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No compensation for Lebensborn children

July 6, 2018

Children regarded as "racially pure" and abducted by the SS are not entitled to compensation, a German court has ruled. Up to 200,000 children were kidnapped and forcibly Germanized during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Hermann Lüdeking in 2017 holding a picture of when he was 7
Image: DW/M. Sieradzka

As a child in 1942, Hermann Lüdeking was abducted from Nazi-occupied Poland, robbed of his identity and forcibly Germanized. He grew up in Lemgo, never knowing anything about his true roots.

"I still suffer from not knowing who my parents are," said Hermann Lüdeking, now a retired engineer from Bad Dürrheim in the Black Forest.

Although thousands of victims may have similar stories, few have the courage to talk about it the way Lüdeking has. In his lawsuit, he applied for "a one-time grant of state aid" for the kidnapping. But he said money is not the main issue. Instead, it's about "Germany recognizing us as victims."

Lüdeking said he was bitterly disappointed at the beginning of July when the Cologne administrative court's decision was finally handed down.

"In a few years, there won't be any of us left, so the problem will solve itself. Is that what Germany wants?" he asked.

Lüdeking at a rally outside the Cologne court calling for the rights of children abudcted by Nazis
As the abducted children age, some find Germany could be waiting out the issue of compensationImage: DW/M. Sieradzka

Court: A considerable injustice

According to the court, the plaintiff was gravely wronged by his forced "Germanization." However, no compensation has been paid so far to "stolen children," the court explained, adding that it could not expand the class of victims who receive federal compensation.

Germany pays compensation to victims of unjust Nazi actions as defined by the General War Consequences Law. It calls for payments to be made to people "who were targeted by the Nazi regime because of social or personal attitudes or special personal characteristics such as intellectual disabilities." According to the court, however, Lüdeking does not fall into this category.

Abducted children are not 'inferior'

At the hearing, the Cologne judges attempted to explain to the plaintiff which categories of people could be compensated under the guidelines. One example was homosexuals, regarded by the Nazis as "inferior human material" and persecuted for "their characteristics." According to Nazi ideology, however, Lüdeking was not considered "inferior," but quite "high quality" as the kidnapped children were those Nazis believed would strengthen the "Aryan race."

Read more: Polish children abducted during World War II still seeking truth

Nazi racial ideology

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler declared in 1938, "I really do have the intention to gather Germanic blood from the whole world, to rob it, to steal it wherever I can."

In central and eastern European countries occupied by the Nazis, children were snatched from their parents or taken from orphanages and brought to the German Reich.

Archives for a Polish project seeking justice for stolen children
Many cases similar to Lüdeking's have been documented and victims have so far also been denied compensaionImage: Ewelina Karpińska-Morek

They were then "Germanized" using brutal methods, in homes belonging to the SS association "Lebensborn," or "Fount of Life," a Nazi organization for raising the birth rate of "Aryan" children. The Lebensborn program also forged names and presented the abducted children as "children from the east." In this way, it concealed the truth from the German families who took care of the abducted children and allowed the adults to believe they were raising children of ethnic Germans in the occupied territories.

Read more: Himmler's children

Victims not recognized

Lüdeking said it found it "absurd and disgraceful" that victims are not being compensated now because the Nazis regarded them "of high quality." Although he is disappointed with the Cologne court's reasoning, it came as no great surprise to him. For years he has been involved with the Stolen Children - Forgotten Victims association, which has already received numerous negative responses from authorities. The group was founded by Christoph Schwarz, teacher and hobby historian from Freiburg.

Cribs in a Lebensborn home in Steinhöring in 1938
Some children were abducted while others were born into the Nazi Lebensborn programImage: picture-alliance/akg-images

"A great injustice has happened to these children," Schwarz said. "They were robbed of their childhood and remain the last group of Nazi victims without recognition and compensation."

In 2013, for example, the federal finance ministry wrote of the Lebensborn children: "Over the course of the war, fate affected a large number of families and served the war strategy. The primary goal was not to destroy the victims or rob them of their freedom, but to put them to use to benefit [National Socialist] ideals. This makes it a general consequence of war."

The Petitions Committee of the Bundestag has also refused to seek a political solution.

The struggle continues

"The fact that the victims now, decades later, are once again confronted with a dismissive position on the part of the authorities is a humiliation and a renewed trauma for them," Schwarz said.

He and Lüdeking said they intend to appeal the decision of the Cologne Administrative Court.

"It can't be that we just sink into oblivion and are not recognized as victims by Germany," Lüdeking said. "I won't give up."