As Germany settles the last of its Holocaust bills, Norwegian victims of an Aryan breeding programme masterminded by Heinrich Himmler are coming forward for the first time to demand compensation for their suffering.
Thousands of "war children" were fathered in Norway by the occupiers as part of a Nazi plan to mingle German and Norwegian blood and fuel the "rebirth of the Germanic race".
Himmler, the head of the SS, named the project "Source of Life" or "Lebensborn". The offspring, he decreed, would become masters of the master race. Ten special homes were set up in Norway to nurture the progeny and their mothers.
But the "war children" have been treated up to this day as bastards of the Third Reich: bullied, abused, in many cases driven to suicide. Now 170 of them are taking the Norwegian government to court. Many travelled to Berlin to publicise their plight, and to launch the first exhibition on German soil about the forgotten offspring of the war.
Paul Hansen is one of the forgotten demanding justice from Germany. At the age of three he was certified mentally subnormal and dumped in a Norwegian asylum where older, insane inmates would regularly defecate in the room. He was raised in seven institutions, was beaten in most of them, and left when he was 21, never having learnt to read and write.
No one had actually bothered to measure his IQ, but then his was an open and shut case. He was declared a congenital imbecile, because his father was a German soldier.
Mr Hansen's parents fled after the war, leaving him to his appalling fate. "There were 20 of us in my home," he says. "The authorities didn't know what to do with us, so they took us to a mental asylum. We were led into a room where the inmates were chained to their beds."
In the traditions of Nazi science, a Norwegian health official branded the group mentally retarded. They had inherited the trait from their mothers. After all, only half-witted Norwegian women would go with German soldiers. Tor Brandacher, who leads the organisation suing the government in Oslo, says the Norwegians after the war were worse than the Nazis. "You won't find anything so brutal about Jews here at the Gestapo headquarters as you see in Norwegian documents about us," Mr Brandacher says. The mothers, he adds, were expelled or locked in camps, their children systematically abused. "I know of a children's home where the locals queued to have sex with five to seven-year-olds. They paid the guards with a bottle of liquor."
The homes where many of the estimated 12,000 "war children" wound up were run by the Norwegian state. Only in the past decade has their suffering become public knowledge, forcing an apology from the government, but no compensation.
Mr Brandacher speaks of a conspiracy of silence. "This is a national disgrace," he says. "Everybody knew about it, everybody heard about it, but no one wanted to speak about it."
A photographer who took pictures of the war children now being exhibited at the Berlin end of the German-Norwegian Society was lucky to escape the homes. Einar Bangsund lived in Norway until he was six, when his mother could take no more of her own folk and emigrated to Germany. Mr Bangsund has fond memories of his childhood in Norway, and some harrowing ones.
"There is a picture before me. It's winter, I'm about four or four and a half years old," he says. "My mother is making a snowman in the yard. Suddenly, teenagers burst in and destroy the snowman and I think – though I'm not sure – they also beat up my mother." Mr Bangsund returned to Norway as a young adult, but his family wanted nothing to do with him. He lives in Dortmund, his identity trapped between two worlds, neither fish nor fowl. He speaks both his native languages with a foreign accent.
Like most of the other 12,000, he was no freakish product of an Aryan breeding programme, merely a love child. But in Norway, a "Tyskerunge", a pejorative term whose literal translation "German kid" cannot possibly convey the hatred charged in those few syllables, was seen as the justified target of vengeance.
"The money is one thing, but it doesn't really matter," says Mr Hansen, a cleaner at Oslo University, the nearest he got to a seat of learning in his 59 years. "The main purpose is to ensure the next generation should know about this, that this must not happen again in a civilised society." For a certified moron, he is awfully articulate.Reuse content