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, 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.
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.
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.
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.