A counterpoint to the NAZI program of exterminating Jews and other groups considered to be sub-human was the Lebensborn program, a secret NAZI program to enrich German racial lines with pure Nordic Aryan blood. The Lebensborn program was a pet project of SS Reichsführer Himmler. The program was launched in Germany in a small way to encourage and assist German girls to give birth to racially pure children, even if they were unmarried. We have noted some difference of opinion about the Lebensborn homes. After the Germans launched World War II and occupied large stretches of Eastern Europe, they proceeded to kidnap thousands of children who were deemed to be Aryan. Himmler indicated that these children had to be Germanized or killed because he though Aryan populations outside of the Reich were a threat. The Lebensborn program also affected other countries such as Norway--albeit on a smaller scale. Estimates suggest that 0.20-0.25 million children, mostly Polish, were eventually involved in this program. Only a small number were ever returned to their parents.
The NAZIs upon coming to power were greatly concerned not only about racial purity, but also about overall population trends. We have noted a variety of statistical data. Some of the various estimates vary. The trends, however, are quite stark. The German birth rate declined very significantly. Declines were noted in the birth rates of many other industrial countries, but in no other industrial county did the birth rate decline as sharply as it did in Germany. We are not sure what the cause of falling birth rates were in Germany. The NAZIs gave great emphasis on encouraging German women to have more babies. The results of these efforts, however, were minimal.
Charles Darwin's land mark work on natural selection had been widely accepted by the turn of the 20th century by scientists if not by the general public. This an increasingly sophisticated understanding of genetics gave rise to the Eugenics Movement in the early 20th century. Eugenics has been described as the science of improving the human race through the careful selection of parents. As practiced in the early 20th century it is probably best described as a movement than a science. Those with "good" characteristics would be encouraged to have children. Those with "bad" characteristics would be sterilized.The problem was in defining just what constituted an improvement. Many promoting the program focused on outward physical characteristics which usually resembled themselves. Eugenics gained an immense following in America and European countries.
German Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had a passionate interest in race purity and the use of eugenics to achieve it. His SS which began as Hitler's personal Party body guard. As the SS grew in importance he began to conceive a nightly order of genetically pure Aryans. Hitler was not impressed with Himmler's nightly order, but allowed him to pursue his quixotic effort because he did strongly agree on race issues. As part of his race building effort, Himmler conceived of the Lebensborn program.
He personally founded the Lebensborn project (December 12, 1935). This was shortly after Hitler introduced the Nuremberg Laws at the Party Congress. These race laws outlawed intermarriage with Jews and others who were deemed inferior. Himmler was not only concerned with race purity, but with the relatively small numbers of Germans and the declining birth rate. Himmler wanted to not only reverse that decline, but to increase the Germany's Aryan population to 120 million. His initial effort was to encourage SS and Wehrmacht officers to have children with carefully selected young, healthy Aryan women. As most Germans would have been horrified at the very idea, it was all done quietly with no discussion permitted by the press. As the women were unmarried, after infancy the children would be raised by the SS in special facilities and be trained as the racially pure leadership of the new German nation. This program prove disappointing. The numbers of Lebensborn children were just too small to have any meaningful demographic impact. The secrecy accompanied the project meant that it had to be a relatively small effort. Himmler saw this clearly by the outbreak of the War (1939). The War provided Himmler the idea of acquiring Lebensborn children in large numbers. As far as we know, he personally conceived the effort. He used his control of the NAZI security services to acquire large numbers of genetically appropriate children in the occupied countries for the Lebensborn program. As increasing numbers pf births in the Reich was proving difficult, he would simply in NAZI terms, 'harvest' genetically valuable material in occupied countries. Polish children became the primary victim of the program.
