• Germany's news in English

Being born a poster child for the Third Reich

The Local · 29 Nov 2010, 16:09

Published: 29 Nov 2010 16:09 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

“This reminds me of the mug shots they took of the Polish children,” says Guntram Weber, 67, as he’s being photographed. He acquiesces patiently though, posing this way and that – no model, but a man bred to the ‘purely beautiful’ – the child and pride of the bygone utopia of a pure Aryan world.

His genes, in fact, were once amongst Germany’s most prized, but his parentage remained a mystery to him for decades. Born in 1943 in the Third Reich’s Posen (now Poznan in Poland), Weber is a child of Lebensborn, one of National Socialism’s most insidious schemes.

“As a child I remember sensing that I wasn’t quite normal,” he says softly, his tall, angular frame perched on the sofa of his homely Kreuzberg flat. “Family members treated me awkwardly.” His mother was ‘his rock’, but he soon realised her husband was his stepfather, not his biological one. The ensuing insecurity consumed his youth but this was not unusual for a generation shorn of fathers. However the details he would later discover on his identity most certainly were.

Aryan breeding programme

Lebensborn, ‘spring of life’ in old German, was a programme founded in 1935 aimed at increasing birth rates of Aryan children in the Third Reich. SS officers and other high-ranking Nazis with demonstrable Aryan pedigree were encouraged to sow their seed beyond marriages to create a blue-eyed and blonde-haired master race to perpetuate Adolf Hitler’s Germania. As SS leader Heinrich Himmler, the Lebensborn founder and a key figure in Weber’s life, said: “I want to save every drop of good German blood.”

This meant establishing a network of 26 maternity homes in German territory where racially ‘pure’ mothers could give birth to illegitimate children sired by SS lovers away from society’s stigmatising glare. Though lurid tales of breeding farms are wide of the mark, the homes provided a refuge for young women – if they could prove heritage back to their grandfather.

Children were conceived out of love, by mistake or through naivety. Other women certainly conceived on ideological grounds, but for many the choice was a pragmatic one: the promise of support and secrecy from prying eyes in a conservative society. Mothers would slip off to the homes to give birth discreetly.

There, they enjoyed the best medical facilities and ration-busting supplies of food while their children suffered a harsh welcome to the world, modelled on the Spartan practice of exposure greatly admired by Hitler. “You were separated from your mother as soon as you were born and kept away from her for the first 24 hours of your life,” Weber later learned. “Then you would only be given back to her for 20 minutes every four hours and during that time she was strongly discouraged from talking to you or caressing you.”

Children would spend their earliest months or years at the homes in what amounted to being the Third Reich’s crèche, receiving an SS education while awaiting adoption by SS families if their single mothers did not want them. As the war progressed they were joined by Aryan-looking Polish children forcibly sent back from the front to be ‘Germanised’.

As Weber’s mother once told him in an unguarded moment: “The relationship between mother and child is a power struggle.” For the SS, a child’s will existed only to be broken.

Kept in the dark

It is a miracle that Weber has a story to recount at all. Without the will to surmount feelings of shame and persevere in his search for answers, he would still be in the dark that characterised most of his life. Even today, tears fill his eyes when he describes the constant struggle he faced, searching for the truth but running scared from it, desperate to dispel lies but aching for an ostensibly normal family life with his parents and siblings: an older sister and half brother born after the war.

Growing up, Weber remembers the subject of his real father was taboo. Extended family members had been well-drilled by his mother to conceal the truth, explains Weber. “‘It was the war,’ they would say. ‘Things were very confusing. We didn’t see much of each other – you will have to ask her.’” It wasn’t until he turned 13 that his mother agreed to tell him his father’s story. “‘Well Guntram,’ she said,” Weber remembers. “‘You are old enough to know the truth about your father now.’ Then she gave me a name, told me when his birthday was, when they’d been married, and that my father had been a truck driver for the Luftwaffe, far away from the front who had died driving over a landmine. She added that he certainly wasn’t involved in killing anyone.”

This sort of story was doing the rounds in various households around Germany at the time. “I should have been suspicious,” Weber admits. “But so many kids were told lies about what their parents did in the war and it just wasn’t the done thing to question them.”

