Women in the Third Reich lived within a regime characterized by a policy of confining women in the roles of mother and spouse and excluding them from all positions of responsibility, notably in the political and academic spheres. The policy of Nazism contrasts starkly with the evolution of emancipation under the Weimar Republic, and is equally distinguishable from the patriarchal and conservative attitude under the German Empire. The regimentation of women at the heart of satellite organizations of the Nazi Party, as the Bund Deutscher MädelScript error or the NS-FrauenschaftScript error, had the ultimate goal of encouraging the cohesion of the "people's community" VolksgemeinschaftScript error.

The Nazi model woman did not have a career, but she was responsible for the education of her children and for housekeeping. Women only had a limited right to training revolving around domestic tasks, and were, over time, restricted from teaching in universities, from medical professions and from parliament. With the exception of Reichsführerin Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, no women were allowed to carry out official functions, however some exception stood out in the regime, either through their proximity to Adolf Hitler, such as Magda Goebbels, or by excelling in particular fields, such as filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl or aviator Hanna Reitsch.

While some women played an influential role at the heart of the Nazi system or filled official posts at the heart of the Concentration camps, others were engaged in the German resistance and paid with their lives, such as Libertas Schulze-Boysen or Sophie Scholl.

File:Deutsches Frauenwerk M1-102 (Frank & Reif Stuttgart) obverse.JPG
File:Frauen Warte - 1.Juni 1939 (front).JPG
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1973-010-31, Mutter mit Kindern.jpg

From emancipation to exclusion Edit

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H02370, Sekretärin an Schreibmaschine.jpg

Weimar Republic Edit

Under the Weimar Republic, the status of women was one of the most progressive in Europe. The Weimar Constitution of January 19, 1919 proclaimed their right to vote (articles 17 and 22), equality of the sexes in civic matters (art. 109), non-descrimination against female bureaucrats (art. 128), maternity rights (art.19) and spousal equality within marriage (art. 119).[1] Clara Zetkin, a figurehead of the German feminist movement, was a Member of Parliament in the Reichstag from 1920 to 1933 and even presided over the assembly in the role of Dean. But Weimar did not represent a huge leap forward for women's liberation. They remained under-represented in the parliaments, motherhood was promoted as women's most important social function, abortion was still prosecutable (§ 218 of the Criminal Code), and workers did not achieve substantial economic progress such as equal salaries.[2] With the emergence of consumerism, businesses and government had an increasing need for labour; although work became a route to emancipation for women, they were often restricted to clerical work as secretaries or sales staff, where they were generally paid 10% to 20% less than male employees,[3] under various pretexts, such as that their understanding of domestic tasks freed them from certain household expenses.

Since January 1921, the doctrine of the Nazi party was clear and made no secret of its desire to exclude women from the political life of Germany[4] as well as certain spheres of the party (notably the party executive as well as executive committees.[5] While the Nazi party decreed that " women could be admitted to neither the Party executive nor to the Administrative Committee ",[5] this did not prevent numerous women from becoming party members. The Nazi doctrine elevated the role of German men, emphasizing their combat skills and the brotherhood among male compatriots.[6] While most of the other parties under the Weimar Republic ran female candidates during elections and some were elected, the Nazi party refused. In 1933, Joseph Goebbels justified this position by explaining that " it is necessary to leave to men that which belongs to men ".[3] Germany went from having 37 female Members of Parliament out of 577, to none, after the German election, November 1933.[3]

Beginning of the Nazi regime Edit

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 102-14418, Berlin, Goebbels bei Ausstellung "Die Frau".jpg

A discriminatory ideologyEdit

Adolf Hitler's attaining power as Chancellor marked the end of numerous women's rights, even if the Nazi party owed part of its electoral success to female voters and that Hitler succeeded in his social rise in part thanks to the protection of influencial women.[7] Hitler's socializing within affluent circles and with socialites (such as Princess Elsa Bruckmann, wife of the editor Hugo Bruckmann or Helene Bechstein, wife of industrialist Edwin Bechstein[8]) allowed the Nazi party from the beginning to obtain certain financing, such as when Gertrud von Seidlitz donated to them 30,000 marks in 1923[9]

