Second World War

The Lebensborn Program: Eugenics in the Third Reich

The Third Reich's obsession with crafting a master race found disturbing expression in the Lebensborn program

pure race of hitler

The Third Reich’s obsession with crafting a master race found disturbing expression in the Lebensborn program, an initiative to breed or abduct ‘racially pure’ children for the Nazi regime. Below, Giles Milton investigates this abhorrent chapter of history.

Shortly after the war’s outbreak, young Hannelore Schottgen was surprised to learn of a special visitor coming to her school. A representative of the Woman’s Union would speak to her class, an intriguing diversion from the usual lessons.

Perfecting the race

What unsettled Hannelore was the topic: Lebensborn, a term entirely unfamiliar to her. Schottgen lived in the conservative town of Pforzheim, southern Germany. The townspeople, including young Hannelore and her peers, were enthusiastic supporters of the Third Reich and its youth organizations.

Despite this, she and her classmates were profoundly shocked by the Woman’s Union representative’s talk. Lebensborn, or ‘Fountain of Life’, was an SS-run program established by Heinrich Himmler in 1935. Its goal was the propagation of ‘racially pure’ children through the pairing of Aryan men and women. These children, ideally blue-eyed and blond-haired, were to be indoctrinated from birth, molded into fanatical Nazi supporters and the vanguard of a supposed master race.

The girls were horrified. The speaker suggested that volunteering to become pregnant and “gift a child to the Führer” would offer untold luxury and accommodation in luxurious facilities.

Hannelore and her classmates debated fiercely. Some saw immorality in bearing a child destined to be separated from its parents. Others felt the war demanded such sacrifices. All were deeply troubled, years of indoctrination stressing virtuous motherhood now clashing with this directive for out-of-wedlock births. Ultimately, a friend’s statement reflected the majority sentiment: “At the end of the day, we must retain our human dignity.”

Hannelore agreed, struggling to imagine anyone succumbing to such a perverse scheme. Yet, Lebensborn quickly attracted expectant mothers after its first birthing home opened in 1936.

Heim Hochland, in the village of Steinhoering near Munich, became the blueprint for many others: 12 within Germany and Austria, nine in Norway, and others scattered across occupied Europe. These facilities aided unmarried women accidentally pregnant, provided the parents were deemed ‘racially valuable’, alongside offering secure environments for planned pregnancies between ‘desirable’ SS officers and women.

Lebensborn’s secrecy makes first-hand accounts rare. However, one young German mother, Hildegard Trutz, offered her story shortly after the war’s end, offering insight into the institution’s operations.

Young Hannelore Schottgen, living in the conservative German town of Pforzheim, was among countless young people indoctrinated into the Third Reich’s ideology. Even so, she and her classmates were deeply disturbed by a presentation on the Lebensborn program. Established by Heinrich Himmler in 1935, its objective was to increase the population of ‘racially pure’ Aryans. These children, the Nazi ideal of blond hair and blue eyes, were to be raised as fanatical regime supporters.

The Lebensborn representative painted a picture of luxury and comfort for women willing to “gift a child to the Führer.” Yet, the girls grappled with this blatant contradiction of traditional motherhood and morality. A friend’s declaration echoed the common sentiment: “At the end of the day, we must retain our human dignity.”

Despite the revulsion many felt, Lebensborn rapidly gained traction. Its first birthing home opened in 1936, followed by similar facilities across Germany, Austria, Norway, and occupied Europe. These centers accommodated unmarried pregnant women, provided the parents met strict racial criteria. Additionally, they facilitated planned pregnancies between SS officers and ‘desirable’ women.

Secrecy surrounding Lebensborn makes first-hand accounts scarce. However, Hildegard Trutz, a young German mother, offered her experience shortly after the war. Her story provides harrowing insight into the program’s methods and manipulations.

Selecting ‘pure’ partners

The Lebensborn program was a Nazi initiative aimed at increasing the population of individuals deemed racially superior. Young women with documented “Aryan” ancestry were brought to special facilities, often luxuriously appointed, where they were examined for genetic fitness. Participants were required to sign documents relinquishing any claim to their children prior to being introduced to carefully selected SS officers.

women of hitler

The program emphasized anonymity and encouraged brief liaisons between these women and the SS men. The goal was to produce offspring who would then be raised in institutions that instilled unquestioning loyalty to the Nazi regime. Mothers rarely saw their children after birth.

A woman who participated in the Lebensborn program described the selection process that emphasized physical traits like blonde hair and blue eyes. She recounts the physical examinations, the pressure to choose a partner, and the brief sexual encounters, all justified as a patriotic duty to the Führer.

Though initially proud of her participation, her personal life was later strained when her husband discovered her past in the program.

The Lebensborn Program: A Dark Chapter in Nazi Eugenics

Heinrich Himmler, leader of the Lebensborn program, played a pivotal role in its establishment and horrific expansion during the early stages of World War II. Driven by a twisted notion of racial purity, SS officers were deployed across occupied Eastern Europe to identify children who fit the Aryan ideal—blonde hair and blue eyes. These children were forcibly removed from their families and transported to Germany for re-education and indoctrination by Nazi-approved families. As teenagers, they were placed in German boarding schools, molded into unquestioning supporters of the Third Reich.

Himmler chillingly justified these atrocities: “It is our duty to take [these children] with us to remove them from their environment… Either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people or we destroy this blood.”

While precise numbers are elusive, roughly 17,500 babies were born within the Lebensborn program’s facilities in Germany and Norway over its ten-year existence. An additional estimated 250,000 children were abducted from Eastern Europe. Postwar adoptions and the deliberate destruction of records obscured many of these children’s origins. Hildegard Trutz exemplifies this; her child’s fate remains unknown. Countless Lebensborn children faced ostracism in postwar Germany, bearing the permanent stigma of their origins.

History Affairs
Kim Luu is a writer specializing in Chinese history and civilization. Born and raised in Vietnam, a country with a shared cultural heritage with China, he developed an early fascination and conducted in-depth studies on the greatest civilization in East Asia.

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