Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program

Khalid Elhassan - August 24, 2018

The Nazis believed in “good blood” that ought to be sought out, preserved, and expanded, and in “bad blood”, which was to be identified, then ruthlessly eradicated. The latter gave us the horrors of the Holocaust. The former led to the Lebensborn (“Spring of Life”) program, which went to bizarre and often sinister lengths in an attempt to increase the stock of “racially valuable” Germanic children. Partly a human selective breeding program, partly a massive child kidnapping policy, it was another dark chapter in the history of the Third Reich.

Following are sixteen significant events and people from the Lebensborn program.

1. What Was the Lebensborn Program?

To say that the powers that be in the Third Reich were obsessed with race and racial purity would be an understatement. Most are familiar with the darkest manifestations of that obsession: the Holocaust and the murder of millions of racial undesirables. Another sinister manifestation, although a less bloodthirsty one, can be glimpsed in the lengths the Nazis went to in order increase the numbers of the racially desirable.

In 1935, the Schutstaffel (SS) implemented a program known as Lebensborn to increase the “racially pure” population by increasing the “Aryan” birthrate. Much of that amounted to a selective breeding program, just like breeding prize cattle, whereby unmarried “pure” Aryan women were matched up with pure SS members. Upon impregnation, they were often housed in SS-run maternity homes until they gave birth. The offspring were often adopted by pure Aryan families, particularly from the SS.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Toddlers in a Lebensborn home. Busy

When much of Europe came under German control during WWII, German occupiers were encouraged to breed with women from Nordic populations. The offspring were often birthed in Lebensborn clinics, which were scattered across Europe, then raised as Germans. Thus, the wombs of acceptably Aryan-Nordic women from across Europe would be put to use in increasing Germany’s “Aryan stock”. So successful was the breeding program in occupied Europe that more Lebensborn children were born in Norway during just 5 years of German occupation, than were born in Germany during the entire 10 year span of the program.

Another part of the Lebensborn program involved straightforward kidnapping of children. Children who looked like pure Aryans were kidnapped by the hundreds of thousands from across Europe, and taken back to Germany. There, they were adopted by the same types who adopted the SS-bred children, with the ultimate goal being to Germanize them.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Things from the days of the eugenics craze. Slideshare

2. Eugenics, the Pseudoscience Behind the Lebensborn Program

In addition to stark racism, the Lebensborn program drew intellectually upon eugenics, a pseudoscience founded in the 19th century, that applied the principles of selective animal breeding to humans. It advocated for lower rates of reproduction or the sterilization of people with undesirable traits (negative eugenics), and higher rates of reproduction for those with desirable traits (positive eugenics).

By the early 20th century, a popular eugenics movement had emerged in Britain, and from there spread to much of Europe and across the Atlantic to Canada and the United States. For a time, the US became the world’s leading practitioner of eugenics, with most states adopting negative eugenics laws for the forced sterilization of those deemed unfit to reproduce.

Then the Nazis came along, and after taking power in 1933, they eclipsed everybody with the their own brand of eugenics, in which they were not content to merely sterilize those deemed unfit to reproduce. Instead, they went ahead and murdered such people by the hundreds of thousands in a program of involuntary euthanasia, known as Aktion T4.

Seen in hindsight, Aktion T4 was a practice run in which experience was gained, and some of the kinks were worked out, for greater horrors to come. The Third Reich simply took the pseudoscience of eugenics to its logical conclusion, and in so doing produced both the positive eugenics of the Lebensborn program, and the negative eugenics of the Holocaust.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
League of German Girls gymnastics. Wikimedia

3. Origins of the Lebensborn Program

It was an article of faith among Nazis that that the Aryan race was destined to rule the world, but when they took power in the 1930s, German birth rates had been steadily falling for years. On top of that, the number of abortions had been steadily rising, reaching roughly 800,000 per year in the interwar period, due in part to a shortage of marriageable men after the slaughter of WWI.

That posed a serious problem for the Nazis: how could they have a “Master Race” that would rule the world, if falling birth trends indicated that said race was about to get eclipsed? So in 1935, the Lebensborn program was established, commencing as social programs that placed the increase and improvement of the Aryan race at the heart of Nazi policies.

