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Correspondent Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 13:20 GMT
Norway's Nazi legacy
Lebensborn children were put in psychiactric hospitals after the war
Many Lebensborn children were put in psychiatric hospitals after the war
Norway's outcasts from Nazi past

For fifty years they have been Norway's outcasts. They grew up in shame, believing they were outsiders and bearing their guilt in silence.

They were the children born during the Nazi occupation whose mothers were local women and whose fathers were German soldiers. The Nazis classified everyone in terms of race and Aryan Norwegians were highly prized.

Those born of German fathers and Norwegian mothers were considered first-class Aryans. The Norwegians called them "Krigens Barn" (War Children) and treated them with suspicion and prejudice.

Women who had personal relationships with Germans during the war were frowned upon in Norway. There was also official hostility against such women as the Norwegian government in exile in the UK, via the BBC, broadcast that "things would grow unpleasant for them after the Germans left Norway". They were right. Thousands of women were jailed after the war.

Lebensborn a product of Nazi eugenics programme

During the German occupation of Norway some of the children were separated from their mothers and cared for in so-called "Lebensborn" clinics ("Fountain of Life" clinics).

They were to be raised as the conqueror's racial elite, part of Heinrich Himmler's Aryan inspired ideology of using eugenics to create racial purity.

After the Germans retreated from Norway at the end of the war, many of these children were subjected to humiliation and degradation. Some found themselves in childrens' homes and orphanages where they were bullied and tormented and even sexually abused.

Others were classified as "Retarded" and shut away in mental institutions due to the bizarre theory that their mothers must have been mad to have slept with a German - by definition, subnormal too.

Werner Thiermann with a photograph of his German father
Werner Thiermann was born in October 1941. His mother was one of the local domestic staff working at a German base in Lillehammer. His father was a staff sergeant in the Wermacht and Werner was officially listed as a Lebensborn child - number 1242.

Werner never met his father - he was posted away soon after his mother became pregnant and she never heard from him again.

After years of searching Werner found out that he had died in a Russian POW camp at the end of the War. After the liberation of Norway, Werner's mother had her head shaved and was interned with other "collaborators" on an island in Oslo harbour.

Lebensborn children were the living symbol of German occupation and as such were often mistreated.

Young Werner spent his childhood in a succession of children's homes and orphanages where he was beaten and abused - both physically and sexually.

This legacy has left Werner bitter against his fellow Norwegians who, for fifty years, have closed off this chapter in Norway's history.

Official silence is breaking

The official silence on Lebensborn children is beginning to break down as people like Werner Thiermann trace their parents and undertake legal action to gain compensation for their mistreatment.

Randi Spiedevold, a lawyer, has taken up the case of a group who endured the Lebensborn program. Randi grew up after the war but until taking on this case she knew nothing of the Lebensborn programme or the suffering that children endured.

Randi Spiedevold is fighting the case for compensation
She feels shame for the way these people have been treated and "was really, really surprised because so many people had knew about this and never said anything.

"And when you see, look at Norway as the Nobel Peace Prize country and we are going out through all the world telling people how to behave in war, after war and how we have to excuse everything and behave in a proper way towards the suffering people. It's amazing why we had to do these things with our own children."

Many of those children born to German fathers and Norwegian mothers face a continuing struggle over their identity and still feel misfits in Norwegian society. Today many feel they will never really fit in their own society unless they get justice.

The Norwegian Prime Minister publicly apologised last New Year to the Lebensborn children for the way they had been treated.

After fifty years Norway has begun to acknowledge the terrible consequences of the Nazis' genetic ambitions. The case of compensation for the Lebensborn children is still awaiting trial.

Producer: Guy Smith

Reporter: Isabel Hilton

Our Genes was shown on BBC2 at 18:50 on Saturday 6th May

Click here for transcripts

Werner Thiermann finds his identity within Norway's murky past
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