Lebensborn is difficult to translate precisely, but it means something like "fountain" or "source" of life". The "Lebensborn" project was a secret program conceived by SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler. He founded the Lebensborn Eingetragener Verein (Registered Society Lebensborn or Lebensborn Foundation) (December 12, 1935). The Lebensborn Program was originally part of Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt (Race and Settlement Office) until 1938 at which time it was transferred to the Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer SS (RFSS). This meant that the Amt L (Lebensborn) was under Himmler's personal control. The purpose of the Lebensborn Foundation was to provide "racially pure" young women a place to have birth in private away from their homes. The first home was opened in 1936 at Steinhoering, under the pseudonym "Heim Hochland" ("home high country"), near Munich. The SS by the end of the World War II had set up 10 homes or nurseries. Another source notes 13 homes. The size of these is suggested by the number of nurses assigned: Heim Taunus 22, Hochland 18, Sonnenwiese 18, Wienerwald 15, Pommern 14, Kurmark 12, Harz 10, Schwarzwald 9, Ardennen 9, Westwald 4, Moselland 3, Friesland 3, Alpenland 1. [Bleuel, H. P., Das saubere Reich. Theorie und Praxis des sittlichen Lebens im Dritten Reich, Bern u.a. 1972, S. 192.] The buildings were expropriated from wealthy Jews or foreign private institutions. Some were donated by faithful NAZI Party members. Steinhoering was a former Caritas (Catholic Charities) children's home. (The NAZIs moved to preempt church charities by controlling charitable giving.] The general physician at Steinhoering Dr. Ebner was the in the Lebensborn physician became the medical director for the entire Lebensborn program and SS Oberfuehrer. He was also involved with the killing of handicapped children. Given the care given in the approval process, NAZI authorities believed that the Lebensborn children would be pure Aryans and constitute perfect future SS leaders. These children were conceived as future leaders in the NAZI state that would dominate Europe of not the world. They would be the new nobility of blood.
World War II changed everything. The War resulted in the Lebensborn program being expanded with a horrendous change in direction. Even before Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, they had seized Czechoslovakia and annexed the Sudetenland into the Reich. The conquest of Poland resulted in additional areas being annexed. Even in the occupied areas of Poland there were large numbers of blond, blue-eyed children meeting the Aryan ideal. Scandinavian countries with largely Nordic populations were occupied in April 1940. This was followed by the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in May-June 1940. Even more children became available when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The NAZI program for Lebensraum in the east was not just to acquire territory. The plans for that territory was monstrous beyond belief. he plan was to deport Poles and Russians from these territories, killing many in the process. Some would remain to serve as slave laborers. Millions would be deported or 'evacuated' with the understanding that large numbers would die in the process. The goal was to make the east German. Here Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had the responsibility for pursuing this effort. He appears to have assigned his deputy Reinhard Heydrich appears to have coordinated this effort and essentially he SS's entire eastern operations. Heydrich ordered the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) (SS Security Service) in 1941 to begin the necessary planning. The Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) (Reich Security Head Office). There were differences of opinion within the SS and between the SS and Alfred Rosenberg's Ostministerium (Ministry for the Occupied East) over how to claim the East. There was agreement that large numbers of Slavs had to be removed to Siberia. There were differences as to the extent to which forcible evictions should take place.
A key element in the Germanization of the east was finding Germans to populate it with. An important part of this process was to "reclaim" Aryan stock from the occupied territories and turning them into Germans. This process was termed Eindeutschung. The SS section responsible for Eindeutschung was Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt--RuSHA (Race and Settlement Head Office). Here the SS's authority also overlapped with Alfred Rosenberg's Ostministerium (Ministry for the Occupied East). While there were differences within the SS, there was agreement that the most of the population of the occupied East was not suitable for Eindeutschung and would have to be expelled to Siberia. The differences within the SS was the extent to which force should be used to bring about the emigration to Siberia. [Padfield, p. 363.]
The Lebensborn program was soon transformed into a much larger effort of kidnapping large numbers of these children. This was called "Eindeutschung" which I am unsure how to translate. The NAZI description of this is instructive, "Erhaltung und Förderung rassisch wertvollen germanischen Erbgutes". This translates roughly as the "preservation and promotion of racially valuable Germanic hereditary property". In other countries Lebensborn homes were established. The NAZI polices in this regard varied greatly from country to country. Probably more than 0.3 million children were kidnapped by the NAZIs. Few were ever to be reunited with their parents. A substantial number were murdered in concentration camps.
Among the kidnapped children, some of the older ones remembered their parents and resisted Germamization. The children who resisted Eindeutschung (Germinization) or were not of sufficient Aryan blood lines to be accepted were not returned to Poland or other country of origin. Most were sent to the Kalish camp in Poland where they were murdered. Himmler explained this. "It is our duty to take these children if we have to rob or steal them. It is our duty to take their German blood or destroy it." Himmler felt that these children were such potentially superior individuals that it would be dangerous to leave them outside the Reich.
