Here's What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program

Khalid Elhassan - August 24, 2018

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Kari Rosvall. Irish Times

11. Typical Tyskerbarnas: Kari Rosvall

While Tyskarbarnas Anni-Frid Lyngstad went on to find international fame and fortune as a pop star, most of her fellow Tyskerbarnas led more prosaic and obscure lives. A typical example was that of Kari Rosvall, whose life journey took her from Norway, where she was born, to Germany, where she was baptized, to Sweden, where she was raised, and finally to Ireland, where she settled.

Kari was a product of the Lebensborn program, her birth the result of a union between a Norwegian woman during the German occupation of Norway, and a Nazi. Soon after her birth, she was shipped to Germany, where she was baptized in one of the SS’ weird occult rituals, in which SS officials dedicated Lebensborn infants to lifelong loyalty to Hitler and to Nazi ideology.

After the war, the restored Norwegian government wanted nothing to do with Tyskerbarnas like Kari. In the euphoria and elevated passions following the liberation of Norway, her mother was beaten as a collaborator and “German whore”, and bore scars from the beating on her breasts to her dying day. The Red Cross eventually resettled the infant Kari in Sweden, where she was adopted by a Swedish couple.

She grew up assuming she was Swedish, but realized at a young age that she was different from the taunts of schoolmates and a teacher who referred to her as a bastard, and an awareness that adults often whispered about her. However, it was not until she was 21 that she discovered that she had been born in Norway, not Sweden. So she embarked on a journey of discovery that took her back to Norway, where she encountered her mother.

Results were mixed, as her reappearance in her biological mother’s life opened up old wounds. She eventually discovered that her biological father was a German Nazi official named Kurt Zeidler, whom Kari’s mother described as “not a nice man”. It was not until she was in her mid 60s, by which time she had settled in Dublin, Ireland, that Kari first saw a baby picture of herself in a Lebensborn facility.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Lebensborn child and nurse, 1943. Daily Mail

12. The Child Kidnapping Program

During the war, SS leader Heinrich Himmler ramped up the Lebensborn program by ordering that children meeting specified criterion of “racial purity” be abducted from German occupied territories. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children were forcibly seized from their homes and off the streets, mostly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The assumption was that such children were of Germanic stock, and thus too racially valuable to be left to “waste” in a sea of Slavs or other inferior races. They were to be repatriated to Germany, and taken to Lebensborn homes. There, they were to be Germanized, before getting put up for adoption alongside the offspring of the breeding portion of the program.

It began in November of 1939, a few months after the German conquest of Poland, when Adolph Hitler entrusted Himmler with the policies for the occupied territories. The latter produced a 40 page document whose title, translated into English, was “The Issue of the Treatment of the Population in Former Polish Territories From a Racial Point of View“.

The gist of it was to annex a portion of Poland and settle it with ethnic Germans, while expelling the native Poles into a rump Poland. However, one segment of Poles was marked out for special treatment – Polish children with “Aryan” traits. As Himmler’s document put it: “we should exclude from deportations racially valuable children and raise them in old Reich 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 Polish relatives. Children will be given German names, their ancestry will be led by special office“.

Therein lay the seeds for what would eventually become a full blown child kidnapping drive that spanned all of occupied Europe. It is estimated that over 400,000 children were abducted in this portion of the Lebensborn program. About half of the victims, roughly 200,000 children, were kidnapped from Poland. Other significant sources included today’s Belarus, from which about 30,000 children were abducted; the rest of the USSR furnished another 20,000; and roughly 10,000 were taken from Western and Southeastern Europe.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Nazi children. Renegade Tribune

13. Commencement of Widespread Child Abductions

In May of 1940, Himmler issued a circular titled “The Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East“, whose gist was to destroy Poles as an ethnicity, and reduce them to a pool of slave labor to be used up within a decade. Within 20 years, Poles were to be completely eradicated. Not all Poles, however: a select minority, children of Aryan stock, were to be salvaged, Germanized, and added to the Third Reich’s population.

The part of Himmler’s plan dealing with Polish children eliminated all but the most basic of education. Writing was deemed unnecessary for Poles, so children were to be taught only how to scribble their names, and count up to 500. Polish parents who wanted more education for their children were to apply to the SS for special permits, which were to be granted only if the children were deemed “racially valuable”. If so, they were to be taken to Germany and Germanized under the aegis of the Lebensborn program.

Additionally, an annual selection was to be made of Polish children between ages 6 and 10, to identify any who met German racial criterion. Those who did were to be taken from their families, shipped to Germany, given German names, and placed in the Lebensborn program. Once sufficiently Germanized, they were to be put up for adoption.

Hitler approved of Himmler’s child abduction directives on June 20th, 1940. Orders to implement the Polish plan, and variations thereof in other conquered territories, were sent out to the SS and German governors and occupation officials throughout Nazi occupied Europe. By 1945, over 200,000 children had been kidnapped in Poland, plus another 200,000 from the rest of Europe.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
German ‘racial specialist’ examining a child to determine whether she was ‘Aryan’ or ‘Alien’. Holocaust Museum

14. Typical Child Abduction Operation: Cilli, Yugoslavia, August 3 – 7, 1942

The Nazis adopted a variety of means to seize the sought after “racially valuable” children throughout Europe. A representative example of one of the methodologies used occurred in the town of Cilli, Yugoslavia, in today’s Slovenia, between August 3rd to 7th, 1942. It took place during a crackdown on resistance activities in the region.

It began with the rounding up and herding into a schoolyard of about 1300 people of all ages, many of them relatives of people executed by Yugoslavia’s German occupiers for partisan or suspected partisan resistance activities. After all the families were accounted for, the Germans divided them in into three groups: men, women, and children.

