By Alex Wittmann
When we think of the genocide aritists who served in the SS or the Einzatzgruppen we generally think of the men who had committed the atrocious crimes of killing Jews. However as Wendy Lower points out in her book Hitler’s Furies that women were equally as guilty as men when it came to involvement in the Nazi regime and the genocide commited against Jews. Women were accomplises in the brutal medical experiments conducted on Jews, torture, and gassing. In roles as office secretaries, SS women were involved in pushing papers that held orders for execution. One of the narratives around SS women and any woman who were involved in the Nazi genocide were ones that were espoused in the Post War trials. There were stereotypical gender narratives of women being too innocent or “soft” to be able to carry out such crimes against humanity. This was a conviction held by many of the Allied prosecutors who pressed charges against the women in the criminal court. Charges that were either not pressed or dismissed. This is an unacceptable narrative to me. After reading unspeakable accounts of how women, directly indocrinated under Nazi racial ideology carried out and assissted in mass murders of jews were then labeled under the gender sterotypes of the time as incapable of carrying out such crimes. If Allied prosecutors had read the accounts such as those written in Lower’s book, they would have recoiled in disbelief just as I had. Perhaps this is part of why women were not as heavily convicted as men, one just could not believe that humans were so incapable of inhumane activities. The other narrative, and one that was espoused by the women involved in the crimes, was that they were simply caught up in the ideological indoctrination of Nazism. That they were simply “doing their duty.” This was not an unusual defence, most Nazi war criminals used this narrative in the Allied courts to excuse thier behavior. In my own view, even if one was just an average citizen caught up in the ideological indoctrination, whether or not they had no choice, or whether they fully believed in what they were doing from beginning to end. (Which many of them did) A war criminal is a war criminal and the Allied prosecuters were able to convict and sentence most Nazi felons for thier crimes despite such a heinous defence. Sadly as Lower points out, some women got away with this defence and the gender stereotypes of the time acquitted them of their crimes. It is sad that some who commited murder got away with their crimes, as Lower points out. This is a blatant example of how history can be neglected someone dying without being held account for historic genocide indicates a lack of motivation to learn from the past. While the Allied prosecutors were successful in conficting most Nazi criminals, they were somewhat lackluster in convicting the female criminals. This to a historian is deeply disappointing. No matter who you are, everyone must be held accountable for historical crimes committed.
Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies (Houghton Mifflin, 2013).