Ingrid von Oelhafen took decades to uncover the truth not only about who she is, but also that she was the subject of a sinister social experiment by the nazis and that there was another person living his life.
When Ingrid was three years old, and Germany She was living through the chaotic aftermath of World War II, her parents separated and she ended up in a children’s home.
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“It was Christmas the day I arrived and in a huge hall with many wooden tables they were giving out gifts. There were walnut cakes and orange cakes. It must have made a big impression on me because I remember it vividly.”
But that pleasant memory was the prelude to a sad time.
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Although her mother “wasn’t very warm”, Ingrid was desperate to live with her, as her letters from the time reveal.
“I always cry if someone talks about you or if I think about you. Dear, dear mommy, please come pick me up“.
When Ingrid was 11 years old, her father reappeared in her life.
One day he took her to a medical appointment where, to her surprise, she was called Erika Matko.
“I didn’t know who it was, but I didn’t ask.”
He soon began to realize that this was the name that appeared on all his official documents.
He didn’t dare talk to his father about it, but he did talk to his housekeeper.
“She told me I wasn’t my parents’ biological daughter, and that no one really knew where she was from. I didn’t want that to be true.”
At the age of 13, one of Ingrid’s greatest wishes came true: she finally went to Hamburg to live with her mother, who had started another relationship and the couple had a son.
“I was very excited, but when I moved I realized that the idea I had of my mother was just an illusion.”
“I didn’t feel accepted.”
Ingrid never mentioned Erica Matko’s name, or the fact that her mother was not her biological mother, but a year later she was faced with something that increased her bewilderment.
“I remember standing on a street corner and there were a lot of posters from the Red Cross organization with pictures of children… and I saw my own face. i was stunned. My body froze.
“The photos were of children displaced by war or taken from their homes and the Red Cross was running a campaign to reunite them with their families.”
And there she was, portrayed much younger. But he didn’t feel able to talk to your family about it.
“No, no, no. It was a big secret. I felt like I had to protect myself.”
Ingrid forged a career as a physical therapist and built her life, not knowing who Erika Matko was.
“My physiotherapist diploma had that name. It couldn’t be changed.”
In 1999, when he was 58 years old and running his own physiotherapy practice, he received a call from the Red Cross asking if he was interested in knowing about his parents.
“I immediately said yes, I wanted to visit them, but the Red Cross stopped that idea.
“Instead, they put me in touch with a historian to help me find out a bit about my history.”
Meanwhile, he reviewed some documents he had found, and noticed something unusual.
“I had a chickenpox vaccination form. The document was signed by a Nazi, Dr. Hesch, and it had my name, date and place of birth, and said I was a German citizen. But it also had the word Lebensborn“.
He had never heard of it, so he looked it up online. Any. He continued to search the library archives, until he found the following description:
“The purpose of Lebensborn is to accommodate and care for racially and genetically valuable pregnant women, who, after careful investigation of their families and those of the children’s parents, can be expected to give birth to equally valuable children.“.
“The idea seemed disgusting to me. And I could not imagine that I could be one of those children.”
In their quest to create a so-called “master race” while killing as many non-Aryans as possible, the Nazis also began projects to bring new Aryans into the world.
“The Lebensborn was a program of the SS – a paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party -, and established homes for so-called Aryan mothers who were also carried children stolen from Poland, Norway and Yugoslavia, for the purpose of Germanization”.
“They selected blond babies with blue eyes.”
Meanwhile, the historian who was helping him concluded that he came from what is now Slovenia. Ingrid wrote to the Slovenian authorities, asking if they had any information.
“I received a document saying that my mother’s name was Helena and my father’s name was Johan Matko and that they once had a daughter named Erika.
“I was so happy…it was an amazing feeling!“.
But shortly after, he received a second letter saying that the couple’s daughter, Erika Mako, was alive and in Slovenia, so it couldn’t be her.
“It was horrible”.
Ingrid managed to locate that other Erika, but she didn’t want to meet her.
However, other family members, including her nephew, agreed to talk to her and agreed to do a DNA test.
“The results showed that I was more than 90% related to this family.”
They also showed that there was a 93.3% chance that Ingrid was the aunt of Erika Matko’s nephew, so the other Erika was probably not the original.
“I read the document and thought: ‘I belong’. I have family. I wrote to the other Erika, but never got a reply.
“On the one hand, I was very happy that I found my family. But I also wondered how that other Erika had gotten into that family, and I worried that I was driving her out.
“And why didn’t my family ever look for me? It was a very confusing puzzle.”
It would be more years before the final pieces of that puzzle fell into place. That happened when Ingrid finally managed to access a file of Nazi documents.
They reveal that Ingrid’s biological father, Johan Matko, had been a resistance fighter fighting against the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia.
After being caught, he was sent to a concentration camp, and in August 1942 his mother was ordered to take her three children, including a 9-month-old Erika, to a local school.
“My mother took us all to school and a truck with German soldiers arrived. The children were separated from their families.”
Erika was a plump baby with blue eyes and blonde hair, and the Nazis decided to take her to Germany. His brothers were sent home with their mother.
But this is where the documents get confusing.
“They show that Erika Matko was taken as part of the Lebensborn program, but also they say that my mother arrived with three children and left with three children“.
So the other girl was the daughter of another family.
She was raised by Ingrid’s biological parents who not only gave her the name Erika Matko but, even after the war ended, never picked up their biological daughter or revealed that the one they had was not.
“For a while, I hated them, especially my mother. How could he have left me and not come looking for me? But afterwards I thought that he had had a difficult life with the Nazi occupation first, and the communist regime that followed.
“Rationally, I could probably try to understand her, but psychologically, I always felt like she should have looked me up.”
There are still many unanswered questions. But Ingrid is “happy to know more about myself and what happened. And I have met so many wonderful people in Slovenia that sometimes I can imagine that I grew up with them.”
As a trained physical therapist, Ingrid has dedicated her career to working with disabled children…children who were excluded from the Nazi “master race” idea.
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