SS head honcho, Heinrich Himmler, placed the program, which aimed to select and adopt racially “qualified” children, under his personal direction. It sought to support “racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families” with many children, and encourage them to have even more. It also sought to identify and select “racially valuable” fertile women who could be expected to produce racially valuable children, and to care for the children and their mothers.

In its early version, Lebensborn served as a social welfare program for SS wives, running facilities such as maternity homes where they could give birth or get help with family matters. Over time, however, it focused more on unmarried women classified as “racially valuable”, who had been impregnated by a similarly classified “racially valuable” fathers.

Leaders of the League of German Girls – the female version of the Hitler Youth – were directed to recruit girls of good genetic stock, as potential breeding partners for SS and Nazi officials. After they were recruited, matched with breeding partners, and impregnated, the Lebensborn program helped them during their pregnancy, affording them facilities in which to give birth and receive prenatal and postnatal care.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Heinrich Himmler with an Aryan girl. Bytes Daily

4. Lebensborn Program Operations

After WWII began and German armies brought much of Europe under Nazi control, the program was expanded to the occupied countries, in order to help breed the “Master Race” with local “racially valuable” women. Eventually, the program had facilities in Germany, Austria, Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and France.

The program’s homes were set up in former facilities for the elderly or disabled, or in houses confiscated from Jewish families, with the first Lebensborn home set up in Steinhoering, a village about an hour from Munich. There, the mothers recuperated after giving birth. Some of them kept the children, while others left them in the care of the program, until a “good” German family was found to adopt them.

The program enabled unmarried pregnant women – provided they and the man who had impregnated them were “racially valuable” – to avoid the social stigma of illegitimacy by giving birth anonymously. Roughly 60 percent of Lebensborn mothers were unmarried, and if they chose not to keep the child, the program ran children’s homes where the kids were cared for until adopted.

At least they were adopted if they were healthy and hale. Even before the Holocaust, the Nazis had launched an extermination program, Aktion T4, that engaged in the involuntary euthanasia of the disabled and undesirable. It would eventually claim about 300,000 lives. Lebensborn children with disabilities were prime candidates for euthanasia – they were literally born in the clutches of the SS.

Many of the newborns were baptized in bizarre SS occult ceremonies, not with a priest holding a pitcher of holy water over the infant’s head, but with an SS official holding a dagger. Instead of reading from a prayer book, the SS man would read from Mien Kampf, and instead of vowing to be good Christians, the children, through their SS interlocutors, swore lifelong allegiance to Hitler and the tenets of Nazism.

The program had kept a detailed registry of the participants, their offspring, and their fates and placements, but most records were burnt or destroyed during the chaos surrounding the war’s end. Between that and the refusal of many Lebensborn mothers to tell their children about the program, the truth surrounding the parentage of many children has been difficult to find.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
A silver cup discovered by a Lebensborn child, bearing an inscription with his name an best wishes from Himmler. Exberliner

5. The Fate of the Lebensborn Kids

The plan had been to breed a racial elite for Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich, but said Reich lasted only twelve years before going down to defeat and ruin, reduced to rubble by Allied bombers and rampaging Allied armies from east and west. The German Lebensborn children grew up in the war’s aftermath, many of them cowed by shame and uncertainty.

Even during the Third Reich, the breeding program was highly controversial, especially as illegitimate children were a social taboo in the eyes of many. To that end, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of Lebensborn homes in Germany, Norway, and other occupied countries, to provide comfortable accommodations for the unmarried pregnant women.

Whether they were then kept by their mothers or adopted by “good” German families, the lucky program children were those who grew up and lived unaware of their origins. Children known to have been products of the Lebensborn had a rough time of it, not least because their mothers were widely scorned as “SS whores”. In addition, they grew up enduring not only the social stigma of illegitimate birth, which was a big deal back then, but also the fact that their very existence was an uncomfortable reminder of a dark past best forgotten.

Many struggled through life, simultaneously desperate to discover, and dreading, the truth about their family history and whether their fathers had been war criminals. That was on top of feelings of inadequacy, coupled with alienation from their mothers, whether biological or adopted, and their families, plus the shame of illegitimacy and association with the Nazi project. Eventually, after decades of alienation, the Lebensborn children started coming out of the shadows. In the early 2000s, a group of them, by then in their 60s, started going public with their plight, as they sought to find out who their true parents had been.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Gisela Heidenreich. DW

6. Lebensborn Children: Gisela Heidenreich

A typical example was Gisela Heidenreich, who came to understand while still a toddler that something was wrong, when she overheard people referring to her as “the SS bastard”. Born in a Lebensborn clinic in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, in 1943, Gisela’s mother had been a secretary in a Lebensborn program facility in Munich, who was impregnated by a married SS officer.

