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Kidnapping of Polish children by Nazi Germany ( ), part of the Generalplan Ost (GPO), involved taking children from occupied Polandmarker and moving them to Nazi Germany for the purpose of Germanization, or conversion into Germans. The aim of the project was to acquire and "Germanize" children with purportedly Aryan traits who were considered by Nazi officials to be descendants of German settlers that had emigrated to Poland. Those labeled "racially valuable" were forcibly Germanized in special centers and then sent to German families and SS Home Schools. In the case of older children used as forced labor in Germany those determined to be racially un-"German" were sent to extermination camps and concentration camps, where they were either to be murdered or forced to serve as living test subjects in German medical experiments and thus often tortured or killed in the process.

Historical contexts

In a well-known speech to his military commanders at Obersalzburg on 22 August 1939, famous for its commentary on the Armenian genocide, Adolf Hitler condoned the "kill[ing] without pity or mercy [of] all men, women, and children of Polish race or language."

On 7 November 1939, Hitler decreed that Heinrich Himmler, whose German title at that time was Reichskomissar für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums, would be responsible for policy regarding population on occupied territories. The plan to kidnap Polish children most likely was created in a document entitled Rassenpolitisches Amt der NSDAP.

On 25 November 1939, Himmler was sent a 40-page document entitled (in translation) "The issue of the treatment of population in former Polish territories from a racial-political view."

The last chapter of the document concerns "racially valuable" Polish children and plans to forcefully acquire them for German plans and purposes:

On 15 May 1940, in a document entitled (in German) Einige Gedanken ueber die Behandlung der Fremdenvoelker im Osten ( translation: "A Few Thoughts about the Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East"), and in another "top-secret memorandum with limited distribution, dated 25 May 1940," titled (in English translation) "The Treatment of Racial Aliens in the East", Himmler defined special directives for the kidnapping of Polish children. Himmler "also outlined the administration of incorporated Poland and the General Government, where Poles were to be assigned to compulsory labor, and racially selected children were to be abducted and Germanized."

Among Himmler's core points:
  • In the territory of Poland, only four grade schools would remain, in which counting would be taught only till 500, writing one's name, and teaching that God commanded Poles to serve Germans. Writing was determined to be unnecessary for the Polish population.


  • Parents who desired to educate their children better would have to apply for a special permit to the SSmarker and police. On the basis of the document specialists would check if the children were deemed "racially valuable". If the children were so deemed, then they would be taken away to Germany to be Germanised. Even then, the fate of each child would be determined by loyalty and obedience to serve the German state by his or her parents. A child determined to be "of racially little value" would not receive any further education.


  • Annual selection would be made every year among children from six to ten years old according to German racial standards; those children that would pass it, would be taken away to Germany where they would be further Germanised after changing their names. The aim of the plan was to destroy "Polish" as a race, and leave within Poland a considerable slave population to be used within 10 years (eventually Poles would be removed completely within 15–20 years).


On 20 June 1940, Hitler approved Himmler's directives, ordering copies to be sent to chief organs of the SS, to Gauleiters in eastern German-occupied territories, and to the governor of General Government, and commanding that the operation of kidnapping Polish children in order to seek Aryan descendants for germanization be a priority in those territories.

Between 1940 and 1945, according to official Polish estimates, approximately 200,000 Polish children were abducted by the Nazis.

Dr. Isabel Heinemann has stated, however, that 200,000 may be too high an estimate, estimating alternatively that at least 20,000 Polish children had been abducted.

Large numbers of children were also abducted from places other than Poland: about 20,000 children were taken from the Soviet Unionmarker and about 10,000 children were taken from Western and South Eastern Europe.

Conditions of transfer

Many children were kidnapped during expulsions of Poles made by Germans. For example in Zamośćmarker County, Germans expelled 30,000 children, out of which 4,445 were chosen for Germanisation and sent to the German Reich. Over 10,000 children died in camps at Zwierzyniecmarker, Zamośćmarker, Auschwitzmarker, Majdanekmarker or during transport in cattle wagons used normally to move livestock. Thousands of them were sent by railway to Garwolinmarker, Mrozówmarker, Sobolew, Łosic, Chełmmarker and other cities. As one witness reported: "I saw children being taken from their mothers, some were even torn from the breast. It was a terrible sight: the agony of the mothers and fathers, the beating by the Germans, and the crying of the children."

The conditions of transfer were very harsh, as the children did not receive food or water for many days. Many children died as a result of suffocation in the summer and cold in the winter. Polish railway workers, often risking their lives, tried to feed the imprisoned children or to give them warm clothes. Sometimes the German guards could be bribed by jewelry or gold to allow the supplies to go through, in other cases they sold some of the children to Poles. In Bydgoszczmarker and Gdyniamarker, Poles bought children for 40 Reichsmarks. In some places the German price for a Polish child was 25 zlotys

The children were kidnapped by force, often after their parents had been murdered in concentration camps or shot as "partisans". Some were purportedly from German soldiers and foreign mothers, and others were declared "German orphans" who had been raised by non-German families.

