Through my life I have discovered that some people will only feel like victims when they are informed of being just that. But from that moment, they can not think about anything else and will sink deeper and deeper in to self-pity and rage. Not until 2008 when she was 64 years old, did Kari Rosvall discover that she was a Lebensborn child and suddenly her life was not worth a spit. Suddenly she started talking about guilt and shame but also about anger and other feelings. And I am sorry, but for me, her story only comes off like a scream for attention. A long poorly written 229 page long scream.
I have read what a lot of people have written on Goodreads about this book. Too late. And for the most part, it seems like noone was aware of the Lebensborn program. Which for me, a historian is difficult to fathom. I have known about the Lebensborn program since I was 14 years old and started my fascination with world war two. Not that I knew a lot about it back then, but I did have the essential knowledge that Hitler for one, encouraged German Aryan couples to have as many children as possible. Women received medals depending on how many they gave birth to. But Hitler realized that it would take too long to build up a Master Race, no matter how many children the German women gave birth to. This was in the days when you did not have a child out-of-wedlock unless you wanted to live out your life in shame. So he ordered the Nazi men, to have extra marital affairs with young Aryan maidens. Homes were set up for this purpose. For the sexual encounters but mainly, so that the women would have a safe haven to hide in, while pregnant. Obviously, their “elderly” parents might not appreciate their daughters sacrificing themselves in that manner, for the Reich. I mean, there is a limit to how much one is ready to put up with!
These children, brought forth in such an unorthodox manner were, together with all the legitimate children born, the future, the Master Race of blond and blue-eyed children, that Hitler wanted for his Third Reich which was going to last for a thousand years. When he started to occupy the rest of Europe, he extended the program to include children already born. Blond blue-eyed children were kidnapped in various countries, to be raised in Germany by loyal Nazis. Their parents never knowing where their children had disappeared to.
Norway, was invaded and occupied in April 1940. Now. I am not a Norway expert at all. But its world war two history, is not just that of brave resistance. Many Norwegians had no problem with the Nazis at all. Especially not the young Norwegian women. While kidnappings of children occurred in many occupied countries, there was no need to do so in Norway.The women gladly bedded the German soldiers and there were 500 000 to choose from! Norway was considered a good country to spread your seed in, since they were Aryan in Himmler’s opinion, and nine Lebensborn homes were set up for the purpose. The end result was 12 000 babies.
Now, in 2002, many of these sued the Norwegian state for maltreatment. Because when the war was over, the population finally got to act out their frustration. They had lived under a harsh regime, having Germans everywhere, telling them what to think, say and do. And they had seen these women getting advantages, flirting and having fun, for years. They reacted like the French, Dutch and Belgians. They took their rage out on the women and called them whores. And in that society and in that time period, that is what those women were. If you were not married to a man and had sex and children out-of-wedlock, you were classified as a whore. But they did not only take their rage out on the women who had been with Germans, they also took it out on the result of these liaisons. The children became targets for bullying and all sorts of cruel treatment. I can fully understand, those children demanding an apology in 2002! Because while their mothers’ behaviour was questionable and their fathers’ not something to applaud, the children did nothing wrong. They did not ask for such parents!
But the problem with the book I have just finished, is that Kari was not one of those children. Yes, she was a Lebensborn child. Her mother Åse Löwe did at some point have sex with a German soldier by the name of Kurt Zeidler. Kari was born in September 1944 and she was taken to Germany to be raised in the program. I suspect the plan was to place her in the home of a Nazi couple, but since the Allies stood on Germany’s doorstep by then, this never took place. But contrary to her peers from Norway, who would have had interesting stories to tell, she did not grow up in Norway and never had to feel the brunt of the Norwegian hate and anger. In a way, this makes her story as uninteresting as it gets. (And by the way, my explanations above, are not in the book, but comes from MY knowledge!)
