Wendy Lower’s “Hitler’s Furies” examines the often ignored role of women, specifically the young women of the post World War One baby boom generation, within the Nazi regime. Lower emphasizes not only the active participation of many young women in the genocidal campaign of expansion and ethnic cleansing pursued by the Third Reich, but also the manner in which the Nazi regime simultaneously seized upon the energy and fervor of a young generation of women which had just recently gained a role within the political community while also demonizing this societal progress in order to justify their counterrevolutionary agenda.
An often ignored period of German history is that of the Weimar Republic of the 1920’s which preceded the regime of the Third Reich. As Lower explains the extreme political instability of the newly formed and deeply indebted republic saw the growth of both the far right and far left elements of the political spectrum. While the rise of the fascism in Germany during this period is well known and documented, the simultaneous rise of left wing moments namely the German social democratic and communist parties is all too often ignored. Lower makes a point to mention from the very beginning of her book that the period of the Weimar Republic was a time of historic progress for women in Germany with women gaining the right to vote and receiving formal equality under the law in 1919 despite being entirely barred from political activity only 11 years earlier.
Rather than simply ignoring the rising role of women within German society, the Nazi regime seized upon this new found youthful energy and reorganized it within their reactionary agenda. The frustration of women which had historically been completely excluded from the political process was used to encourage their active participation within the Nazi regime. Political action for women took the form of; “maintaining racial purity” by raising as many children with “Aryan” men as they were physically capable of, aiding the Nazi eugenics program in their capacity as teachers and nurses, promoting the ethnic cleansing of Eastern Europe by resettling and displacing conquered Polish, Ukrainian and Russian civilians, and by fighting against the progressive and feminist movements which were responsible their ascension within German society.
Fascist regimes have a remarkable ability to capture the energy and frustration of disenfranchised groups in order to fuel their reactionary movements. The Nazi regime was able to both use the rise of women’s emancipation and the fear this created among conservative elements of society in order to encourage participation within their counterrevolutionary regime. This characteristic of fascism raises several interesting questions. Will contemporary progressive movements such as the MeToo campaign inevitably result in a reactionary back lash and a rise in the far right? Why was the far right more successful in capturing the energy of young women in 1930’s Germany than the progressive movements of the time which were largely responsible for the growing role of women in German society? Is there a way to prevent disenfranchised groups from being co opted by fascist movements?
Can genocide occur without the support of the society? Most of the research suggests that this is impossible. Therefore, some women must have been part of the sizeable genocidal system of Nazi Germany. Thus, why is genocide viewed as an only male business? This is the topic that Wendy Lower undertakes in her book Hitler’s Furies. However, knowing that women took part in the genocide, how much blame should they face for it?
The underlying theme of Lower’s book describes women either witnessing or actively partaking in the Holocaust due to two reasons. The first is that they were merely attempting to take advantage of the new economic situation in Germany. The economy was terrible so women had to get employed and the drafting of men into the army meant that the government needed women to help with administrative jobs. The second reason was that they believed that they were aiding the party and that it was their German duty, as the wife of an SS officer or other position, to partake in these atrocities.
Were women intended to participate in the genocide? Was it just by accident that women became accomplices and witness to the Holocaust? Lower mentions nurses who euthanized undesirable members of the German society. However, they could have been the exception to the rules as teachers were only supposed to teach children. Yet, teachers still needed to report Jews and other “undesirables.” So how much responsibility should they hold?
According to Lower, “refusing to kill Jews would not have resulted in punishment” (202). Attempting to help the Jews would have been punished severely. Thus, can all the women be treated as indirect or direct murderers? Or should the Nazi regime, a patriarchal one, face the blame.
Hitler’s Furies as a book poses an interesting case. Many ways of how one could be caught up in a regime such as the one at the time of Nazi Germany are brought up, especially regarding women. One of the first questions that came to mind was how people could be complicit in such atrocities as the ones that occurred in WWII Germany. The book offers some good insight to this in what was offered to people who were. New opportunities were presented to people that they did not have before in achieving status, women could travel to new places and could reach a high status in the work they were doing. Wages were better than were possible for women in most instances so that joining a military role would be something appealing.
As there was no doubt a lot of people who didn’t necessarily vote for the government or were for it the, to begin with. Once the regime had taken power, however, it seems as though those who were acceptable to the vision of the regime, had a pretty easy time because the programs were put in place to benefit the people that it saw as meeting its standard. The government, having so much control is not something that one would think fighting against (as that probably would evacuate too much change) but rather joining it would help them become better off- those who did try and fight never had big results in their favor until the end of the war.
