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Report on the Rühen Home for Children of Forced Laborers

Ruhen Childrens home
National Archives of the United Kingdom

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.

The authorship of the report was contested in court. One witness, Hildegard Lammer, testified that the report was prepared with input from three of the defendants, all nurses at the facility. The defense attorney for one of the accused nurses attempted to argue that the report was written by the physician in charge, Dr. Körbel, which was not proven. Trial transcripts are held at the National Archives (UK) WO series (formerly the Public Record Office London).

The best known war crimes trials were the so-called Nuremberg trials but there were actually numerous other trials, including those against major industrial firms such as the Krupp case, the IG Farben case, and the Flick case.

Two were given the death penalty and another a sentence of five years.

See the related item in Experiencing History, Memo on Pregnancies among Forced Laborers.

Additionally, if the children were deemed of "good racial stock"—that is, if the father was German, Dutch or Scandinavian, for example—the infant would be taken away from the birth mother and placed with a German family. Ulrich Herbert, Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany under the Third Reich, trans. William Templer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 270–271.

Robert W. Kesting, "They Cry No More: A Case of War Crimes Against Newborns," The Polish Review, 37, no. 3 (1992): 318. See also Lauren Elizabeth Fedewa, "Between Extermination and Child-Rearing: The Foreign Child-Care Facilities of Volkswagen and Velpke," (PhD dissertation, University of Vermont, 2018).

The fact that the women were pregnant to begin with was a violation of Nazi policies forbidding marriage for eastern workers without permission. Sexual relationships between foreign laborers and Germans were treated much more harshly. Men from Poland or the Soviet Union could be sent to concentration camps while women could have their children taken from them to be raised by German families. See Herbert, Hitler's Foreign Workers, 71–77, 268–272. 

Kesting, "They Cry No More," 318–319. In another case in 1944 in Braunschweig, the childcare facility there for Polish and Russian women had an 80 percent mortality rate (185 out of 230 infants died) while in the nursery for western European women the mortality rate was 14 percent and for German infants it was 15 percent. Mark Spoerer, Zwangsarbeit unter dem Hakenkreuz: Ausländische Zivilarbeiter, Kriegsgefangene und Häftlinge im Deutschen Reich und im besetzten Europa 1939-1945 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2001), 208. There was also a trial against the staff at a nearby foreign childcare facility for the children of Polish farm workers in Velpke, where similar treatment caused the death of 96 out of 100 babies. See Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Vol VII, (London: UN War Crimes Commission, 1948), 76–81.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
National Archives of the United Kingdom
Accession Number Judge Advocate General's Office: War Crimes Case Files, Second World War (WO 235), WO 235-272_0040, 0041, 0044 (RG-59.016M )
Date Created
June 10, 1944
Language(s)
English
German
Location
Rühen, Germany
Document Type Report
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