Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children

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We are all horrified by memories of the Nazis and the systematic way they killed off the Jews and others they didn’t want in their dreamed of new world of Aryan Purity. But how many know there was a plan to systematically increase the number of Aryans thru kidnapping?

Ingrid’s story is one that has long been swept under the rug. Although her personal story was actually part of the later trials at Nuremberg, most of the world knows little of the Lebensborn Program, as it was known,  beyond the prurient gossip of mythical SS “Stud Farms” for “breeding” more Aryan babies. Lebensborn had two components. Unwed mothers who could prove their racial suitability, and that of the father, where taken in to be cared for and to give birth in Lebensborn children’s homes. The program’s second component had a far more sinister way of increasing the Aryan population–kidnapping, child theft, child trafficking. Whatever you want to call it it involved rounding up children in a a “conquered” area and Nazi racial specialists examining the children. Those who fit the physical profile of desired appearance were taken away for Germanization in one or more of the Lebensborn Centers before being adopted by suitable Nazi families. This was Ingrid’s case.

New names, new identity, and possibly even a prominent Nazi as a “godfather” awaited. Some were even “baptized” in a ritual that put Hitler as God and the SS as his disciples, in a horrifying reworking of the Catholic and Christian sacrament of baptism. The gift to the child was often the traditional silver baby’s cup with a message from the prominent Nazi godfather engraved. No birth certificate was available for the child though. A special document stood in its place. Which was all well and good until May 1945.

After the war, some children were returned to their parents, others simply joined the sea of displaced persons (refugees as we call them today) and a few stayed with their German foster parents. Like Ingrid, all had difficulty reconciling who they thought they were with who they were born to be. As they became aware of their secret identity–mostly as adults and often in middle age or later when foster parents died and they discovered secreted documents, some then set out to find their true identities, their birth families and the rest of their story. Only to be met with closed doors and unhelpful bureaucrats.

Thru chance, Ingrid was contacted much later in life, by the German Red Cross wanting to know if she wanted information on her background. The majority of the book is on her perplexing search for the truth. On her own she acquired little helpful information. Eventually she found a specialist who helped her to find her origins. DNA testing, at that time a very new thing, was helpful as well.

My feelings on the book

As an adoptive Mom I was horrified. I thought of all the checks and balances in the adoption process I’d had to endure. I thought of those powerless mothers in areas conquered by the Nazis told to bring their children for “medical exams” and then not given their child back. Horrific. I thought, too, of the older children caught up in this. They were punished for speaking any language but German, for insisting on their rightful name or for asking about their real families. I can’t say that I sympathized with the Nazi parents–the men,  at least had a good idea what was going on in spite of the stories of dead soldier fathers and dead mothers the child arrived with. But I did wonder about the mothers who had cared for these children. Did they resent the children or did they truly hold to the letter of the agreement to love them as their own?

And the children themselves–especially those taken as babies or toddlers–what of them and their feelings? All were indoctrinated at best, brainwashed at worst, into the Nazi philosophy. How could they then find out that they were not really German–not really what had been held up as “best?” And, to then be sent “back” (in some cases) to the family who had grieved for them but who now were people they’d been taught to look down on or even hate? For most, the indoctrination had to start all over again–but in the opposite direction. How could anyone come out of this sane and even close to whole?

 

What led me to this book

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World War II is topic I can never read enough on. Women’s issues are among my interests.  A few years ago I came across a sale book for Kindle, Someone Called Eva (my review). It is a fictionalized account of one girl’s journey thru the Lebensborn program. Written for middle grade children it was still very compelling to me. It made all this horror real.

 

 

 

Rating

This is not a book I can honestly “rate.” The writing is ho-hum, but that really doesn’t matter here. This is a very innocent yet damaged person telling her own story. It is a part of the historical record of Nazi atrocities.

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