International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024. The Kidnapping of Polish Children for Germanization during WWII
January 27, 2024 is designated by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and honor those that died there but also to recognize other groups who were victims of Nazism.
Today, let us remember the thousands of Polish children who were racially profiled and stolen by the Nazi occupiers for the purpose of Germanization.
Polish children being examined for purposes of Germanization. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Among the 12 major proceedings in the American military tribunals in Nuremberg after World War II was what was called the RuSHA Case. The defendants in the case were accused of criminal responsibility for the many branches of the Nazi racial program, including the kidnapping of "racially valuable" children for purposes of Germanizing them.
In 1941, SS leader Heinrich Himmler noted:" I would consider it right if small children of Polish families who show especially good racial characteristics were apprehended and educated by us."
Document NO-1404 TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS BEFORE THE NUERNBERG MILITARY TRIBUNALS UNDER CONTROL COUNCIL LAW NO. 10
Racial tests were carried out by "experts" who completed special tests noting the size and shape of head and main body parts, hair and eye color. Attached to the forms were photographs of the child in three poses. Medical and psychological tests were also carried out. Infants or small children found suitable were to be placed with German families or, if they were older, placed with the Hitlerjugend organization for boys and Bund Deutscher Mädel for girls, both Nazi party youth organizations.
Relationships or contact with any remaining relatives was completely severed. Under threats and severe punishments, the children were forced to stop speaking Polish and learned German instead. They received German sounding names and were designated as German orphans from the Incorporated Eastern territories, also known as Warta or Warthegau region. This was a plausible tactic as there were many Germans living in this region who also spoke Polish.
Photo of Barbara Gajzler .
One such case was that of Barbara (Basia) Gajzler, born in Gdynia on February 1, 1938, who became an orphan at the beginning of the occupation. Basia’s mother died of a heart attack in the first days of the war. Her father died during the September campaign. The rest of the family was displaced from Gdynia and Basia and her grandmother went to Łódź. In February 1942, the grandmother received a summons from the Jugendamt. She was supposed to come with her four-year-old granddaughter for tests. The commission became interested in Basia. The grandmother was told that Basia should be kept for further tests. The grandmother returned home alone. She never saw her granddaughter again during the course of the war. Basia Gajzler was taken to the orphanage in Łódź at Przędzalnia Street, and later sent to the Lebensborn center in Bad Polzin. Like many other children, Basia's name and surname were changed. She became Bärbel Geisler. At the center, caregivers addressed children only in German. If they tried to talk to each other in Polish, they were punished. In September 1942, Wilhelm Rossmann came to the center wanting to adopt a child and took the child to raise.
After the war valiant efforts were made to locate Polish children scattered throughout Germany. In 1948, when Basia was 10 years old, she was repatriated to Poland. She found out that her real grandmother was waiting for her there and that her name was Barbara Gajzler, not Bärbel Rossmann. Bärbel had mastered German perfectly, and had completely forgotten any Polish words. (4)
In 1948 Polish historian Roman Hrabar and his colleagues estimated the Nazi’s deported at least 200,000 boys and girls from Poland. Today’s historians bring the number to closer to 50,000, but the actual number is not known not only because the Germans changed the children’s identity at an age where the child could not remember who they were or where they came from, but they also falsified records or destroyed them at the end of the war. As a result, Poland lost thousands of its children, its future generation. The hope, strength and future of every country lies with its youth. The loss was catastrophic.
The defendants in the case Greifelt, Creutz, Lorenz, Brueckner, Hofmann, and Schwalm were convicted of special responsibility for and participation in criminal conduct involving kidnaping of children of foreign nationality were given prison sentences. Hildebrandt was subsequently extradited to Poland to stand trial for separate charges where he was sentenced to death and executed The defendants Meyer, Hetling, Schwarzenberger, Huebner, Sollmann, Ebner, Tesch, and Viermetz were acquitted.
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024, let us honor the Polish children who tragically lost their true identities forever.
Cześć ich pamięci.
Trials of War Criminals before the Nuerenberg Military Tribunals under Control council No. 10 (Oct. 1946–Apr. 1949).
Document NO-1615. Prosecution Exhibit 407. Circular signed by Greifelt, 19 February, 1942, concerning the Germanization of Polish Children, Regulation No. 67/1 in: Trials of War Criminals before the Nuerenberg Military Tribunals under Control council No. 10 (Oct. 1946–Apr. 1949),
Biuletyn Głównej Komisji badania Zbrodni Niemieckich w Polsce No. 5 1949 p.110
Malinowska, A. and Kaczorowska, K. Losy dzieci odebranych rodzinom przez niemieckie
władze okupacyjnepodczas II wojny światowej.
Documents regarding the RuSHA trial can be found in: Trials of War criminals before Nuerenberg Military Tribunals under Control council 10, supra, vol. IV, p.993-1027
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.