Curiosity gnawed at him, but his courage to confront doubts waxed and waned. His mother’s story rang increasingly hollow with no photos or documents to back it up and Weber became convinced his father had been a Nazi. Worried, he would inspect his facial features in the mirror and pore over history books in the school library looking for men who bore him some resemblance. For a terrible period he even feared Joseph Goebbels might be his father.

The mysterious silver cup

An incident in his teens brought him closer to a no less-harrowing truth. “My mother had a strongbox in the bottom right-hand corner of her wardrobe. One afternoon when she was out, I decided to look in. I had terrible qualms about it though,” he confesses. “I knew I was breaking the trust between us and she was my only security in the world.” Inside Weber found the first clue to his real identity: a small silver cup.

“We were a fairly poor family at the time,” he explains. “Like many others, my mother had lost everything during the war, so to find a silver object in the house was extremely unusual. I picked it up carefully and discovered my name on it. ‘Oh!’ I thought, ‘what’s this?’ Because there was also another name there. ‘Guntram Heinrich,’ it said. I’d never heard that before. And on the other side it read: ‘From your godfather, Heinrich Himmler.’

It was a revelation Weber could hardly comprehend: “I even told myself this ‘Guntram Heinrich’ must be someone else,” he says. “Besides, I couldn’t ask my mother about it as I had betrayed her trust.”

The silver cup is tarnished now, but Weber swears he will never honour it with a clean, nor shall he ever let it touch his lips. Holding it is troubling enough – the aged artefact is the nearest thing Weber has to an umbilical cord, tethering him to the deeds of men whose boots he was supposed to fill one day. “For a while with my first wife I even used to joke about that,” he says. “‘If Hitler had won, I would have been made Governor of such-and-such a place,’ I would tell her.” By then, Weber had another piece of the puzzle.

More clues and false promises

In 1966, his older sister needed her birth certificate in order to get married. Their mother, obfuscating, said there was no hope of finding it, but an enquiry at her place of birth turned up the unexpected news that she had been born the illegitimate child of an army officer. Her records were miraculously still intact and being four years older than Weber, she realised she had been born in a Lebensborn home. The word entered the siblings’ discourse for the first time.

Weber inferred that he too was one, albeit from a different father, but before he could summon the strength to question his mother, he moved to the US in pursuit of love, staying there for eight years until his wife’s tragic death in a car crash. He returned to Germany with a son of his own and started teaching writing workshops for disadvantaged children in Kreuzberg.

As more information about Lebensborn trickled into the public consciousness, Weber occasionally grappled with the unknowns of his past. In 1982 he decided to confront his mother one day during a long car journey. He pulled off the road and forced his mother from the car. Finally, says Weber, he had her, “where she could not escape”.

Despite her angry protestations stranded by the roadside, “my mother uttered three sentences that I will never forget: Firstly, ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’ Secondly, ‘People will throw dirt at you.’ And thirdly, ‘I will write it all down for you.’ This was a promise. Suddenly I felt OK, knowing she would eventually give me the truth.

“But she didn’t do it,” he says bitterly. “She couldn’t bring herself to do that for me and she died two years later. I’m stark raving mad at her for that.”

Weber runs his fingers through his short, steelcoloured hair, before tucking his hands behind his head and pulling his elbows in around his face for a moment’s security. His arms tense, hinting at the strength it takes to stop the human body simply exploding from pent-up emotion.

Around him stand shelves filled from floor to ceiling with books, reams of paper print outs, dozens of lever arch files – evidence of a painstaking search for answers. It was not until eight years ago though, after several false starts, that Weber finally found the resolve to confront his past, come what may. “The woman I was living with at the time said to me: ‘You have to find your father.’ And she was right. All the energy had gone out of my life, the same way a battery goes flat,” he remembers.

The harrowing truth

Weber began by tentatively writing down his earliest memories, until he worked up the confidence to ask questions he had previously eschewed. He began what he describes as ‘archaeological trips’ to family members, digging a little deeper with each visit.

Time and the death of his mother had softened the attitudes of his aunt and uncle in particular. His uncle’s mention of a “senior officer” reminded Weber of a similar phrase being used by his stepfather.

Weber’s mother had confided in her husband on her deathbed, but he had been a staunch SS man himself. He was impressed with the identity of Weber’s real father and was reluctant to say. “He was seething when I finally called him to ask who this ‘senior officer’ was,” Weber recalls. “‘Senior officer? Your father??’ He barked back at me: ‘He was a general!’ Then came a name. And I just went numb.”

