Were some of the young German women who went East during Generalplan Ost under the Nazi regime “just doing their jobs?” After our group discussion the answer seems to be no, but it’s complicated.
This became the fundamental topic that our class facilitator brought forward. Rightly so, the Lower book highlights the often downright malevolent complicity that German women working during the Eastern occupation carried out. But can we place a value on complicity? Can consent be treated as a sliding scale in this context? What about the nurses, secretaries and teachers who went? As we saw during a previous class, fascism harnesses the youth as a resource through social and institutional controls. For some young women in the Third Reich, new opportunities to travel and start careers that were never possible before were suddenly available and encouraged. If you were in their shoes, would you say no?
However as we discussed, the Nuremberg Trials made clear that “I was just following orders” is not tolerable. The Milgram Shocking Experiment came up, and we talked about how far people can go when instructed to do so by an authority figure. Combine that with years of racial brainwashing under the Nazi state, and the “innocence” argument loses its edge. You do not have to be working in the death camps to be complicit, and support for genocide could be as simple as forwarding an SS officer’s paperwork.
In sum, the women who participated should not be absolved. But Lower’s examination of some of these women’s circumstances shows how complex this topic really is.
Hitler’s Furies as a book poses an interesting case. Many ways of how one could be caught up in a regime such as the one at the time of Nazi Germany are brought up, especially regarding women. One of the first questions that came to mind was how people could be complicit in such atrocities as the ones that occurred in WWII Germany. The book offers some good insight to this in what was offered to people who were. New opportunities were presented to people that they did not have before in achieving status, women could travel to new places and could reach a high status in the work they were doing. Wages were better than were possible for women in most instances so that joining a military role would be something appealing.
As there was no doubt a lot of people who didn’t necessarily vote for the government or were for it the, to begin with. Once the regime had taken power, however, it seems as though those who were acceptable to the vision of the regime, had a pretty easy time because the programs were put in place to benefit the people that it saw as meeting its standard. The government, having so much control is not something that one would think fighting against (as that probably would evacuate too much change) but rather joining it would help them become better off- those who did try and fight never had big results in their favor until the end of the war.
The last thing that I thought of was: how do you tell the difference from those just being part of the system and those that really believed in what they were doing. Who was taking advantage of opportunities and who were really happy about killing other people? This is certainly something the post-WWII Germany faced and something to consider about any fascist regime. Who has the guilt, everyone who didn’t protest or only the people who were looking to create their vision of the word?