Lebensborn means source of life. During the Nazi era, it meant tearing families apart and traumatizing children.
The birth rate had been falling for decades in Germany. The Nazis determined to reverse the trend. They rewarded mothers who gave birth to large families. Advertising for birth control was banned, as was abortion. Still, the population didn’t increase sufficiently.
In their effort of creating the ideal Aryan race, the Nazis combed through the children in conquered nations and stole 300,000 “racially valuable” children. Most came from Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Examiners measured blond, blue-eyed children for head size and body size, making sure they had no Jewish aspects. Those determined as capable of being Germanized were sent to Lebensborn homes in Germany. From there, they were given to adoptive or foster parents.
Heinrich Himmler headed the Lebensborn program and organized his paramilitary Schutzstaffel (SS) to be the vanguard of Aryan supermen. He encouraged them to have children with racially pure women, whether or not they were married.
The pregnant women could apply to give birth in a Lebensborn home, after which their children were often parceled out to adoptive families. While in the homes, the children were allowed little contact with their mothers, who were discouraged from talking to or cuddling their children. For all of them, their lifestyle was severe, to produce strong, ruthless future Aryan leaders. They needed love but got discipline.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad of the Swedish pop group ABBA is the child of a Norwegian mother and German soldier father. After her birth in November, 1945, her mother and grandmother were branded as traitors and ostracized in the Northern Norway village. They emigrated to Sweden, where Anni-Frid’s mother died of kidney failure before her daughter was two.
In the postwar years, many birth families searched for their missing children. Sometimes they were found and sent back. For young children with no memories of home, this was more traumatizing than the original kidnapping. All traces of their former lives and language were erased. They spoke only German, and returned to a country where all things German were hated. Even those who lived with their birth mothers found their mothers unwilling to reveal the truth about their fathers.
These children had been kidnapped or bred to be racially pure, strong, confident leaders of the master race. Instead, they often suffered low self-esteem and uncertainty about who they were. The Lebensborn program was a colossal tragedy.
Recommended Reading: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: A True Story of the Lebensborn Program and One Woman’s Search for Her Real Identity by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate.