Women in Nazi Germany

In Hitler’s Furies Wendy Lower shines the spotlight on the role of women in Nazi Germany and their role in the regimes violence. While there are many good arguments throughout the book, I found some arguments less persuasive. The first argument that fell short was when Lower draws comparisons between the typology of men and women perpetrators (163) and concludes that these women perpetrators came from varying backgrounds and the violence they exhibited was diverse. All of the examples in the book prior to this have attempted to paint women’s role and typology in a different colour, but any of these examples could have easily been perpetrated by a man or woman. On a similar note, Lower states that “But of course not all female camp guards were killers, not all female killers were camp guards; a huge number of victims in the East were killed outside camp walls” (142-143). This statement makes it hard to understand what exactly as readers we should make of the individual stories of the women in this book that carried of these atrocities.

In my opinion, the theme that these men and women came of age when Hitler was rising to power is interesting from a psychological perspective. Lower touches on this topic briefly when she elaborates on the indoctrination of girls starting at the age of 10. This is interesting as it raises the question of how society and norms influence individuals and what extent some are willing to go to ‘fit in’. This is something that I believe could be researched more in-depth, the reasoning and motives behind some of the worst perpetrators may be explainable, but that of the common man or woman I would argue has not been explained adequately enough in Lower’s book. By researching this area, one may be able to demonstrate that one of the main driving factors behind the regime, was the regimes successful indoctrination and desensitization of its public. I believe if true, this line of argument would be stronger than Lower’s account of individual cases, which for those cases may be sufficient but for a larger explanation on how some many people, both men and women, committed such crimes.

The area that I think this book succeeds in is that it highlights the importance of how systemic the Nazi ideas were in society for both women and men. It raises the question if we can ever truly know the extent of what really happened and what true motivations lead these seemingly normal men and women to carry out such terrible things. The biggest contribution by this book is that it has been clearly demonstrated that the role of women in the Nazi regime has been overlooked and under represented in the literature and that this is an area that should be explored in greater detail.

One Reply to “Women in Nazi Germany”

  1. I totally agree with you on the issue of the prevailing social conditions and “coming of age”. It gets touched on a bit with the reference to Adorno’s theory of the “authoritarian personality”, but that’s more on the individual level than the broader social context. I think it’s a side effect of writing a book like this by using a variety of experiences (“perspectives”?) rather than a more holistic approach, which might have allowed Lower to look at some of the more universal aspects of German women’s experience in the Weimar era and the earlier years of the third Reich. We get an idea of why Liesel Riedel might have indulged in violence, but we can’t really extrapolate her experience (or the handful of other experiences) to explain the variety of women’s interactions with the regime.

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