Some female forced laborers from Poland and the Soviet Union had children while working in Germany. The featured report was written by a staff member of a facility opened to care for the infants born to women in a labor camp in Rühen, Germany.
Translated into English from the original German, this document was used as evidence against the staff of the facility during a war crimes trial following the war in 1946.1 The trial, held in Britain separately from the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, was known as the "Rühen Baby Farm Case."2 Ten staff members, including doctors and nurses, were charged with killing infants of Polish and Russian forced laborers through starvation and neglect.3
The facility in Rühen was opened in March 1943 after Nazi officials decided that it was too expensive and time-consuming to send pregnant forced laborers back to their home countries.4 Instead, they ordered that newborns and children be housed in care centers so that the women could return to work. Following Nazi racial ideology, they also wanted to ensure that the children of eastern European workers were segregated from German children.5 In this case, the laborers worked either at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, or on neighboring farms. The facility was moved to a former prison camp in the nearby town of Rühen in June 1944. There were two barracks at the nursery, the first barrack housed infants up to three months old and the second housed all children over that age.6
The author of this report expressed the Nazi view that Polish and Russian children were inferior to Germans. He or she used an official, scientific tone to explain the actions of the nurses and doctors at the care facility—actions which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of infants. The author outlined serious problems at the nursery and a “very high mortality rate” for infants. The report also suggested a variety of possible causes for the poor health and deaths of these children, including what was supposedly the bad behavior of the mothers and even the behavior of the babies themselves.7 The author admitted that the infants would not be fed properly because other concerns were more important.
A lack of basic hygiene allowed disease to spread rapidly in the facility. Children also suffered from malnutrition because they were not given suitable food. An estimated 350 to 400 infants under the age of three months were brought to the first barracks and all of them died. The doctor in charge listed their deaths as due to weakness. In contrast, the second barracks for children over three months was overseen by a different nurse. The children in her care did not die in large numbers despite facing the same shortages and poor conditions.8
Confronting the loss of a child—either through death or separation—was a common experience among female forced laborers in Germany. While children were the direct victims of poor treatment at childcare facilities like the one in Rühen, this loss was an added trauma for women already facing the difficult circumstances of their day-to-day lives.