Later the children were sent to special centers and institutions or to, as Germans called them, "children villages" (Kindererziehungslager), which, in reality, were selection camps where their "racial values" were tested, their original metrics of birth destroyed, and their Polish names changed to German names, as part of Germanisation. Those children who were classified as "of little value" were sent to Auschwitzmarker or to Treblinkamarker After the end of World War II, in 1947 to 1948, the Nuremberg Trialsmarker determined that the abductions, exterminations, and Germanization constituted genocide.

Some children identified as victims of these kidnapping suffered horrifically when they were removed from their adoptive parents, often the only parents they remembered, and returned to their biological parents, when they no longer remembered Polish, only German. The older children remembered the best; ones as young as ten had forgotten much, but could often be reminded by such things as Polish nursery rhymes; the youngest had no memories that could be recalled and suffered the most.

Selection

The children were placed in special temporary camps of the health department, or Lebensborn E.V., called in German Kindererziehungslager (or "child camps" in ). Aferwards they went through special "quality selection" or "racial selection" — a detailed racial examination, combined with psychological tests and medical exams made by experts from RuSHA or doctors from Gesundheitsamt. A child's "racial value" would determine to which of 11 racial types it was assigned, including 62 points assessing body proportions, eye colour, hair colour, and the shape of the skull.

During this testing process, children were divided into three groups (in translation):
  • "desired population growth" ( );
  • "acceptable population growth" ( ); and
  • "undesired population growth" ( ).


These racial exams determined the fate of children: whether or not they would be killed, or sent to concentration camps, or experience other consequences. For example, after forcibly taking a child away from his or her parents, "medical exams" could be performed in secret and in disguise.

Many Nazis were astounded at the number of Polish children found to exhibit "Nordic" traits, but assumed that all such children were genuinely German children, who had been Polonized; Hans Frank summoned up such views when he declared, "When we see a blue-eyed child we are surprised that she is speaking Polish." Among those children thought to be genuinely German were children whose parents had been executed for resisting Germanization.

Germanization

Once selected, the children between six and twelve were sent to special homes. They were compelled to learn German and beaten if they persisted in speaking Polish. They were informed their parents were dead even if they were not.

Very young children, between two and six, were sent to Lebensborn homes, which had originally be instituted to provide shelter for unwed mothers and illegitimate children deemed racially valuable. There, they would be observed for a period.

In either case, if they were not disqualified at the respective institution, they were placed for adoption. The Nazis would devise German names and new birth certificates to hide their pasts. In the process, they were referred to as "Polonized German children" or "Children of German descent" or even "German orphans." Orders forbade making the term "Germanizable Polish children" known to the public. This was to prevent their being viewed as Poles by the people they met, and so stigmatized. Some parents were informed that the children's birth certificates had been falsified, to show them as Poles and rob them of their German heritage. The authorities were reluctant to let the children be officially adopted, as the proceedings might reveal their Polish origin. Indeed, some children were maltreated when their adoptive parents learned that they were Polish.

In some cases, the efforts were so successful that the children lived and died believing themselves to be Germans.

Murder of Zamość children in Auschwitz

At Auschwitz concentration campmarker 200 to 300 Polish children from the Zamośćmarker area were murdered by Germans by phenol injections. The child was placed on a stool, occasionally blindfolded with a piece of a towel. The person performing the execution then placed one of his hands on the back of the child's neck and another behind the shoulder blade. As the child's chest was thrust out a long needle was used to inject a toxic dose of phenol into the chest. The children usually died in minutes. A witness described the process as deadly efficient: "As a rule not even a moan would be heard. And they did not wait until the doomed person really died. During his agony, he was taken from both sides under the armpits and thrown into a pile of corpses in another room… And the next victim took his place on the stool."

To trick the soon-to-be murdered children into obedience Germans promised them that they will work at a brickyard. However another group of children, young boys by the age of 8 to 12, managed to warn their fellow child inmates by calling for help when they were being killed by Germans: "'Mamo! Mamo!' ('Mother! Mother!'), the dying screams of the youngsters, were heard by several inmates and made an indelible haunting impression on them.'"

Some of the children were also murdered in Auschwitz gas chambers; others died as a result of the camp conditions.

German medical experiments on kidnapped children

Those children who did not pass harsh Nazi exams and criteria and who were therefore selected during the operation, were sent as test subjects for experiments in special centers. Children sent there ranged from eight months to 18 years. Two such centres were located in German-occupied Poland. One of them, Medizinische Kinderheilanstalt, was in Lubliniecmarker in Upper Silesia – in this centre children were also subject to forced euthanasia; while the second was located in Cieszynmarker. Children were given psychoactive drugs, chemicals and other substances for medical tests, although it was generally known that the true purpose of those procedures was their mass extermination.