The last thing that I thought of was: how do you tell the difference from those just being part of the system and those that really believed in what they were doing. Who was taking advantage of opportunities and who were really happy about killing other people? This is certainly something the post-WWII Germany faced and something to consider about any fascist regime. Who has the guilt, everyone who didn’t protest or only the people who were looking to create their vision of the word?
Hitler’s Furies discusses the role of women in the Nazi regime during the Second World War. Wendy Lower analyzes how women were portrayed, as well as the things they did in the interest of the Reich. Many of the themes and ideas she discusses seem to argue that although it is not often believed, women were also witnesses, accomplices, and perpetrators of crimes in Nazi Germany, and the eastern territories they conquered.
Throughought the book, Lower discusses the idea that women moved out to eastern colonies, not because of political ideology, or a desire to commit atrocities, but as a means of advancing their economic status. Women in the nazi regime were not equals and Hitler proclaimed that the ideal women stuck to Kinder, Kuche und Kirche or children, kitchen, and church. Despite this, the economic hardships of the war made it necessary for many women to become the primary caretakers of the family and needed money to sustain this.
Lower discusses how in roles such as teachers, nurses, secretaries, and wives, women committed many of the same atrocities as men during the Nazi regime but was this out of an inherent evil in their hearts, or a genuine belief that this was the only way to survive in the regime. The contemporary narrative surrounding Nazi Germany is that the regime was inherently evil, therefore anyone who participated in it were evil. While certainly many of the women who participated in the regime were likely motivated by a genuine hatred for the Jewish people, others simply found themselves in a situation where they believed they were doing the best thing for themselves, and their country. These women adapted to their political reality and attempted to make the most of it while navigating the lack of agency they held during the period. This begs the question, are those who participate in the Nazi regime inherently evil? Or can their actions be justified to an extent through necessity?
In her book Hitler’s Furies, Wendy Lower explores the role of women in the Nazi movement. She depicts a lost generation of girls, raised in the tumultuous wake of the First World War. In a country humiliated by Versailles, the people looked for direction, and hope for a better future. Nazism became the fast answer. To women, it in theory offered the empowering honour of being Hitler’s most important citizens, where traditional roles of motherhood and duty to the nation were glorified. Individualistic movements like feminism that contradicted Nazi ideals were targeted, leaving German women to define themselves by the party.
The image of the traditional nazi woman depicted in propaganda was unrealistic – German birthrates dropped, and single, career driven women, who were overworked and underpaid, became omnipresent in German administration, as men were called to battle – indeed these women were indispensable to the atrocities of the regime. Lower
Some of the worst female perpetrators were women without official roles to assist with genocide. These women were voluntary killers, free of any obligation to commit crimes, they would seek to do violence, extra of what was expected – Others were coopted by fear, and the futility in resistance.
Nazism had achieved the obedience of a country. Were these women just complacent in the acts of the regime? To what extent did German women embody the values of the Nazi State? Or to what degree were they active extensions of Hitler’s will?
Nazism, like fascism, is rooted in a deeply masculine framework. However, Nazism, unlike fascism tapped into the female potential and gave women a space in the movement. For women in particular the appeal of the Nazi regime was as practical as it was ideological. What could be better than a movement that celebrated their ancestry, prided their ability to carry on the greatest race, and gave them the adventure they craved?
Beyond inclusion of women, Nazism took fascism and made it inescapably systematic. Everyone had their place, at work, at home, at school, at war. And those who did not neatly fit into the idealized places and categories were killed because systematic categorization was everything to the Nazis.
Would this level of systematic categorization and subsequent killing have been possible without the involvement of women? And by extension, to what degree was this involvement complicit? Were these women involved because of the ideological appeal of Nazism, or the practical appeal?
Lower’s text also demonstrates that women often lacked a distinct understanding of what they were signing up for. She notes that a number of female nurses were shocked upon arriving at their posts in the East. If women weren’t signing up for the Holocaust, what did they believe they were signing up for? Was it a fairly innocent belief in supporting the war effort? An ideological support of Nazi ideology? A belief that they had to in order to be good German women/? Or were these traumatized women the exception, and did most women join in the pursuit of carnage?
Hitler’s Furies presented many accounts of women during the Nazi regime. The author, Wendy Lower, tells us that this book is not a full account of women during World War 2, and she only focuses on a select few women who she was able to gather more full profiles on.