The pregnant secretary then travelled from her home in Bavaria to Oslo, to give birth discretely in one of the program’s Norwegian facilities. Growing up, Gisela was unable to get answers from her mother, who refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding her birth or the identity of her father. It was not until she was an adult that she finally managed to track him down.

It was a complex encounter, replete with doubts and ambiguities. Aware of just what types of atrocities the Nazis, and especially the SS, had committed, Gisela was unsure how she would react upon meeting her father. As she described how it went down, however: “When I first met him it was on a station platform. I ran into his arms and all I thought was I’ve got a father … I accuse myself of shutting out who my father was. I never asked him what he did. My own reaction has helped me to understand how people in those days just put the blinders on and ignored the terrible things that were happening.”

She visited the Lebensborn home where her mother had been employed, Steinhoering, about an hour from Munich. It was there that Gisela’s mother had played a key role in signing program babies up for adoption. The former Lebensborn facility, now a center for the disabled, still had visible SS symbols, and its grounds contained a statue erected in the breeding program’s heyday, of an Aryan mother breastfeeding her children.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Guntram Weber. YouTube

7. Lebensborn Children: Guntram Weber

Another typical Lebensborn child was Guntram Weber, born in 1943. A creative writing teacher from Berlin, he had long suspected that his mother had lied about his father’s identity. He recalled sensing as a child that he was not quite normal, and that his family treated him with a certain degree of awkwardness that he could not help but notice.

He eventually discovered that the man he grew up thinking of as his father was actually his stepfather, not his biological one. However, he came to realize that the subject of his real father was taboo, and questions about him went unanswered and were discouraged. Eventually, to shut him up, Guntram’s mother made up a story about his father having been a member of the Luftwaffe who had been killed in the war.

She went on to add that his death had been traumatic, and was too painful for her to discuss. The story wrong hollow, however, and for decades thereafter, he suspected that his mother had lied. Especially after he snooped into her belonging, and discovered a silver cup bearing the inscription “Guntram Heinrich” on one side, and “From your godfather, Heinrich Himmler“, on the other.

Unable to screw up the courage to confront his mother, Guntram continued stewing in his doubts and wondering about his father’s true identity. An early break came when his sister, who had her own doubts about her parentage, discovered that she was a Lebensborn child, which made Gunter suspect that he was one, too, albeit from a different father.

Eventually, after significant sleuthing and digging, he discovered that his father had been an SS major general who had committed sundry atrocities during the war, convicted by a Polish court of war crimes in 1949, and sentenced to death. However, because justice is often elusive, he escaped to South America, where he lead a prosperous life, and died peacefully in 1970.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Nurses and toddlers outside a Lebensborn facility. Weebly

8. Norwegian Lebensborn: The Tyskerbarnas

The Nazis viewed the Scandinavians as an even more racially Nordic-Aryans than were the Germans themselves. Thus, once they occupied Denmark and Norway, the people in charge of the Lebensborn program had great hopes for breeding with the local women, setting up two facilities in Denmark, and nine in Norway. The breeding program in Norway proved even more fruitful than the German one, producing about 12,000 Lebensborn children in Norway, as opposed to 8000 in Germany.

The program’s efforts were warmly supported by Norway’s wartime government of Vidkung Quisling – a name that became synonymous with treason and collaboration. Quisling and his fellow collaborators were not only complicit in, but eager enablers of their German masters’ efforts to breed with blond and blue eyed Norwegian women.

As a result, up to 12,000 Lebensborn children were born in Norway. After Germany’s defeat and the liberation of Norway, things got grim for women who had slept with German soldiers during the occupation. They were viewed as traitorous whores, or “horizontal collaborators”. Many were subjected to indignities ranging from beatings to getting their heads shaved in public, or worse, and ostracized. Thousands were sent to Norwegian prison camps, were they toiled as virtual slaves.

