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Rescuing Children and Policing Families: Adoption Policy in Weimar and Nazi Germany

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Michelle Mouton
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh


When the First World War ended, Germany experienced an unprecedented period of political revolution, economic turmoil, and social upheaval. Among the myriad problems facing the nation was one concern that cut across party lines and prompted attention at both the national and local levels. Lawmakers, doctors, clergy, and ordinary Germans across the political spectrum agreed that the breakdown of the family had weakened the nation, contributed to military defeat, worsened economic misery, and exacerbated societal conflict. High divorce and illegitimacy rates together with an alarmingly low birth rate created a picture of families in crisis. The belief was widespread that only by creating policies that strengthened families would Germany stand a chance of regaining its historical strength. Because both Weimar and National Socialist policymakers saw the family as essential to rejuvenating the battered nation, the interwar era witnessed a wide variety of family-directed policies. Social welfare, unemployment benefits, health insurance, and maternity benefits were just the beginning of a series of programs designed to strengthen Germany and support families. While state programs targeted many different groups within society, children stood out as especially worthy recipients. Policymakers in both the Weimar and National Socialist eras recognized that children, the most vulnerable members of society and the nation's future, required special attention.

Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 2005

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11 RJWG §22. The RJWG defined a foster care child more carefully as “a legitimate or illegitimate child under twenty-four years of age who spends a long time in the care of others.” This definition stood regardless of whether the caregiver was financially reimbursed for the care or not. The children could be in the care of others continuously day and night or repeatedly for part ot the day or on particular days.

12 Furthermore the state's “observation” of foster children did not have an unblemished history. As early as 1915, the mayor of Siegen had complained about the etfect of the police supervision (polizeiliche Beaufsichtigung) that in “many cases leads to hardships in which ultimately the children themselves suffer.” Letter from Bürgermeister Siegen to Oberpräsident der Provinz Westfalen in Minden and Münster, May 8, 1915. Staatsarchiv Münster (hereafter SAM) Oberpräsidiurn Münster. 5925.

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23 In Westphalia, both the Catholic and Protestant churches and the youth departments established central adoption centers. In addition, by 1927, the Catholic Welfare Association (Katholische Fürsorge Vcrein, or KFV) and the Westphalian Women's Aid (EFH) also ran adoption agencies in Münster. In Dortmund, the Central Authority for Jewish Foster Homes and Mediation of Jewish Adoptions (Zentralstelle für jüdische Pflegestellenwsen und jüdische Adoptionsvermittlung) run by the Jewish Women's Organization (Jüdischer Frauenbund, or JFB) served Jewish children in Westphalia. It is not clear when the Central Authority for Jewish Foster Homes and Mediation of Jewish Adoptions began to organize adoptions. They announced their presence to the Detmold Landesjugendamt in October 1929, claiming to serve Jewish children all over Germany. STAD D 106 Detmold A, 581.

24 The personal names of the people involved in the adoption cases discussed in this article have all been changed to preserve their anonymity.

25 These descriptions were often quite graphic. One woman's doctor told her that because the development of her “uterus is retarded, menstruation will not begin.” SAM Amtsgericht Hohenlimburg, 81.

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