The true story behind "My Child Lebensborn"
I hope you have played the game, and found the experience interesting. This page contains information that expands on the story in the game, so we would advise all visitors who haven't played the game to do this first. You have been warned, further reading will spoil some of the gaming experience.
For all of you who have played the game, we hope that this info will give you even more context.
Children Born of War
When you meet Karin or Klaus in "My Child Lebensborn", it's six years after World War 2 ended. For Norway and many other countries in Europe, this also marked the end of five years of occupation by German troops.
In an occupation, a country's dignity is robbed away from the people. A foreign force is in command, and a nation is expected to bow its neck and get used to the new rulers. And as the years go by, some adapt and accept the new situation, while others keep fighting. Some actively switch side, working for the occupiers. No-one knows when or if the occupation will end or the new rule will become the new "normal".
This is true for all wars. And during all occupations, children are being born that are the result of contact with the occupiers and occupied, normally by local women and occupying, male soldiers. Sometimes they are conceived as a result of violence and rape, in other instances through consentual sex and loving relationships.
If the war is won and the occupation ends, a people can finally get their dignity back - be a free people that proudly governs over its own soil. The hatred that has built during the occupation motivates the action of removing all traces of the enemy. Signs reminding of the occupation just serve to remind of the humiliation of being ruled by foreigners.
The tragedy in this situation is that the children that are born with enemy soldiers as fathers in many cases become living reminders of the occupation. Research shows that the situation for the children is mostly the same regardless of whether their mothers were raped or in loving relationships. Just the basic fact of having enemy genes is enough to be seen as a trace and reminder of the occupation, and thereby as something that shouldn't be there.
So, the understandable hatred towards an enemy that has occupied a country for years is taken out on small children who have themselves done nothing wrong. And people who are victims of enemy rule create new war victims because they see these children as enemies instead of seeing them as innocent children.
For the children, this has dramatic consequences. For many, the mothers themselves were the worst abusers. They were themselves stamped as traitors or worth less because of the contact with the enemy, and the living children were the visual reminders that meant that no-one forgot the history. Many children were beaten and mistreated by their closest family because they were this living symbol of the family's shame.
Also, the children became "free game" in their local communities. Normally kind people would take out their evil side on these children with impunity, and witnesses would not intervene.
These feelings and behavioural patterns are recurring. After all conflicts, there are Children Born of War that need help and better protection, so that they don't get their lives destroyed - being punished without having done anything wrong.
We are proud that this game project has helped found a new organization that will work for better protection for Children Born of War. Read more about the new "The Children Born of War Project" here.
The true story in the game
Our game tells the story of a Norwegian child (Karin or Klaus) . As the player, you can be there for the child in 1951 and try to help the child through a row of events. All these events are based on true stories reported by Norwegian children born by German soldiers. We have composed a storyline with these events, which in reality happened to several different children. We have also added some details to create one coherent story. The small town is invented, but representative. The story with the piggybank is invented, as are the events in February. But these are representative for negative events that happened to these children.
There are many stories about abuse from persons in power, and lack of help from authorities like police, headmasters, children's homes and the church. To reduce the amount of characters in the game, we have focused the events on the school system. All the stories of teachers punishing the child or turning a blind eye are based on real events. The storyline with the nice teacher is fictive, but the event of bullying on the national day is factual. It is also true that many of the German children dread the national day even today, it holding too many negative emotions. The story around the King is a way of showing this. The story of the mean teacher is also a construct, but the actions representative of the kind of negative events these children were exposed to.
We are also trying to create as correct an environment for the child as possible. These children often grew up in single parent homes with little money. It was hard for the parent to hold a job or earn enough. We show this in the gameplay, how the player must struggle to balance time and money to care for the child. The sponge by the bathtub is not representative for 1951, but included to help create an intuitive gameplay. The prizes in the shop are fictive, and created to balance with the income of the player while not incuding rent or other costs. The newspaper clippings are all from Norwegian newspapers in 1951 and 1952. The historical context with rationing, little clothes or gifts is representative. Getting a ball was rare, but we have added one in order to offer a way to play with the child that is available at all times.