Crying children, including toddlers and infants, were separated from their families and placed in pens, where they were examined by Nazis. Working with clipboards and charts, the officials noted down each child’s physical and facial characteristics to assess his or her “racial value”. Based on their findings, the children were divided into four categories.

Category 1 or 2 were for those who met Himmler’s criterion of what a German child should look like, marking them as potentially useful additions to the Third Reich. Any hint of Slavic features or signs of Jewish heritage consigned a child to the lower racial Category 3 or 4 – untermensch, of no value to the Nazis except as future slave labor. Assuming they were allowed to grow up into slave laborers, of course, and not simply liquidated.

In this instance, the children of categories 3 and 4 were handed back to their parents. 430 children classified as Category 1 or 2, ranging in age from infants to twelve, were taken by their captors, placed on trains, and transported to a holding center outside Graz, Austria. There, they were subjected to a more thorough examination by “racial specialists”, who compared the children’s noses to official ideal lengths and shapes. Their teeth, lips, hips, and genitals were likewise examined and compared to Nazi ideals. Those who failed this second cut were reclassified as Category 3 or 4, and sent away. Those who made it through this second cut and maintained their classification as Category 1 or 2 were handed over to the Lebensborn program.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Folker Heinecke. Awesome Stories

15. An Abducted Child: Folker Heinecke

After German tanks rolled into the Crimea in 1942, they were followed by Nazi officials to administer the newly conquered territory. There, some of them encountered a blond haired toddler named Aleksander Litau, who possessed striking blue eyes. The kid’s cuteness attracted not only admiring looks from mothers, but also from SS men who thought that he represented the ideal of what an Aryan child should look like.

The cuteness proved a curse, however: as the SS saw it, leaving what they viewed as a perfect Aryan specific amid a sea of inferior Slavs amounted to a crime against the Germanic race. So they snatched him from his family, and shipped him to Germany in order to enroll him in the Lebensborn program, Germanize him, and see to it that he was raised as a German.

Photos of the boy made their way to Heinrich Himmler, who was captivated by him, and ordered that he be subjected an extra rigorous battery of racial testing to ensure that there was no trace of “Jewishness” in him. Satisfied that the kid was “pure Aryan”, Himmler personally oversaw his adoption by a wealthy and fanatical Nazi named Adalbert Heinecke.

Renamed Folker Heinecke, the former Crimean kid was able to recall when in his late 60s, seeing Himmler when he visited his home and had drinks with his “father”. Folker’s first inkling of his background came after the war, when a local child taunted him: “you know you’re a bastard, don’t you? They’re not your real mom and dad“. He never discussed it with his parents, who although they remained unreformed Nazi fanatics to their dying day, nonetheless loved him dearly. After their deaths, Folker spent much of his adulthood in a quest to discover who he was and was not. It finally led him to his Crimean origins, a quest that became the subject of a BBC documentary in 2009.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Ingrid von Oelhafen. Daily Mail

16. An Abducted Child: Ingrid von Oelhafen

In 1942, nine month old Ingrid von Oelhafen (not her name at the time), was examined by SS officials in German occupied Yugoslavia to determine whether she met Himmler’s criterion of a “racially valuable” child with sufficiently Aryan traits. She did, and was accordingly snatched from her parents, taken across the border into Germany, and placed in the Lebensborn program.

Because she was still a baby who had not picked up any significant cultural or linguistic traits, there was no need to Germanize her before putting her up for adoption. She was adopted by a “good German” family, renamed, and for most of her life, Ingrid was wholly ignorant of her origins and background. However, as a child, she felt little connection with and affection from her family, not least because her “mother” had abandoned her in a children’s home in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in WWII.

It was not until she was 58 years old, when she began digging into her family history, that Ingrid discovered clues hinting at her background. She followed them up, and in what amounted to a remarkable detective story, ended up finding the truth about her origins. To her shock, she discovered that her birth name had been Erika Matko, that she had been abducted into the Lebensborn program in her infancy, and that her biological family lived in today’s Slovenia.

In an added twist, Ingrid von Oelhafen, nee Erika Matko, discovered that the occupation authorities had given her parents a replacement baby, of unknown origins, in lieu of the Aryan-looking one that they took to raise in Germany. She eventually put down her experience and the story of the quest for her origins in a book, Hitler’s Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

BBC News – Nazi Past Haunts Aryan Children

Daily Mail, January 9th, 2009 – Stolen by the Nazis

Exberliner, November 22nd, 2010 – Third Reich Poster Child

Guardian, The, June 30th, 2002 – Torment of the ABBA Star With a Nazi Father

Irish Times, May 6th, 2015 – Dublin Woman Found She Was Bred by Nazis For ‘Master’ Race

Irish Times, May 16th, 2015 – Nowhere’s Child, by Kari Rosvall and Naomi Linehan Review: Affecting Memoir

Jewish Virtual Library – Stolen Children: An Interview With Gitta Sereny

Jewish Virtual Library – The ‘Lebensborn’ Program (1935 – 1945)

Lukas, Richard C. – Did the Children Cry? Hitler’s War Against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945 (2001)

New York Times, November 6th, 2006 – The Reverse of Holocaust: The Nazis’ Chosen

Oelhafen, Ingrid Von, and Tate, Tim – Hitler’s Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn (2015)

Spiegel, November 7th, 2006 – Lebensborn Children Break Silence

Star News, May 8th, 2007 – Stolen: The Story of a Polish Child Germanized by the Nazis

Daily Express, April 28th, 2017 – Baby Snatched From Parents by Nazis and Brought Up as an Aryan

Telegraph, The, January 6th, 2009 – Man Kidnapped by SS Discovers True Identity

Wikipedia – Eugenics

Wikipedia – Kidnapping of Children by Nazi Germany