Kari spent about a year in Bremen. She was not abandoned nor was she unloved, in Hohehorst. After the war, it was decided that
she and all the other babies from Norway, staying in Bremen, were not welcome in Norway, so they were taken to Sweden instead. The story she tells after that, is not unique. She ends up in an orphanage, like all other children without parents and noone in their right mind will say that an orphanage is a good place to grow up in. Look at Russian ones, look at the ones in China, children becoming mentally retarded from lack of physical contact. Put on “Annie” or read Dickens for heaven’s sake. Spending time in an orphanage is a nightmare and even more so, when you are not chosen by the couples arriving to adopt. This is what happened to Kari till she one day did get chosen. But health care in those days was not tip top and the adoptive father died, which forced the mother to return Kari, to the orphanage. And like one can read in “Anne of Greengables”, returned children cause a totally different problem than the ones who arrive for the “first time”. Kari, did by the age of three, not talk, which is nothing unique. My aunt, did not say a single word before she was three and she did not grow up in an orphanage nor was she part of the Lebensborn. You can’t blame a child’s speech problems on those things, I’m afraid, even if it sounds good for the story.
When she was three, Simon and Valborg, a childless couple arrived and they very much resemble Matthew and Marilla in “Anne of Greengables”. Simon being the loving kind one and Valborg, being the practical, realistic farm wife, who did not show a whole lot of affection or emotion. But they gave her a happy childhood. They loved her, fed her, kept her safe. And like in all farm communities in those days, the rumours spread. A childless couple do not just come home one day with a child of their own. It must have been adopted from an orphanage and most children in such, were abandoned by unmarried mothers. So the fact that some people whispered about her being illegitimate, is not strange at all. That is what society was like back then. There was a reason bastards were not completely accepted. They caused trouble for the community in an economical way, but also could mess up inheritances. Since centuries back, they were seen as a possible cause for problems. Economic burdens but they were also suspected of having the same sort of morals, as their deviant parents! 1940s Sweden was no different than the 1740s.
When she was old enough, her parents told her that she was adopted, since they thought it only fair that she knew. But it did not cause her any trauma, since she knew they loved her like their own. But of course, she like all other adopted children, started to wonder about her origins. Why did my mother give me up? Do I have siblings? Every country have their own TV documentaries about all these grown ups searching for their roots. And as we have seen on TV, their biological parents are not always happy to see them, when they show up on their doorsteps. Kari asked the usual questions, but of course her parents could not answer. In those days, such information was confidential. How could a parent otherwise feel safe? And the new parents had to be given a chance of really becoming the adopted child’s real parents, without interference.
When Kari was 17, she left home to move to town and take a job. Simon encouraged her to travel instead of staying in the little village for the rest of her life, like he had done. The 1960s did offer new possibilities for both women and men. She applied for a job, but needed to tell where she was born and she of course did not know. A priest supplied her future employers with the information: Norway. Now, people in the 1960s were not backwards. Kari should have put two and two together. Born in Norway, 1944, German Occupation, given up for adoption… But she did not put anything together. What she did do though, was sending a letter, a couple of years later, to the Red Cross, asking for information, if they had any. When she finally heard from them, they did not want to be bearers of bad news, but told her to fetch a train ticket and an address to Oslo. She was off to see her mother Åse.
But from the book, you get the feeling that Kari acted wet noodle and after two weeks her mother did not want her there anymore. Åse was not the sort of woman who showed affection either. (I wonder if any women of that generation did? My grandmothers did not!) She refused to say anything about her former “lover”. And while she took Kari to see her mother Anna, her brother Alf and Kari’s half-brother Per, she introduced Kari as a friend. Now, if Kari was so anxious to know of her past, of her three first years in life, to not feel like a child from nowhere, why did she not put Åse on the spot? She could have sat down and said that not knowing was wrecking her life. That she could not go on living without knowing the truth, no matter how bad it was. Instead, the women seem to have remained quite for two weeks and that was that.
Kari went back to Linköping, married Daniel, had baby Roger and when the baby turned one, Daniel dropped down ill. Why Kari tells us details of everything else in her life and does not explain that part, is beyond me? What disease lands you in a hospital for years? The doctors told her that it would be a long, long time before Daniel would be well again, so it did not sound lethal. But what happened after that, made no sense at all. She and Daniel decided to get a divorce! Why? And his mother promised to help out with the baby, but added that Kari would meet love again. But three years later, she dropped down ill at work, with porphyria. She was ill for two years and instead of Valborg or Daniel’s mother taking little Roger in to their care, he was put in a foster family. How does that make sense?