It was a name Weber knew from history lessons (one he does not want in the press). A man who led SS extermination programmes in Poland and Russia, who was sentenced to death for war crimes, and who escaped internment to live his final days in South America. Above all though, he was a father. Weber’s mother had been his secretary during the early 1940s before becoming infatuated with him. She once admitted to her son to having a weakness for men in uniform.

Story continues below…

“I’m no Aryan man”

Weber’s discovery stirred conflicting feelings in him.

“I had to struggle with the fact he was a murderer and that was incredibly difficult,” he admits. “I had to check my position vis–à-vis myself: was there any murderous instinct in me, too? It was harrowing.”

Weber had someone though, who he could call a father at last and that, after 60 years of uncertainty, brought him a degree of peace. It has allowed him to regain a little of his energy, and for all his travails he remains a warm and charismatic man.

Just as he is no murderer, Weber also says: “I am no Aryan man.” He is baffled by the Aryan ideal type, a vision of beauty that remains undiminished despite the price paid for it by the Lebensborn children at one end of the scale, and the victims of the Holocaust at the other. It evidently pains Weber to recount that potential adoptive parents in the US still pay a premium to secure a child with blue eyes.

Weber sees beauty instead in multi-cultural Berlin: “It’s a great city!” he enthuses. “The best in Germany because we have managed some kind of integration here. I’ve always felt we should be a country of immigration – that that should be a grand corrective to our old ideological strait jacket. I feel enriched by all the different people here.”

Meanwhile, for all the pseudo-scientific care that went into his conception, there is a blot on his genealogical copybook that Weber most cherishes. A Polish great, great grandfather by the name of Dmowski makes a mockery of his supposed racial purity – and in the 1870s he made a mockery of the Prussians too.

“They tried to draft him for the war against France, but he said: ‘I’m Polish not Prussian and you can fight your own wars!’” says Weber. “He fled to Russia and didn’t come back until the war was over.”

He smiles as he talks about his forebear, the broad smile of a man who does not want to be subjugated by his past. “He makes me feel immensely proud about who I am,” Weber reveals. His eyes, which made him feel inferior and ‘un-German’ as a child, sparkle – his defiantly brown eyes.

For more from Berlin's leading English-language magazine, click the link below.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

03:14 November 30, 2010 by DOZ
This is no worse than the British/Canadian Military organized plan to marry German Men and Women as an attempt to destroy the German Bloodline and to carry out Physical and Psychological Torture of their resulting children. This even today, is a highly acceptable behaviour that is quite celebrated by even the Visible Minority Population.
10:02 November 30, 2010 by Zobirdie
This is a very interesting story but could Exberliner/The Local get any more sensationalist? EVERY child of Lebensborn was Heinrich Himmler's godchild. They all got the cup.
23:32 November 30, 2010 by wxman
They all, for the most part, turned out to be normal people. That doesn't excuse the plan of the Nazis to create a master race, but it does prove that it was a stupid Nazi idea.

These folks should not feel uncomfortable and should go about their lives, who cares where they came from.
02:40 December 1, 2010 by bernie1927
What I notice in this article is a refreshing change in reporting. Only a few years ago the biased reporting about that time would have shown through. This report is honest and recognizes the fact that these children should not bear any burden. There was so much discrimination against the "Lebensborn" children in the years following WW2. Mr. Weber has absolutely no reason to be ashamed of anything. He was just an innocent "bystander". As for the silver cup, of course, it was automatically given to every child resulting from the "Lebensborn" experiment. Besides, the "silver" is probably plate anyway. As for Himmler being his Godfather, yeah, right. Give me a break.
09:40 December 1, 2010 by Klaipeda
A lot of people say stupid things. If you choose to highlight some by repeating them over and over, then you can present a group either in a positive or negative way. Germany's most important ally in WW II were Japanese - Asians. Yet we're always told how racist the NAZIS were. Americans referred to the Japanese as Gooks during WW II, treated their hero olympian Jesse Owens as a subhuman when he returned home from Germany and did medical experiments on Guatemalans after WW II was over. Churchill oversaw the starvation of 3 million Indians during WW II. Churchill was as big a racist as any of the NAZIS.