In 1935, during a speech to the National-Socialist Women's Congress, Hitler declared, with regard to women's rights : Template:Blockquote The fact that Hitler was unmarried and that he represented a masculine ideal for many Germans led to a phenomenon of the erotisation of Hitler. In April 1923, an article appeared in the Munchener Post stating "women adore Hitler ";[5] he was described as adapting his speeches to "the tastes of women who, since the beginning, count among his most fervent admirers".[10]

The setback forced women from public life, in a society that was beginning to consider them men's equals, allowing the Nazis to stem what they viewed as the decadence of the Weimar Republic. In their eyes, the regime had in effect appeared as Jew-ridden as feminized, more or less tolerating the homosexual metropolis that Berlin had become, the veritable antithesis of Aryan virility. Heinrich Himmler declared as much to the SS-Gruppenführer, on February 18, 1937 : Template:Blockquote

Officially, the status of women changed from "equal rights" (GleichberechtigungScript error) to an "equivalence" between men and women (GleichstellungScript error).[11] Historian Pierre Ayçoberry points out that "this offensive offered the double advantage of pleasing their male colleagues worried by this competition, and returned to private life more than 100,000 people proud of their success, the majority of whom were voters who supported the political left". This policy created worry among the militants in the NSDAP, who were concerned that it would harm the number of female graduates, a reservoir needed for future party ranks.[12]

A rapid withdrawalEdit

In 1933, school programs for girls were changed, notably with the goal of discouraging them from pursuing university studies. The five years of Latin classes and three years of science were replaced by courses in German language and domestic skills training.[11] This did not bear productive results; on the one hand, a significant number of girls enrolled in boys' schools, while on the other hand, the " enrollment restrictions " of 10% at the university level were generally ignored. Thus, the measures only decreased the enrollment in medical schools from 20% to 17%.[12]

Women's associations, notably communist and socialist groups were banned, and in some rare cases members were arrested or assassinated.[3] All associations were requested to turn in Jewish members, such as the Union of Protestant Women, the Association of Household and Countryside, the Women's German Colonial Society Union and the Union of Queen Louise.[3] But rapidly, the majority of the associations disbanded or chose among themselves to disappear, such as the BDF (Bund Deutscher Frauenverein), established in 1894 and which disbanded in 1933 to avoid being controlled.[13] Only one women's association persisted under the regime (the association of Gertrud Bäumer, Die Frau, or Woman), until 1944, but placed under the guardianship of the Reich Minister of People's Education and of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.[3] Rudolf Hess established the Deutsches Frauenwerk which, with the women's branch of the Nazi party, the NS-Frauenschaft, had the purpose of becoming a mass organization for the regime.[13]

In 1936, a law was passed banning certain high-level positions in the judicial system to women (notably judge and prosecutor, through Hitler's personal intervention[14]) and the medical field. Female doctors were no longer allowed to practise, until their loss had a harmful effect on health needs and some were recalled to work; also dissolved was the Association of Medical Women, which was absorbed into its male counterpart.[12]) Under the Weimar Republic, only 1% of university posts were filled by women. On June 8, 1937, a decree stipulated that only men could be named to these posts, if it was not in a social field. Nonetheless, on February 21, 1938 " in an individual and exceptional capacity " following lobbying by Gertrud Scholtz-Klink,[15] one female scientist Margarete Gussow obtained a post in astronomy. Mathematician Ruth Moufang was able to receive her doctorate, but could not obtain the right to teach and was forced to work for national industry.[16] Emmy Noether, another mathematician, was terminated from her post by virtue of the law German law for the Restoration of the Public Service of April 7, 1933, for having been active in the 1920s in the USPD and the SPD. Physics researcher Lise Meitner, who directed the Department of Physics at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Society, was able to remain in her post until 1938, but this was only due to her Austrian nationality, which ended with the Anschluss); she then left for the Netherlands, and then Sweden. In the scientific field, there were almost no nominations of women; in 1942, a woman was not permitted to direct a scientific institute, despite the fact that no male candidate had applied.[17] The exile of women from political life was total: they could not sit in either the Reichstag, the regional parliaments or municipal counsels.

