A. E. G.
18 December 1998
The purpose of this paper is to investigate how the SS (Schutz Staffeln) as an organization and its Lebensborn Society in particular carried out certain aspects of Adolf Hitlers racial policies. Hitler had expounded many racial views in his political tract Mein Kampf. For example, he wrote that ". . . there is only one most sacred human right, . . . the most sacred obligation, namely: to see to it that the blood is preserved pure, so that by the preservation of the best human material a possibility is given for a more noble development of these human beings" (606). In his view it was the responsibility of the German Reich not only to collect and preserve the most valuable racial elements but also to lead these to a position of dominance (601).
In autumn 1927 a previously obscure Nazi Party clerk, Heinrich Himmler, was appointed Deputy Reichsführer of Hitlers black-shirted body guards, the SS (Padfield 86). Himmler had been soaking up the racial ideas of two of Hitlers friends, Alfred Rosenberg and R. Walther Darré. Rosenberg wrote philosophically about the Nordic race and ancient blood battles. Darré, on the other hand, was a practical agriculturist who suggested that Himmler drop his hobby of chicken breeding and herb raising and instead focus his attention on developing humans. For example, the approximately two hundred fine physical specimens who comprised the SS would be just the type of men upon whom to build and strengthen the Nordic characteristics of the German population (Frischauer 26-28).
Thus inspired by Darré, Himmler approached Hitler with ideas for a tremendous new role for the SS. If Hitler were to put him in charge of the Black Guards, he could help to perpetuate the Nordic race for all time. The SS would serve as a bulwark against Jewish influences and act as ". . . symbols of the greatness of the German race of which we are the guardians" (Frischauer 28-29). Preoccupied with Party politics in Berlin and desirous of starting some practical race policies in motion, Hitler appointed Himmler Reichsführer-SS in January 1929.
Himmler set to work to build up the SS by selecting only the best Aryans who sprang from the "blood and soil" of Germany (Frischauer 29-30). This Nordic ideal had been previously described by Hans Gunter as a tall, blue- or grey-eyed blond with a long head and narrow face (Henry 24), ". . . the jewel of the earth, the radiant product of the joy of creation" (Henry 56).
To facilitate the strict selection of these individuals, the Race and Settlement Main Office (RuSHA) was established in 1931. Guided by a list of racial values, recruiting offices staffed by so-called race experts screened the flood of applicants. About twenty physical measurements and characteristics were noted including height, chest, cheek bones, and body hair; eye color, shape, and spacing; and the proportional length of arms, legs, and trunk (Henry 25-27, 31). An impeccable Aryan family tree containing no Jewish or Slavic ancestors dating back to 1750 was necessary. In addition, certificates verifying physical and mental health and the absence of family hereditary disease were required (Frischauer 32-33). Prospective candidates submitted photographs of themselves either naked or wearing trunks. Each photo was scrutinized personally by Himmler or his race chiefs. Only those individuals who combined a perfect physique with the perfect movement of an athlete were accepted into the SS. The selection process was so stringent that until 1936 no one who had a filled tooth was accepted (Henry 25-26).
From this select racial stock the future leaders of the Reich would be bred. Because wives of equally high racial value would be required for this endeavor, the SS "engagement and marriage order" went into effect on January 1, 1932. Subsequently every SS marriage had to be approved in advance by Reichsführer Himmler himself. Women applying for marriage permits had to submit photos of themselves clad in swim suits. The same physical characteristics, personal health, family heredity, and family tree requirements had to be met by the women as the SS men (Henry 30-31). Lastly, the prospective bride was subjected to a pelvic examination to determine exact uterine position and to attempt to verify the ability to bear at least four children for the Reich (Frischauer 33). It is interesting to note that the selection of racially pure marriage partners within the SS dovetailed with Hitlers statement in Mein Kampf that ". . . a folkish State primarily will have to lift marriage out of the level of a permanent race degradation . . ." (606).
In spite of the humiliating hurdles placed before SS applicants and their fiancées, by early 1933 the SS had mushroomed to an elite order of 50,000 men (Henry 25). This phenomenal growth must be viewed against the grim reality of post-W.W.I Germany. For example, vast numbers of young men had been decimated. Only 25 percent of women in the twenty-five to thirty age group could ever dream of marriage. Wracked by inflation and unemployment, people feared the future. The use of birth control spread and before 1933 the number of abortions approached one million annually. The birthrate plummeted (Henry 33, 37).
