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Cradles of the Reich

A Novel

by Jennifer Coburn

Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn X
Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 320 pages

    Jul 11, 2023, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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There are currently 8 reader reviews for Cradles of the Reich
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Another Part of History We Should Be Aware Of
I am grateful to have received an advance copy of "Cradles of the Reich" in order to participate in a BookBrowse discussion. Jennifer Coburn has done a wonderful job of researching a part of German/Jewish and WWII history. I was not previously aware of most of what I learned from this book, and found myself going down bunny trail after bunny trail looking up the history behind the story. I would encourage everyone to read this and to read the author's notes at the end as well.

The primary story follows three women in Germany prior to and during WWII who came from three very different points of view. The parents, friends and lovers of these three women all play an important part in peeling away layers of history as well. While the main three characters are fictional, the organizations that they were a part of are not. And many of the people portrayed within the Nazi machine were real as well. This is great historical fiction - it creates a window through which to look into the minds of people that went through this traumatic period of time.

The primary Nazi focus was Heim Hochland, a Lebensborn home for unwed mothers and also essentially a brothel. Lebensborn was a Nazi program with the stated goal of increasing the number of children born who met the Nazi standards of "racially pure," according to Nazi eugenics. Forced procreation, kidnapping and execution of babies were all carried out with the purpose of creating a pure race.

As they say, "those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it." (various sources) "Cradles of the Reich" reveals a history that we need to be aware of. You can't make this stuff up, and this is definitely not history that we wish to repeat.
Power Reviewer
Susan Roberts

Historical Fiction
I read a lot of WWII fiction and it always amazes me that there are still parts of the war that have never been written about in popular fiction. Jennifer Coburn did extensive research of Nazi state supported homes where unwed mothers who were deemed to be perfectly Aryans could be pampered until they had their children and then the home arranged for the children to be adopted mostly by SS members. Many women volunteered for the 'breeding program' to do their part for Germany in the war. She tells this unique story using three women who were at the home at the same time but had totally different backgrounds and views of the Nazis. Two of the women are patients at Heim Hochland, a real Nazi breeding home in Bavaria, where they are awaiting the birth of their children and one of the women is a nurse working at the maternity home.

Gundi is a pregnant university student from Berlin. She is beautiful and deemed a pure Aryan but the authorities don't know that she is a member of a resistance group. She is also hiding a big secret about the father of her baby and knows that when the truth comes out, it will likely cause her death and the death of the baby.

Hilde, only eighteen, is a true believer in the Nazi regime and knows that if she gets pregnant with the child of a Nazi official, her life will be wonderful. She is assertive and difficult and feels like she is superior to the rest of the women at the maternity home.

Irma, a 44-year-old nurse, is desperate to build a new life for herself after she breaks up with the love of her life. She had worked as a nurse in WWI and saw so much death that she was excited to work in a maternity home and see beautiful births.

This well researched book about a little known subject gives the readers a look at a very dark time in WWII history. Women were only appreciated for their ability to have babies and women who had four babies were given The Cross of Honour of the German Mother.

This is a book about hatred and the need to breed perfect children but the underlying theme is that there is always a light of good - no matter how small - even in the darkest times.
Power Reviewer

Interesting twist
Cradles of the Third Reich is an interesting twist on all those WWII novels from the perspective of young women of childbearing years. Highly recommended.
Power Reviewer
Elizabeth@Silver's Reviews

Elizabeth @Silver's Reviews - Excellent Research
Is anyone safe in Germany…especially the perfect female examples of the German race.

Gundi is one of the perfect, gorgeous German women chosen by the Reich to bear perfect children to create the master race. She does have a secret, though. Actually she has two secrets.

We meet Hilde who is a staunch follower of the Reich and one of the women who is willing to help fill Germany with perfect children.

And we meet Irma a former nurse and 44 years old. She will be the one encouraging the unwed mothers to stay healthy so they deliver these perfect children.

We meet these women during this dark time in history and at Lebensborn Society maternity home where women arrive already pregnant or will become pregnant by an approved German officer.

Ms. Coburn did amazing, thorough research on a topic I never knew about.

Historical fiction fans will enjoy CRADLES OF THE REICH.

