On November 25, 1939, leading Nazi party member Heinrich Himmler was sent a forty-page document entitled, “The issue of the treatment of population in former Polish territories from a racial-political view.” In the last chapter of this document, a plan was presented to forcibly acquire “racially valuable” children, for the purpose of building up a superior Aryan race.
We should exclude from deportations racially valuable children and raise them in old Reich in proper educational facilities or in German family care. The children must not be older than eight or ten years, because only till this age we can truly change their national identification, that is “final germanization.” A condition for this is complete separation from any Polish relatives. Children will be given German names, their ancestry will be led by special office.
By May of the following year, Himmler had outlined his own directives for the treatment of native Poles, including directives for the kidnapping of racially acceptable children. Hitler approved these directives in June, 1940, ordering that they be a priority in the eastern territories. Children were taken from all over Europe, but Poland was most affected by this decision. Over the next five years, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 Polish children were abducted by the Nazis.
Nazi methods for taking the children to Germany were varied. Some officers would make false promises about education for the children to the mothers, who would reluctantly give up their children. Others were just taken from the streets and playgrounds without warning. The rest were nabbed after their parents had been executed for resistance against Germanization, during the violent mass executions in the villages, or simply for being Polish.
To ensure that the children would qualify to become part of the perfect race, they were shipped to centers where they were tested based on body proportions, eye and hair color, skull shape, and psychological and physical health. If the children were of good enough quality, they were sent to Kindererziehungslager, or children education camp, to be Germanized. They were told their parents were dead and were forced to speak only German. They were made to hate their native countries. When the Germanization was complete, they were given to proper Nazi families to be raised as Germans. Eventually, most of these children forgot that they had ever been anything else.
Those children who were not found to be “good enough” had a much darker fate: they were sent to the prison camps to be put to work or used for brutal medical testing, or were murdered.
After the war some of the Germanized children were reunited with their birth families, but many of the adoptive parents were unwilling to return the children they had raised and hid them from authorities. Some of the children, victims of the Nazi propaganda and bred to detest their birthplaces, refused to go back. Even now, many of the children Germanized during WWII don’t know their true origins. In the end, only 10 – 15% of the abducted, Germanized children were returned to their families after the war.
To learn more about the experiences of children and others in Nazi-occupied Europe, visit these Fold3 pages, created by bgill: Child Victims of the Nazis, The Children of Nazi Germany, Polish Citizens Killed While Helping Jews, and Nazi Crimes Against Ethnic Poles.