, “Why not give the Führer a child? What Germany needs more than anything is racially valuable stock.”
The Lebensborn program was then outlined to her and that once her background was thoroughly vetted, she could be used as a breeding partner for SS Officers. And that during the program her needs would be taken care of and she’d otherwise be contributing to her country in a significant way.
She later stated of this, “It sounded wonderful.” So as not to concern her parents, she told them she would be going to take a course in National Socialism and be living at the facility. That facility, as it turns out, was located in a castle in Bavaria where she resided with a few dozen other girls who had likewise been thoroughly vetted. As for this process, she states it was mostly just showing proof of Aryan ancestry through to your great-grandparents on both sides of your family. She also stated, “The whole place was in the charge of a professor, a high-up SS doctor, who examined each of us very thoroughly as soon as we arrived. We had to make a statutory declaration that there had never been any cases of hereditary diseases, dipsomania or imbecility in our family.” Also noteworthy here is that the girls were made to sign an agreement that any children they had during their time in the program would be property of the state, and sent to institutions to be taught Nazi ideaology before being given to suitable families.
The girls were kept in relative luxury with facilities for basically anything they wanted, even a movie theater. Trutz stated of this, “The food was the best I have ever tasted; we didn’t have to work and there were masses of servants.” As to the men they were made to socialize with, she states, “They were all very tall and strong with blue eyes and blond hair…. We were given about a week to pick the man we liked and we were told to see to it that his hair and eyes corresponded exactly to ours… When we had made our choice, we had to wait until the tenth day after the beginning of the last period.”
Noteworthy here is that neither side was to ever know the real names of each other for total anonymity. Also noteworthy is that the SS officers involved were not just single men, but a mix of married and not, chosen for their supposed ideal attributes to be the male half of breeding stock for the nation and race. Once the assigned tenth day after the woman’s period came, they were examined medically and then told to invite the future father of their child to their room for some spicy time.
She states of that, “As both the father of my child and I believed completely in the importance of what we were doing, we had no shame or inhibitions of any kind.” She also noted her boytoy was incredibly attractive, but seemed remarkably dumb. But nevertheless, for three nights running they got it on, and he also got it on with other girls in the castle who chose him as well, intermixed in there at the same time. And so it was that Trutz soon found herself knocked up.
Once it was confirmed she was pregnant, she was taken to a maternity home to bake her baby. As to the actual birthing, she states, “It was not an easy birth, for no good German woman would think of having any artificial aids, such as injections to deaden the pain, like they had in the degenerate Western democracies.”
She was then allowed to keep her baby for two whole weeks before he was taken and she never saw him again.
Apparently not at all traumatized by this, after, she considered signing up for another go, but soon met an officer in the real world and married him instead. She states of telling him of what she had done for her country, she was “rather surprised to find that he was not as pleased about it as he might have been…” Nevertheless, he did acknowledge that she had just been doing her duty, so let it go.
Unfortunately for her baby and the approximately 8,000-20,000 others produced this way (by the way about 30 million short of the overall program’s original one generation goal), while she never found out what happened to him, if like pretty much all other known Lebensborn children, after the war his life was probably not super awesome as we’ll get into shortly.
In any event, while all of this seems morally questionable enough, at the least, it appears for the most part the adults involved were all there of their own volition. While maybe not ideal for some, and certainly not for the babies produced, the adults, at least, don’t appear to have been forced into anything in most cases. Caveats like that plenty of SS men and the like did have babies with foreign women in conquered lands, which sometimes were considered of good enough stock and in some cases also taken, which brings us to another facet of the Lebensborn program.
As mentioned, as the breeding facilities just weren’t churning out enough babies, it was deemed advisable to simply kidnap children from lands the Germans had conquered who seemed to fit the bill of good Aryan stock.
As Himmler would state of this, “Obviously in such a mixture of peoples, there will always be some racially good types. Therefore, I think that it is our duty to take their children with us, to remove them from their environment, if necessary by robbing, or stealing them. Either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people… or we destroy that blood.”
He also noted of the whole thing, they should “raise [the children]… in proper educational facilities or in German family care. The children must not be older than eight or ten years, because only till this age we can truly change their national identification, that is “final Germanization”. A condition for this is complete separation from any… relatives. Children will be given German names, their ancestry will be led by special office.”