Their children, referred to as Tyskerbarnas (“German children”) were an unwelcome reminder of the humiliation of Nazi occupation, and endured sundry forms of discrimination and mistreatment while growing up. Officials referred to them as “rats”, and between discrimination by schoolmates to discrimination by school authorities, few received a proper education or had a healthy childhood.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Lebensborn SS logo. Wikimedia

9. The Fate of the Tyskerbarnas Children

During the German occupation of Norway, women who had formed liaisons with German soldiers and officials had it made, compared to other Norwegians. Had Germany won the war, they and their Tyskerbarnas children would have formed a local social elite, but Germany was defeated, and that was bad news for those who had collaborated with the Nazis.

So great was the postwar hatred towards the “horizontal collaborators” and their Tyskerbarnas offspring that psychologists commissioned to study the mothers and their children concluded the women were asocial psychopaths. It went on to add that many of them were backwards, and of limited talent – implying a motive for their collaboration with the occupiers. Many of the children were forced to emigrate with their mothers after life in Norway grew intolerable, and most who remained grew into social misfits.

Of the Tyskerbarnas who remained, the Norwegian government and many Norwegians deemed them dangerous because of their Nazi genes, and it was feared that they might form a fascist fifth column and produce future Quislings. The government was desperate to rid itself of the problem, and attempted to send them as far away as Australia and Brazil. Sweden took in hundreds, and hundreds more were “sent back” to Germany.

Many were sent to special government-run homes, where they were raised as virtual prisoners, and there is evidence that drug trials were carried out on them and their mothers. Witnesses and documents indicate that the Norwegian military and Oslo University, perhaps at the behest of CIA, conducted experiments on them using LSD, mescaline, and other drugs.

They were eventually released in the early sixties as bewildered young adults into a world with which they had little experience. Of those who stayed with their mothers in the outside world, the verdict from a psychologist’s report that “father was a German” often sufficed to send them to mental institutes, were many were abused, physically and sexually.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
ABBA. Imgur

10. The Most Famous Tyskerbarnas/ Lebensborn Child

The singer, songwriter, and environmentalist Anni-Frid Lyngstad, best known as one of the lead singers of Swedish pop group ABBA, was one of the Tyskerbarnas children. Anni-Frid was the product of a union between a German occupation soldier and a Norwegian woman: her mother had carried on an affair with a German sergeant during the Nazi occupation.

After Anni-Frid’s birth in November of 1945, both her mother and grandmother were branded as collaborationist traitors – “horizontal collaboration” – and ostracized. As a result of the ostracism and dim prospects in Norway, Anni-Frid’s mother and grandmother were forced to emigrate to Sweden, where the future pop star’s mother died of kidney failure when Anni-Frid was an infant. She was raised in Sweden by her grandmother.

Anni-Frid exhibited a precocious musical talent from an early age, especially a captivating and beautiful voice. A series of smalltime singing gigs eventually led her to international fame and stardom with the pop group ABBA. However, her grandmother had died shortly before the group was formed, and thus never experienced her granddaughter’s success.

The ABBA star had grown up assuming that her father had died, but she eventually discovered that he was still alive, and the two had an emotional reunion in her Swedish villa in 1977. She eventually took up the cause of the thousands of Norwegian Tyskerbarnas, and the efforts to secure justice and redress for the discrimination they suffered after the war.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Kari Rosvall. Irish Times

11. Typical Tyskerbarnas: Kari Rosvall

While Tyskarbarnas Anni-Frid Lyngstad went on to find international fame and fortune as a pop star, most of her fellow Tyskerbarnas led more prosaic and obscure lives. A typical example was that of Kari Rosvall, whose life journey took her from Norway, where she was born, to Germany, where she was baptized, to Sweden, where she was raised, and finally to Ireland, where she settled.

Kari was a product of the Lebensborn program, her birth the result of a union between a Norwegian woman during the German occupation of Norway, and a Nazi. Soon after her birth, she was shipped to Germany, where she was baptized in one of the SS’ weird occult rituals, in which SS officials dedicated Lebensborn infants to lifelong loyalty to Hitler and to Nazi ideology.

After the war, the restored Norwegian government wanted nothing to do with Tyskerbarnas like Kari. In the euphoria and elevated passions following the liberation of Norway, her mother was beaten as a collaborator and “German whore”, and bore scars from the beating on her breasts to her dying day. The Red Cross eventually resettled the infant Kari in Sweden, where she was adopted by a Swedish couple.

