Nazi officers with a "Lebensborn" child during a naming ceremonyImage: DW-WORLD
Children of Shame – Norway’s Dark Secret
December 2, 2001
After years of keeping a lid on one of its most scandalous secrets, the Norwegian government now faces a whopping compensation lawsuit running into millions and charges of human right violation.
Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad ,one of the singers of the former pop cult band ABBA is probably one of the most famous Lebensborn-children. Born to a German nazi officer and a Norwegian mother during the German occupation of Norway, Anni-Frid belonged to the "children of shame" – unwanted after the Germans lost the war.
Being an illegitimate child of a Nazi, her grandmother took her to Sweden to escape mistreatment - children of enemies were ostracized in post-war Norway.
Blue eyes and blond hair preferred
"Lebensborn" was a special Aryan breeding Programm established in 1935, the brainchild of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. He wanted to breed what he considered racially "superior children".
Himmler regarded the Norwegians with their blue eyes and blond hair as especially aryan and pure.
The aim of the programme was to entrust leadership of Norway to these "Aryans" after the war, or to have them and their mothers move to Germany to bring more Nordic blood into the German Reich.
Incentives for bearing Aryan children
Every pregnant Norwegian woman who could prove her child’s Aryan ancestry was entitled to financial support or a privileged treatment in maternity homes. They could also leave their children in special homes called "Lebensborn", where the children received special nutrition and an education which reflected the Nazi way of thinking.
The program was also set up in other German occupied countries such as Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Altogether, Himmler established more than 20 Lebensborn institutions.
The majority of these homes were in Norway. Around 350,000 German soldiers occupied Norway during World War II and coupled, favored by Heinrich Himmler, with Norwegian women. A relationship with consequences: about 10,000 to 12,000 children between 1940 and 1945 were fathered by Germans. About 6,000 of them were born in Lebensborn institutions. From 1941 onwards, these "superior" children were automatically considered as being German.
Ostracized and mistreated- a marred childhood
But the fate of the children resulting from the special breeding program was at times cruel. Their mothers could not stand the shame of having been engaged to German soldiers. A Norwegian commission after the war decided that the children should remain in Norway.
By now the children were looked upon as outcasts. They were put in orphanages, some of them were send to lunatic asylums. There, the children were mistreated and abused. Some of the former "Lebensborn" children say, they were tied to their beds for hours.
Breaking silence and baring secrets
Most of the "Lebensborn" children are today in their 50s or 60s and are slowly coming out with their stories of mistreatment and abuse.
One of them was Paul Hansen, now 58 . Today he’s a broken man. "I was transferred from the Lebensborn home Goodhaab into an asylum, together with some others. We were locked up together with mentally ill people. And we had to eat and to go to the toilet in the same room", he says with bitterness.
Paul Hansen broke his silence and changed his anonymous Lebensborn identity. Many of the Lebensborn children still feel ashamed to talk about their abuse and mistreatment. A register number is all that remains of their Lebensborn childhood.
Tor Brandacher of the Norwegian war children Association brought together about 170 "Lebensborn" children four years ago and is determined that they are compensated by the Norwegian government.
The son of a Norwegian mother and an Austrian ranger was lucky, Brandacher says he had a normal relationship to his family, but says that hundreds of others like him did not. Many have reported raping and mistreatment in the institutions, like Paul Hansen.
"These children were looked upon as rubbish in Norwegian post-war society. It is the biggest shame for Norway", he says.
Brandacher and others now demand financial and ethical compensation from the Norwegian state.
Justice at last?
October 29, 2001 was a date most of the Lebensborn children might never forget. It was the first day of a trial in which the Lebensborn children are suing the Norwegian government. The verdict: A violation against human rights. The case attracted much attention by the media, a signal for Tor Brandacher and his companions. He hoped that the court trial would reveal the dark history of Norwegian state ruling. The prosecutors demanded up to two million Kronen (253.000 Euro) for each case – the prize for a lost childhood.
But after the case was rejected in November on grounds of invalidity, The former Lebensborn children will put forth their case to the European Commission of Human Rights in Strassbourg.