German Language Blog

Forced adoption in the GDR Posted by on Nov 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

It is still an unscripted chapter in history books: Zwangsadoptionen (forced adoptions) in the GDR. Unofficially it is known – officially it is supposed – that children in the GDR were systematically alienated from their parents and, hence, fell victims to forced adoptions. None of the responsible masterminds and operators have ever confessed this practice officially but the grief and sorrow of victims speak louder than words.


Political motivation of forced adoptions in the GDR

Kindesentziehung (parental child abduction) was politically motivated in the GDR. Parents were obliged to teach their children to become socialist personalities. Regimekritiker or Andersdenkende (dissidents) and people who tried to flee the DDR – Deutsche Demokratische Republik (GDR – German Democratic Republic) were a thorn in the state’s side. Moreover, education wasn’t a private matter in East Germany. The whole society had to contribute to the upbringing of a child. According to this, the state felt responsible for those children who lived in families that weren’t loyal toward the state. Alienating their children from them punished citizens who tried to flee from the GDR, who stirred up hatred against the state or who slandered against it. Even making an application to exit the country was reason enough to hand out this kind of punishment.


The practices of pressure and blackmail

The conditions of the forced adoptions were different and every family certainly experienced its own cruel story. Some children had lived with their parents for some time and came in the state’s custody only at the age of 1-year or later. Other children were stolen from hospital. The mothers were told that their newborn babies died shortly after the birth and the neonates were officially declared dead. Usually, mothers were put under pressure and blackmailed to sign the adoption papers.

The story of Daniela Lehmann and her mother Regine Vaupel gives insight into the cruel practices under the East German Regime. Both are searching for their brother and son René. Regine Vaupel reports that the state permanently told her that she wasn’t able to raise two children because her apartment was too small and a larger one wasn’t available for her. She was “asked” to put her son René up for adoption. Some years later, the state threatened her that if she didn’t spy on an acquaintance, the state would also take her daughter Daniela away from her.


Still in search for each other

Nowadays, children and parents are still searching for each other. But this isn’t as easy as it could be. The Jugendamt (child protective service) isn’t allowed to give any information about children or parents because aus Datenschutzgründen (for data protection reasons). Because of that Katrin Behr, who is also a victim of forced adoption, initiated a website that help children and parents to find each other. On the website children and parents can place notes with their names and the names of the people they are looking for. By now, 562 family reunited with the help of this website. Currently 326 people are still looking for their family members who fell victim to forced adoptions.

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About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. marcia bernhard:

    Glad to see you back, Sandra. You make such interesting contributions, I always make sure to save,read and pass them along. This article on forced adoptions during the DDR-Zeit provides such insight to what the Stasi state was all about. Thanks again!

  2. German:

    very interesting article, thanks!

  3. Kendra Cyrus:

    Thanks Sandra for this post.

  4. Eric Swanson:

    I don’t understand why the current government will not help people reconnect with their families. Perhaps GDR officials did not violate laws of their country when they directed forced adoptions. Perhaps society wishes to protect these officials by not exposing their identity. But why should the victims of forced adoption be denied their right to know by the current government?

    • Sandra:

      @Eric Swanson Hi Eric,

      I also don’t understand why people won’t help in such cases. GDR officials did absolutely violate the ruling laws of the time. They committed crime. I guess it’s all about law. Nowadays, case officers are bound to the ruling law, which implies data privacy. Violating data privacy can also result in prosecution.