Lebensborn: literally “spring of life”.
I have written a little about this elsewhere but have been reminded of it again after watching World on Fire on BBC 1. The story is all a little disjointed especially about Lebensborn but I was glad to have remembered it.
I’m not intending to write a book about it as part of the Schellberg cycle but I may well write one at a later date in my historical fiction series. It will be a while; after Schellberg 7 I have three books planned set in a slightly earlier era.
Lebensborn was established on 12 December 1935. It looked at first like an innocent organisation that cared for unmarried mothers. Heinrich Himmler was in charge. Medical Director Gregor Ebener oversaw 3000 births at the Steinhoering home. He was a close friend of Himmler’s. But already it becomes more sinister; he also carried out reproduction experiments on many women. The doctors at the home not only cared for the women and babies but also had to carry on with Nazi propaganda. Fourteen homes were established in Germany and Austria.
You can see a brochure for the Lebensbron programme here: https://perspectives.ushmm.org/item/brochure-for-the-lebensborn-program
The Lebesnborn children were extremely healthy. The homes contained fantastic facilities for mothers and babies. The regime looked after them well but after the war the mothers and children were often ostracised.
There was a decline in the population after the Great War. Marriage
prospects for German women once World War II had started were slim. Lebensbron offered
an opportunity for maternity. Unmarried mothers could seek sanctuary at a home.
Hitler declared that “it shall be forbidden to despise a child born out of
wedlock”. As well, Hitler expected every
family to produce four children. German girls were prepared for motherhood in some
of their BDM activities. We may marvel that Hitler did not marry – expect just before
he committed suicide in the bunker - or produce children. Was he afraid of his
own impurity? There was some history of mental illness in his family. There are
rumours also that
he was impotent and had some Jewish ancestry.
For a young woman to be admitted to a Lebensbron home her racial purity had to go back at least three generations. If the mother didn’t want to bring up the child it would be adopted or more precisely given to a “caretaker”. The homes were attractive but not all that easy to get into; only about 40% of the women who applied got a place there.
The Nuremberg trials later found out that many children were kidnapped between 1939 and 1945 if they had the right Aryan qualities
This eventually became part of the Nazi programme about furthering the Master race. It involved matching good Aryan girls with smart German officers. We may raise our eyebrows at Margret Attwood’s Gilead but this is just as horrific, if not more so. Every German soldier was encouraged to father a child before going to war.
An unpleasant side effect of this programme was the increase in the occurrences of venereal disease.
There was also a problem of what to do with these children at the end of the war. Homes had been established in other countries. In Norway for example, they decided to carry on caring for the children. This led to a lot of resentment amongst the ordinary population that was still trying to recover from the war. 12,000 Lebensborn children were born in Norway compared with 8000 in Germany. Anni-Frid Lyngstad, member of ABBA, is a Lebensborn child. She and her mother and grandmother moved to Sweden, where her mother died of kidney failure. She was raised by her grandmother. In 2018 Prime Minister Erna Solberg offered an apology to the mothers and children for the way they had been treated.
Mothers who chose to keep their child also chose not to tell them the truth about their birth and made ups stories about a father that had left them or who died in the war.