The Failure of Himmler's Positive Eugenics


Of Pure Blood. By Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry. Translated from the French by Eric Mossbacher. New York: McGraw-Hill,  1977. 256 pp.  $10.00.


In December  1935  Heinrich  Himmler established a new unit in   the  SS called Lebensborn , "fountain of life." It was to become a small cog in the larger SS machinery designed to encourage the procreation and bearing of "racially valuable" children in Hitler's Germany. Lebensborn  operated special maternity homes where expectant mothers who met Himmler's bio-racial  standards  could  stay in comfort during their pregnancy, the delivery, and the  postnatal  period.  As long as these women could produce children of impeccable racial purity, Lebensborn had no interest in their marital status; indeed, it hoped to attract unwed mothers to its facilities,  offering them privacy and secrecy.


A year after its founding Lebensborn became operational. In its nine-year life­ time it ran a maximum of fifteen installations. It also developed child-placement programs (foster care and adoption), assuming the responsibility to decide about the unwed  mother's fitness to  care  for her child. Lebensborn  officials  claimed that in all some 12,000 babies ( half of them illegitimate) were delivered in their homes, hardly an  impressive  statistic, even if the figure were twice as large, in view of the grandiose goals of the SS's racial  eugenics  program.


Originally a subdivision of the SS's Race and Settlement Office, Lebensborn was shifted  after a year to Himmler's personal staff in order to improve its financial position. Nevertheless, however inconsequential its activities within the larger framework of the sinister and criminal SS, Lebensborn always remained an accomplice of the Race and Settlement Office and shared in the distribution of SS spoils. Lebensborn homes, for instance, were stocked with medical equipment, furniture, and  linens  which the SS robbed from Jewish institutions throughout Europe, even from  the  Jewish hospital in the Warsaw ghetto. In at least one major criminal undertaking  of the SS Race and Settlement Office, Lebensborn knowingly was an accessory after the fact.


The Race and Settlement Office's ultimate goal was to develop a racially superior stock, in accordance with Himmler's pseudoscientific notions. This superior breed, he declared, would eventually provide the leadership of the German people. With the coming of war, Himmler believed that the loss of German life on the battlefield mandated the replenishment of  German stock.  The needs of the future racial German state were so enormous in terms of population, Himmler held, that the existing SS and state programs of subsidies to encourage child-breeding would never be adequate. Consequently, under Himmler's direction, the Race and Settlement Office (by then expanded and designated as the Race and Settlement Main Office) embarked on a campaign to augment German  racial stock from the outside-- that is, from non-German  sources.


In  the  countries  which  the  Germans occupied,  officials  of  the  Race  and  Settlement  Main  Office,  assisted  by  other SS agencies and most notably the armed police,  kidnapped  children  whose  physical  characteristics  qualified  them  as  racially  desirable.  No  one  knows  exactly, but  perhaps  a quarter  of  a  million  children   were   stolen   from   their   parents, their   homes,   and  their  countries.  In  a speech   delivered   in  Bad Schachen   on October  14, 1943, Himmler  justified  this policy,   specifically   in  reference  to  the kidnapped children of the Slavic peoples.


It is clear that in this hodgepodge of peoples there will always be some racially good types. In these cases I think it is our duty to take their children, to remove them from their present environment, if need be even by stealing them. . . . Either we bring this good blood home here, use it and integrate it into our people or-- gentlemen, you may call this cruel, but nature is cruel--we destroy it.


Tens of thousands of these children­ - no one will ever know how many-- were murdered, perhaps because it turned out that they had "bad blood," that is, characteristics that did not fit the stereotype of the "Aryan"-- blond hair, blue eyes, and an obedient nature. The kidnapped children of "good blood" were screened genealogically as far as possible and eventually an estimated several thousand were brought to Lebensborn homes, where they were trained in German-ness and then given out for adoption to childless German couples.


After the war, the Race and Settlement Main Office, including its spin-off Lebensborn ,  was  brought  to trial  before a Nuremberg Military Tribunal in  1947- 48 (Case No. 8, Green Series). The court decided, perhaps too liberally, that Lebensborn had essentially been a welfare agency, which cared for both  legitimate and illegitimate children. Though some kidnapped foreign children found their way into Lebensborn   homes, the court held that Lebensborn   did not participate in their kidnapping or in examining their racial qualifications.  Furthermore, the court found no evidence, despite initial charges by the prosecution, that Lebensborn homes operated also as stud farms, where SS officers and men could have sexual relations with women selected in accordance with racial criteria  in  order to breed  a master  race.


