Stolen by the Nazis: The tragic tale of 12,000 blue-eyed blond children taken by the SS to create an Aryan super-race
January 9, 2009
With blond hair and striking blue eyes, the toddler attracted admiring glances from other mothers growing up in the Crimea.
But Folker Heinecke's looks also proved a curse: they brought him to the attention of Heinrich Himmler, the psychopathic head of the German SS and architect of a plan to populate the world with the Aryan master race.
Obsessed with his experiments to breed 'pure white' chickens while running a poultry farm before World War II, Himmler was intent on doing the same with humans after rising to the very top of the Nazi hierarchy.
He was captivated by Folker, who had been brought to Germany after being seized by SS officers scouring occupied lands for blond, blue-eyed children.
Folker, then just four, did not know it, but he had been chosen to be part of the new 'breed' of supposedly genetically-superior German beings, who would replace millions of the 'impure' - Jews, gipsies, homosexuals, blacks - after they had been exterminated in Hitler's death camps.
Having being ripped from the arms of his parents when German tanks rolled into the Crimea in 1942, Folker was first taken by SS officers to a German medical institute, where doctors measured every part of his body, checking for any 'Jewish aspects' - for example, dark hair, pointed noses, circumcision - before he was declared suitable.
He had been selected to be a member of the 'Lebensborn' - The Fount of Life - Himmler's breeding programme to safeguard the future of the Thousand-Year Reich by providing 'pure' future generations to replace those lost by war.
Devised in 1935, the Lebensborn scheme operated on different levels to provide 'Aryan' children for Hitler's mad schemes of eugenics.
As well as the stealing of blond children from families in occupied areas, another part of the scheme involved special 'breeding clinics' where pure German SS officers were told to mate with suitable German women.
And in occupied Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, where blonde hair and blue eyes were part of the local genetic make-up, SS officers were encouraged to father children with local women, even if they were already married.
These women were prized for their 'Viking' roots, and they were either coerced or offered gifts to mate with Nazi officers who were stationed there.
As the Nazis wreaked mayhem across Europe, these 'Aryan' babies were born into a life of privilege and power.
They were baptised in a unique SS ceremony. Cradled beneath a symbolic SS dagger, oaths were muttered on their behalf pledging lifelong allegiance to Nazi ideology.
In return, the children and their mothers wanted for nothing, with the finest food, homes and clothes supplied to ensure the next generation of Nazis grew accustomed to enjoying the spoils of war. Others were taken to orphanages, then farmed out to rich Nazi families.
Yet by far the cruellest aspect of the scheme involved stealing children who fitted the Nazi racial stereotype of blond, supposedly 'super-beings' who could be 'Germanised' with Nazi families.
That was to be Folker's fate - stolen and given to Nazi parents to be raised to obey Hitler.
'I remember these people coming into a room where there were around 30 of us children lined up like pet dogs to be chosen for a new home,' says Folker, now 67.
'They were to be my parents. They went away and came back a day later. I understand that my "mother" wanted a girl, but my "father" wanted a boy - to take on his family business in the future. I laid my head on his lap and that did it for him - I was to be their son.'
But there was a problem: Adalbert Heinecke, his prospective father, was deaf and therefore technically barred from adopting under the Nazi's strict rules on disabilities.
But an honorary SS member and fanatical Hamburg Nazi, Adalbert was also wealthy and well-connected. He pulled favours, inviting Himmler to his house for drinks.
From the very fringes of his childhood, Folker can still remember seeing Himmler - who personally oversaw the 'Final Solution' and was regarded as even more enthusiastic about killing Jews than Hitler - at his 'new' family house where he was waiting to be adopted.
His prospective father talked to Himmler while the pair studied the family hens. With Himmler convinced the basics of chicken breeding could apply to humans, he came to regard Folker with affection, and rubber-stamped his adoption. The boy from the Crimea had now become part of the 'Master Race'.
Now, six decades later, Folker Heinecke has become a focal point for thousands of other Lebensborn children whose lives were shattered by Himmler's scheme. Film-makers are due to screen his poignant search for his real mother's grave in the Crimea.
At the same time, campaigners for some of the 12,000 children 'bred' by the SS hope that Folker's bravery will help lift the shame felt by many of the children supposed to grow up as the next generation of Nazi foot soldiers.
With plans also announced for a book about his extraordinary life, Folker has spent most of his adult years searching for the truth about who he was - and who he wasn't - and his quest has become an inspiration to thousands of other Lebensborn.
'It's important that they are telling this story - people are still suffering so much as a result of being Lebensborn,' said Randi Spydevold, a campaigning lawyer for Norwegians fathered by Nazis.
'Just like telling the truth about the Jews, it's important the stories of the Lebensborn are not hidden.'
For decades, that's exactly what has happened. When the Nazi regime collapsed, the former Lebensborn elite became unwanted reminders of the grim plan to breed Aryans while killing off millions of Jews, gipsies, gay and disabled people.
With the Nazis routed, Himmler committed suicide following his capture by the British.
The idyllic life of the Lebensborn was also brutally shattered in formerly occupied countries like Norway.
Many thousands of their mothers - labelled 'German whores' - were sent to secret prison camps, where they were virtually slave labourers.
The children were officially classified by the Norwegian government as 'rats' and Nazi 'whore children'.
Now elderly, some still get spat on in the street. The Norwegian government even tried sending 8,000 to Australia to get rid of them.
As well as being locked in asylums, suicide rates among Lebensborn children were up to 20 times higher than normal for the population, while alcoholism, drug abuse and criminality were also rife.
'It's typical that they've suffered from depression and low self-esteem,' says Spydevold.
'This is hardly surprising when you've spent your formative years being called a German idiot, a no-good bastard who doesn't deserve to be alive.'
