The Role of Women in Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain

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.

Works Cited

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.

One Reply to “The Role of Women in Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain”

  1. I completely agree with you on the point of ambiguity, generalization, and oversimplification in Wendy Lower’s book. It appears as though she is almost simultaneously overestimating and underestimating the role of women in Nazi Germany. What I mean by this is that Lower overstates the role of women by generalizing and oversimplifying their role in the Nazi regime, and she understates their significance by being too ambiguous in her analysis. I took issue with Lower’s decision to essentially compare the actions of women in Nazi Germany with identical actions of men and draw significance from their gender, rather than the uniqueness of women’s experiences in this historical period.

    What struck me the most in your reading response was your statement that most women associated with SS officers were “probably amoral in the first place.” This begs the fascinating question of whether female association with powerful men in the Nazi regime equates them with similar responsibility for amoral actions undertaken by those men. For instance, Lower discusses in “Hitler’s Furies” the reality for many women in Nazi Germany (and probably for many men too) that they were forced to associate with the regime in order to progress in their careers and in the social hierarchy. Would you also suggest a woman is immoral for associating themselves with Soviet Party members?

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