Lebensborn ("the Fount of Life") was established in Munich, Germany on 12 Dec 1935 as an officially registered Nazi Party organization under the jurisdiction of the Schutzstaffel, or the SS. The racially-motivated program, partially also a response to the declining birth rate in Germany, provided housing and care for pregnant wives of SS members, unmarried mothers, and orphans. The first facility opened in 1936 at the village of Steinhöring near Munich.
On 13 Sep 1936, SS leader Heinrich Himmler wrote to SS members that the organizations had the obligations of providing
- aid for racially and biologically-hereditarily valuable families.
- the accommodation of racially and biologically-hereditarily valuable mothers in appropriate homes, etc.
- care of the children of such families
- care of the mothers
In 1938, Lebensborn was transferred to an office under the direction of SS-Standartenführer Max Sollmann and SS-Oberführer Dr. Gregor Ebner, who answered directly to Himmler. By 1939, membership reached 8,000. Members of the program typically received the best healthcare available, and the mothers and children were well fed until the final days of the war.
As Germany began conquering neighboring nations, the Lebensborn program also expanded, with the first facility outside of Germany being established in Norway in 1941, though expansion did not significantly reach areas outside of Germany, Norway, and Poland. The establishment of facilities in Poland eventually introduced a new aim for the program, which was to Germanize young Polish children who displayed genetic traits that the Nazi Party members considered to be superior, ie. "Aryan". Many of these Polish children were forcefully taken away from their Polish parents, some by Lebensborn personnel and some by others not associated with the organization. In the conquered nations, Lebensborn facilities also served as a refuge for some of the women who fraternized with Germans and became pregnant, who would otherwise be ostracized.
The study of Lebensborn records after the war revealed that about 8,000 children were born in Lebensborn facilities in Germany, 8,000 in Norway, and fewer in other countries. 250 of the Norwegian children born into the Lebensborn program were adopted by German families; all but 80 of them were brought back to Norway after the war.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945