Book Review: Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)
Hitler’s Forgotten Children: the shocking true story of the Nazi kidnapping conspiracy by Ingrid von Oelhafen & Tim Tate (Elliott & Thompson, 2017)
Hitler’s Forgotten Children is a powerful, personal history of the Nazi Lebensborn programme and its long-lasting effects.
Next year marks 80 years from the beginning of the Second World War. This book highlights just one of many aspects of that conflict that are yet to enter mainstream historiography.
As we move further from the end of the war, more secrets of the conflict are being revealed. Ingrid von Oelhafen was born in 1942 as ‘Erika’. Although Yugoslavian, she was forcibly adopted into a Nazi family and given a new identity as part of the Lebensborn programme. This was created in 1935 by the SS, under the charge of Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945).
. . . the older I became, the more I wondered about my personal history. I am not alone in this: it is part of the human condition to revisit the past as the years slip away.
Von Oelhafen’s story, told here with the help of filmmaker and author Tim Tate, covers not only her wartime struggles in Nazi Germany but what happened after she discovered she was adopted and her attempts to understand the truth. These enquiries would reveal the full scale of the Lebensborn scheme, including the kidnapping of half a million babies and the deliberate murder of children born into the programme who were deemed ‘substandard’.
Van Oelhafen wrote, ‘All those I have met – whether born into the Lebensborn program or kidnapped to strengthen it – have been scarred by their experience.’ Not all history stays in the past. This book raises many questions, not just about the war, but also of the subsequent division of Germany, and the manner in which Europe recovered from the conflict – often leaving truths hidden and crimes unsolved. The troubled history of Eastern Europe is something about which many of us in the West still do not know enough. This is not just a story of the tragedy of war, but of the suffering that continued long after it. Many families were ripped apart forever, as the conflict left a dark legacy for decades ahead.
With the current climate of tension across Europe, and as extremist parties are again on the rise, personal testimonies such as this make an essential contribution to a period many today are yet to fully understand. Von Oelhafen dedicates the book to, ‘all the victims of Nazi Germany – men, women and, above all, children – and to those throughout the world today who suffer from the persisting evil which teaches that one race, creed or colour is superior to another.’
. . . the Lebensborn experiment had been based on the Nazi’s belief in blood as the determining factor of human worth. Himmler’s obsession with blood and bloodlines was the reason I had been plucked from my family – whoever they were – in Yugoslavia and reborn as a German child.
A thought-provoking book about identity, which is a subject close to the hearts of all family historians. Although much work is being done in genetic genealogy to combat false beliefs, sadly the Nazi’s pseudo-scientific concept of racial purity has not fully been destroyed. Roma, amongst others, remain persecuted in the 21st century.
The book ends in hope, illustrating how von Oelhafen has been able to move forward with her life. The survivors of Lebensborn have created an organisation, the Fount of Life, to help with their understanding and recovery. Members chose the following quotation from French activist and philosopher, Simone Weil, to head their articles of association. Its words will resonate with anyone who has thought about investigating their family history.
Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous disease to which human society is exposed. Whoever is uprooted, uproots others. Who is rooted, himself doesn’t uproot others, To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.