'My mum was kidnapped by Hitler's SS!'
During World War II, the Germans kidnapped, Germanised and sent up to 200,000 ‘racially suitable’ Polish children to the Third Reich for adoption to senior Nazis in an attempt to breed an elite for Hitler’s thousand-year Reich.
Those who did not meet their racist criteria were incinerated at Auschwitz, subjected to cruel medical experiments or expelled to other parts of German-occupied Poland.
The majority of those who were Germanised lived their whole lives not knowing they had been torn away from their families and their real Polish identities destroyed. In fact, very few of these victims returned to Poland and their families.
The heart-rending story that Dariusz Dziekan, a businessman from Poznań, told exclusively to TFN, is also shrouded in the dark clouds of war. However, his tale has a silver lining as his mother returned to Poland after having been stolen by Germans and put through a process of brutal brainwashing to turn her into a German child suitable for adoption.
What makes his story unusual is that with no real family of her own in Poland, Dziekan’s mother quickly got back in contact with her German adopted mother after the war and Dziekan grew up knowing this woman simply as Grandma.
“There was so much cruelty in the war, so I suppose my mother was lucky that she ended up with that particular person in Germany,” 57-year-old Dziekan told TFN at his home in the south of Poznań.
Although his mother’s kidnap and Germanisation has left an indelible mark on his life, Dziekan has many unanswered questions about that period.
“I don’t know much because my mother wasn’t keen to talk about it, or didn’t talk about it at all. She didn’t say much to my father, or to me. Most of the rest of her family died in 1945,” he said.
What he does know is that his mother was born in Poznań in 1935 as Halina Czeszak. In 1940 or 1941 she was stolen from her family and underwent a brutal process of Germanisation at a special camp designed for this purpose. Her name was changed to Uta and she was given to a German family in Eisleben in Saxony-Anhalt.
Her German mother’s name was Ernestine Maurer and the father was called Richard Maurer. They lived in a big house near a meadow. The father wore a grey uniform and was away a lot because of the war.
The kidnapping of Polish children had its roots in the pre-war German Lebensborn [Spring of Life] programme, which was originally set up by SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to halt the high rate of abortions in Germany.
It enabled unmarried pregnant women to avoid social stigma by giving birth anonymously away from their homes, often under the pretext of needing a long-term recuperation.
Lebensborn ran children’s homes and an adoption service if the mother didn’t want to keep the child. It even had its own registry office system to keep true identities secret. Most documents were burnt at the end of the war.
After the invasion of Poland, the programme adopted a much more sinister and criminal policy: stealing children for Germanisation. This was part of the Germans’ broader plan to enslave the Polish population and resettle Germans in the east.
The Germans were keen to acquire children with Aryan traits, who they considered to be descendants of German settlers that had emigrated to Poland. Those labelled ‘racially valuable’ were forcibly Germanised in Lebensborn centres. The younger ones were sent to German families and older children were placed in special SS schools.
At 5 or 6 years old, the attractive girl Halina Czeszak was an ideal candidate for Germanisation.
One of the many mysteries for Dziekan about this period are the circumstances in which his mother was stolen.
“She was taken to be Germanised, I even don’t know from where, from a children’s home maybe. When she came back to Poland her parents were both dead and she went to live with an aunt. I have no idea what happened to them. I’ve read that it happened most often that children were taken from orphanages and preschools,” he said.
While this was often true, children were also abducted by violence, often by deception during medical check-ups, and as a result of the murder of their parents.
Kidnaps also often took place during the expulsion of Poles as part of the Himmler’s GeneralPlan Ost, which envisaged the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Poles on a vast scale, and the colonisation of Poland by Germans.
In Wielkopolska, less than a year after the outbreak of the war, the Germans carried out three resettlement actions involving over a quarter of a million victims. It is known that during the last one on March 15, 1940, almost 2400 children were taken for Germanisation.
Another black hole in Dziekan’s family history is where her Germanisation process took place.
“I recall places such as Austria, Szklarska Poręba and Karpacz being mentioned. The last two are in Poland now, but then they were in the Third Reich.
“My mother died in 1975 when I was 13, so I wasn’t old enough to talk to her about all of this. But she my told my father that she had to pass lots of tests,” he said.
Kidnap victims would be sent to what the Germans euphemistically called children's villages, which were in fact racial selection camps, where their ‘racial values’ were tested.
A detailed racial examination, combined with psychological tests and medical exams were carried out by doctors. A child's ‘racial value’ would determine which of 11 racial types it was assigned to. Testing covered 62 criteria of body proportions, eye colour, hair colour, and the shape of the skull.
