Local author Jennifer Coburn releases historical novel ‘Cradles of the Reich’

Author Jennifer Coburn
Author Jennifer Coburn

(Killian Whitelock )

Book focuses on little-known Nazi initiative


As a young Jewish girl growing up in New York, Jennifer Coburn was both fascinated by and fearful of Nazi Germany and the Third Reich.

She recalls that her father’s family was so worried Hitler’s minions would reach across the Atlantic and occupy the United States they came up with a plan to hide their children with neighbors.

“This looming threat haunted my father long after the war was over,” said Coburn, an author and public relations/marketing professional who now lives in San Diego.

The cover of “Cradles of the Reich’
The cover of “Cradles of the Reich’
(Courtesy of Jennifer Coburn)

But it was a television series that imagined just such a brutal occupation of the United States by Nazi forces – an Amazon production called “The Man in the High Castle” - that sparked Coburn’s curiosity and led to her latest book, a historical novel set during WWII called “Cradles of the Reich,” which will be published Oct. 11 by Sourcebooks.

The show featured an episode about a little-known Nazi initiative called the Lebensborn Society, which was intended to produce a race of racially pure Aryan babies to counter a declining birth rate in Germany. Coburn initially thought the program was fictional, but as she dug into articles and books about it, she learned otherwise.

Nazi officials determined “the best way to populate the growing Reich was to have more babies,” Coburn said, so they designed a program that aimed to increase the “racially valuable” population by enlisting SS officers to impregnate women, and later to kidnap blonde, blue-eyed babies from occupied countries such as Poland.

A network of homes was set up in remote locations where the women could give birth and care for their infants. The babies became property of the Reich.

The Nazis encouraged German women to have more children, giving medals to those who met the regime’s reproductive goals, and honoring them with salutes as they walked down the street. “This was a huge status symbol,” Coburn said.

Coburn spent two years on research and initially was trying to satisfy her own curiosity about the secretive program. She craved a novel that would delve into the psyches of the women to learn why they would agree to have a child for Hitler. People she talked to about it were interested as well.

That led to her writing her own novel. She felt it was imperative to get every detail just right.

“It is a topic that needs to be handled with incredible care and sensitivity. I had to dig deeper than I ever had,” Coburn said.

“Every page is a new thing to research, a new set of questions to answer,” she said.

Through writing the book, she said, she set out not only to entertain her readers, but to inform them about this program, and how women’s bodies could be politicized and commoditized.

This fall, Coburn will embark on a 15-state book tour to publicize the new novel, including an event at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Carlsbad’s Dove Library. She is available to speak at house parties and book clubs, and can be contacted at jennifercoburn.com. For a full listing of events featuring Coburn visit jennifercoburn.com/events

The book will be available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at brick-and-mortar bookstores, Coburn said.

While “Cradles of the Reich” is Coburn’s first historical novel, it won’t be her last – she’s already working on a follow-up that chronicles a model camp set up by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. Foreign visitors from the Red Cross and other agencies were shown the supposedly humane conditions at the model camp, far from the horrors of the regime’s concentration camps, where millions of Jews and others deemed undesirable were murdered.

Coburn’s fascination with the Third Reich – and that of readers and TV viewers – continues despite the decades that have passed since the end of World War II. Perhaps people are still trying to understand how an entire nation could follow a madman into death and destruction, she said.

“We see the best and worst of humanity. People rise to heroism and descend to madness,” Coburn said.