Angeniet Berkers

2019 - Ongoing

In 1935, almost 85 years ago, a new program was instated in Nazi Germany to provide the Third Reich with new leaders and SS-officers; Lebensborn (‘Source of life’). SS-officers were prompted to propagate as much as possible, extramarital as well. In multiple clinical facilities spread across Germany, Norway, Belgium, France and Poland (unwedded) women could bare their children if they met up with Aryan racial

standards. The children usually were adopted by SS-families or other families that were of pure Aryan race. The architect behind this plan, Heinrich Himmler, wanted to improve the quality of race with these blue eyed, light skinned and blond children for the new empire that was being built on National Socialistic grounds. When the program deemed not to be as effective thousands of children with blond hair and blue eyes were abducted from Eastern-Europe and brought to German homes for them to ‘Germanise’. They were tested by racial experts to ensure their purity of race. Children who didn’t meet the standards were sent to concentration camps to work or they were abolished.

The scale of Lebensborn is so enormous, incomprehensible and horrible that I think this should never be forgotten. That is why I am documenting every bit of it. When thinking of our society and it’s current flirts with nationalism it is, certainly now, important to document these stories from the past. It is the ultimate example of a disturbingly shifted feeling of superiority. The children that were born in the Lebensborn homes are now between 75 and 85 years old and are still able to tell their stories themselves. For the project I have been talking to these Lebensborn children and and collecting their stories and memories. Next to that I am photographing archival material, relevant objects and documents and I am visiting the maternity homes and children’s homes in Germany, Norway, Austria, Poland, Belgium and France, where mothers gave birth to their Aryan children.

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  • The frontpage of a folder that is given to women that are thinking of having their babies in a Lebensborn home. It gives information about the different homes, the rules and regulations a mother should comply to (such as the questionnaires one has to fill in and the documents you have to have to prove you are Aryan), the facilities, the possibilities for your child (taking it back home, foster care or adoption).

  • Heim Sonnenwiese in Kohren Salis, a children’s home near Leipzig. In this place children from Norway and the so called ‘robbed children’ were taken. These ‘robbed children’ had to Germanise, meaning they weren’t allowed to speak their own language anymore, otherwise beatings followed. Many (racial) tests were performed on an almost daily basis. Children were sent for adoption or foster care from this home.

  • The ‘robbed children’ were placed in special temporary camps called Kindererziehungslager (“children’s education camps”). Afterwards they went through special “quality selection” or “racial selection” — a detailed racial examination, combined with psychological tests and
    medical exams. A child’s “racial value” would determine to which of 11 racial types it was assigned, including 62 points assessing body proportions, eye color, hair color, and the shape of the skull.

  • Left: Paul-Erik’s father at the age of 21 in his Luftwaffe uniform.
    Right: Paul-Erik Vollmerhaus was born in Heim Geiloo in 1943. His parents met in 1940 on a local party, his dad (just 21 years old) was stationed in 1940 in the north of Norway with the task of communication in the Luftwaffe. Paul-Eriks father had to go back to Germany after the war and his mother was not allowed to follow him with their child for numerous reasons. They divorced in 1949 and both remarried. His father found a woman that actually looked like Paul-Eriks mother and the families stayed in touch and often visited each other. Their son Ullrich moved to Norway and is now the ‘third brother’. Paul-Erik’s mother remarried to a Partisan man and got two children. One of them was Jan. Paul-Erik was never teased because of his German heritage, his mother wasn’t shaved or taken to a camp after the war, possibly because of his new stepdad protecting him.

  • Due to the low birthrates Himmler ordered his SS-men, who were seen as racially superior, to procreate as much as possible, also outside of the marriage. The order is photographed in the Arolsen Archives which houses a large collection of archival material from WW 2.

  • A photo taken by Paul-Erik's father from the landscape in Norway.

  • A tube top that contained blood for racial examination. Photographed in Heim Friesland which is close to
    Bremen. These tests were also used to see if someone was carrying a disease.

  • Ingrid von Oelhafen was originally born in Slovenia and was one of the ‘Bandit children’ (her parents were Partizan) taken by the nazi’s to Germanise to children’s homes in Germany and Austria and then put up for adoption or foster care. She didn’t have a passport at 18, only a document with a different name: Erika Matko. Her foster mother never told her the truth and took her secrets with her in her grave. She had to search for her identity for a very long time. Her foster parents weren’t very loving, she was scared of her foster father who was aggressive towards her brother (who turned out to be a foster child as well). They both were put in a children’s home for a few years after the war ended. When she finally got home she hoped to now have a mother but she had more attention for her newborn child.

  • Even though the relationship with her mother was cold she did keep a diary from the beginning of Ingrid’s stay. There was a small pluck of blond hair to be found in it from when Ingrid was still a child.