These racial exams determined the fate of children. The outlook for children who were rejected from the Germanisation process was grim. Many were exterminated.
Around 300 children from the Zamość resettlement were murdered at Auschwitz by phenol injection. Each child was placed on a stool. 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.
Other rejected children were exploited in barbaric medical experiments. Some children were given psychoactive drugs, chemicals and other substances for medical tests, although the ultimate purpose of these experiments was their mass extermination.
Once selected for Germanisation, children were sent to special centres. They were given German names and compelled to learn German, being beaten if they persisted in speaking Polish.
They were told that their parents were dead even if they were not and they were brainwashed into hating Poland. Children who would not learn German or remembered their Polish origin were sent back to camps in Poland.
They were given new birth certificates to hide their past. This was important, because their new parents were predominantly fanatical Nazis, who would reject a child if they knew their real Polish origin.
Dziekan is not sure what type of family adopted his mother. Whilst it is clear that Ernestine Maurer was a kind and loving mother, mystery surrounds the father.
“Her husband might have been in the SS. I say that only because when you read about Lebensborn it was normally the case that children were adopted by the families of the SS,” he said.
“He wore a uniform. My mother wasn’t able to say exactly what type of uniform it was. He wasn’t at home a lot as the German’s were fighting the war. He was definitely an officer though, because Grandma was an educated person and they were relatively affluent.” he added.
Richard Maurer died in 1947 from unknown causes in Torgau, Saxony, where Soviets, advancing from the east and the Americans advancing from the west met at the Elbe river in 1945.
When the war ended and the allied forces entered Germany, they started to realise how many children had been stolen from occupied countries. Teams were set up to search for them.
Many children had to be lured into speaking the truth, for example by complimenting their German and asking how long they had spoken it. The children would often then admit that they spoke Polish when they were very young.
The older children generally remembered Poland; ones as young as ten had forgotten much, but could often be reminded by listening to Polish nursery rhymes.
Some children suffered emotional trauma when they were removed from their adoptive German parents, often the only parents they remembered, and returned to their biological parents.
Dziekan’s mother returned to Poland in 1947 or 1948 when she was about 12 years old.
“The Red Cross found my mother as well as her brother, a Dutch boy who had also been Germanised and adopted by the same family. How exactly they found her I don’t know,” Dziekan said.
“What I know for sure is that my mother did not return to her own mother but to her aunt. What exactly happened at that time is shrouded in a veil of mystery. I know a lot of that side of the family were killed when the Soviets attacked the citadel in Poznań using local Poles as a human shield,” he added.
With her Polish parents dead, and having spent a happy childhood in Germany, Halina got back in touch with her German mother soon after the war ended and they stayed in close contact.
Dziekan remembers this period well. “My German grandmother used to send me packages with clothes, toys, those kind of things. I had a lot of things from East Germany that we didn’t have in Poland,” he said.
“In 1967 or 1968, she came to Poland to visit us. She was definitely here as well in 1970. She even leaned Polish a bit so that she could communicate with me. Of course, my mother spoke German with her,’ he added.
Although, he felt close to his German grandmother, he does not know much about her life. He remembers that she was involved in music, perhaps running a music school in her town.
He knows that she was also the mayor of Eisleben at one time, suggesting that she held a high position in her local community.
Dziekan’s mother got on with her life as best as she could. She married a local Poznań man she met when they were both working in a battery plant. However, her experiences during childhood never left her.
“I remember that she always had problems writing in Polish. She always had a dictionary next to her when was writing something, she didn’t speak with a German accent though,” he said.
When his mother died in 1975, his relationship with his German grandmother changed. “Then my contact with her stopped. I moved away from home when I was quite young, around 18. Later I contacted her a bit. I had a neighbour who wrote in German quite well, so I wrote to her just telling her what I was up to.
“Towards the end she asked me to write to her in very large letters because she had a problem with her sight. Then towards the end of Communism in Poland, when she was around 90 years old, the contact suddenly stopped. I suppose she died,” he reflected.
Only 15-20 percent of children kidnapped in Poland during the German occupation returned to Poland after the war: to their homes, to Polish relatives or to foster parents.
The kidnapping and Germanisation of children was recognised by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg as a crime of genocide.
Today in Germany, it is believed that hundreds of thousands of Germans might be descended from kidnapped Polish children.
However, it is very unlikely that many are aware of their Polish ancestry, and cases of having any such knowledge are extremely rare.
Reflecting on whether his mother had been happy in her life, Dziekan said: “She was caring; I’m not sure if she was happy. She’d been through too much to be happy.”