Half of all children born of German soldiers in Norway during World War 2 were registered as Lebensborn children, due to their Nordic genes. The Germans thought they qualified as "Aryans". For the most, this meant that the mothers got some financial help from the Germans during the war. For some of the children, this meant that they were raised in Lebenborn homes, where they were fostered strictly by German nurses. Some of these children were sent to relatives in Germany.
The story of Karin or Klaus' background and parents is based on a single individual - a girl. The documents that are given to the player are all direct copies of the documentation that she has been able to get from the Norwegian National archives as an adult. the only adaption we have made to her story is that we have inserted the adoption in order to create the parenting role for the player. In reality, she was sent to her mother who had remarried. She was not welcome. She was heavily beaten by her mother and mistreated by her step-father, who was otherwise known as a resistance hero during the war.
The story of the Nazi's Lebensborn program is shocking and spectacular. The idea to "breed" children for a ruling race is an example of the same twisted thinking that made the Nazis create concentration camps and start mass killings of people they thought were genetically worthless. This is a tragic part of our history.
We think its really unfortunate that we today often think of the Nazis as villains in fancy uniforms in popular culture. It makes them and what they stood for seem less serious and less dangerous. We think it is important that we don't forget the inhumanity of their ideology.
When we wished to tell the story of the Lebensborn, we wanted to make sure that we tell it from a different angle. We tell everything from the child's perspective, and you only learn of the Lebensborn program when you get all the information about the child's background. This also means that we haven't given an in-depth description of the way Heinrich Himmler set it all up and how the homes were run. We think it is more important to show the effects of the program, which is the story of what happened to the children. For them, as mentioned before, the details of their conception has not proven to be important. Lebensborn or not, simply the fact of carrying German genes was enough for them to be singled out as less worthy of the community's protection. This means that the game in many ways tell a representative story for most Children Born of War, both in Norway in 1951 and in other conflicts. Research shows that the exclusion and vulnerable position of these children is similar.
That said, we also think it is important that the world knows about the Lebensborn program as yet another example of the inhumane thinking that originated in the twisted ideology of Hitler's National Socialism. And at the same time, we should also see how the echo of this ideology can be seen in the effects of hatred, and how Norwegians in many ways did a related thing when they punished the children solely for their genes and the actions of their parents.
If you are interested, you can read more about the Lebensborn program here:
Children and abuse
Finally, the game can also be seen as a story about bullying. The first half of the game primarily shows how Karin or Klaus is excluded by other children, and also the coping mechanisms of a child trying to learn to live with bullying. As the game progresses, it shows more clearly the effects of being bullied and excluded also by adults.
We have worked with a specialist in traumatized children, as well as with the Lebensborn themselves, to ensure that we show a representative behavioural pattern for the child.
Sadly, there are many who struggle with trauma from their childhood. We hope this game hasn't evoked any of these feelings in a negative way. If so, we hope you can find someone to talk to. We have gathered some links to help on this web page.
We hope you have found the game gripping and that you feel that you have gotten to know and care for your child. And we hope that this game has been a rewarding way to experience one part of being human - how hatred and prejudice easily can make victims of innocent children.
Elin (Producer) & Catharina, (Lead Game Designer)
PS. Be careful if sharing some of this information so that you don't spoil the game for others!
PPS. The trailer for the game shows representative scenes, but is not based on actual events.
Kåre Olsen: En hvitbok: utvalgte offentlige dokumenter om krigsbarnsaken (1999, Norges Forskningsråd) PDF here (in Norwegian)
Kjersti Ericsson, Eva Simonsen: "
Children of World War II: The Hidden Enemy Legacy", Berg Publishers (2005)
Knut Papendorf: Siktet som Tyskertøs, Rettsoppgjøret i videre forstand, Novus Forlag 2015
Kirsten Sandborg: «På Helsa Løs – Godthaabs histore gjennom 90 år», published by Godthaab, www.godthaab.no
Interviews with Lebensborn children in Norway.
Thank you to the Lebensborn children and Krigsbarnforbundet Lebensborn.