Campaigners are also attempting to bring the Norwegian government to court over documented evidence of drugs trials carried out on both children and mothers.
Witnesses and documents say they were force-fed LSD, mescaline and other substances during experiments by the Norwegian military. The irony of all this, given what happened to the Jews, is beyond further comment.
Perhaps the best known of the offspring of a Norwegian mother and a German soldier father was Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the brunette singer from the pop group Abba.
She and her family fled the post-war persecution by moving to Sweden, where her secret was not known.
Others were less fortunate, being beaten and raped.
The post-war hatred towards the offspring of German soldiers was so great that psychologists even concluded that women who had taken part in the scheme were 'of limited talent and asocial psychopaths, some of them seriously backward'.
The words 'father was a German' were indictment enough to send children from the previously occupied Scandinavian countries to mental hospitals, where many were tortured and raped.
They were deemed dangerous because of their 'Nazi genes' and capable of forming a fascist fifth column.
Harriet von Nickel, born in Norway in March 1942, suffered years of abuse after her mother agreed to have a child with a German officer as part of the programme.
After being fostered at the end of the war, she was chained up with a dog in the yard. As a six-year-old, she was thrown into the river by a man from her village, who said he wanted to 'see if the witch would drown or float'.
When she was nine, she had the shape of a Nazi symbol brutally scored into her forehead with bent nails.
Last year, a group of Lebensborn launched a legal action before the European Court of Human Rights, seeking compensation from the Norwegian government of between £50,000 and £200,000.
The case was dismissed; instead, they were offered a £2,000 token.
'The stigmatisation and the shame were so absolute it took us 50 years to come forward,' said Gerd Fleischer, one of those compensated, whose father was a German officer.
He fled back to Germany from Norway after the war and Gerd faced years of violence when her mother re-married a Norwegian resistance fighter after the war.
Her new 'father' detested Germans and took out his hatred on Gerd.
Legal papers also show that Lebensborn children were raped, with the blessing of staff, by other inmates in psychiatric hospitals for the crime of having German fathers.
Priests recommended that the children should be sterilised to prevent them growing up as Nazis and waging war in later years.
Among thousands of harrowing episodes, Gerd Andersen, also from Norway, was sexually abused by a teacher in front of the whole class, while his friend, Karl Zinken, was placed in a special school for mentally retarded children where he was raped.
On the surface, life seemed much better for Folker Heinecke. Even at the height of the Allied assault on Germany, when he watched RAF bombers weave through the flak and searchlights to launch raids into enemy territory, he thought the war was exciting. Any privations he suffered were minor.
'I was so young when I was taken I had no real memory of any other life. The only inkling came after the war when one of the local kids I was playing with said: "You know you're a bastard, don't you, they're not your real mum and dad." I didn't know what that meant.'
He never discussed it with his Nazi parents.
'Yes, they were fanatics,' he says. 'But they gave me a good life and I was devastated when my father died in 1975, followed three months later by my mother.'
Inheriting the family firm of ship brokers, Folker worked in London after the war and made a fortune. Then he discovered secret documents among his father's files. He was astonished.
They showed that Folker Heinecke was born on October 17, 1940 - after being seized by the Nazis - at Oderberg in Upper Silesia, now part of Poland, but then a part of Germany.
In his quest to discover the truth about his roots, he criss-crossed Europe. He discovered that his adoption papers and S.S. birth certificate were forged.
'So I was an orphan. I could live with that. It was only some years later, as I tried to get more and more information, that it looked increasingly likely that I was part of the Lebensborn programme.'
Folker collected 20 boxes of documents from the American authorities, the German Red Cross, the Polish Red Cross, the International Tracing Service, the British Army of Occupation and at least 30 other agencies and church offices - all pieces in the gigantic jigsaw of his past.
Then, last year, he made a crucial breakthrough. With the opening up of the biggest Holocaust archive in the world at the Red Cross Tracing Centre in Bad Arolsen, Germany, Folker finally discovered the truth.
He found a document dated November 12, 1948, which stated: 'The childless couple Heinecke applied to the Hamburg youth office for adoption of a child.
They were given permission to have a child and went to a Lebensborn home to choose one. The child was fetched on 20.5.1943.'
Other documents were found on which the name, birthdate and place of the boy adopted by the family Heinecke are given as: 'Aleksander Litau, born 17.10.40 in Alnowa, Crimea, USSR.'
The mystery was - almost - solved. Folker Heinecke was Aleksander Litau. An SS document detailed a military operation in Komunara, 40 miles away from Alnowa, in which blond, blueeyed Aleksander was taken to Germany for 'Ayranisation.'
Now 67, his blond hair grey, Folker travelled to the Crimea last year. He found a house and a road where locals told him a family called Litau once lived.
'I scooped up earth from the road,' he said. 'I stood there and tried to imagine the SS advancing down here, their tanks and their motorbikes and their armoured cars, and I tried to imagine them taking a little boy who was guilty of nothing.'
He didn't find his parents' grave. Yet a group of old peasant women, their faces lined and their memories faint, recalled the day the soldiers came and took a 'beautiful blond child' from them.
But after the war Stalin sent millions of Russian citizens to the gulags - many of them for the 'crime' of being over-run by the Germans. And there was no trace of the Litaus.
'All I really want,' says Folker, 'is to find the grave of my mama and papa. I don't want to end up as many of the other children like me have, driven bitter and mad over what befell them. I just want to know who I was and what I might have been if things hadn't turned out the way they did.
'I have to keep searching to find something that might lead me to who my parents really were and where they are buried. Then I will have done my duty as a son. I will have honoured my real parents.'
• Additional reporting: Allan Hall in Hamburg.