Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) (1935-1945)
“The organization “Lebensborn e.V.” serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children. The organizsation “Lebensborn e.V.” is under my personal direction, is part of the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS.” – SS Leader Heinrich HImmler
The domination of the Aryan race was the main goal of the Nazis, and the function of the SS organization Lebensborn was to create and raise an elite of Aryan children. The organization was founded in 1935 and first worked inside the Third Reich, setting up maternity homes for single mothers and their children fathered by Wehrmacht soldiers and SS men, who met the strict Aryan criteria. When the Second World War started and the German military occupied most of Europe, Lebensborn extended its work to other European regions.
Founded on December 12, 1935 by Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, the Schutzstaffel or Protection Squadron as a state-supported SS organization with the purpose of raising the birth rate of “Aryan” children of persons classified as “racially pure and healthy” based on Nazi racial hygiene and health ideology. Aryan women, were encouraged to have children with SS men, married or unmarried, who would be racially pure and, thus, ideal for the future elite of the Third Reich. Lebensborn provided welfare to these mostly unmarried mothers, encouraged anonymous births by unmarried women at their maternity homes, and mediated adoption of these children by likewise “racially pure and healthy” parents, particularly SS members and their families. In 1939, before the Nazis started World War II, Lebensborn had around 8,000 members in Germany, 3,500 of them were SS leaders.
Nazi eugenics, or racial hygiene, had two distinct sides. One was the support of Aryan mothers and their children, married or not, and the promotion of the Aryan race with the aim to develop a growing ideal population of people of the Aryan race. The other side was the elimination of all non-Aryan, “unhealthy” and “unworthy” groups in the German and after World War II had started in the European population. The latter included not only Jews, Slavic people and Sinti and Roma, but also mentally and physically disabled, so-called socially “unworthy” people and criminals or homosexuals. Hitler’s categorization of “unhealthy” and “unworthy” was not only morally empty, it was subjective and often arbitrary. The Aryan “Masterrace,” which Hitler believed to be the most elite and genetically pure, was blond, and blue eyed.
Many of the members of Lebensborn were SS officers and their wives. However, over half of the members were unmarried women, who had relations to of SS soldiers or members of the German military, the Wehrmacht. They used the Lebensborn to give birth without the social stigma of not being married and usually put their children up for adoption for SS couples. After the war had started, Lebensborn homes were also established in the occupied territories, for example in Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Here Aryan women of the occupied nations, who had a relation with a Wehrmacht soldier or SS men that led to a pregnancy, could give birth to their child hidden from society. Soon after the birth the baby was usually put up for adoption in Germany by Nazi parents. In total, the Nazis controlled during the war approximately 33 Lebensborn homes. About 8,000 children were born in Lebensborn homes in Germany, and 25,000 children, elsewhere in Europe, between 8,000 and 12,000 children in Norway alone. Approximately 250 of them were adopted by German parents.
There is debate surrounding the legality and morality of the adoption methods by this SS organization. In several cases, Inside Germany and in the occupied territories, the mother explicitly agreed to the adoption. However, there are also several documented cases especially in North-Eastern Europe, in which SS Officers would seize a child, often in view of the mother, and then decide a course of action depending on the “racial heritage” (Erbanlagen) and physical condition and appearance of the child. Seized children were taken and categorized based upon age and race. If a child was deemed unwanted, or undesirable, they were sent to a work camp or killed. If they fit the ideal criteria then they were sent to an orphanage, foster care, or boarding school. There, the SS indoctrinated the children into Nazi culture by forcing them to forget their national and ethnic heritage and adopt the German lifestyle. Ten-thousand of such cases are currently documented.
Studying Lebensborn is very important to fully understand the Nazi’s main goals for their regime. It is often perceived that the Nazi’s were war hungry and wanted to take over the globe. While this isn’t false, the Nazi’s also used the war to spread their ideology and control the population. They did not just kill people in battles, they tried alter the European population, killing those they did not see fit to live. Such widespread and blatantly public crimes against humanity demonstrate what can happen when a regime gains total control over a population. When this happens, the leaders have full control to do whatever they see fit, and do whatever they see necessary to maintain control. A government which seeks out war is unsustainable, but one which kills its own population possess a level of control which no government should have.
Grayson Holmes, History and Philosophy, Class of 2020
Literature and Websites
- “The Nazi Party: The ‘Lebensborn’ Program.” Jewish Virtual Library, at: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-quot-lebensborn-quot-program (Accessed April 20, 2018).
- Chen, Peter. “Lebensborn.” World War II Database, at: https://ww2db.com/other.php?other_id=36 (Accessed: April 19, 2018).
- Clay, Catrine und Michael Leapman: Master race: the Lebensborn experiment in Nazi Germany. Hodder & Stoughton, 1995.
- Crossland, David. “Lebensborn Children Break Silence.” Spiegel Online. November 2006, at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/nazi-program-to-breed-master-race-lebensborn-children-break-silence-a-446978.html. (Accessed: April 18 2018).
- Sharp, Rob. “The Chosen Ones: The war children born to Nazi fathers in a sinister eugenics scheme speak out.” Independent, 20 January 2008, at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-chosen-ones-the-war-children-born-to-nazi-fathers-in-a-sinister-eugenics-scheme-speak-out-771017.html. (Accessed: April 17, 2018).