LONDON – In a national reckoning with its past, the Norwegian government has offered an official apology to women — and their offspring — who were ostracized, stigmatized and in some cases deported because of their relationships with German soldiers during World War II.
The apology came from Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who lamented that the women had been treated in an undignified manner for having relations or bearing children with German soldiers — or were just suspected of having done so. They were seen as traitors by Norwegian society. Many faced unlawful arrest by the authorities.
“Norwegian authorities violated the fundamental principle that no citizen can be punished without trial or sentenced without law,” Solberg said at an event on Tuesday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Most of the women — known as the “German girls” — have long since died. The prime minister conceded that the apology was long overdue.
In 1935, the Nazis introduced the concept of Lebensborn, which means fountain of life in German. They set up Lebensborn homes, which were part of an SS program to increase the Aryan race.
Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was the mastermind behind it.
“The idea was to strengthen the German, and then the Aryan, race,” Patrick Bernhard, an associate professor of modern history at the University of Oslo, said in a telephone interview.
Bernhard described Lebensborn homes as racialized welfare — where pregnant women who were considered racially superior gave birth and received child support.
“The idea was to take care of racially valuable children,” said Kjersti Ericsson, a professor of criminology at the University of Oslo.
After the war ended in 1945, these children were socially stigmatized and in many cases abused.
The women who had married German soldiers were stripped of their Norwegian citizenship and deported, along with their children, to Germany.
“They were interned in special camps while waiting for their deportation,” Ericsson said.
This policy was at the heart of the government’s apology.
Up to 50,000 women are thought to have been involved with German soldiers, while 10,000 to 12,000 children are thought to have been born of such unions, according to Ericsson.