There was no substantial resistance to this control, the bourgeois women's associations thinking, much as a large part of the population did, that the Nazi government was only temporary and that they could nonetheless make their influence valued, the historian Claudia Koonz pointing out the popular proverb of the era that " soup is never eaten hot if one does not cook it ", and that they were obtaining an " acceptable arrangement ".[3] Women traditionally opposed to Naziism, who could not accept this vision, lined up to emigrate, or were arrested as opponents of males.

The partial recovery of 1937Edit

Noticing the need for women in certain professions and their usefulness in the country's economy, the anti-emancipation policy in terms of the workforce was rapidly blunted. Women were otherwise invited to adhere to Naziism and reassured with the idea that they could be a mother and be employed, Joseph Goebbels even attacking anti-lipstick propaganda campaigns Völkischer Beobachter and attacking the most zealous ideologues.[11]

The Nazi feminine idealEdit

File:Olympics in Berlin 1936.jpg
File:Deutsches Reich Mother's Cross of Honour.jpg

A "new" woman?Edit

The Nazi woman had to conform to the German society desired by Adolf Hitler (Volksgemeinschaft), racially pure and physically robust. She did not work, living in the cult of motherhood and following the slogan of the former emperor William II of Germany: Kinder, Küche, Kirche, meaning "Children, kitchen, church". In a document published in 1934, The Nine Commandments of the Workers' Struggle, Hermann Goering less bluntly summarizes the future role of German women: "Take a pot, a dustpan and a broom and marry a man".[18][19] This was anti-feminism in the sense that the Nazis considered political rights granted to women(access to high-level positions for example) as incompatible with the nature of reproduction, the only role within which they could blossom and best serve the interests of the nation. Thus, Magda Goebbels declared in 1933: "German women were excluded from three professions: the army, as elsewhere in the world; the government; and the judiciary. If a German girl must choose between marriage or a career, she will always be encouraged to marry, because that is what is best for a woman".[19][20] It is not possible to make a mental leap to the conservative and patriarchal societies that prevailed for example during the Second Empire; in effect, the totalitarian character of the regime moved away from the concept that had been made of women being put on a shelf by society. On the contrary, they were expected to participate at the ground level in the roles of mother and spouse. The fact that the regimentation of women (Bund Deutscher Mädel then Frauenschaft) being so organized, did not permit relegating women to what they could do in the 19th century. Without a doubt, a conservative electorate and a fringe part of the population very critical of the image of the emancipated woman from the 1920s found a certain satisfaction in the new regime. But the goals were different, asking each woman to take part in the building of the "Reich of 1000 years" Female liberation found itself therefore necessarily limited, and Heide Schlüpmann stated conclusively in Frauen und Film, that the films of Leni Riefenstahl (the official film director of the regime) "value quite a negation of female sexuality and only offer women a deceptive autonomy".

Prohibitions and obligationsEdit

The wearing of makeup was generally prohibited, and a certain modesty was demanded of women, contrasting with the Weimar Republic period, which experienced more freedom on a moral level. In 1933, meetings of the NSBO (National Sozialistischer Betriebs Obman, the women's section of the German Workers' Front) proclaimed that women " painted and powdered were forbidden at all meetings of the NSBO. Women who smoked in public – in hotels, cafés, in the street and so on – will be excluded from NSBO ".[21][22] Activities considered more or less traditional were limited to recommended places: music, manual labour, gymnastics. Sexuality was banned, unless for a reproductive goal; liberated young women were considered "depraved" and "antisocial". Mothers were encouraged to have children: thus was created the "Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter" (in English: Cross of Honour of the German Mother) for mothers having brought into the world more than four children. A "German Mothers' Day" was also created; during that of 1939, three million mothers were decorated.[22] Concerning abortion, access to services was quickly prohibited, until in 1935, the medical profession became obliged to report stillbirths to the Regional Office for State Health, who would further investigate the natural loss of a child; in 1943 the ministers of the Interior and Justice enacted the law " Protection of Marriage, Family and Motherhood ", which made provisions for the death penalty for mothers convicted of infanticide.[23]

SS members, who constituted the physical standard desired by the regime, beginning with a 1932 ordinance, the so-called Lebensborn, were required to father at least four children. Women were even abducted and incarcerated by force at institutions for procreation. But this policy did not truly bear fruit, and it was more the natalist policy of the State for the nation (financial support for new children, decorations, severe penalties against abortion).

