Wartime adopted child holds onto two identities

poznan, poland | On a sunny April morning in 1944, 6-year-old Alodia Witaszek was combed and scrubbed, sitting in the children’s home that had primed her for membership in Hitler’s master race.

Over the past year she had been snatched from her family, gone hungry in a concentration camp and been beaten for speaking her native Polish. Now she had a German name, “Alice Wittke,” and a new German mother.

Only years later would she discover the full truth: that she was among some 250 children seized from their families as part of a Nazi attempt to improve the Aryan gene pool in pursuit of a mad dream of racial purity.

Her adoptive mother, Luise Dahl, would later say she too had no idea. In a letter written after World War II she said that all she had wanted was to adopt a war orphan.

More than 60 years later, the story emerges in part from a rare collection of documents held by the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. In files are orders from Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler’s SS chief, to find children with “eindeutschungsfaehigskeit” — the potential to be Germanized.

One of those children was Alodia Witaszek, aka Alice Wittke.

Luise Dahl, who had written to more than a dozen orphanages, finally got a letter from an association with an innocuous-sounding name, Lebensborn, roughly meaning Fountain of Life. It was an adoption agency for hundreds of “racially desirable” toddlers and young children seized from their families in Poland and other occupied territories and forcibly Germanized.

With their neatly bobbed blonde hair and wide blue eyes, Alodia and her sister, Daria, qualified. “They told me that I have nice features, like German features,” Alodia Witaszek recalls today, at 69, sitting in her living room in the Polish city of Poznan, where she was born.

Alodia was one of five children of Halina and Franciszek Witaszek. Their father was a prominent member of the Polish underground, and when he was arrested in 1942, Halina scattered the children among relatives shortly before she too was arrested.

Alodia and Daria, two years her junior, were taken to a children’s concentration camp in Lodz, then to a German-run convent in Kalisz. The Nazis sent her mother to Auschwitz and hanged and beheaded her father for masterminding the killing of Nazi officers by poisoning their coffee.

Daria, renamed Doris Wittke, was sent to a foster family outside of Salzburg, Austria. Alodia’s new home was in Stendal, north of Berlin and about 185 miles east of Poznan.

Halina Witaszek survived Auschwitz and, after the war, was struggling to piece her family back together. Her two eldest daughters and baby son came back, but Alodia and Daria were missing. Neighbors told her the SS had kidnapped them.

Halina wrote to the Polish Red Cross in February 1946, enclosing a copy of the girls’ picture together.

In May 1946, the Dahls petitioned to adopt Alice Wittke, and a year later she legally became Alice Dahl, a German citizen. And then, in October 1947, a letter arrived from the Polish Red Cross asking for the child to be returned.

Before they parted in Berlin, Alodia had made her adoptive parents promise they would meet again.

Two months later, Daria came back, too. The Red Cross had found her in Austria.

In 1957, aged 18, Alodia Witaszek returned to Germany to visit the Dahls. It became an annual tradition. Luise Dahl died in 1971, her husband Wilhelm in 1983. But the daughter they briefly adopted still travels to Germany regularly, to attend Holocaust memorial ceremonies and visit friends.

In Poland she is Alodia Witaszek, but in Germany she still feels she is Alice Dahl. She is glad of it.

“If I didn’t have it [the dual identities] today,” she says, “I don’t think I would be happy.”

Associated Press correspondent Monika Scislowska contributed to this report from Poznan.