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Born in Homes of the “Lebensborn”

The children of the “Lebensborn” are haunted by the shadows of the past. The silence kept by their mothers, the search for their own identities and the myths grown up around the SS association have been preoccupying the minds of those affected to this day. Ingeborg Schinke, Astrid Eggers and Elke Sauer came to attend the opening of the exhibition titled "The Lebensborn Association” at the International Tracing Service (ITS) at Bad Arolsen in mid-May.

An out-of-wedlock child, Ingeborg Schinke was born in 1940 in a “Lebensborn” home at Wernigerode/Harz. Prior to her sixth birthday, she had been living with a foster family whose names she cannot remember any more. The objective of the association was an increase in the birth rate of “noble-blooded, aryan” children. Therefore, the “Lebensborn” association also allowed anonymous births of illegitimate children who were often put up for adoption.

After the war, her natural mother had to take Schinke back from the foster family. The war and the Nazi reign had gone, and with them the concept of the “Lebensborn”. “But my mother could not let go. Life with her was excruciating“, recalls Schinke. “I was an unwanted child. She made life difficult for me in any respect.” Nazi ideology anticipated the “Lebensborn” offspring to be the future élite of blonde, blue-eyed and strong adolescents. Showing affection for a child was tantamount to spoiling it. “But what should become of these broken children’s souls?”, wonders Schinke.

She always had longed to learn more about her natural father. The search for him turned out to be intricate and complicated, though. Schinke merely had a name, and that name appeared 20 times in the archives. “The secrecy and concealment so characteristic of the 'Lebensborn' spread to our family. It was hard to cope with that”, Schinke says. Her father Erich Schramm had lost his life during the campaign in Russia in August 1941, were her findings after long years of investigations. “My wedding later on took place on the anniversary of his death. Though absent, he somehow had always played a role in my life.”

Today, Schinke wants to be an example for others, give love and caring. “I feel responsible for my two children and my grandchildren”, assures 69-year-old Schinke. And she wants to talk about what happened to her. “We must get the subject out of the niche of secrecy so that such thing can never happen again. We cannot dump children just like that.”

Her fate is shared by Astrid Eggers born out of wedlock as well in a “Lebensborn” home called “Wienerwald” near Pernitz in 1943. “My birth is the sole fixed point in my life. Everything else is a lie“, she resumes. When she was five and a half years old, she returned to her mother. “I was her puppet. My mother did not bring me up, but drilled me.” A devout National Socialist who had worked for the secret state police (Gestapo), she relentlessly stuck to that cruel and rigorous educational ideal. “Not even my step-father was allowed to be kind to me”, remembers Eggers.

When she wanted to get married, Eggers’ problems with her origin began. “I had neither a birth nor a baptismal certificate. My mother had nothing but lies for me. First I was told that I was born in Lodz, another time it was Vienna”, she recalls. In the end, a birth certificate based on an affidavit sworn by her mother was issued to her. Eggers also had to get baptized, as the “Lebensborn” knew the Fuehrer cult only and had no place for religion. To replace baptism, they had a so-called name giving ceremony.

Although, thanks to the new papers, all obstacles in Eggers’ way to marriage could be removed finally, nobody is able to give back to her own identity. The only pieces of information she could gather on her father were that he had enlisted in the air force and did not return from action. “I had to scratch around for every detail arduously. My mother either kept quiet or lied.” Eggers felt the voyage to Pernitz she undertook in 2000 to be an act of liberation. “It feels fantastic to know where you were born.”

An illegitimate child, Elke Sauer was also born in the “Wienerwald” home in 1941. Together with her sister, she grew up with her natural mother and spent – as she said – a happy childhood. “I was told on the street that I am a bastard.” The mother kept telling her two girls that their father had fallen in action. “That lie was her ever-recurrent theme until I turned adolescent”, says Sauer.  

It was not until her mother had died that she came to know who her father was. At first, he had been living not far from his family and immigrated to Canada in 1950. That gave Sauer a shock. “It is something I could not forgive my mother. I always had the feeling of bearing the wrong name.” Sometime, however, she gathered courage and flew out to Canada. But four days before her arrival, her father died. Her half-brothers and –sisters, who could not comprehend the story, have shown their disinterest in any contact with Sauer to this day.

About 8,000 children were born in the German “Lebensborn” homes. Only very few of them talk about their origin, some of them will never learn about it. Support to those who know or suspect such past is offered by the association that calls itself “Lebensspuren” (traces of life) – a syndicate of Lebensborn children. “The persons affected often do not know how to face their traumata”, knows Schinke. “That is why keeping in touch with one another is so important.”