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.