Bloodline-Behind the Scenes
Genealogy’s Darkest Hour
By Fiona Mountain
My working title for Bloodline was 'The Ghost Tree'. While researching genealogists and their work for my first Natasha Blake novel, Pale as the Dead, I had become very familiar with diagrams of family trees, their branches spreading down more like roots, trailing back through the ages, accompanied by ghostly faces staring out of sepia photographs.It made me think of an inverse family tree stretching its branches up and out into the future, with each child that is born like a new bud. And what if there was one child who was supposed to have been born was for some reason prevented from having a life, or if there life was cut short before they had any offspring? The whole tree would be different, a whole branch lopped off.
I was also struck by the fact that though genealogy is now a popular and eminently respectable hobby, it was not always so The Nazis were obsessed with genealogy.
Before granting a certificate to marry, they insisted bride and groom complete a record of the medical and racial background of their ancestors over two hundred years. Recruitment into the SS depended on candidates proving their Germanic roots back to 1800. Hereditary Health Courts were set up to provide training courses in family history to determine if the couple's ancestry and blood were sufficiently pure.
At one end of this distorted policy where concentration camps, at the other were Lebensborn Homes for unmarried mothers and their babies. The racially impure were to be exterminated while the racially pure were encouraged to multiply.
The first of Heinrich Himmler's Lebensborn homes was opened at Steinhoring, in Southern Germany, in 12 December 1935.
Lebensborn means 'Fount of Life' and was a horrific attempt at genetic manipulation. The SS were to be prime forefathers of new Aryan nation, passing untainted warrior blood to future generation. An equally rigorous genealogical selection process pronounced willing young women pure enough to 'make a child for Hitler’.
There were Lebensborn homes all over the occupied territories of Europe. Poland, Austria, Belgium, France, Holland, Luxemburg and Denmark. Thousands of children were born in them.
The only British territory occupied by the Germans was the Channel Islands, the Germans seeing this first conquest of British Isles as a step towards the occupation of mainland Britain. Hitler and Himmler admired Britain's Anglo-Saxon racial composition but because the population of the Channel Islands was so small nothing was done until quite late in the war. A German commander there wrote that the children and mothers were racially irreproachable and that many of the mothers had learned German in the hope of being allowed to move to Germany. Many girls formed friendships with soldiers and the SS race office decreed that the children of German soldiers stationed on the islands should be racially examined. Those classified as valuable were to be sent to Germany, and women expecting German-fathered children should be sent to Lebensborn homes.
By complete coincidence, the week after Bloodline was published a national UK newspaper printed a two page spread exposing Hitler's thwarted plans for Lebensborn homes in mainland Britain.