Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn
The first time I heard of “Lebensborn” was while watching an episode of The Man in the High Castle. (Funnily enough, this is mentioned in the author’s note as Coburn’s experience as well!) So when I read the premise for this new novel, Cradles of the Reich, I was immediately intrigued by the setting and plot.
The story follows three separate women: Gundi, Hilde, and Irma. Each of them have very different perspectives on Nazi ideology. Gundi is secretly a member of the resistance, Hilde is passionately in favor of the Nazi cause, and Irma starts off the book somewhere in the middle, as she’s fairly unaware as to what’s really happening.
These three varying points of view were compelling and very well done. There was a strong sense of who each woman was and the driving motivation behind their actions. While Gundi’s story has the familiar female-resistance plotline that we all love in WWII novels, the setting gave it a fresh feel. Irma’s character, while perhaps the most forgettable of the three, had the most character growth. And Hilde character was fascinating (and probably the most difficult to write) as it shed light on the Nazi party’s use of propaganda, fear, and misinformation to drive people to their cause. All three characters brought something unique to the book. As such, their stories were gripping and the novel was almost impossible to put down.
Purely for reader satisfaction, I do wish the ending provided more answers to the ultimate fates of the characters. However, for the sake of the plot, the ending fit the time period. I also appreciated that the novel didn’t conclude with the end of the war (as many novels featuring the Second World War do).
Using a Lebensborn maternity home as a setting for the novel provided an engrossing and disturbing glimpse into this little-known piece of history. The book felt well researched and written with an attention to detail and authenticity. Thought-provoking and illuminating, this read will make an excellent pick for book clubs this fall!
Readers looking for unique WWII historical fiction.
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. ARC provided courtesy of the publisher, Sourcebooks. All opinions expressed are my own.
About the book:
(From the publisher): Three women, a nation seduced by a madman, and the Nazi breeding program to create a so-called master race.
At Heim Hochland, a Nazi breeding home in Bavaria, three women’s fates are irrevocably intertwined. Gundi is a pregnant university student from Berlin. An Aryan beauty, she’s secretly a member of a resistance group. Hilde, only eighteen, is a true believer in the cause and is thrilled to carry a Nazi official’s child. And Irma, a 44-year-old nurse, is desperate to build a new life for herself after personal devastation. All three have everything to lose.
Based on untold historical events, this novel brings us intimately inside the Lebensborn Society maternity homes that actually existed in several countries during World War II, where thousands of “racially fit” babies were bred and taken from their mothers to be raised as part of the new Germany. But it proves that in a dark period of history, the connections women forge can carry us through, even driving us to heroism we didn’t know we had within us.