First Response: Sexism’s Unexpected “Silver Lining” in The Third Reich

In the context of the book “Hitler’s Furies”, in particular the chapter entitled “What Happened To Them”, sexism can be said to have had a benefit for women who were involved in the atrocities committed under the Third Reich–do not read that as an endorsement of sexism, of course. What I am talking about is how the position of women in society at the time acted both as an impediment for women to truly walk the halls of tangible political power (for the most part) and it also provided them with a practical defense during the Nuremberg Trials. SS Clerks (including the ones who transmitted kill orders), stenographers and cleaning staff–jobs which employed mostly women, who were viewed as being the weaker, fairer sex–were largely not considered dangerous by those responsible for bringing those responsible for the Holocaust to justice. Not even those female detectives who were responsible for gathering Jews for deportation to the death camps weren’t given any serious consideration. Convictions of women for Nazi crimes against humanity were few in number and many of them weren’t pursued in the post-war era. This is exactly what led to the “silver lining” of sexism referenced to in the title.

Not only did women carry the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of the prosecutors purely because of their sex, they were able to make the argument that the power to inflict misery and destruction on the Jews required power and authority which was beyond anything that would have been given to a woman in the Third Reich. Judging by the fact that the number of women prosecuted during the Nuremberg Trials is so dramatically eclipsed by the number of men prosecuted, this was ultimately a great strategy to deploy. Another interesting factor which the book brings up is that this defense could have been easily turned around by any of the prosecutors because there were numerous examples of crimes committed by women where a great number of witnesses were called to testify. What authority did, say, the wife of a high-ranking Nazi official or the secretary of a camp commandant, have to kill, torture or steal from Jews, even if they were enemies of the state? Absolutely none. Prosecutors, had they been able to move past their preconceived notions of female frailty and gentility, would have been able to convict women perpetrators because they extended their authority beyond what the government had prescribed for them. The men could have (and often did) use the excuse of “following orders”. Women would have been in a situation where they disobeyed orders and seized authority that did not belong to them.

Fascinating stuff.


Hitler’s Furies, pages 167-180


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