Physical standards Edit

Physically, the Third Reich promoted standards of beauty called, Aryan : women were to be blonde, beautiful, tall, thin and robust all at once. This image was spread as much through advertising as through official art, then through ancient art, and more specifically through Greco-Roman statues. Academic Monique Moser-Verrey notes:[24] "a revival, during the course of the Thirties, of mythological themes such as the Judgement of Paris, the Rape of Europe and the Rape of Leda."[3]

Monique Moser-Verrey notes however: Template:Blockquote

Regimentation of womenEdit

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-2000-0110-500, BDM, Gymnastikvorführung.jpg

Young women and educationEdit

The education of girls was not neglected and boys and girls were placed on the same footing at school. Girls were encouraged to pursue secondary school but little by little university courses were closed to them. They were required to fulfill, beginning in 1935, a work period of six months for the benefit of the service of women's work, the Reichsarbeitsdienst and Frauenarbeitsdienst. Adolf Hitler declared, on April 12, 1942, that the schools of the Reich must gather "boys and girls from all classes" to meet "all the youth of the Reich".[25] The education manual Das kommende Deutschland notes that: Template:Blockquote It was also required that they know the geography of Germany, its hymns as wells as the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.[17]

The education of girls also meant political education; there already existed elite schools of political studies, the Napola (Nationalpolitische Anstalten), one for girls opened in 1939 in Vienna and another in 1942 in Luxembourg. These institutions did not have a purpose of enabling women to re-enter political life but endow the best with the cultural baggage required to occupy posts related to the management of women's affairs. This concerned a very small minority. However, on June 5, 1942, the MInister of Finance Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk, a conservative politician, threatened to cut grants to the second school, if it did not become a simple internship for adolescents, rejecting all political education for girls. Adolf Hitler decided otherwise on June 24, 1943, promising the construction of three new Napola.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 137-049191, Wusih, Ostereiersuchen.jpg

When the Hitler Youth was devoted to organizing the extra-curricular life of male adolescents, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), occupied adolescents from 14 to 18 years. Founded in 1934, the movement was needed after the law of December 1, 1936. It was led from 1934 to 1937 by Trude Mohr, then from 1937 to 1945 by the psychologist Jutta Rüdiger. Young girls were trained for certain employment (social work, cleaning) or farming (Ernteeinsatz, helping with harvest) and practised sports ; but shockingly, as the education manual Das kommende Deutschland shows, the physical performance demanded was sometimes the same as those of the boys (for example, to run 60 meters in less than 12 seconds).[17] Every Wednesday evening, for girls from 15 to 20 years old, the " home parties " took place, for discussing art and culture.[11] Vacation camps (held for one week during Summer[11]), in Germany or abroad, were organized. There also existed a required six-month work service, the Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend (National Young Women's Work Service), completed in 1941 with six extra months in the Kriegshilfsdienst (for the war effort). For young women aged 18 to 25 years old wishing to find work, in 1938 the Pflichtjahr was instituted, one year of obligatory service in farming or domestic work.[22]

The regimentation of these youth, that continues into adulthood is not really conservative, but rather revolutionary: to not confine future women to an ill-defined role in the home as in the past, instead they are being educated like boys in the cult of the Fatherland, for once they become adults, they will become ideal German women. Thus, they are held firmly within the family fold.

Adult lifeEdit

The NS-FrauenschaftEdit

File:Frauen Arbeitsdienst.svg

Women could be members of the Nazi Party, but newcomers to the party were only admitted if they were "useful" (nurses or cooks for example).[11] They numbered 5% of women in 1933 and 17% in 1937.[11] But since October 1931 the NS-Frauenschaft (NSF) existed, the political organization for Nazi women, that sought above all to promote the ideal of the model woman of the Third Reich; at its foundation, it was responsible for training in housekeeping.[11] Young women joined when they were 15 years old. On 31 December 1932, the NSF counted 109,320 members. In 1938, it had 2 million, corresponding to 40% of the total number of party members. The NSF was directed by Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, who had the title of Reichsführerin; she called the members "my daughters" and acquired a strong influence over them and a certain credibility. Her views on women were obviously in agreement with those of Adolf Hitler, but she still defended access to some positions of responsibility. She did not participate in major meetings of the party but was invited to the party congress.