Modern readers have difficulty understanding the NAZIs and what caused them to commit such atrocious acts of barbarity in our supposedly civilized world. The murder pf Jews was an act of hatred. Regrettably such acts of ethnic and racial hatred are all too common in history, although not on the scale and ruthless efficiency pursued by the NAZIs. The murder of children at first selected and then rejected from the Lebensborn Eindeutschung (Germanization) program seems incomprehensible. For Himmler the elimination of these children was necessary because their racial makeup would pose a threat to the NAZI New Order. A HBC reader has compiled information on NAZI cosmology and the occult which provide further insights on Hitler and the NAZI mindset.
No one really knows how many were kidnapped in Poland and other NAZI-occupied countries. Historians generally estimate that 0.2-0.3 million children were forcibly seized and brought to Germany by the NAZIs. Only an incredibly small number of the kidnapped children (25,000-40,000) were ever returned to their parents after the War. There are several reasons for this small number. Some of the older children were killed by the SS when they resisted Germinization. The SS did not keep records on who the parents were and the records made up for the children were often falsified making it impossible to determine in some cases even nationality, let alone family names. Even many of the children themselves, if they had been kidnapped at an early age, were not aware of their Polish and other non-German origins. German families in many cases became attached to the children and resisted giving the children up that they had received from the Lebensborn centers. Often the children themselves had become Germanized and objected to go back to their original family. Further problems were created by the Cold War. German and Allied Occupation authorities were often unwilling to take well-adjusted children from stable families and send them behind the Iron Curtain to Communist Poland.
The issue of forcibly transferring children was addressed after the War as Europe was recovering from the terrible dislocations created by the NAZIs. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide labeled ‘forcibly transferring children of one group to another group’ with the 'intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group' as a form of genocide. The best bot not the only example of this during the War was the SS Lebensborn program. One social worker in Europe at the time, Vinita A. Lewis, working with the International Refugee Organization (IRO) in Germany, wrote ‘The lost identity of individual children is the Social Problem of the day on the continent of Europe … Even if his future destiny lies in a country other than that of his origin, he [the displaced child] is entitled to the basic Human Right of full knowledge of his background and origin.’ The consensus in Europe was that children enjoyed a ‘human right’ to their nationality. [Zahra]
Several authors have used HBC to ensure the historical accuracy of their fiction writing. Often they are interested in the fashion sections of HBC, but they also use our history section. Jo Ann Bender tells us, "Your site provided more specifics for my upcoming book discussions for Lebensborn, my new novel about a French girl who is caught in this trap to create a Master Race." HBC likes to publicize books published by readers. The author in her book, Lebensborn seeks missing children, looking for those born in a Lebensborn before and during World War II.
R. Abe, "Lebensborn e.V." Shoa.de website, (retrieved May 3, 2002).
Jörg Albrecht "Rohstoff für Übermenschen", Artikel in Zeit-Punkte 3/2001 zum Thema Biomedizin, S. 16-18.
Bleuel, H. P., Das saubere Reich. Theorie und Praxis des sittlichen Lebens im Dritten Reich, Bern u.a. 1972, S. 192.
Catrine Clay, Michael Leapman "Herrenmenschen", Das Lebensborn-Experiment der Nazis, Heyne-TB (1997, vergriffen)
Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry, "Of Pure Blood" (1976).
Georg Lilienthal "Der Lebensborn e. V.", Fischer Verlag (1993, vergriffen)
Padfield, Peter. Himmler: Reichsführer-SS (Henry Holt: New York, 1991), 656p.
Schmitz-Köster, Dorothee "Deutsche Mutter bist du bereit", Alltag im Lebensborn, Aufbau-Verlag (1997, vergriffen).
Zahra, Tara. "A Human Treasure’: Europe’s Displaced Children between Nationalism and Internationalism,"
Past and Present (2011) Vol.. 210, Suppl. 6, pp. 332-50.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to Main World War II displaced children page]
[Return to Main World War II German race policies page]
[Return to Main World War II Axis race policies page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]