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Reviews of Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn

Cradles of the Reich

A Novel

by Jennifer Coburn

Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn X
Cradles of the Reich by Jennifer Coburn
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 320 pages

    Jul 2023, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

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 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.


April 1939

If Gundi Schiller thought she had felt sick this morning, it was nothing compared to the wave of nausea that hit her as she walked into Dr. Vogel's office for the results of her pregnancy test and found her mother perched on a chair, knitting needles clacking against each other.

Elsbeth looked up and smiled at her daughter, never dropping a stitch, the thick brown wool in her lap growing into a blanket. Though her mother's presence in the waiting room was an unwelcome intrusion, at the same time, there was nothing that made Gundi feel more safe than having her mother by her side. Since she began university two years ago, Gundi found that she had a tangle of conflicting feelings about her mother.

"Mutti, are you not well?" Gundi asked, hoping that this was all just an odd coincidence. Perhaps Elsbeth was here to see Dr. Vogel about her stiff shoulder. He was the family physician after all. Maybe Dr. Vogel had asked to see Gundi in person rather than reporting the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Gundi, Hilde, and Irma have starkly different attitudes toward the Nazi regime and their places at Heim Hochland. Who did you most identify with? Who did you find most compelling as a character?
  2. Compare Hilde's and Gundi's experiences during the November pogroms the Nazis called Kristallnacht. Did either of them really understand the broader context of this event?
  3. As Hilde tries to impress Nazi officials, she represses her conscience to say the right things. What motivates her to seek status within the Reich? What does Hilde want out of life?
  4. How did the Reich's propaganda about self-sacrifice smooth the way for Lebensborn homes to function?
  5. There are many examples of the Reich's coordinated effort to dehumanize Jews, from the ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Cradles of the Reich.
You can see the full discussion here.

Compare Hilde's and Gundi's experiences during Kristallnacht. Do you think either of them really understand the broader context of this event?
Although I believe Gundi had a better grasp of the true meaning of Kristallnacht than Hilde, I don't think Gundi fully understood the importance of that night. Even most participants, the youth of Germany, truly understood it. How could the ... - cathyt

Did Renate's attitude surprise you? What do you think the future holds for Renate and the other "mothers in training"?
I agree with everyone else, Renate’s attitude was more of a way to fake it ‘til you make it attitude. - gvieth

Did you learn anything new from the book, and if so, what? What surprised you?
I was aware of the Nazi's desire to create a "master" race through women giving birth to Arian babies. I was not aware of the awful process they used to acquire these babies. I felt close to these babies since I am of the same age ... - marthas

Discuss Lotte's insistence that "great things only happen when strong people make difficult choices"?
One can justify horrible actions under the guise of "doing good." In the case of the story, the actions justified are certainly NOT good. Lotte is fooling herself. - djcminor

Do you think Gundi had any options other than to go to Heim Hochland?
No. After her mother's home was ransacked and things that were precious to her were destroyed, the threat was very clear. How could she possibly choose to ignore her mother's plight in order to secure her own, when that might not even be ... - cathyt

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BookBrowse Review


Jennifer Coburn's latest novel, Cradles of the Reich, is a well-researched novel about Nazi Germany's attempt to breed "racially pure" babies to counteract the country's falling birth rate. Coburn is remarkably skilled at bringing this mostly forgotten Nazi-era program to the page with both depth and nuance. Both her research and her attention to period details are impressive. Although most have likely read at least something about the innumerable human rights abuses wreaked by Germany's fascist government, the author reminds us anew, in a truly visceral way, of the unfathomable harm a group of powerful leaders can inflict on a segment of the population if left unchecked...continued

Full Review (616 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
On one level, this compelling story is about women and babies; on another, it portends a dark future of concentration camps and war. A deep well of discussion topics for book-club readers.

Publishers Weekly
[A] chilling tale...Coburn's characters are rather pat, and the broad outlines of the plot are predictable. Still, she brings to life the twisted realities of the Lebensborn program.

Author Blurb Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code
The Handmaid's Tale meets WWII in Cradles of the Reich, which explores the little-known history of Hitler's Lebensborn program and its goal of mass-breeding racially fit babies for the master race. Three German women are destined to collide at a Bavarian breeding home: a blond beauty desperately concealing her unborn child's Jewish heritage, a Nazi official's fanatical young mistress, and a nurse determined to keep her head down in the home's increasingly sinister program of forced adoptions, queasy eugenics, and racial cleansing. Jennifer Coburn's debut historical novel is adept, unforgettable, and brilliantly unsettling!

Author Blurb Kitty Zeldis, author of Not Our Kind
The hopes and dreams of three women collide in this shocking story about a little-known Nazi breeding home in Bavaria. Jennifer Coburn has written a brave and highly original novel; fans of historical fiction will find it compelling―and indeed essential―reading.

Author Blurb Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Lilac Girls and Sunflower Sisters
I loved Cradles of the Reich, Jennifer Coburn's fascinating and incredibly well-researched look at this little-known Nazi breeding program and three women whose lives intersect there. Don't miss this wonderful historical fiction debut!

Author Blurb Sarah McCoy, New York Times bestselling author of Mustique Island
Cradles of the Reich masterfully delves into the warped underbelly of the Nazi's Lebensborn Program for racial engineering. With grace and a deft hand, Jennifer Coburn creates indelible female characters that leave us heart torn. This book kept me breathless from chapter to chapter. I couldn't put it down until the final heroic page.

Author Blurb Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things
With this novel Jennifer Coburn gives compelling and necessary literary voice to those impacted the most by Adolf Hitler's haunting and ironically dehumanizing scheme to generate racially pure infants. Skillfully researched and told with great care and insight, here is a World War II story whose lessons should not―must not―be forgotten.

Reader Reviews


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 ...   Read More
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...   Read More

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.
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. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Lebensborn Program in Norway

Baby carriages outside a Nazi Lebensborn home in NorwayJennifer Coburn's novel Cradles of the Reich largely takes place in Germany's first Lebensborn ("Fount of Life") home, Heim Hochland. Germany's economic hardship following its defeat in World War I was a key factor in the National Socialist Party (aka the Nazi Party) gaining control of the country in 1933. Led by Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party had as one of its chief aims creating a country of genetically superior citizens. They determined that one of the barriers to their goal was Germany's declining birthrate; 1915–1933 saw 14 million fewer births than 1896–1914. The Nazis initially enacted policies in the hopes of turning the tide; for example, women with large families were publicly rewarded, abortions ...

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