She grew up assuming she was Swedish, but realized at a young age that she was different from the taunts of schoolmates and a teacher who referred to her as a bastard, and an awareness that adults often whispered about her. However, it was not until she was 21 that she discovered that she had been born in Norway, not Sweden. So she embarked on a journey of discovery that took her back to Norway, where she encountered her mother.

Results were mixed, as her reappearance in her biological mother’s life opened up old wounds. She eventually discovered that her biological father was a German Nazi official named Kurt Zeidler, whom Kari’s mother described as “not a nice man”. It was not until she was in her mid 60s, by which time she had settled in Dublin, Ireland, that Kari first saw a baby picture of herself in a Lebensborn facility.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Lebensborn child and nurse, 1943. Daily Mail

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.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Nazi children. Renegade Tribune

13. Commencement of Widespread Child Abductions

In May of 1940, Himmler issued a circular titled “The Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East“, whose gist was to destroy Poles as an ethnicity, and reduce them to a pool of slave labor to be used up within a decade. Within 20 years, Poles were to be completely eradicated. Not all Poles, however: a select minority, children of Aryan stock, were to be salvaged, Germanized, and added to the Third Reich’s population.

The part of Himmler’s plan dealing with Polish children eliminated all but the most basic of education. Writing was deemed unnecessary for Poles, so children were to be taught only how to scribble their names, and count up to 500. Polish parents who wanted more education for their children were to apply to the SS for special permits, which were to be granted only if the children were deemed “racially valuable”. If so, they were to be taken to Germany and Germanized under the aegis of the Lebensborn program.

Additionally, an annual selection was to be made of Polish children between ages 6 and 10, to identify any who met German racial criterion. Those who did were to be taken from their families, shipped to Germany, given German names, and placed in the Lebensborn program. Once sufficiently Germanized, they were to be put up for adoption.

Hitler approved of Himmler’s child abduction directives on June 20th, 1940. Orders to implement the Polish plan, and variations thereof in other conquered territories, were sent out to the SS and German governors and occupation officials throughout Nazi occupied Europe. By 1945, over 200,000 children had been kidnapped in Poland, plus another 200,000 from the rest of Europe.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
German ‘racial specialist’ examining a child to determine whether she was ‘Aryan’ or ‘Alien’. Holocaust Museum

14. Typical Child Abduction Operation: Cilli, Yugoslavia, August 3 – 7, 1942

The Nazis adopted a variety of means to seize the sought after “racially valuable” children throughout Europe. A representative example of one of the methodologies used occurred in the town of Cilli, Yugoslavia, in today’s Slovenia, between August 3rd to 7th, 1942. It took place during a crackdown on resistance activities in the region.

It began with the rounding up and herding into a schoolyard of about 1300 people of all ages, many of them relatives of people executed by Yugoslavia’s German occupiers for partisan or suspected partisan resistance activities. After all the families were accounted for, the Germans divided them in into three groups: men, women, and children.

Crying children, including toddlers and infants, were separated from their families and placed in pens, where they were examined by Nazis. Working with clipboards and charts, the officials noted down each child’s physical and facial characteristics to assess his or her “racial value”. Based on their findings, the children were divided into four categories.

Category 1 or 2 were for those who met Himmler’s criterion of what a German child should look like, marking them as potentially useful additions to the Third Reich. Any hint of Slavic features or signs of Jewish heritage consigned a child to the lower racial Category 3 or 4 – untermensch, of no value to the Nazis except as future slave labor. Assuming they were allowed to grow up into slave laborers, of course, and not simply liquidated.

In this instance, the children of categories 3 and 4 were handed back to their parents. 430 children classified as Category 1 or 2, ranging in age from infants to twelve, were taken by their captors, placed on trains, and transported to a holding center outside Graz, Austria. There, they were subjected to a more thorough examination by “racial specialists”, who compared the children’s noses to official ideal lengths and shapes. Their teeth, lips, hips, and genitals were likewise examined and compared to Nazi ideals. Those who failed this second cut were reclassified as Category 3 or 4, and sent away. Those who made it through this second cut and maintained their classification as Category 1 or 2 were handed over to the Lebensborn program.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Folker Heinecke. Awesome Stories

15. An Abducted Child: Folker Heinecke

After German tanks rolled into the Crimea in 1942, they were followed by Nazi officials to administer the newly conquered territory. There, some of them encountered a blond haired toddler named Aleksander Litau, who possessed striking blue eyes. The kid’s cuteness attracted not only admiring looks from mothers, but also from SS men who thought that he represented the ideal of what an Aryan child should look like.