Weaker children subject to experiments usually died in a relatively short time from doses of drugs, and those that survived brought great curiosity; all side effects were recorded as well as their behavior. As most died, the documentation was forged to conceal traces of experiments, for example, giving the cause of death as from a lung infection or a weak heart. Based on statistics of deaths in the special camp in Lublinmarker, it was estimated that from the 235 children between ages 10 to 14 who received shots of the barbiturate Luminal, 221 died. From August 1942 until November 1944, 94 percent of children who had been subjected to German medical experiments died.

Heu-Aktion

In a plan called "Heu-Aktion", described in a "top secret" memorandum submitted to German Interior Minister Heinrich Himmler on 10 June 1944, SSmarker-Obergruppenfuehrer Gottlob Berger — Chief of the Political Directing Staff (head of the SS main leadership office in Berlinmarker), a co-author of Himmler's pamphlet Der Untermensch, and a promoter of the pamphlet Mit Schwert und Wiege (With Sword and Cradle) for the recruitment of non-Germans — proposed that the German 9th Army "evacuate" 40,000–50,000 children between 10 and 14 from the "territory of Army Group 'Center' " to work for the Third Reich.

Heu-Aktion was not widely implemented, due in part perhaps to the following arguments against it: "The Minister [Himmler] feared that the action would have most unfavorable political consequences, that it would be regarded as abduction of children, and that the juveniles did not represent a real asset to the enemy's military strength anyhow[.] The Minister would like to see the action confined to the 15–17 year olds." Between March and October 1944, however, 28,000 children between the ages of 10 and 18 were deported from Belarusmarker for work at the Luftwaffe and in the arms industry supplying the Wehrmacht, which also unofficially included the Waffen-SS.

Post-war

After the war, The United States of America v. Ulrich Greifelt, et al., or the RuSHA Trial, the eighth of the twelve Nuremberg Trialsmarker, dealt with the kidnapping of children by the Nazis. Only 10 to 15 percent of those abducted returned to their homes.

Also after the war, a memorial plate was made in Lublinmarker dedicated to railway workers who tried to save Polish children from German captivity.

See also



Notes

References

  • Hrabar, Roman Z., Zofia Tokarz, and Jacek E. Wilczur. The Fate of Polish Children During the Last War. Trans. Bogdan Buczkowski and Lech Petrowicz. Rada Ochrony Pomników Walki i Męczeństwa. Warsaw: Interpress, 1981. ISBN 8322319509 (10). ISBN 9788322319505 (13).
  • Milton, Sybil. "Non-Jewish Children in the Camps". Museum of Tolerance, Multimedia Learning Center Online. Annual 5, Chapter 2. Copyright © 1997, The Simon Wiesenthal Centermarker. Accessed September 25, 2008.
  • Nuremberg Trials Project: Overview and Nuremberg Trial Documents Bibliography and Nuremberg Trial Resources – Nuremberg Trials Project: A Digital Document Collection at Harvard University Law Schoolmarker Library (HLSL). ["Contents of the Collection: The Nuremberg Trials collection fills some 690 boxes, with an average box containing approximately 1500 pages of text (for a total estimated at 1,035,000 pages). The three largest groups of documents are: trial documents (primarily briefs and document books for trial exhibits) for the twelve NMT trials and the IMT trial (280 boxes); trial transcripts for the twelve NMT trials and the IMT trial (154 boxes); and evidence file documents (the photostats, typescripts, and evidence analyses from which the prosecution, and occasionally defendants, drew their exhibits) (200 boxes). ... The HLSL collection also includes documents from the IMT hearings on criminal organizations and miscellaneous papers concerning the trials. Most of the documents are in both English and German (and occasionally other languages). ... In this project only the English language trial documents and trial transcripts will be presented, but the evidence file documents are usually in both English and German."]
  • "The RuSHA Case: D. Kidnapping of Children of Foreign Nationality: 3. Polish Children" (inactive URL). Cf. "The RusSHA Case: D. Kidnapping of Children of Foreign Nationality: 3. Polish Children" (Internet Archive URL). 993-1028 in Trials of War Criminals Before the Nuernberg [sic] Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No. 10. © Mazal Library, n.d. NMT04-C001. Nuernberg [sic] Military Tribunal, Vol. IV, Pages VII — VIII: "The RuSHA Case". Mazal Library (Internet Archive URL). mazal.org. Accessed September 15, 2008. (Trial documents.) [Note: "The Trials of War Criminals before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals (NMT) differ from the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in a number of different ways...."]


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