WERNIGERODE, Germany (Reuters) - The children of a Nazi program aimed at creating an "Aryan elite" met publicly in Germany on Saturday in an effort to banish the specter that has haunted many of them since their birth.
The "Lebensborn" or "font of life" project comprised a series of homes launched by Heinrich Himmler's SS that were to provide the stock to help run a Nazi empire. The homes were popularised later as stud farms for a blond-haired, blue-eyed master race.
Matthias Meissner, managing director of Lebensspuren ("traces of life"), a group representing the Lebensborn children, said the meeting was necessary to bring the homes out in the open and lay some of the myths about them to rest.
"The aim was to take the children out into the open, to encourage those affected to find out their origins -- but also to show the outside world that the cliche of the stud farm with blond-haired, blue-eyed parents is not correct," he said.
Many children from the Lebensborn homes, particularly in Norway -- which was seen as the home to the most Aryan stock -- were socially ostracised after the war and they have remained a sensitive topic that is seldom discussed in Germany.
One of around 35 former children present at the first wholly public meeting in Wernigerode, a small town in eastern Germany which once had a Lebensborn home, was 63-year-old Hans Ulrich Wesch.
With tears in his eyes, Wesch explained how he was raised in communist eastern Germany after the war and separated from his mother and sisters. He would not see them again for half a century.
The centres were launched around Germany from 1936 to boost the birth rate, particularly of SS members, and to take care of illegitimate children deemed to be of healthy "Aryan" stock.
Contemporary authorities, like the German Historical Museum, agree that no evidence has been found that the homes functioned as human stud farms used to breed "Nordic supermen".
However, the SS carefully vetted those who entered -- they initially had to prove they were of German descent, and had no hereditary illnesses going back two generations, said Meissner.
During World War Two, the Nazis set up homes in occupied territories like France, Belgium and especially Norway, to look after local women expecting children from German soldiers.
"What the SS wanted was people who were resilient, dutiful and disciplined. The kind of people who would be suited to run things in the new occupied areas," said Meissner.
Most estimates suggest that roughly 8,000 Lebensborn children were born in Germany, with up to 12,000 in Norway.
Meissner said that while many of those in Norway were "outed" straight away after the war, many German Lebensborn children did not know about their origins until years later.
"On the one hand you had the issue of SS association -- was father a war criminal?" he said. "Then you had the question of illegitimacy in the old West Germany. And in the communist East, it was even more of a problem, because of the taint of fascism."