Hitler knew that rebuilding Germany would be difficult unless women were returned to their previous roles as homemakers and childbearers. With the Machtergreifung (Nazi seizure of power in 1933) (Padfield 655) every effort was made to refocus womens lives on Küche and Kinder (kitchen and children). For example, school curricula were changed to prepare girls for noble careers in the home as wives and mothers instead of in jobs outside the home. Large families of Nordic appearance now became entitled to many benefits. August 12--the birthday of Hitlers mother--became Mothers Day in Germany. On that day prolific mothers were decorated publicly with the German Mothers Cross: a gold cross for those who had borne a minimum of eight children, silver for six children, and bronze for those with four. Some people jokingly referred to this as the "Order of the Rabbit" (Kaninchenorden) (Henry 34-36).
The Nazi Party extended marriage loans to newly weds and baby bonuses to encourage large Aryan families. These policies provided two important benefits to Germany: first, male unemployment was reduced when women left the work force and secondly, the extremely low birth rate began to increase somewhat (Detwiler 36). Hitler summed up the whole purpose of the Nazi Womens Movement in his speech of September 8, 1934 at Nuremberg: "The program . . . has in truth but one single point, and that point is The Child--that tiny creature which must be born and should grow strong. . . . It is a glorious sight, this golden youth of ours: we know that it is the Germany of the future. . ." (My New Order 288).
As women returned to careers in the home, the propagandists turned their attentions to other groups who made no positive contribution to the birth rate: homosexuals, prostitutes, and those who performed or received abortions. The issue was not the morals of these groups, but rather the childlessness which resulted from their activities. Eventually some success was achieved because during the year 1938 the number of abortions fell to less than 200,000 (Henry 36-37).
In spite of all the patriotic pro-child propaganda and the special awards and allocations to large Aryan families, the legitimate birth rate increased very slowly during the first years of Nazi rule. Illegitimate births, on the other hand, began to increase as boys and girls began to spend more time away from parental influence and control. Boys participated in local, regional, and national Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) activities as well as Labour Service. Girls were active in the Bund Deutscher Mädchen (BDM or League of German Girls) and Mothers and Childrens Aid organizations which promoted childbearing and homemaking.
Youth began to see marriage as an old-fashioned institution especially in view of the post-W.W.I demographics. In October 1935 the youth movement leaders initiated the concept of "biological marriages" to make premarital sex between young people more respectable. BDM leaders constantly reminded girls that although there would not be enough husbands for all of them to marry, every girl or woman would be able to bear children (Henry 41-44). According to Georg Grander, a popular slogan of the day urged every German woman to give "a child to the Führer" (Of Pure Blood). Increasingly German girls absorbed the propaganda and became inspired with their sacred duty to propagate precious babies for the Reich.
In 1935 Himmler wrote that "Our entire struggle, the political struggle of the last 15 years, the establishment of the Wehrmacht to protect our frontiers, would be in vain and pointless if the victory of the German child did not follow the victory of the German spirit" (Of Pure Blood). Given the prevailing conditions, the rising rate of illegitimate births, and the desire to eliminate abortions, Himmler saw an urgent need to provide maternity homes where unmarried mothers of pure blood could have their babies in secret and, if they wished, arrange for their babies adoptions through the services of the SS.
To fulfill this need the Lebensborn (Fount of Life) Registered Society was established on December 12, 1935 (Henry 46). According to the Reichsführer, the obligations of Lebensborn were as follows: "1) to support large families of good racial and genetic value; 2) to provide and care for racially and genetically valuable expectant mothers who it can be assumed after thorough examination will produce equally valuable children; 3) to care for these children; 4) to care for the mothers of these children" (Of Pure Blood).
Initially the Society was administered by the Sippenamt (Families or Clans Department) of the RuSHA. Himmler served as chairman of the board (Padfield 166). Within a year he removed the organization from Sippenamt control and placed it under the SS Fuhrungsamt, his personal SS general staff office (Henry 49-50). SS General Karl Wolff was in charge of secret correspondence and represented the Reichsführer in all Lebensborn transactions (Frischauer 118).