While these children could come from just about anywhere, Poland, as happened in many aspects of the war both at the hands of the Nazis and later the Soviets, got the short end of the stick, with an astounding estimate of upwards of 200,000 children taken there, eclipsing that of anywhere else.
These kids were put en masse on trains to various locations for processing, with it noted that providing sustenance to the children wasn’t exactly a high priority and thousands died before arriving at their destination.
Besides sometimes being sent to more remembered today places like Auschwitz, there was also a camp called Kinder KZ- a concentration camp built for the littles, specifically Polish littles, where the children were variously made to work as child labourers, some as young as just 2 years old by the way, and others experimented on or otherwise murdered.
As to the exact processing of the children taken, those who seemed like they might be of good stock were sent to Kindererziehungslager (“children’s education camps”) where a process of “quality selection” was utilized, examining not just the children’s apparent racial background, but also the littles being subjected to various medical and psychological exams, and then assigned an overall score for their desirability, with even things like the shape of their skull or the presence of and size of birthmarks considered. They were then ultimately divided into three groups, desired, acceptable, and undesired.
From here, depending on their score they were then sent off to anywhere from an SS family to a boarding school or orphanage to a concentration camp. As for the “biologically valuable” children, they were subsequently indoctrinated with the Nazi ideology, given a new German name and made to learn and speak German, with rather harsh penalties if they failed or resisted too much in any of this, even to the point of shipping them off to a concentration camp if they didn’t toe the line. For the lucky ones, it also appears the story given to the children about why they were now living with a new family was simply that their parents had died.
As for those undesirables, an account from Auschwitz on a few hundred of their fate notes that they were given lethal phenol injections, and that, “…they did not wait until the doomed… really died. During his agony, he was taken from both sides under the armpits and thrown into a pile of corpses in another room… And the next victim took his place on the stool.”
Going back to the aftermath of the war and what happened the Lebensborn children, as the war was winding down and the Nazi defeat imminent, records of where many of these children came from and, indeed, just general information about the program itself were largely destroyed before the Allies could get their hands on them.
This, unfortunately, meant that many of the hundreds of thousands of children who were kidnapped or the product of the state breeding program had no real way to be reconnected to their real families, with only about 10% ultimately doing so. On top of that, even for those who could be reunited, this was often yet another traumatic thing in their young lives, as many had spent several years with their new families and sometimes had little, if any, memory of their former lives and parents or relatives. Thus, ripped from their homes yet again against their wills.
That said, some did have somewhat happy endings, such as one Gisela Heidenriech, whose mother was a secretary for the Lebensborn program and had an affair with an SS Officer while there, ultimately giving birth within the program, but allowed to keep her daughter. While Gisela endured people calling her an “SS bastard” after the war, she was eventually able to reunite with her father, and for her part compartmentalized who he was and what he had done, simply stating, “When I first met him it was on a station platform. I ran into his arms and all I thought was “I’ve got a father.”
As previously alluded to, just as bad were the children of the breeding programs, particularly in places like Norway and Germany itself, were largely shunned and they and their parents stigmatized, with reports of the women variously being occasionally beaten, having their hair shaved off forcibly, and otherwise communities doing everything possible to run them out of town. Beyond this program, really any child of a German soldier to a foreign mother during their respective occupations were painted in the same negative light.
In Norway where there were an estimated 12,000 such children born, with some of the children placed in mental institutions after the war, along with attempts to forcibly ship them off to other countries. Being bullied and abused also seems to have been the order of the day, much like often happened to their mothers. Some escaped this oppression by leaving Norway. perhaps most famously a little girl by the name of Anni-Frid Lyngstad.
Her mother, Synni Lyngstad, was just 19 when she had a child with a German sergeant, Aldred Haase. At the closing of the war, Haase fled home to Germany and the teen Synni was seen as a collaborator for having had a child with a German soldier. To escape their treatment in Norway, Anni-Frid’s grandmother, Arntine, took her to Sweden, with Synni joining them not long after, though dying of kidney failure at the tender age of just 21. Fast-forward just under two decades later and that little girl grew up to be one of the lead singers of the band Abba.
Noteworthy here in the early 2000s, some of the Lebensborn children took their case against the Norwegian government to the European Courts of Human Rights for the government’s alleged part in their mistreatment, and, while losing the case, in the end were nonetheless offered money in settlement.
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