School textbooks were edited beginning in 1934, often under the supervision of the doctor Johanna Haarer, an author notably for The German Mother and Her First Baby, which was widely published, and promoting the driving role of the German mother in building the regime, or Mother, tell me about Adolf Hitler (Mutter, erzähl von Adolf Hitler), to lead women to indoctrinate their children in Nazi values:[26]

Housekeeping training was promoted through Frauenwerk (German Women's Work), which opened thematic courses for "ethnically pure" women. It is notable, however, that although there were numerous courses for domestic training, gymnastics and music, they deserted those oriented towards antireligious teaching.[11]

The NS-Frauenschaft "played no political role and did not oppose the loss of hard-won women's rights. It defended the role of the mother of the family at home, conscious of their duties at the heart of the community. Provided, containing women within the private sphere does not hide their responsibilities under the Third Reich ; we know today that the Frauenbewegung (women's movement) thought the place of a woman in society was at the heart of a community that excluded Jews and performed a civilizing mission in occupied Eastern Europe to preserve the race".[27]

Second World WarEdit

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-E10868, BDM in der Landwirtschaft.jpg

During the Second World War, temporarily contradicting their past claims the National Socialists changed policy and allowed women to join the German army. Adolf Hitler had earlier affirmed in a speech to activists of the NS-Frauenschaft on September 13, 1936: Template:Blockquote Later during the war, women did not fight in combat, but were regarded as auxiliary military personnel, responsible for logistical and administrative areas, that lacked personnel due to the number of men sent into combat. Other women also worked in factories or military education. Military members of the Reichsbahn (National Company of Railways) or the Feuerwehr (firefighters), they wore uniforms appropriate to the era, especially with a skirt. Gertrud Scholtz-Klink says: Template:Blockquote Yet, referring to the decree of January 1943, calling for the mobilization of German women aged 17 to 45, she said in September of that year, at a conference in Bad Schlachen: Template:Blockquote

In his Sportspalast speech, delivered on February 18, 1943 at the Berlin Sports Hall, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels called on German women to work and to be sober in their commitment:

  • "What use are beauty salons that encourage a cult of beauty and that takes up an enormous amount of our time and energy? They are wonderful during times of peace, but are a waste of time in a time of war. Our wives and our daughters will be able to welcome our victorious soldiers without their beautiful peacetime adornments"
  • "It is why we hire men that do not work in the war economy and women do not work at all. They cannot and will not ignore our request. The duties of women are huge. This is not to say that only those included in the law can work. All are welcome. The more who join the war effort, the more we free up soldiers for the front."
  • "For years, millions of German women have worked with brio in war production and they patiently wait to be joined and assisted by other women."
  • "Especially for you women, do you want the government to do everything in its power to encourage German women to put all their strength into supporting the war effort, and to let me leave for the front when possible, helping the men at the front?"
  • "The great upheavals and crises of national life show us who the real men and women are. We no longer have the right to speak of the weaker sex, since both sexes show the same determination and the same spiritual force."

The mobilisation of women in the war economy always remained limited: the number of women practising a professional activity in 1944 was virtually unchanged from 1939, being about 15 million women, in contrast to Great Britain, so that the use of women did not progress and only 1,200,000 of them worked in the arms industry in 1943, in working conditions that were difficult and often poorly treated by their bosses, who deplored their lack of qualification.[30]

In the army (Wehrmacht)Edit

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-768-0147-15, Paris, Wehrmachtshelferinnen.jpg

In 1945, there numbered 500,000 women auxiliairies in the German army (Wehrmachtshelferinnen),[18] who were at the heart of the Heer army, of the Luftwaffe or the Kriegsmarine. About half of them were volunteers, the others performing obligatory service connected to the war effort (Kriegshilfsdienst). They took part, under the same authority as prisoners of war (Hiwis), as auxiliary personnel of the army (Behelfspersonal) and they were assigned to duties not only within the heart of the Reich, but to a lesser extent, to the occupied territories, for example in the General government of occupied Poland, in France, and later in Yugoslavia, in Greece and in Romania.[31]