When she turned 50, she met a 15 year younger man, named Sven Rosvall. By then she had tried to visit Åse again, for Roger’s sake, but Åse was not interested in any further contact. Kari still oblivious to what happened in Norway during the war. I mean, we are talking 1994 here! Not until 2008, when she and her husband Sven had lived in Ireland for over a decade, did she run in to a man, a historian, at a party, who told her that she might be a Lebensborn child and if so, she was entitled to money from the Norwegian state. This perked her interest. I am sorry, but that is how it all comes off. Perhaps she did not care about the money, but she seems to have cherished the thought of belonging to a group of victims.
But she never was a victim! She was a child given up for adoption, yes. But is that being a victim? Åse actually saved her life, by letting the Nazis take her. Åse subsequently went on to be tortured. She told Kari that it was the Nazis, but that was hardly true. She had given them what they wanted. An Aryan child. But the people who would have wanted revenge, were the Norwegians. They must have been the ones giving her scars and cutting off her nipples! She could have demanded an apology alright and money for her sufferings. Åse’s family turned her away. The only one still talking to her, was her blind mother Anna. Her son, from an earlier liaison, was brought up by her brother. But she just hid with her shame. Kari never had to share her fate though. She was spared all the humiliation that all the other Lebensborn children remaining in Norway, had to suffer through. She really should have been ashamed for joining them in their monetary claim!
When she found out that she indeed was a Lebensborn child, she wanted to see where she was born and where she was taken to in Germany. That would be natural in my opinion, to any child. But what happened next, does not make sense. She keeps on repeating in the book, how Hitler created her, how she thereby feels shame. Because she was considered perfect. Because as a baby, she was put on a pillow under a swastika and an SS officer took an oath on her behalf, that she would be loyal to the Führer. Honestly, who cares about their mumbo jumbo ceremonies? So what, that Hitler wanted to create a Master Race. We know that there is no such thing. There are no perfect genes. If anything, Kari proved that by getting porphyria, which is a genetic disease, and then she got breast cancer. None of us are perfect or safe from diseases. Anything can happen. The Lebensborn project was a mad plan, like many of Hitler’s plans. What is tragic, is not the women that agreed to it. Because nowhere has it really been written, that the women were forced. The men happily obliged. Martin Borrman’s wife wanted him to populate the entire Germany by himself! She encouraged her husband to make lots of women pregnant!
No, the thing we must pity, are the innocent children who fared very ill, when the Nazis no longer were in charge. But for the children to feel guilty because some man promised on their behalf to be loyal to Hitler, that is utter nonsense. We are only guilty when we break an oath WE have given and when having given that oath with sound mind. A baby can’t swear an oath. So these babies promised nothing. They had their free agencies given to them upon birth, by God, and what they chose to do with that gift, was up to them. Not a Nazi officer.
Kari went on to meet her brother Per after her mother Åse was dead. He did not want to dig in the past. Nor did Åse’s partner Arnt, whom she also got to meet. I believe that we all need to know our story to feel whole and complete. I can understand that Kari needed to find out what happened to her, during her first three years, in order to feel in control. But there is something wrong, when the person starts rejecting the adoptive parents, the older the person gets. When the person goes from feeling like a loved child, to being an ungrateful grown up, only looking for the times, when the parents were not so perfect. And the reason for that being, that they want to be a victim of something, in order to fit in to the group, where they feel that they belong. Kari does not belong in the group of Lebensborn children, who grew up in Norway! She was not maltreated. She had a home, with Simon and Valborg. She had a happy home with Daniel and then on her own, with Roger. So why say in the end of the book, that she is a victim and that she did not get a home, until she moved to Ireland with Sven? Saying that she never had a mother. When she had Valborg. It really is rude! Spitting everyone in the face. I can feel sorry for her, for the hardships she has gone through, with divorce, disease, missing out on years with her son Roger. But being adopted is not a misfortune! Nor are children raised by their biological mothers automatically granted unconditional love and affection! I agree with all the people who gave this book two stars on Goodreads. It was poorly written and to be honest, I learned nothing knew about the Lebensborn program at all! Either there is nothing more to know, or the ones who could REALLY tell a story, do not want to.