BY Vadzim Malatok
The emergence of the Third Reich and the Francoist Spain is frequently associated with the growing predominance of nationalistic and fascistic attitudes in the region, which, in turn, are associated with the largely masculine attributes such as strength, aggressiveness, and independence. As a result, the role of women within these male-dominated regimes has been either understudied or overlooked. However, the recent findings by numerous historians suggest that women’s contributions extended beyond that of a ‘supportive’ role as was propagandized during the Francoist dictatorship. Therefore, it is imperative to determine the extent of ‘blame-worthiness’ that may be attached to women for the atrocities committed by their governments.
In the article “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-9,” Sofia Rodriguez Lopez and Antonio Cazorla Sanchez argue that women’s participation in Franco’s Spain was not limited to that of stereotypical innate feminine capacities such as nursing, social services, sewing clothes, and so forth. In fact, pro-Franco’s women were involved in the activities ranging from mere resistance against the Republic to sabotage, and, in some cases, espionage. In addition, Nationalist women created the Women’s Section, a feminine organization, that enlisted around 15 per cent of all Spanish women and characteristically resembled similar organizations in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that Nationalist women acted in a somewhat cohesive manner rather than individually, the extent of their involvement varied greatly, and therefore, should be examined more scrupulously in order to avoid exposure to generalization or overstatement.
In Wendy Lower’s book Hitler Furies, the reader encounters similar issues of ambiguity, generalization, and, at times, oversimplification. The research conducted by Lower lacks concretization that would leave the reader in disbelief, for the magnitude of women’s participation in heinous acts. For instance, Lower mentions that lovers and wives of the SS officers were often involved in the atrocities committed by or along with their partners – the statement that need not be fathomed in amazement given that most of these women were probably amoral in the first place if they had decided to establish a relationship with the Nazis. In addition, Lower notes that “the number of ordinary women who contributed in various ways to the mass murder is countless times larger than the relative few who tried to impede it.” (81) However, it is unclear who an ordinary German woman is and whether or not the wives of the SS officers or those with close proximity to power are considered to be ordinary women.
In summary, the role of women in Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain ought not to be underestimated. In some instances, the concepts of femininity were obscured to the point that women acted as equals to men. Thus, Lower is correct in that “… system that make mass murder possible would not function without the broad participation of society…” (14) and that conclusion should be used as a base for further exploration of the magnitude of female participation in heinous acts.
López, Sofía Rodríguez and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History 53, no. 4 (2018): 692–713.
Lower, Wendy. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.