Lebensborn: Aryan kids kidnapped by SS


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The Lebensborn program was created by the SS in late 1935 in order to promote the growth of Germany’s healthy “Aryan” population. The term Lebensborn itself means “Fount of Life.” The program was designed to be the wellspring of future generations descended from those whom Nazi authorities deemed “racially valuable.” It originally focused on encouraging SS men to have large families and discouraging unmarried, pregnant “Aryan” women from seeking illegal abortions.

Front cover of a brochure advertising the Lebensborn program. The brochure describes the program's maternity homes and requirements that expectant mothers must meet to be accepted.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of Joan Harstrick
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The Lebensborn program was heavily influenced by Nazi racial ideology and theories of eugenics. It only accepted healthy applicants who could establish their “Aryan” ancestry. The SS screened individuals' personal medical histories as well as their family records. Applicants could be denied on the basis of their alleged racial “impurity” or health issues. They could also be denied if they had a family history of physical, mental, or psychiatric disabilities. Nazi theories of eugenics advanced the idea that personal character traits like loyalty and bravery were inheritable and could be promoted through the process of selective breeding. In this way, the SS hoped to stimulate the growth of a strong, “racially elite” German population to advance Nazi goals of conquering and colonizing the territories of Eastern Europe.

SS leader Heinrich Himmler believed that the men of the SS were the biological and racial elite of Nazi Germany, and he urged them to have large families. SS members and their brides had to pass medical examinations and establish their “Aryan” ancestry before they could marry. This measure was taken to ensure that their children would be “racially valuable.” Himmler personally oversaw many aspects of the Lebensborn program. He encouraged SS men to marry early and have at least four children. Lebensborn provided financial assistance to SS men with large families, but relatively few received this aid.

The Lebensborn program focused on attracting unmarried, pregnant “Aryan” women. At the time, there were strong pressures against single motherhood in German society. The program offered the mothers financial support and adoption services. It also provided a series of private maternity homes away from the judgemental eyes of family members, friends, and acquaintances. In this way, Himmler hoped to discourage abortions. The Nazi regime strengthened existing German laws that prohibited most abortions. At the same time, though, the regime was operating “hereditary health” courts that ordered abortions and sterilizations for those whom Nazi authorities decided were not of “good racial stock.” Despite the regime's increased penalties for seeking abortions, Himmler estimated there were at least 100,000 “biologically valuable” pregnancies terminated in Germany every year.

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