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Targets of Eugenics

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Letter to SS Doctor Gregor Ebner

In May 1939, a young German woman named Anneliese Koch gave birth at a maternity home that was part of the Nazi program known as Lebensborn ("Fount of Life”).1 This program was created in December 1935 to help boost Germany’s dwindling birth rate and expand the size of the Nazis' so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Lebensborn recruited pregnant "Aryan" women so that they could give birth to "biologically valuable" children in secluded maternity homes run by the SS.2 Applicants had to provide proof of good “genetic health” and “Aryan” ancestry. Lebensborn was one piece of a broad campaign to reshape German society to fit Nazi ideas of race and biology.3

The featured letter to Dr. Gregor Ebner—the head of Lebensborn’s health department—shows how being diagnosed with a disability could lower a person’s status within the Nazi regime’s imagined "national community." Within days of giving birth at a Lebensborn home in rural Austria, Koch experienced what was described at the time as “pregnancy psychosis.”4 She was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Vienna before returning to live with her parents in central Germany. Medical officials in Germany diagnosed Koch with schizophrenia, and they recommended that she be sterilized under the provisions of the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases. The Lebensborn program had found Koch to be of “good health, genetic health, and Aryan descent” and encouraged her to have a child—but giving birth caused a mental health crisis that led medical authorities to request her forced sterilization.

Lebensborn officials had the authority to decide whether the children born in the program would be released to the care of their biological parents or placed in adoptive families. Koch’s baby had originally been placed with an adoptive family, but the child was removed from its new home in 1941 after Koch was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Dr. Gregor Ebner, the head of Lebensborn’s health department, estimated that Koch’s baby would have an 8–9 percent chance of developing schizophrenia.5 Ebner ordered that the child be transferred back into the custody of the state.6 The fates of Koch and her baby are unknown.

To learn more about the Lebensborn program, see Patricia Heberer, Children during the Holocaust (Lanham: Altamira Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011), 202–9. For more primary sources on Lebensborn in Experiencing History, see the Brochure for the Lebensborn Program and the Request to Replace Anna Hölzer. To learn more about parenthood and childbearing in Nazi Germany, see items in the related collection Family Life During the Holocaust in Experiencing History.

The Lebensborn program specifically recruited single mothers and provided discreet places where they could give birth away from judgmental eyes. During World War II, the Lebensborn program developed into a system that included kidnapping foreign children deemed "racially valuable" to be raised as Germans. 

Nazi policies targeting people with disabilities became more radical in the context of World War II. To learn more, see Michelle Mouton, From Nurturing the Nation to Purifying the Volk: Weimar and Nazi Family Policy, 1918–1945 (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 2017). For primary sources related to Nazi theories of eugenics and the people they impacted, see the Experiencing History collection, Targets of Eugenics.

It is possible that Koch experienced what is known today as postpartum psychosis, which is a serious condition that usually occurs in the days after giving birth. This condition can affect people with no history of mental health issues. It is also possible that what the doctors diagnosed as psychosis was actually the distraught reaction of a new mother over being separated from her baby after giving birth in a Nazi maternity home.

Ebner stood trial in Nuremberg after the war. He was acquitted on the charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, but he was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization. Ebner was released on time served and died in 1974.

By the time that Ebner ordered the return of Koch’s child to the custody of the SS in June 1941, the Nazi regime had been systematically murdering young children with disabilities who lived in institutional care for nearly two years. To learn more, see Michael Burleigh, Death and Deliverance: "Euthanasia" in Germany c. 1900-1945 (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and Patricia Heberer, Children during the Holocaust (Lanham: Altamira Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011), 209-21.

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Lebensborn e. V.                                                                                                                                    Munich I, June 13, 1941

Main Department Guardianship Office                                                                                 [Address and phone difficult to read]


SS Oberführer Received: June 15, 1941
Dr. Ebner                          Facility Director: [signed]
“Hochland” Home                  Facility Physician:
                                                                 Head Nurse:

Steinhöring / Upper Bavaria

V   391 Le/Et. [Zt.?]

Regarding:    Child: Peter Koch
                     Child’s mother: Anneliese Koch
                     Child’s father: Karl Greibl

Enclosures: 1 letter from Mrs. Käthe Wendler, dated May 10, 1941
                    1 letter from Mrs. Martha Koch, dated May 21, 1941


I am sending you, enclosed, a letter from the mother of the child’s mother, Anneliese Koch, and a letter from Mrs. Käthe Wendler, who has had little Peter Koch in her care since September 19, 1940. SS Standartenführer Sollmann requests that you discuss this case with him on the occasion of your next stay in Munich. To fill you in, I would like to give you, below, a short excerpt from the case file.

The child’s mother, Anneliese Koch, gave birth to the child Peter in the “Ostmark” Home on May 3, 1939. On May 9, owing to “pregnancy [prepartum] psychosis,” she had to be admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna. The files do not indicate how long she was treated there, because the child’s mother was taken in by her parents in Eisenach after her release. There, according to information from her father, Professor Koch, she suffered a serious relapse that necessitated her admission to the University Hospital in Gießen. Professor Boehning characterized the disorder as schizophrenia.

This hospital appears also to have submitted an application for sterilization, as Professor Koch

(Page 2)

dated June 13, 1941, addressed to SS Oberführer Dr. Ebner

concerning Peter Koch

was called upon by the Hereditary Health Court in Frankfurt am Main to present objections to the sterilization of his daughter Anneliese Koch. He did so, with the result that the sterilization, in fact, has not been performed to this day. Allegedly, inquiries are to be made in addition at the Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna.

The account given by the foster mother, however, indicates that Anneliese Koch’s illness must have been very serious in nature, and that the disease in question is probably a hereditary one. Rightly, the mother of the child’s mother was told in a letter dated September 18, 1940, that for the time being she was not to inform the foster mother of her daughter’s illness, because it had not been ascertained whether the illness was indeed hereditary.

Oberführer, I request that you, after consultation with SS Standartenführer Sollmann, let me know how I should deal with this case going forward.

Perhaps I can also discuss the issue with respect to the KVD [Katholischer Verein Deutschlands, Catholic Association of Germany] with you on this occasion.

Heil Hitler!


SS Obersturmführer

[Added by hand, in red]

I believe that schizophrenia is established.
Of the children of schizophrenics,
8-9 percent develop schizophrenia,
in addition, ca 5% become psychopaths
Therefore the child cannot remain in the foster care placement.
A [personal meeting?] is necessary.


[Below, in pencil]

Guardianship canceled [?]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
International Tracing Service Archive
Accession Number Letter to SS Doctor Gregor Ebner, 4.1.0/82451626-7/ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives
Date Created
June 13, 1941
Page(s) 2
Author / Creator
Steinhöring, Germany
Munich, Germany
Document Type Official document
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