Associated Press
Female Nazi Youth, Berlin, 1933.

Nazi Victims as Children, “Lebensborn” Adults Piece Together Their Pasts

January 08, 2009 11:28 AM
by Emily Coakley
Some of Hitler’s youngest victims, now senior citizens, discuss being part of his “Fount of Life” program to create an Aryan race, and the quest to find their true identities.

Little-Known Victims of World War II

A man who was kidnapped as an infant and raised in Nazi Germany is having a book on his efforts to discover his roots turned into a documentary.

It took Folker Heinecke 34 years of research to find out he was born Alexander Litau in what’s now the Ukraine. German soldiers took him from his family in 1942 and, after determining he could be “Germanized,” as Heinecke told British paper The Daily Telegraph, placed him with adoptive parents.

Heinecke was a victim of a Nazi program called Lebensborn, or the Fount of Life. It was created by Heinrich Himmler, who wanted to increase the number of “Aryan” people in Germany. The program had many facets, including encouraging unwed German women, and later non-German women who met certain physical criteria, to have children with German officers. Special homes were set up for the women to have their babies.

An estimated 20,000 children—12,000 in Norway and 8,000 in Germany—were born through the program, according to Der Speigel. Others, like Heinecke, were kidnapped by German soldiers and placed with Nazi families.

Heinecke spoke highly of his adopted family.

“I have had a good life and I loved my adoptive parents, even though they were Nazis. … I had a good upbringing after the war. My parents gave me a good education, spells in London, Paris and Ireland. They believed in Nazism at the time but they weren’t war criminals and always did right by me,” Heinecke told The Daily Telegraph.

But other Lebensborn victims weren’t so lucky. Gisela Heidenrich, who was born in a Lebensborn home in Norway in 1943, told Der Spiegel in 2006 of how, when she was young, people referred to her as the “SS bastard.” Her mother, who worked for the program, refused to talk about Heidenrich’s father, she said.

During the last few years, more and more children of the Lebensborn program have started talking about their experiences. The opening of Holocaust archives at Bad Arolsen two years ago have helped people like Heinecke learn where they were born.

Background: Lebensborn

As the Jewish Virtual Library explains, the Lebensborn program began in 1935, as a response to Germany’s falling birth rate. The part of the program that encouraged “racially pure” women to have children with Nazi officers never produced as many children as hoped.

Kidnappings started in 1939, and the children who were taken had to meet the Nazi criteria of blue or green eyes and blonde hair.

“Some of these children were orphans, but it is well documented that many were stolen from their parents’ arms,” the library says. “In these centers, everything was done to force the children to reject and forget their birth parents. As an example, the SS nurses tried to persuade the children that they were deliberately abandoned by their parents. The children who refused the Nazi education were often beaten,” the library said, adding that some children were killed, while others were adopted.

It was estimated that 250,000 children were kidnapped for Lebensborn, and after the war only about 25,000 were returned to their families.

Key Player: Heinrich Himmler

Heinrich Himmler was one of Adolf Hitler’s top lieutenants, and set up the first concentration camp, Dachau, in 1933, according to the BBC. Himmler was born in 1900, served in World War I, and held a variety of jobs before joining the Nazi party. The BBC says Himmler was “obsessed with racial purity in Germany.” Himmler oversaw concentration camps, and the German police force in 1941, and became Minister of the Interior in 1943. As the war drew to an end, though, Himmler tried to negotiate with the Allies, drawing the wrath of Hitler, who took away all his responsibilities. The allies caught Himmler after Germany surrendered, and he committed suicide on May 23, 1945.

Related Topics: Saving children during World War II; kidnapping for religion

Some Polish children were “converted” from Judaism to Christianity in order to spare their lives. Irena Sendler, often called the Female Schindler, saved approximately 2,500 children from the Holocaust. Sendler was a Catholic who worked secretly with churches to save Jewish children from certain death by placing them with Christian families, giving them Christian names and forged documents. Sendler kept hidden records of all the children’s real names so they could later rediscover their families and religion. She died May 12, 2008.

Even today, children continue to be taken to populate special groups. For example, in May 2007, the Christian Broadcast Network wrote about reports of Christian children being kidnapped in Nigeria and placed in Muslim homes.

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