When I was researching Lilac Girls and Herta Oberheuser’s scenes at a Lebensborn Camp, I discovered the bizarre world of the Nazi Lebensborn (spring of life) program. The goal of the program was to create a superior race of Nordic Germans and in order to be admitted to a Lebensborn home both parents had to fit the “Aryan” racial criteria defined by the Hitler regime. There were several Lebensborn homes located throughout Europe but I was especially fascinated by Lamorlaye, the only birthing home established on French soil.
The home stood 40 kilometers north of Paris, hidden in the forest of Chantilly, a secluded spot where women, pregnant by members of the SS, could have their babies in private. When it came time to write The Golden Doves I knew this was the perfect setting for my French character Arlette to have her baby, which had been fathered by a Wehrmacht soldier.
Once a pretty, Anglo-Norman style residence, with stables and outbuildings, Lamorlaye was requisitioned from the Menier family (of chocolate fame) and had been occupied by the SS since 1942. According to the locals, it was strictly forbidden to approach the mansion perched on the hillside, but many townspeople knew there was a Nazi nursery up there, and that the Germans were recruiting tall blonde women to make Aryan children.
Lamorlaye came with its own cast of characters: Oberführer SS Gregor Ebner, chief medical officer of the Lebensborns, a specialist in “racial selection” and personal friend of Heinrich Himmler, head nurse Josefa Knoll, a midwife, and three other nurses, who all make appearances in The Golden Doves.
But once the war took a bad turn for Germany, Lamorlaye’s days were numbered. After the Normandy landings in June, 1944, Dr. Ebner wrote: “Learned the news of the invasion at Normandy and informed the mothers. It is becoming more and more difficult to properly feed the 12 babies still present. The garden does not provide enough carrots and spinach.”
Days later, a telegram of five lines was sent to Heinrich Himmler’s personal staff in Berlin: “The days of motherhood are numbered.”
Lamorlaye was closed that August 1944 and the remaining babies transferred to Munich. Even today some of those children, now grown, are still trying to find their real parents.