They essentially participated :

  • as telephone, telegraph and transmission operators,
  • as administrative clerks typists and messengers,
  • in anti-aircraft defense, as operators of listening equipment, operating projectors for anti-aircraft defense, employees within meteorology services, and auxiliary civil defense personnel
  • in military health service, as volunteer nurses with the German Red Cross or other voluntary organizations

In the SSEdit

The SS-Gefolge was the women's wing of the men's SS, but in contrast it was only confined to voluntary work in Emergency Service (Notdienstverpflichtung). SS Women belonged either to the SS-Helferinnen or the SS-Kriegshelferinnen. The former were trained in a special school (see below), others were trained for a shorter time. They were in charge of auxiliary transmissions (telephone, radio operators, stenographers) in the SS and sometimes in camps (these were the Aufseherin, see next section). There was an internal hierarchy in the women's wing of the SS, which had no influence on the male troops, although the titles designated to the women sometimes had an influence upon the owners.

A Reichschule SS (in full, the Reichsschule für SS Helferinnen Oberenheim) was the training centre for the SS, reserved for women, and opened in Obernai in May 1942, on the order of Heinrich Himmler. The training was more difficult than that for women enrolled in the German army, the Wehrmacht. In effect, they met certain physical criteria, being destined to serve as model wives conforming to the physical standards determined by the regime: they must be aged 17 to 30 years and measure more than 1.65 metres tall, while over the long term, the enrollment criteria were relaxed (the age limit was raised to 40 years and minimum height dropped to 1.58 metres), having even gone as far as to accept 15 Moslem students.[32] Having been in a privileged status, war widows were favoured before the admissions were opened up to other social classes. The school closed in 1944 due to the advance of the Allies.

In the campsEdit


Women were within the ranks of the Nazis at the concentration camps : these were the Aufseherin and generally belonged to the SS. They were guards, secretaries or nurses. They arrived before the start of the war, some of them being trained from 1938 in Lichtenburg. This took place due to the need for personnel following the growing number of political prisoners after the Kristallnacht on November 8 and 9, 1938. After 1939, they were trained at Camp Ravensbrück near Berlin. Coming mostly from lower- or middle-class social origins, they previously worked in traditional professions (hairdresser, teacher, for example) but were, in contrast to men who were required to fulfill military serve, the women were driven by a sincere desire to reach the female wing of the SS, the SS-Gefolge. Of the 55,000 total number of guards at all the Nazi camps, there were 3,600 women (approximately 10% of the workforce), however, no woman was allowed to give orders to a man.

They worked at the Auschwitz and Majdanek camps beginning in 1942. The following year, the Nazis began the conscription of women because of the shortage of guards. Later, during the war, women were also assigned on a smaller scale in the camps Neuengamme Auschwitz (I, II and III), Plaszow Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen Vught and Stutthof, but never served in the death camps of Belzec, Sobibór Treblinka or Chelmno. Seven Aufseherinnen served at Vught, 24 were at Buchenwald, 34 at Bergen-Belsen, 19 at Dachau, 20 at Mauthausen, three at Mittelbau-Dora, seven at Natzweiler-Struthof, twenty at Majdanek 200 at Auschwitz and its sub-camps, 140 at Sachsenhausen, 158 at Neuengamme, 47 at Stutthof, compared with 958 who served at Ravensbrück, 561 at Flossenbürg and 541 at Gross-Rosen. Many supervisors worked in the sub-camps in Germany, some in France, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

There was a hierarchy within the Aufseherin, including the following higher ranks:

  • Rapportaufseherin (head Aufseherin)
  • Erstaufseherin (first guard)
  • Lagerführerin (head of the camp)
  • Oberaufseherin (senior inspector), a post only occupied by Anna Klein and Luise Brunner

Female members of discriminated minoritiesEdit

File:Stroop Report - Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 10.jpg

Under the same threats as men who were Jews or Romani, women belonging to these communities were equally discriminated against, then deported and for some exterminated. In many concentration camps there were sections for female detainees (notably at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen) but the camp at Ravensbrück, opened in May 1939, distinguished itself as a camp solely for women, by 1945 numbering about 100,000 prisoners. The first women's concentration camp had been opened in 1933 in Moringen, before being transferred to Lichtenburg in 1938.

