Lebensborn. “Fount of Life”, was an SS-initiated, state-supported, registered association in Nazi Germany with the goal of raising the birth rate of “Aryan” children via extramarital relations of persons classified as “racially pure and healthy” based on Nazi racal hygiene and health ideology. , Lebensborn encouraged anonymous births by unmarried women, and mediated adaption of these children by likewise “racially pure and healthy” parents, particularly SS members and their families.
Initially set up in Germany in 1935, Lebensborn expanded into several occupied European countries with Germanic populations during the Second World War. It included the selection of “racially worthy” orphans for adoption and care for children born from Aryan women who had been in relationships with SS members. It originally excluded children born from unions between common soldiers and foreign women, because there was no proof of racal purity on both sides.
At the Nurnberg Trials, no evidence was found of direct involvement by the Lebensborn organization in the kidnapping of Polish children. However, Heinrich Himmler directed a programme with other segments of the Nazi bureaucracy, whereby thousands of Polish children were kidnapped and subjected to ‘Germanisation’. Germanisation involved a period at one of the ‘re-education camps’, followed by being fostered out to German families.
In 1939 membership stood at 8,000, of which 3,500 were SS leaders. The Lebensborn office was part of SS Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt (SS Office of Race and Settlement) until 1938, when it was transferred to Hauptamt Persönlicher Stab Reichsführer-SS (Personal Staff of the Reichführer-SS), i.e. directly overseen by Himmler. Leaders of Lebensborn e. V. were SS-Standartenführer Max Sollmann and SS-Oberführer Dr. Gregor Ebner . Ebner died on 22-03-1974, age 82, still convinced that Lebensborn was the salvation of German blood. Max Sollmann lived in the 1970er in Steinhöring, death unknown.
About 8,000 children were born in Lebensborn homes in Germany, and between 8,000 and 12,000 children in Norway. Elsewhere the total number of births was much lower. For more information about Lebensborn in Norway, see war children.
In Norway the Lebensborn organisation handled approximately 250 adoptions. In most of these cases the mothers had agreed to the adoption, but not all were informed that their children would be sent to Germany for adoption. The Norwegian government recovered all but 80 of these children after the war.
After Germany’s surrender, the press reported on the unusually good weight and health of the “super babies”. They spent time outdoors in sunlight and received two baths a day. Everything that contacted the babies was sterilized first. Nurses ensured that they ate everything given to them. Until the last days of the war, the mothers and the children at maternity homes got the best treatment available, including food, although others in the area were starving. Once the war ended, local communities often took revenge on the women, beating them, cutting off their hair, and running them out of the community. Many Lebensborn children were born to unwed mothers. After the war, Lebensborn survivors suffered from ostracism.
Ostracism was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years.
Christening of a Lebensborn child, c.1935-1936