But if you ignore the crimes of the allies and always talk about the Germans, you can get the Germans to give another 150 billion dollars to Jews.
08:31 December 2, 2010 by JohnnesKönig
"But if you ignore the crimes of the allies and always talk about the Germans, you can get the Germans to give another 150 billion dollars to Jews. "


But of course the winners take the spoils of war... But who really won?
13:05 December 2, 2010 by docindenison
Klaipeda does not know what he is talking about, Gook comes from the Korean word han-gook (which means "the people"). Soldiers refereed to the Japanese as Nips or Japs during WWII. You know those worthy victims who murdered more civilians in the last battle of the Philippines than died in Hiroshima, only they used bayonets instead of a bomb.
13:43 December 2, 2010 by drblank
Very interesting article. Lebensborn shows that hate is not transmitted in DNA. Children should not inherit the sins of the father.
20:59 December 2, 2010 by DavidtheNorseman
Herr Weber, I am posting this in the hope that you will read it.

I, too, have ancestors who were wicked fellows. While my own father is a good man, some of his and my mother's ancestors were violent and wicked men.

I take great comfort in Ezekiel Chapter 18 which tells of how God judges each generation for its own choices. Ez. 18:20 "The soul who sins is the one who will die."

I further take very great comfort in the words of the New Testament which say:

"Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

" - 2 Corinthians 5:17

I have found Peace for my soul in Jesus Christ for myself in my own generation and I pray you do to.
21:07 December 2, 2010 by bernie1927

You seem to approve of the use of the bomb as a more "humane" method of slaughtering people. How strange and frightening to have people with this attitude run loose among us.
18:17 December 3, 2010 by Chico2001
"It evidently pains Weber to recount that potential adoptive parents in the US still pay a premium to secure a child with blue eyes."

Well, this is a sick line -- and a sad one. People who want to adopt children who look like them are not the Nazis or the sons of Nazis like you are, sir. Furthermore, if you ask many Asian or African or Indian or Hispanic or Greek or other people, they do not want their children raised outside their ethnic group. Nor do adoptive parents want rude people constantly pointing out, "Your child looks nothing like you."
18:55 December 3, 2010 by Curmudgeon
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
19:20 December 9, 2010 by Misterbee
My adult daughter recently contacted me and asked if I have any information on our family. I do, but I'm not too thrilled with the people from whom I'm descended. Mr. Weber, as someone once pointed out to me, the only family member you get to select is your spouse. All the rest? Well, you just have to live your life and heed the words of the prophet Micah:

[8] He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8 ESV)

May GOD bless you, and grant you peace.
Today's headlines
Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Parents who don't get nursery spot for kid entitled to pay
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents whose children don't receive placements in nursery care are entitled to compensation.

Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Mysterious German U-boat wreckage found off Scotland
Photo: ScottishPower

First World War U-boat "attacked by sea monster” thought to be found off Scottish coast.

Supermarket Edeka warns of exploding apple juice bottles
Photo: DPA

"Risk of injury" from "Gut und Günstig" sparkling apple juice bottles has forced Germany's largest supermarket to recall the product.

By wheelchair from Syria to Germany: teen's story of hope
Nujeen Mustafa. Photo: HarperCollins-William Collins Publicity/Private

She tackled the gruelling 2,000-kilometre migrant trail in a wheelchair, translating along the way for other refugees using English she learned from a US soap opera. Now this teen is living in Germany and hoping to inspire others with a newly published memoir.

Berlin Zoo to have a pair of pandas by next summer
A recently born panda pair at Vienna Zoo. Photo: DPA

The giant bamboo-eating bears will move into a brand new 5,000 square-metre enclosure in the capital's Zoologischer Garten.

Two new spider species discovered in Munich
Zoropsis spinimana. Photo: rankingranqueen / Wikimedia Commons

It's news every arachnophobe in Munich is no doubt thrilled to hear: two types of spider new to the region have been discovered in the Bavarian capital - and one of them bites!

After woman's body found in barrel, husband may walk free
Franziska S., who went missing 24 years ago. Photo: Hanover police.

A woman disappeared in Hanover 24 years ago, but no one reported her missing. Although her husband has now confessed to her murder, he still may not step foot in jail.

Two injured after army tank falls 50 metres in Alps
A Bundeswehr Puma tank. File photo: DPA

A Bundeswehr (German army) soldier has been severely injured after the tank he was riding in crashed 50 metres down an embankment after going off course in bad weather.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd