Lebensborn was introduced into Nazi Germany in December 1935. Lebensborn was part of the Nazi belief in a ‘Master Race’ – the creation of a superior race that would dominate Europe as part of Hitler’s ‘Thousand Year Reich’. The initial success experienced by the Germans in World War Two gave the regime the opportunity to expand Lebensborn throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
The idea of creating a ‘Master Race’ was supported by Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and one of Hitler’s closest confidantes. Lebensborn was Himmler’s idea. Lebensborn – meaning the ‘Fountain of Life’ – was meant to provide Nazi Germany with elite generations for decades and centuries to come. Between 1935 and 1939, Lebensborn was restricted only to Nazi Germany. If a woman wanted to participate she had to prove her Aryan background as far back as her grandfathers and only 40% of those who applied to join Lebensborn passed this racial purity test. Lebensborn enabled women to get pregnant though they were not married and the Lebensborn clinics also acted as adoption centres and they ran homes for children born as a result of Lebensborn. By 1940, about 70% of those women involved in Lebensborn were unmarried.
In total, ten Lebensborn homes were created in Nazi Germany with the first built just outside of Munich.
However, it was World War Two that gave Himmler the real opportunity to expand Lebensborn. The SS invariably followed the German military into a war zone. The SS had a variety of roles to fulfil after an area had been overrun. Its participation in the ‘Final Solution’ has been well documented. However, another role given to it by Himmler was to search out for young children who fitted his idea of Aryan supremacy.
Norway was occupied in 1940. This country especially interested Himmler because of its Viking past. Himmler had a great interest in the warriors the Vikings produced and their success as fighters. Norwegian women were encouraged or forced into sexual liaisons with SS officers regardless of whether they were married or not and nine Lebensborn homes were established in the country. Children born as a result of such liaisons were brought up in Germany by approved Nazi parents. They were baptised in a SS ceremony where their adoptive parents swore that the child would have a lifelong allegiance to Nazi beliefs. Other Lebensborn clinics were established in Western Europe – France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Luxemburg all had one home built.
The SS scoured occupied Eastern Europe in search of Himmler’s ideal young child – blonde hair and blue eyes. Here, children were literally taken from their parents and sent to Germany where they were brought up by approved Nazi parents who also had to fit the Nazi ideal. It is thought that as many as 250,000 children were taken from Eastern Europe but the actual figure is not known as much documentation was either lost or destroyed as the war in Europe reached its end. Effectively given a new identity, their past lives were all but destroyed and it is possible that some may not have even known that they had been forcibly taken from their birth parents. It is thought that as many as 12,000 children were born as a result of the SS campaign to produce as many Aryan children as was possible.
Children born as part of the Lebensborn programme faced many difficulties once the war in Europe ended in May 1945. The Norwegian government classed such children as “rats” and their mothers as “German whores”. Many feared that the children would continue believing in what their SS fathers had believed in as they had been genetically ‘programmed’ to do so. The treatment of the Lebensborn children born in Norway was such that in 2008 those still alive took their plight to the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered that each person should receive £2000 compensation.