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'Master-race' children revisit past

GERMANY'S children of the damned gathered at the weekend for a reckoning with a monstrous past that earmarked them as the rulers of the world.

The product of a genetic engineering plan dreamed up by the Nazi SS commander Heinrich Himmler, they were destined to be the gauleiters, governors, generals and higher civil servants of a Reich that Adolf Hitler proclaimed would last 1,000 years.

Himmler's deranged ideas about race and eugenics led to the creation of his Lebensborn - Fountain of Life - programme.

The Lebensborn children were bred in special clinics, where SS men were mated with German maidens selected for their racial purity. They were then parcelled out to be brought up in the foster care of fanatical Nazis or to be reared in special orphanages where love and mercy were alien qualities.

Hitler and Himmler dreamed of a Nordic super-race of people who were tall, blond, blue-eyed, devoid of compassion for "lesser" races and imbued only with the capacity to rule without mercy.

But today the very ordinariness of the survivors bespeaks the flaw in the Nazi masterplan. When they gathered on Saturday in the east German town of Wernigerode - a place where the Harz Lebensborn home contributed over 1,100 babies to the scheme - they showed little of the aura of the supermen and women they were created to be. They were racked with the ailments of ordinary ageing, some stooped, some portly, many dark-haired, plenty with poor vision and hearing impairments.

It is inside that they are most different from others. They are a complex ganglion of shattered psyches, striving to find meaning and understanding in a world they believe has treated them badly.

Deprived of love as children, their meetings now are devised as mass self-help therapy groups where it is all right to cry and grieve over never having had a normal upbringing.

"Bastard and beast, those were the names I was taunted with as a child," said 62-year-old Ursula Jaeckel, a retired IBM executive, born in a Lebensborn home near Munich to an SS father and a mother she did not meet until 1999.

"That is what other children called me growing up when the war was lost. That is also what my foster mother called me.

"When I met my mother after an enormous search, I met a stranger. She didn't want to know what she had done, to recognise me.

"There were over 8,000 of us born around Germany and the occupied countries. We were damned from the start.

"I come to these meetings to gain strength from the stories of others."

Some 40 of the Lebensborn children met in Wernigerode to share tales of their ice-cold adoptive parents, SS fathers who had been killing machines in Russia or the death camps, of alcoholism, learning difficulties and emotional torments that have led many others like them to take their own lives.

Mrs Heidenreich, one of the few tall blondes among the group which met on Saturday, had a childhood filled with abuse and rage, emanating from both her foster parents and schoolchildren.

In Norway the problem was so acute that many Lebensborn children were incarcerated into institutions, shut off from a society which did not want to acknowledge that Norwegian women had slept with German servicemen.

Now a family therapist herself, she said: "I was told my aunt was my mother. I never knew my mother. At school, at church, in life I was the child on the fringes. We all were. We were created to be a super-race and we ended up merely asking: 'Who am I? How did I get here?'"

Their parentage condemned many of them to the margins of society. Only now, as the 60th anniversary of the war's end approaches, is the government offering them a measure of compensation.

Folker Heinicke, 66, considers himself one of the more fortunate. Kidnapped at the age of two by the SS in what is present-day Ukraine and shipped to Germany by train, he was brought to the Sonnenwiese, or Sunny Meadow, a Lebensborn home near Leipzig.

There, he was adopted by a wealthy family and prospered. Still, a feeling nagged him.

"There was always the feeling that something wasn't quite right," Mr Heinicke said.

"It happens when you have no mother, no father, no roots.

"That is what we all share in common: a desire to understand who we are and to share our common pain."

 
 
 

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