In the early days Lebensborn was financed through monthly membership fees. As a matter of honor Himmler expected each SS man in the head office to become a member of the organization. The membership fee was based on his respective age, income (rank), and the number of children in his family. Because the Lebensborn homes were of such vital importance to the national population goals, construction and furnishing expenses were to be borne by the Volkswohlfahrt, the Nazi Party welfare office (Henry 49-50).
Later on the Society received generous financial assistance from industrialists, financiers, and the upper class. "Among the most generous . . . were I.G. Farben, Siemens, Krupp, the Dresdner Bank, the Reichsbank, the Deutsche Bank and the food, oil and pharmaceutical industries" (Henry 68). Perhaps the largest share of financial support came from the money, property, buildings, medical installations, art objects, etc. expropriated from the Jewish community. Trainloads of clothing, linens, furniture, and various provisions were shipped to Lebensborn facilities from all over occupied western Europe and the East. The true nature of this "charitable" organization becomes clear when one contemplates the extent to which one group of people was robbed and then annihilated in order to promote and support the growth of the Aryan race (Henry 69, 72-73).
From its inception the head office of the organization was located in Munich. The headquarters building of the Munich Jewish community situated on the Herzog-Max-Strasse was requisitioned for Lebensborn use. Several hundred staff members were employed there to assist in the operation of existing homes as well as establish new ones. Homes were created to serve not only the maternity needs of pure-blooded mothers but also the needs of children, convalescents, and even old SS people. SS Major Pflaum was the first chief of the head office in Munich (Henry 50, 71).
Administratively each Lebensborn home was to be headed by an SS medical superintendent who was directly under Pflaum and Himmler. This medical officer would register births and deaths, maintain general order, and arrange for the supply of food and all other provisions. He alone had access to the secret files which were kept locked. He would be assisted in his duties by a head nurse, a secretary, and an administrator, all of whom were SS or Nazi Party members (Henry 50).
Within a year of the founding of Lebensborn, the Societys first maternity home was opened in 1936 in Steinhöring, Bavaria which is about 20 miles east of Munich. Subsequently about 11 more were built throughout the Reich. As Germany overran and occupied its neighbors during W.W.II, at least 10 additional homes were set up in those countries (Of Pure Blood).
The first year Lebensborn cared for unwed Nordic mothers who had become pregnant as a result of relationships with officers and men of the SS and police force. A woman could have her baby in the privacy of the maternity home. Then either the father would be induced to marry the mother of his child or the baby would be adopted by an SS family. SS wives even took advantage of the fine care provided and used the birthing facilities to have their own legitimate children (Padfield 166).
By 1937 Lebensborn was open to any unmarried woman of valuable blood (Frischauer 99). According to former Lebensborn employees, when a pregnant woman sought entry to Lebensborn, a questionnaire was filled out and a police reference was required. The woman had to swear that she had had intercourse only with the babys father during the time of fertility. The father had to acknowledge that he was the parent of the baby. Both the mother and the babys father had to present certificates of good health and proof that they were Aryans. Fulfillment of SS racial policies was of the utmost importance (Of Pure Blood). Because of the strict racial requirements, less than 50 percent of the pregnant applicants to Lebensborn were accepted (Henry 48).
Upon acceptance into Lebensborn, the pregnant woman moved into one of the Lebensborn homes. By this time she was in her third month of pregnancy. The typical length of stay was until three months postpartum. The general tone of the Lebensborn maternity homes was meant to put the women at ease while they prepared for and recovered from birthing and then cared for the newborns. Although obstetrical hospital facilities were present, the atmosphere was not hospital-like. Outsiders were not permitted entry so the women were totally isolated from the outside world while in residence (Of Pure Blood).
The choice of which women would give birth in the Lebensborn program was shrouded in secrecy and handled by the headquarters office in Munich. In September 1939 Himmler notified the SS doctors that they were duty-bound to respect the honor of each pregnant woman regardless of her marital status. Furthermore, absolute secrecy was required surrounding the birth of certain babies and the names of their fathers (Of Pure Blood). In order to protect the privacy of illegitimate births, Lebensborn established its own birth registry office which was called Steinhöring II. As a result, no births were ever recorded with local officials (Henry 77).
