Nazi Germany and Adoption

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Ethnic Germans in Saaz Czechoslovakia, greet German soldiers with the Nazi salute, 1938

Three special aspects of this terrible time are related to adoption. These are in addition to the orphans and separated families created when foresighted Jewish parents sent their children overseas before the war to escape persecution (see: Kindertransport), by bombing by all sides, by individual and mass murders and other atrocities committed by all sides, and of course, by the obscenity which was the Holocaust or Shoah, in which the Nazis attempted to exterminate not only the entire Jewish population of Europe, but also the Roma, homosexuals and the mentally and physically handicapped.

There was a network of nine mother and baby homes, part of an organization called Lebensborn e.V., designed to breed certified members of the Master Race. Young women of proven "Aryan" ancestry were encouraged to have babies fathered by equally qualified soldiers, resulting in about 12,000 children between 1935 and 1945. Some of these children were taken home by their mothers to be raised; some were adopted or fostered by German families; others remained in children's homes until after the war, when more were found families (often in foreign countries, even with Allied soldiers), although others spent their entire childhoods in children's homes. Many do not know their origins even now - retreating Nazis destroyed most of the documentation. The motivation behind the homes was to increase the numbers of racially pure Germans and little attention was paid to the children's development. Consequently many of the children were slow in developing socially, psychologically, mentally and even physically. Other Lebensborn homes were opened for women in occupied territories who were pregnant by German soldiers. This was especially true in Norway, where the physical appearance of the people closely matched the ideal, and to be eligible for these homes the mothers had to conform to Nazi stereotypes. Other homes were in Germany, where expectant mothers immigrated. The babies were often adopted by Nazi families, because public hostility to their collaborationist mothers made living in their home countries impossible. A few of these children who were adopted by eastern German families, suffered further abuse in adulthood: the East German spy organization, the Stasi, stole their identities and gave them to spies. East German spies would take on the names and what was known of the pre-adoption identities of the children. They would then emigrate to West Germany or Norway (Lebensborn children had the right to emigrate), reuniting with "their" birth families, and use these cover identities to spy. This was done without the knowledge of the real persons (whose identities were changed by the Nazis when they were adopted, although they might have discovered their birth identities and pre-adoption histories in adulthood). And if the adoptees then tried to trace their birth families, the government would frustrate them in order not to blow the spies' covers. At least three cases of stolen identity have been identified since the reunification of Germany, and the real owners of the identities have been reunited with their birth families. During their sweeps through occupied countries, especially Poland, the Nazis would kidnap young "Aryan"-looking children (estimates of up to 200,000 have been made) and take them back to Germany. Some were voluntarily given up by their mothers after false promises about educating them were given by the authorities. Others were simply stolen off the streets or playgrounds (the same techniques used by the Australian government with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children, by the Canadian government with Canadian Native Children and by the US government with Native American and Alaskan Native Children). They were then shipped to processing centers and tested to be sure they were of good enough quality. Those who failed the tests were sent to slave labor camps or murdered immediately. Those who passed were sent to children's homes to be Germanized; many were then placed in Nazi families and raised as Germans. After the war some of these children were reunited with their birth families, but many were hidden from the authorities by their adoptive parents or themselves refused to be repatriated. Like the other Lebensborn children, many still do not know their origins or that they are not German by birth. Three examples: Aloizy Twardecki was kidnapped, his name changed to Alfred Hartmann, and he was adopted by a German family. He was repatriated after the war and is now a university lecturer in Warsaw. Fr. Alexander Michelowski was kidnapped aged 10 from his own house in 1942. His name was changed to Alexander Peters but he was never adopted. He later became a Roman Catholic priest to the Polish community in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. "Helena" was adopted by a German policeman and his wife. After the war she was repatriated and became a judge in Poland.


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