The Children Of Hitler's "Master Race" Experiment Are Still Alive, And Here's What They Look Like
Nazi Germany didn't just seek to eradicate those who didn't meet the criteria of their ideal race. They also fought to create a super genetic line through selective breeding in the ultra-secret, undeniably twisted Lebensborn program. It was akin to Josef Mengele's concentration camp experiments to the extent that it involved Nazi "science" and a total lack of bioethics.
This program, created by the SS, was a state-supported, registered association sparked by the shrinking birth rate in Nazi Germany. Lebensborn mothers faced a moral predicament. While many already were fervent followers of Hitler, for some, it was a matter of survival in war-torn, Nazi-occupied Europe.
The Lebensborn program attempted to breed racial purity through a very specific set of phenotypic criteria. The children of Lebensborn were often kidnapped from their Nordic and Eastern European families, forced to erase their past identities and be reborn as Hitler youth. For many, their lives were lies, and they only discovered their origins in adulthood, if at all.
Here's a look inside the twisted Nazi program to breed a master race and what happened to the Lebensborn survivors when the war was finally over.
Lebensborn Was A Secret SS-Initiated Program To Create A Master Race
Lebensborn, meaning "fount of life," was a secret program carried out by the SS. The program encouraged genetically "pure" women (blonde-haired, blue-eyed women with the right measurements) to breed with SS officers. It was literally a program to selectively breed a master race of humans.
The Nazis Set Up "Clinics" All Across Europe
To get more people into the Lebensborn program, the Nazis set up homes (sometimes called clinics) all across Europe. At its height, there were 10 facilities in Germany alone and 26 homes across eight countries. While some were actual places children were kept, others were just field offices. Outside of Germany, Norway had the highest amount of Lebensborn children. They facilitated 250 adoptions, most of which the mothers agreed to. In some cases, however, they were not told where their children were going.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad Of ABBA Is The Most Famous Lebensborn Child – But She Was Shunned In Norway For Her OriginsPhoto: Frankie Fouganthin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Between 1936 and the end of World War II in 1945, between 6,000 and 8,000 babies were born in Lebensborn clinics (though some sources estimated the number was a much higher 20,000). When the war ended, these children moved on with their lives, and many only learned about their true identity as adults.
The most famous of these children is Anni-Frid Lyngstad of the Swedish pop band ABBA. For her part, Lyngstad and other children like her – the products of unions between Norwegian mothers and German SS fathers – were forced out of their native country as traitors along with their mothers.
Women Were Selected To Participate In Lebensborn If They Fit Strict Criteria
Most of the women who participated in Lebensborn were single mothers, and each had to meet very strict criteria. This spanned beyond blonde hair and blue eyes. Women had to prove they had no genetic disorders and were tested to ensure they had not a drop of Jewish blood (as if that is a real thing that can be tested). They also had to prove the identity of the father, and he had to meet the same criteria – blonde hair, blue eyes, and freedom from genetic disorders.
Perhaps the most important criteria was women's allegiance to Nazism. They were indoctrinated into Hitler's ideology while they were living in the Lebensborn clinic, but many women who participated were already fervent followers of Hitler and had been scouted by the SS for their genetic traits and loyalty.
Fathers Included Hitler's Most Elite Officers
Sometimes, women would come into Lebensborn already pregnant. Other times, women specifically bred for this purpose alone. Most of the fathers were SS officers who had their own families. According to the New York Times, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, encouraged these officers to breed outside of their marriage. They weren't committing adultery. They were doing their jobs by building a German master race.
According to Hildegard Trutz, a Lebensborn mother whose story was recounted in the book Fascinating Footnotes From History, the SS officers who fathered Lebensborn children were "very tall and strong with blue eyes and blond hair." The women in her clinic went to a meet-and-greet session with a group of SS officers where they played games and watched films before she was given a week to choose her mate. The officer slept with her for three evenings the first week. On the other nights, he slept with other girls in the clinic.
At The Clinics, Children Were Conceived In Very Average Ways
One of the biggest myths of the Lebensborn program was that clinics were essentially bordellos stocked with willing women for SS men to do with what they pleased. This was not at all the case as the majority of these women were either selected from the League of German Girls or already pregnant. According to Dorothee Schmitz- Köster, an author who penned a book about Lebensborn, all of these babies were conceived in very normal ways.
“The children were conceived in all the usual ways: love affairs, one-night stands, and so forth,” she told the New York Times. “Abortion was not legal in Germany then, and in many cases, the women did not want to keep the babies.”
However, the women were given incentives to breed, and for some, it was a matter of survival in a poor, warn-torn country where families starved. Women chose breeding partners from a list of qualified SS officers. Hildegard Trutz was just 18 years old when she was recruited into the program. After she finished schooling, she joined the League of German Girls where one of the leaders suggested she give birth because Germany needed more "valuable stock." She signed up for the program immediately and chose a breeding partner from a group of SS officers.