How Russia’s Crimes Against Humanity Add to History’s Atrocities
Commentary by Steven A. Smith
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It was one of the most notorious of the Nazi atrocities, which is saying something.
Heinrich Himmler personally created and directed the Lebensborn program, a two-part effort to create new generations of perfect Aryan children to populate the Nazi’s new Aryan world.
The first part was a misguided effort to impregnate ideal Aryan German women and then have them deliver their perfect Aryan babies in idealized Lebensborn homes. Fathers were to be members of Himmler’s Waffen SS, already selected for Aryan purity.
Himmler believed too many Aryan babies were being lost to abortion. In Nazi Germany, there was a devastating stigma attached to unmarried women who found themselves pregnant. Himmler believed giving such women a respectable escape from home and family would save thousands of perfect Aryan babies every year.
But the program was a failure. In eight years, estimates are only 7,000 to 8,000 babies were born in Lebensborn homes.
Lebensborn Program Part Two
This led Himmler and his associates to develop the second scheme of the Lebensborn program. In occupied countries, the Nazi SS began kidnapping babies and young children who seemed to have perfect Aryan features. Blue eyes and blond hair were minimum requirements. The children were taken from their parents, many of whom ended up in death camps or who were shot on the spot.
In Germany, told they had been abandoned by their parents, the young children were either housed in special Lebensborn orphanages or adopted by wealthy German families whose perfect Aryan heritage had been verified. Children whose development showed non-Aryan signs were then shipped to death camps and murdered.
Estimates are hard to come by because the Nazis destroyed Lebensborn records as the war ended. But it is thought tens of thousands of children were taken.
In our day, we tell ourselves such evil is unimaginable. How could this have happened? How could a civilized society produce such horrors?
But it is time to update the history of atrocities.
Are Russia’s Atrocities Much Different?
Last week, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The court wants to bring Putin to trial but not for massacres of the innocent in occupied portions of Eastern Ukraine. The court does not want to bring Putin to trial for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians or the destruction of energy infrastructure that denies Ukrainians heat and electricity in winter.
The International Criminal Court wants to bring Putin to trial for kidnapping children and sending them to Russia to live in orphanages or to be adopted by Russian homes. The children are told their parents are dead or have abandoned them.
Estimates are hard to come by because of Russian secrecy, but it is thought many thousands of children have been kidnapped.
The Russians are not much interested in absurd Nazi Eugenics theories. But they are trying to add children to a population where birth rates are dropping. And the kidnapped children are educated to Russian standards and fed the Russian version of history so that they will be perfect Russian citizens.
The World Is Watching
The state-sanctioned program, depicted by Russia as a humanitarian effort to rescue at-risk children, was the subject of an exhaustive New York Times report last October.
Said The Times, “Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Russian authorities have announced with patriotic fanfare the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be adopted and become citizens. On state-run television, officials offer teddy bears to new arrivals, who are portrayed as abandoned children being rescued from war.”
But war-crime investigators, journalists and international children’s rights advocates have confirmed that most of the children were simply swept up by Russian forces as the youngsters attempted to flee the war zone.
Under international law, a state program to depopulate a country or reduce its population through kidnapping is considered genocide.
Of course, Putin will not be arrested, certainly not any time soon. And it is highly unlikely he will ever face trial. But the warrant is significant, as is its timing.
It further isolates Russia from the international community, and nations that continue to support the Russian war effort could face new sanctions.
That includes China.
Will World Powers Hold Russia Accountable?
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping began a three-day meeting with Putin on Monday, ostensibly to negotiate an end to the war. But Putin wants Xi to send Russia weapons and ammunition and to continue its economic support. To date, Xi has generally supported Russia’s war effort, but only with economic support.
It is thought the Putin arrest warrant might deter Xi from sending weapons and ammunition. China is trying to establish itself as a diplomatic force, and the sanctions that would surely follow any arms shipments to Moscow would not be in China’s interests.
But Putin and Xi have a long-standing, warm relationship, on full display throughout the summit’s first day. It is impossible to predict the outcome.
After World War II many of the Nazis responsible for the German horrors were tried by international and U.S. tribunals. Many were executed. But not Himmler. The Lebensborn architect, and the man most responsible for the Holocaust, was in British custody when he bit into a hidden cyanide pill and quickly died.
There will be no cyanide pill for Putin.
And unless Xi surprises the world with a negotiated peace, the war in Ukraine will go on and the atrocities will mount.
How could this have happened? How could a civilized society produce such horrors?
There were no good answers in 1945. There seem to be none now.
Steven A. Smith is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho having retired from full time teaching at the end of May 2020. His columns reflect his progressive political views. Smith was raised in a Jewish home and is culturally Jewish. However, he considers himself an atheist, which is reflected in his writing. Smith is former editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. As editor, Smith supervised all news and editorial operations on all platforms until his resignation in October 2008. Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review, Smith was editor for two years at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, and was for five years editor and vice president of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Newspaper Management Center Advanced Executive Program and a mid-career development program at Duke University. He holds an M.A. in communication from The Ohio State University where he was a Kiplinger Fellow, and a B.S. in journalism from the University of Oregon. Smith currently serves on the SpokaneFāVS Board of Trustees.