As you may or may not have learned in school,* the Germans did some pretty unconscionable things during the Second World War.** Among their more horrible attempts at perfecting a race of tall, blond, blue-eyed*** people was the Lebensborn program.
The Lebensborn program an office within the Schutzstaffe (the SS) and was born of the concept of racial purity and incorporated a two-prong attack, as it were, in perpetuating that purity. It was put in place in 1936 with, according to Heinrich Himmler, the express purpose of:
1. Support[ing] racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families with many children;
2. Plac[ing] and car[ing] for racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and the progenitor’s families by the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children;
3. Car[ing] for the children; and
4. Car[ing] for the children’s mothers.****
However — and this is a big however — it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and taking care of women and children. Though Lebensborn was implemented as a form of social welfare, especially for unmarried women, two of the main modus operandi for the program were a. removal of Polish children (anywhere from 10,000 t0 200,000…all records were destroyed, so there’s no way to come up with an accurate count though the most likely number is somewhere around 20,000) from their parents — though some were orphans — and b. the impregnation of often unwilling, but genetically desirable, women, especially outside of Germany. The Norwegians fared especially poorly in that regard. Though literally all of the German records of the program in Norway were destroyed, the Norwegians, it turns out, kept very good records; according to Eva Simonsen’s article “Into the Open — or Hidden Away?: The Construction of War Children as a Social Category in Post-war Norway and Germany“, while about 8,000 children were counted among the Lebensborn in Germany, there were roughly 12,000 in Norway.
The first clinic opened in Munich in 1936; the first clinic outside of Germany opened in Norway in 1941. It should also probably be noted that the clinics were often housed in homes that had been confiscated from the Jews. All told, there were eventually facilities — though some were merely field offices — in nine countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.
*Seriously, I read an article yesterday about a poll done by the Anti-Defamation League that found that nearly half of the world’s population doesn’t know the Holocaust is a thing that happened. To some extent, that makes sense. But half?
**It should go without saying that this doesn’t mean other parties didn’t also do unconscionable things. The Russians, for example, threw under-armed soldiers at the Germans during the Siege of Leningrad and when some of them said, essentially, “f**k this noise!” and opted for desertion, the Russian commanders ordered their troops — who, let’s remember were already dealing with a shortage of ammunition and, if they had a rifle at all, were equipped with a Moson Nagant, which isn’t the easiest weapon in the world to operate when you’re at the shooting range, nevermind being shot at — to shoot any Russian soldiers abandoning their posts in the back. It’s just the the Germans are the best-known offenders.
***Fun story: I have a friend whose ancestry I had just assumed was Scandinavian, because like the overwhelming majority of my Scandinavian (actually Scandinavian, not Scandinavian-descended) friends, he’s very tall, very blond, and very blue-eyed. But it turns out, his family are mostly Austrian. When I expressed my surprise at this last week (my exact words included, “you’re like the poster child for the Volkish Movement” — for more on that, read George L. Mosse’s superlative work, The Crisis of German Ideology), he said, “I know. I’m Hitler’s wet dream.”
****That can be read on page 465 of the 5th volume from the Nuremberg Trials, which can be found here in its entirety.