Hitler's Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate
|Hitler's Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: While some might question the balance of historical exposition and autobiography in this book, it still reveals a gallingly personal tale, that seemingly did take ages to come to light.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: May 2015|
|Publisher: Elliott & Thompson|
You see that name that credits the author of this book? Forget it, it's not accurate. (I don't mean Tim Tate's workmanlike, journalistic ghost writing, more of which later.) The narrator of this book did change her name by deed poll to something like Ingrid von Oelhafen some time ago, but not exactly how she wanted. She grew up as Ingrid von Oelhafen, although that was the name of her father, who was so desperately absent, in being over a generation older than his wife, from whom he was separated. She might well have had her mother's maiden name if her parents had divorced – and indeed her mother did move on to have a second family, and was terribly distant herself – young Ingrid would plead and plead for her company while in a remote children's home, and a lot of family secrets were not passed down at opportune times. Oh, and legally, due to what little documentation was to be seen, such as immunisation record cards, Ingrid was not Ingrid at all, but Erika Matko. Through this book, we find she was not blood-kin with her brother, her step-brother was to die, she was not blood-kin with her sister, but was her brother's, – oh, and even in this day and age you can still find a changeling foundling. Such incredibly convoluted family trees are the fault of the Lebensborn.
This organisation, we find out alongside our narrator, is yet one more dark side to the Nazi history. Stuffed under the comfort blanket of official denial, ignorance, fear and more, with incredibly pertinent records kept under lock and key for decades, this was a body set up by Himmler to increase the blood stock of the SS, further along the line of the Thousand Year Reich. On one hand it was encouraging Germanic people to procreate Germanically to give the world more Germanic people to replace the ones being killed off by the War – even allowing for illegitimate children and their mothers to be given great amounts of state welfare in order to keep the Aryan race thriving, as long as the parents had the right pedigree. On the other hand it was also the official culprit in a dreadfully nasty system whereby children in occupied lands, whose parents may have been shot due to partisan, anti-Nazi actions, were assessed as only Nazi phrenologists and eugenicists could, and the 'best' ones were fostered and adopted in the heart of the Heimat, miles away from their natural kin.
Thus Erika Matko's incredible story. Ingrid takes a lifetime coming to terms with the secrets in her family, the stymieing inactivity of the official records offices, and the very galling chance she would find something she would prefer not to, in piecing the history of her lot, and of the Lebensborn legacy, together. The result is a very readable look at an incredibly personal tale – the openness featured here is remarkable, as is the clarity of the writing, as the narrative goes from official history to personal, and from wanting this answer to understandable hesitancy over that, or bureaucratic brick wall.
Which does bring me to the nature of the book as it is. While it's perfectly readable and honest, it did raise issues with me as to how it came about. I have no objections to ghost writers, and Tate is open about his part in this, having met with Ingrid/Erika while making a TV documentary on the subject. It's just that some of the narrative doesn't seem perfectly true to life here. The story will progress on a personal level, and then it diverts into researching the official history, and I was left with the impression that that was Tim's work, piecing together the background for us, and giving us exposition while under the voice of his partner in literature.
That said, it really does seem that in a Germany always on edge, post-war, about its collective sins and the memories thereof, Ingrid did have to make her own journey through the history books to find out what she – and precisely what we – need to understand her past. It would appear that the whole Lebensborn entity was a persona non grata for decades, with the countless eggshells it would have trod on had the truth been public a lot earlier. But whatever the balance of the groundwork really was, this is a more than decent telling of this autobiography, with a healthy dose of history to give it context, and with only two footnotes to break the readable flow all we need is in front of us. The fact that so many Lebensborn sufferers have gone on to work for the care of others shows the Nazi idea behind it died a death a long time ago, even if the legacy still remains. The fact this book exists is a further success against the Nazi idea too, and as a result is worth the read.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
For further revelations regarding family history abutting the Nazi ideal more firmly than other people would want, you would enjoy A Nazi in the Family: The Hidden Story of an SS Family in Wartime Germany by Derek Niemann.
You can read more book reviews or buy Hitler's Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Hitler's Forgotten Children: My Life Inside the Lebensborn by Ingrid von Oelhafen and Tim Tate at Amazon.com.
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