POZNAN, Poland - On a sunny April morning in 1944, Alodia Witaszek, 6, was combed and scrubbed, sitting in the children's home that had primed her for membership in Hitler's master race.
Over the last year, she had been snatched from her family and been beaten for speaking her native Polish. Now she had a German name, "Alice Wittke," and a new - German - mother.
"Guten tag, Mutti!" (Good morning, Mommy!) she called in flawless German to the young woman approaching her.
Only years later would she discover the full truth: that she was among about 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, had no idea. 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, or ITS, a unit of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Luise Dahl had written to more than a dozen orphanages. Finally, a letter came from an association in Munich with an innocuous-sounding name, Lebensborn. But this was no ordinary adoption agency.
Founded in 1938 by Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler's SS chief, it started out running homes where racially acceptable, mostly unwed mothers could bear their children.
After World War II broke out, Lebensborn took on an even more sinister role: It became an adoption agency for hundreds of "racially desirable" toddlers and young children seized from their families in Poland and other occupied territories.
With their neatly bobbed blonde hair and wide blue eyes, Alodia and her sister, Daria, qualified. "I was a 'gift for the Fuehrer' - that's what they called us," Alodia Witaszek, 69, recalls today in the Polish city of Poznan, where she was born.
Back on that wartime spring morning, as she walked through a park holding little Alodia's hand, Luise Dahl felt a dream had come true. Alodia and Daria had three siblings, the 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 and sent to Auschwitz.
After the Nazis grabbed Alodia and Daria, both girls ended up in a German-run convent in Kalisz, where the "Germanization" began - a combination of intense German-language lessons and brutal punishments.
Only after the war did Alodia learn that the Nazis had hanged and beheaded her father.
"I took charge of the child understanding it was an orphaned ethnic German to be adopted, under the German name 'Alice Wittke,' " Dahl wrote in 1948, answering a query from a lawyer involved in researching Lebensborn for the Nuremberg trials.
Meanwhile, Alodia's sister, Daria, renamed Doris Wittke, was sent to a foster family outside of Salzburg, Austria.
Back in Poland after the war ended, Halina Witaszek, who had survived Auschwitz, was struggling to piece her fatherless family back together. She wrote to the Polish Red Cross in February 1946.
Later that year, the Dahls petitioned to adopt Alice Wittke. And then, in October 1947, a letter arrived from the Polish Red Cross asking for the child to be returned.
The letter, Dahl wrote, "struck us like lightning." But she knew what she had to do.
Two months later, Daria came back, too. The Red Cross had found her in Austria.
In 1957, at age 18, Alodia Witaszek returned to Germany to visit the Dahls. It became an annual tradition. Later she would bring her two children. Luise Dahl died in 1971; her husband, Wilhelm, died 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.