Cradles of The Reich
October 11th, 2022: hardback, July 11th, 2023: paperback
Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn explores the Lebensborn project, a Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race. This historical novel goes inside the Lebensborn Society, where thousands of “racially fit” babies were bred and taken from their mothers to be raised as part of Nazi Germany.
“There was a top-secret breeding program that operated for ten years. The nurses were brain washed at best and complicit. Women were like incubators. The Nazis had a goal of 2 million racially pure babies for the Reich. Only 20,000 babies were produced but 200,000 babies were stolen from occupied countries. After the war the women who participated and the children born were shunned. Only 20% of these babies knew about their roots.”
At the Heim Hochland maternity home in Bavaria, three women’s lives intersect as they find themselves there under very different circumstances. The Heim Hochland Estate is a country house in Bavaria. The German’s use it as a maternity home during the Second World War as part of the Lebensborn Society. Here pregnant Aryan women stay in luxury, they receive the best medical care, and their babies are adopted by high-ranking German officer’s families.
In 1939 Gundi Schiller was unmarried and pregnant, a university student from Berlin. As a member of the Edelweiss Pirates, a resistance group, she met and fell in love with Leo Solomon, a Jewish man, who was now missing. Because she is considered an “Aryan beauty,” she is told that she needs to enter the Lebensborn program at Heim Hochland. Gundi needs to find a way to hide the identity of her child’s father and protect her baby who will be killed.
“Gundi is everything the Nazis consider perfect: blonde, blue-eyed, and tall. But she is secretly a member of the resistance and carrying the child of a Jewish man. She is the resistor, the moral conscious of the story, and the heroine of the story.”
Hilde Kramer is a high school student who eagerly supported Hitler’s policies. Hilde, only eighteen, is a true believer and is thrilled to carry a Nazi official’s child. She believed in the cause, where maternity homes had children bred for a superior race for the German future.
“She is pathetic and cruel. She is unloved, neglected, and a second-class citizen. She is brain-washed, delusional, and went along with the crowd. She wanted to be the best “Hitler girl.” She enjoyed the power that came with her contacts. She is only eighteen and a little bit naïve and narcissistic. She became a vessel literally. She is based on a real person. In an interview the real Hilde said that her time in the Lebensborn Society was the best time of her life. She noted she was well fed, well cared for, with a lot of leisure time. The real Hilde Trutz told of her sexual experience with an SS officer, had a child, and handed it over for adoption, without thinking twice about it. Till the day she died she thought she had done a great think for her country.”
Irma Binz, a 44-year-old nurse, is desperate to build a new life for herself after personal devastation. She will be the one encouraging the unwed mothers to stay healthy, so they deliver these perfect children. Irma just wants to do her job and stay out of trouble, looking the other way. But her closeness with the women in the home has her conflicted about her loyalty to Germany, especially when it comes to the danger faced by Gundi and her baby.
“She is a typical bystander who wants to keep her head down. She does not do much questioning of the Nazis and goes whichever way the wind blows until the end. She changes the most over time. She starts out one thing and ends up the opposite.”
Jennifer Coburn has an incredible knack for being able to entertain while at the same time educate her readers on this important piece of horrific history. Her characters come alive and are very relatable.