There are many sensitive and heartbreaking topics addressed, and this idea of using German women in this way is something I couldn’t believe. 4/5

This book was given to me by the author via NetGalley for an honest review.
Janis H

Lebensborn, A Nazi distortion of motherhood
I have mixed emotions about rating this book which was sent to me by Book Browse as an advanced reading copy. Since I have read so many books about the Nazis and their atrocities, I couldn't believe I had never heard of the Lebensborn Society maternity homes that existed in several countries during World War II. Apparently thousands of babies born to pure Aryan women and fathered by pure German men were stolen from their mothers shortly after birth and raised by SS officers families and others who were loyal to the Reich to become part of the master race in the new Germany. I found the author's notes at the end of the book as compelling and troubling as the fictional characters Jennifer Coburn created. I had no idea how Coburn would create a suitable ending for Gundi, the beautiful German woman whose face the Nazis used as the paragon for German mothers who were awarded with medals of honor if they gave birth to at least six Aryan children and whose baby was fathered by a German Jew. Coburn also creates Hilde an obnoxious and zealous eighteen year old woman who would go to any means to produce an Aryan child to help her escape her mundane life. Irma, the third woman and a nurse, bought into the single minded Nazi belief that Jews cause the world's problems. I felt no sympathy for Hilde whose world turned upside down, but Coburn's development of Irma proved a turning point in the story. I really liked the book because the story added dimension to Hitler's plan to rule the world. Although this part of his plan is repulsive, Coburn's objective in writing it is clear. Germany never fares too well in the stories that have emerged from these dark years, but Irma's character shows that all Germans did not agree with his plan. Unfortunately most did not disagree soon enough.
Dorothy L

A Good Book
Before reading this book, I had heard of the Lebensborn program but did not know much about it. Even though this book is fiction, it tells you a great deal about this horrific chapter in German history. Through the stories of three young women, you learn not only about their stay in one home but also the prevalent German attitudes toward race and particularly Jewish people. Somehow seeing these attitudes expressed by ordinary Germans festering and breeding violence makes it more real than reading about it in a history book.
The three women are all very different and the way they evolve throughout the book is insightful. I felt the end of the book was rushed and left many questions. I suspect the author is hoping the book will be successful and she is already planning a sequel or even a trilogy. I would not be surprised at this. Not an easy read but if you are interested in the German psyche in regard to race, this is the book for you as well as anyone interested in WWII history.
Nanette S.

Cradles of the Reich
With an historian’s eye for detail and accuracy, Jennifer Coburn shines a light on a lesser known despicable program established in 1935 by Nazi socialists to further the 3rd Reich’s goal of a pure Aryan race. The goal of the program Lebensborn, founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1935, was to advance the growth of the Aryan race by selecting ”perfect” young women to mate with “elite SS officers” to bear “perfect” Aryan babies that the state could distribute to good German families. By time of this novel, 1938-39, the Reich had resorted to kidnapping babies from occupied territory and even murdering parents to seize their babies. By the end of the war there were estimates that some 200,000 babies passed through Lebensborn facilities similar to Coburn’s Heim Hochland.

The author weaves her tale through three women: Gundi and Hilde are young and pregnant while Irma is a nurse employed by the facility. The reader shares the emotional inner thoughts of the women as they try to find their place in the program and in the 3rd Reich. The three face different but terrifying choices as they grapple with their decisions and subsequent consequences.

In her “Author Notes”, Jennifer Coburn writes, “I love reading historical fiction because it allows me to learn about history through the more personal lens of personal relationships.” This book fits her expressed thought.

WWII Historical Fiction
Set against a WWII, “Cradles of the Reich” is a fictional story based on the harsh realities of the Nazi breeding program at Helm Hochland--a Lebensborn Society maternity home. The place where thousands of “radically fit” babies were bred and taken from their mothers to be raised as a part of the new Germany.

This book entwines the fates of 3 fictitious women (Gundi, Irma, and Hilde)who form a connection. I found their stories interesting as told in alternating chapters. Even though the events were powerful, the historical elements horrifying and most disturbing, I never made a real connection with its characters. I think it’s best to say that with its sudden ending, the overall story didn’t quite meet my expectations.
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