Between 1935 and 1945, around 19,000 babies were born between Germany and Nazi-occupied Norway as part of a genetic engineering plan to create an Aryan ‘master-race’. The Germans called the program Lebensborn, or ‘Fount of Life’.
To create the master-race, German SS men were encouraged to mate with blue-eyed, blonde Nordic girls. The resulting child would be brought up in the foster care of dedicated Nazis or in special orphanages dedicated to the cause. There were at least ten Lebensborn homes in Germany and another nine in Nazi-occupied Norway.
Young unmarried women with babies who were deemed “racially valuable” were also invited to come live in the clinic with their children.
Before they were allowed into the program, both mother and father needed to pass a “racial purity” test. Blond hair and blue eyes were preferred, and family lineage had to be traced back at least three generations. Of all the women who applied, only 40 percent passed the racial purity test. These standards ensured that the Lebensborn program remained “pure”.
The Nazis expanded the program into occupied territories, such as Poland, to steal hundreds of thousands of Aryan-looking children, which they brought back into the program. Heinrich Himmler stated that “It is our duty to take [the children] with us to remove them from their environment… either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people or we destroy this blood”.
The nurses captured in these images possessed large roles within the program. They were responsible for the care and health of the children. They also had a duty to help to “Germanize” them.
For those children brought from other countries, Germanisation involved a period at one of the ‘re-education camps’, followed by being fostered out to German families.
The nurses also performed tasks such as treating brown-haired children’s hair with UV light in a bid to make it fairer.
While the crimes of Nazi doctors are detailed thoroughly, the nurses are often forgotten. While their crimes may be one of complicity, they were obviously a large part of a program that promoted isolation and manipulation of children. With that in mind, they were terrific at their work. After Germany’s surrender, the press reported on the unusually good weight and health of the “super babies”.
It was found that the children spent time outdoors and received two baths a day. Everything that contacted the babies was sterilized first. Nurses ensured that they ate everything given to them. Until the last days of the war, the mothers and the children at maternity homes got the best treatment available, including food, although others in the area were starving. While the basis of the program was terrible, one bright point is that these nurses provided levels of care to babies and mothers that likely wouldn’t have had it otherwise.