Berlin

Lebensborn low-down

Lebensborn means ‘spring of life’ in archaic German. It was a Nazi programme launched by SS boss Heinrich Himmler in 1935 that ran until the end of the war.

To arrest sliding birth rates and soaring numbers of abortions caused by a shortage of husbands after World War One, a network of maternity homes was established to destigmatise illegitimate birth – for mothers of good Aryan stock fathering SS children.

Though most records were destroyed during the war, it is estimated some 8,000 Lebensborn children were born in Germany and 12,000 in Norway, where the children of ‘Viking women’ were particularly coveted. Norwegian Lebensborn children suffered terrible persecution after the war.

Only 40 percent of applicant women were deemed racially suitable. By 1940, around 70 percent were unwed mothers.

In Lebensborn homes, children received an SS baptism at which mothers swore the SS oath: “My honour is my loyalty.” For some, this bond of secrecy proved hard to break.

Though most evidence was destroyed, it is believed that tens of thousands of blue-eyed, blonde-haired children were kidnapped in Poland and channelled through Lebensborn homes for Germanisation.