The cuteness proved a curse, however: as the SS saw it, leaving what they viewed as a perfect Aryan specific amid a sea of inferior Slavs amounted to a crime against the Germanic race. So they snatched him from his family, and shipped him to Germany in order to enroll him in the Lebensborn program, Germanize him, and see to it that he was raised as a German.

Photos of the boy made their way to Heinrich Himmler, who was captivated by him, and ordered that he be subjected an extra rigorous battery of racial testing to ensure that there was no trace of “Jewishness” in him. Satisfied that the kid was “pure Aryan”, Himmler personally oversaw his adoption by a wealthy and fanatical Nazi named Adalbert Heinecke.

Renamed Folker Heinecke, the former Crimean kid was able to recall when in his late 60s, seeing Himmler when he visited his home and had drinks with his “father”. Folker’s first inkling of his background came after the war, when a local child taunted him: “you know you’re a bastard, don’t you? They’re not your real mom and dad“. He never discussed it with his parents, who although they remained unreformed Nazi fanatics to their dying day, nonetheless loved him dearly. After their deaths, Folker spent much of his adulthood in a quest to discover who he was and was not. It finally led him to his Crimean origins, a quest that became the subject of a BBC documentary in 2009.

Here’s What to Know About Lebensborn, the Nazi Human Selective Breeding and Child Abduction Program
Ingrid von Oelhafen. Daily Mail

16. An Abducted Child: Ingrid von Oelhafen

In 1942, nine month old Ingrid von Oelhafen (not her name at the time), was examined by SS officials in German occupied Yugoslavia to determine whether she met Himmler’s criterion of a “racially valuable” child with sufficiently Aryan traits. She did, and was accordingly snatched from her parents, taken across the border into Germany, and placed in the Lebensborn program.

Because she was still a baby who had not picked up any significant cultural or linguistic traits, there was no need to Germanize her before putting her up for adoption. She was adopted by a “good German” family, renamed, and for most of her life, Ingrid was wholly ignorant of her origins and background. However, as a child, she felt little connection with and affection from her family, not least because her “mother” had abandoned her in a children’s home in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in WWII.

It was not until she was 58 years old, when she began digging into her family history, that Ingrid discovered clues hinting at her background. She followed them up, and in what amounted to a remarkable detective story, ended up finding the truth about her origins. To her shock, she discovered that her birth name had been Erika Matko, that she had been abducted into the Lebensborn program in her infancy, and that her biological family lived in today’s Slovenia.

In an added twist, Ingrid von Oelhafen, nee Erika Matko, discovered that the occupation authorities had given her parents a replacement baby, of unknown origins, in lieu of the Aryan-looking one that they took to raise in Germany. She eventually put down her experience and the story of the quest for her origins in a book, Hitler’s Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

BBC News – Nazi Past Haunts Aryan Children

Daily Mail, January 9th, 2009 – Stolen by the Nazis

Exberliner, November 22nd, 2010 – Third Reich Poster Child

Guardian, The, June 30th, 2002 – Torment of the ABBA Star With a Nazi Father

Irish Times, May 6th, 2015 – Dublin Woman Found She Was Bred by Nazis For ‘Master’ Race

Irish Times, May 16th, 2015 – Nowhere’s Child, by Kari Rosvall and Naomi Linehan Review: Affecting Memoir

Jewish Virtual Library – Stolen Children: An Interview With Gitta Sereny

Jewish Virtual Library – The ‘Lebensborn’ Program (1935 – 1945)

Lukas, Richard C. – Did the Children Cry? Hitler’s War Against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945 (2001)

New York Times, November 6th, 2006 – The Reverse of Holocaust: The Nazis’ Chosen

Oelhafen, Ingrid Von, and Tate, Tim – Hitler’s Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn (2015)

Spiegel, November 7th, 2006 – Lebensborn Children Break Silence

Star News, May 8th, 2007 – Stolen: The Story of a Polish Child Germanized by the Nazis

Daily Express, April 28th, 2017 – Baby Snatched From Parents by Nazis and Brought Up as an Aryan

Telegraph, The, January 6th, 2009 – Man Kidnapped by SS Discovers True Identity

Wikipedia – Eugenics

Wikipedia – Kidnapping of Children by Nazi Germany