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?