Lower’s main focus in her book was on how women affected the progress of the Holocaust. I question what other forms of killing these women may have influenced beyond the extermination campaign. Women caught up in fascism may have had other deadly effects. Are there any accounts of the women who were genuinely ignorant of the Jewish extermination? Many women may have ratted out their neighbours, who could have been Aryan Germans, for other crimes not affiliated with racism.
Lower gives a brief account of the era in which these women were raised in. What she doesn’t do, however, is delve into more detail on the childhood of each individual woman. Each woman is given a brief introduction, but the book is mainly focused on their rise to Nazism and the after effects. Were there specific childhood experiences for each woman that would have contributed to her conversion? Is it fair to claim that the era in which these women grew up in is a justifiable account for why they followed Hitler? Lower’s reasoning for female Nazi’s can be summed up as: a desire for adventure, youth, idealism, marriage, and money.
Finally, what about the older women? This book focuses on the youthful women, but fails to discuss any older women and if they contributed to Hitler’s cause.
Women weren’t able to vote in Germany until 1919, so in the readings it was noted by the author how German women generally were very proud to be “apolitical”, but that makes me wonder why would anyone would be so proud of not having an opinion on something that affects their life? Was it because they were not allowed to have an opinion? Was the culture so oppressive towards women to a point where they (women) actually believed they were not allowed to have an opinion about anything outside of their daily lives?
There were a few arguments that were brought up in the reading that irritated me. The author has suggested that women might have not had a big impact on Hitler’s rise to power, and then went on to also suggest that they should not be blamed for his election into power using the excuse that they have not been involved in politics for a long time.
You can not just absolve Nazi women because they “didn’t have political experience”. They participated by going out and placing their ballots, anyone who decided to vote Hitler in power is responsible for the horrendous acts that were carried out by the Nazis, no matter what gender they were.
The question that is in the back of my head is how did the women’s apolitical stance and their political ignorance affect their kids’ political views and morals as humans? Because it has been pointed out that many of the Nazis were young men, meaning they were kids around the time women did not have the right to vote. Since their mothers were not allowed to voice their political opinion, has that helped in growing a number of young (ignorant) Nazis?
Hello, it’s your friendly neighborhood last minute sweeper here to comment on the discussions this week regarding the Italian Fascist state.
Now, the first responders have pretty accurately summed up both the similarities and differences between different fascist states (notably Italy and Germany). Of course, there are many similarities, and there is no doubt that the rise of Mussolini influenced the Nazis. The circumstances were also similar, with the population being so desperate to regain a sense of belonging and nationalistic pride that they were willing to give up freedoms and overlook (and participate in) violence. However, I think this also points to one of the reasons why they differ.
We should not be lulled into thinking that Italian fascism was “nicer” than German fascism. Rather, due to the nationalism being the core of fascist ideology, the form fascism takes will vary depending on the country. They may turn to fascism due to a similar sense of desperation, but each country has a different past, different problems, different resources, different social views, etc. It is only natural that the focus of each fascist regime reflects that. As others have pointed out, Italy was certainly not “nice” in Ethiopia. However, their anti-Semitic policies were not as extreme as Germany because that was less of a concern for them.
I think this is something to keep in mind for future weeks. While Italy might have made the blueprint for future fascist states, these new states can never be direct copies of Italy, or the Nazis, or any other previous fascist regime due to the uniquely nationalistic core of its ideologies.
This week’s examination of Italian Fascism brought to light several ideas that are essential to keep in mind when examining the rise of fascism generally. Some of the important points that were brought up, both in class and in the primary responses, were ideas about the way in which fascism began in contrast to other ideologies.
One of the main points that stood out in class was taken from Federico Finchelstein’s reading. It is the idea that fascist movements in different countries are not just imitations of what happened in Italy. In each different country there were circumstances that lead to the rise of a fascist group. For example, it could come from general social anxiety and a loss of faith in institutions.
Another idea that stood out in particular to me, and in my classmates responses, is the premise of fascism being distinct from other political theories, like communism. The main principles of fascism seek to distinguish it from other ideologies. In particular, this theory was developed to counter enlightenment ideals. This is clear in some of the twelve attributes of fascism that we discussed, such as the glorification of violence, and a leader cult.
Clearly, this is an ideology based on sentiments that reflect a desire to react to the social and political situation of a given moment, such as the post WWI landscape of Mussolini’s Italy. As my classmates have noted, this movement that sought to bring back an ideal, by any means possible. Many of my classmates noted in their blog posts one of the driving forces behind this, and one of the twelve attributes, a way of defining oneself in opposition to the other.