Notwithstanding the court's  findings and contrary to all evidence, Marc Hillel and Clarissa Henry, a husband-and-wife journalistic team, insist on telling Lebensborn's story as a piece of political pornography, as  if  it  had  in fact  operated  as a stud farm, as if all the babies delivered at its homes were illegitimate, and as if Lebensborn   were  primarily  responsible for  the  kidnappings  of  the  foreign  children. In an effort at investigative journalism, Hillel and Henry sought out surviving staff members of Lebensborn  to elicit from them what the Nuremberg tribunal had failed to extract from its witnesses. Hillel and Henry also tracked down several kidnapped children to tell their pathetic  stories. These interviews, however, revealed nothing significant not already known from the trial  and  from the documents about Lebensborn  found among the captured German records. Pandering to the  pornographic  appetites of today's reading public,  Hillel  and Henry offer salacious surmise and innuendo where they lack real evidence. Written in breathless tones of moral outrage, Of Pure Blood is a prurient exploitation of Nazism and its malevolent  racial  doctrines,  intended  to  titillate  while it informs.


Legislating Procreation: The Nazi Failure


Was it at all possible to legislate or institutionalize procreation, even in the German dictatorship?  Other dictatorships and even some democracies have offered their citizens  financial  rewards for increased production of children. Himmler tried to appeal to patriotism with a simultaneous assault upon the conventions of bourgeois morality. On October 28, 1939, he issued an order to the SS to sire more children for the fatherland.  The order  declared  that  it was a patriotic duty for German women of good racial stock to become mothers even  "outside  the  bonds  of   marriage, not irresponsibly, but in a spirit of deep moral seriousness." In a state where the citizenry were more committed to the code of bourgeois morality than to the Mosaic code prohibiting murder, Himmler's order aroused controversy and ou rage, especially among the military, who regarded it as encouragement  to SS men to commit adultery with the wives of army men  away at the front.  (See Larry V. Thompson, "Lebensborn  and the Eugenics Policy of the Reichsfuhrer-SS," Central European History, IV [March 1971], 54-77.)


The statistics of illegitimate births at Lebensborn  institutions, even if they are understated, do not indicate any significant  response  to  Himmler's  order.  No one can know how many of the illegitimate babies delivered in the Lebensborn  maternity homes were conceived in  a state of high patriotic fervor. Given the consistently low figures of the SS birthrate in general, these "orphans of shame," to quote the soap-opera term used by Hillel and Henry, were more likely conceived in circumstances long ago described in Proverbs as "the way of a man with a maid" or  as  the  consequence  of the presence-to use Edmund Burke's phrase of 1783-of a "rapacious and licentious soldiery."


Though he would have willingly employed radical means to further his  racial eugenics  schemes,  Himmler,  himself a product of bourgeois morality, was afraid to breach its conventions.  The record shows-- though Hillel and Henry ignore it-- that Himmler at  least twice rejected proposals to establish breeding installations, to be designated as Mutterhiife ("mother manors"), because he feared they would destroy the foundations of  German  family life.


In assessing the accomplishments of Lebensborn and the SS's related racial eugenics programs, it is clear that "positive" racial eugenics in Hitler's Germany failed to attain its goals. In dramatic contrast, Germany's "negative" racial eugenics-- the  murder   of   the   crippled, the sick, the insane, the gypsies, and the Jews-- succeeded beyond belief. The Germans found it easy to organize and carry out mass murder, to take life. They never discovered how to organize mass procreation, to make life.


Perhaps there is a moral regarding the hazards of the state's making life in the legend of Cadmus who sowed the dragon's teeth. A full-fledged warrior arose from each tooth; an instant military host came to life. But that instant creation of life brought with it the threat of instant destruction. To avoid their killing him, Cadmus turned them against each other and they destroyed themselves.


LUCY S. DAWIDOWICZ is professor of social history and holder of the Eli and Diana Zborowski Chair in Interdisciplinary Holocaust Studies at Yeshiva University. She is the author of The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 and The Jewish Presence: Essays on Identity and History.