During the war years of 1940 to 1944, Lebensborn experienced phenomenal growth; by this time several thousand people worked for the organization. At some of the homes more than 500 babies were delivered annually. The availability of beds began to determine how long mothers could stay to recuperate. The few remaining secret files reveal that during this time of overcrowding, chaos often existed. The level and quality of cleanliness and hygiene, discipline and diet suffered and fell far short of the ideal (Henry 60-61, 68).
Through it all, the Reichsführer remained keenly interested in every aspect of the lives of the Lebensborn children and their mothers. For example, when mothers wrote to him, he read and answered each letter personally. Himmler mandated oatmeal for breakfast and the consumption of whole grain breads. He queried the Lebensborn staff whether the vegetables were steamed correctly and whether the potatoes were boiled in their skins so as to retain the nutrients. Were raw foods such as sauerkraut and carrots being served (Henry 56-58, 65-66)? How should the maternity homes be decorated and what runic logo would be best for the Society stationery (Padfield 166)?
Lebensborn became an alternative to abortion with its resultant loss of genetically valuable future citizens. In the past many upper class women might have sought abortions, but now those who qualified racially were able to take advantage of the confidential Lebensborn facilities. Himmler cited figures of 300,000 women being rendered sterile and another 30,000 to 40,000 women dying each year as a direct result of having had abortions (Padfield 166, 191). Because Himmler regarded all pure-blooded mothers as "sacred" (Of Pure Blood), the loss of these "future mothers" and their offspring was intolerable to him.
Another concern of Himmlers was the loss of so many men of reproductive age on the eastern front. Due to heavy war losses, Himmler was concerned about the 400,000 women who already would be unable to find husbands with whom to procreate. In May 1942 he gave SS Colonel Max Sollmann--Pflaums successor as chief of the Munich head office--secret instructions to plan and then construct a large Lebensborn Zentrale (central facility) in Munich. He further instructed that the new building be "decent and imposing befitting the noble idea and the honor of the unmarried mother" (Padfield 367-368). Following these efforts to increase the Nordic population, the term "breeding" was first used in an official document in August 1943. At that time Dr. Gregor Ebner, medical chief at the Steinhöring home, used the word Zuchtungsziel (breeding objective) in his report (Henry 83).
Himmler had been preoccupied with creating ". . . a race of pure blood . . ." for many years. In 1933 he had written that he sought ". . . to attract all of the Nordic blood to Germany and so subtract it from our enemies" (Of Pure Blood). The invasion of Poland in September 1939, afforded him with an excellent opportunity to acquire more Nordic blood for the Reich. Himmler ordered that all Polish children be examined racially (Of Pure Blood). Those under the age of six years who proved racially valuable were to be brought to Lebensborn homes for further evaluation and the process of Eindeutschung (Germanization). Afterwards they would be made available for adoption by childless SS couples under the guise of ". . . German orphans from the reconquered east" (Padfield 364-365). Many children were rounded up at orphanages, at school, or at playgrounds; others were kidnapped off the street or even out of their mothers arms (Henry 156).
Children aged six to twelve were to be sent to state boarding schools in Germany (Padfield 365). Alycia Sosinka was one of the Polish girls sent to a state school (Heimschule) in Achern in Baden (Henry 230). She was branded with chemicals on her neck and arm (Of Pure Blood) and was given injections which she believes were hormones. On one occasion she was told that she would give birth to two or three racially valuable children and then ". . . you will disappear." No family was allowed to adopt her because the SS planned to take her back for breeding purposes when she reached maturity (Henry 163-164). Ultimately more than 200,000 children from Poland were declared racially valuable (Henry 154).
Only the collapse of Germany and the end of W.W.II ended the work of the SS organization and its Lebensborn Society. As demonstrated in this paper, these groups were very successful, especially before the later years of the war, in implementing certain aspects of Adolf Hitlers racial polices. Even today Germany benefits from the presence of the Germanized children most of whom never returned to their homes in the East.
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