In concentration camps, women were considered weaker than men, and they were generally sent to the gas chambers more quickly, whereas the strength of men was used to work the men to exhaustion. Some women were subjected to medical experiments.

Some took the path of the Resistance, such as the Polish member Haïka Grosman, who participated in the organization for aid for the ghetto of Białystok, during the night of August 15 to 16, 1943. On October 7, 1944, members of the Sonderkommando, 250 prisoners responsible for the bodies of persons after gassing, rose up ; they had procured explosives stolen by a Kommando of young Jewish women (Ella Gartner, Regina Safir, Estera Wajsblum and Roza Robota) who worked in the armament factories of the Union Werke. They succeeded in partially destroying Crematorium IV.

Women against the Third ReichEdit

File:CIC RO L Schulze Boysen detail.jpg

In addition to the resistors forced into their commitment because of their risk of being deported and exterminated because of their race, some were also committed against the German Nazi regime. Women represented approximately 15% of the Resistance. Monique Moser-Verrey notes however: Template:Blockquote

The student Communist Liselotte Herrmann protested in 1933 against the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor and managed to get information to foreign governments about the rearmament of Germany. In 1935 she was arrested, sentenced to death two years later and executed in 1938. She was the first German mother to suffer the death penalty since the beginning of the regime. Twenty women from Düsseldorf, who saw their fathers, brothers and son deported to the camp Börgermoor, managed to smuggle out the famous The Song of the deportees and make it known. Freya von Moltke, Mildred Harnack-Fish and Libertas Schulze-Boysen participated in the Resistance group Kreisau Circle and Red Orchestra; the last two were arrested and executed. The 20 year old student Sophie Scholl, a member of The White Rose was executed February 22, 1943 with her brother Hans Scholl and Christopher Probst, for posting leaflets. The resistor Maria Terwiel helped to spread knowledge of the famous sermon condemning the mentally ill given by Clemens von Galen, Bishop of Munster, as well as helping Jews escape to abroad. She was executed on 5 August 1943. We can also note the successful protests of women, called the Rosenstraße, racially "Aryan" women married to Jews who, in February 1943, obtained the release of their husbands.

Women also fought for the Resistance from abroad, like Dora Schaul, a Communist who had left Germany in 1934 and involved from July 1942 with clandestine networks, Deutsch Arbeit (German Labour) and Deutsche-Feldpost (My German countryside), from the School of Military Health in Lyon. Hilde Meisel attempted in 1933 to galvanize British public opinion against the Nazi regime. She returned to Germany during the war but was executed at the bend of a road.

High society and circles of powerEdit

Although under the Third Reich women did not have political power, a circle of influence did exist around Adolf Hitler. Within this circle, Hitler became acquainted with the British Unity Mitford and Magda Goebbels, wife of the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Magda Goebbels became known by the nickname "First Lady of the Third Reich": she represented the regime during State visits and official events. Her marriage to Goebbels on December 19, 1931 was considered a society event, where Leni Riefenstahl was a notable guest.[33] She posed as the model German mother for Mothers Day. Eleonore Baur, a friend of Hitler since 1920 (she had participated in the Beer Hall putsch) was the only woman to receive the Blood Order; she also participated in official receptions and was close to Heinrich Himmler, who even named her a colonel of the SS and permitted her free access to the concentration camps, which she went to regularly, particularly Dachau.[17] Hitler did not forget that he owed part of his political ascension to women integrated in the society world (aristocrats or industrialists), like Elsa Bruckmann.

Women were also able to distinguish themselves in certain domains, but they were the exceptions that proved the rule. Thus Leni Riefenstahl was the official film director of the regime and was given enormous funding for her cinematic productions (Triumph of the Will, and Olympia). Winifred Wagner directed the highly publicized Bayreuth Festival, and soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was promoted as the "Nazi diva", as noted by an American newspaper. Hanna Reitsch, an aviator, distinguished herself with her handling of test aircraft and military projects of the regime, notably the V1 flying bomb.

Gallery of wives and daughters of officialsEdit



Gallery of prominent womenEdit

Women after the fall of the Third ReichEdit

After the collapse of the Third Reich, many German women nicknamed the Women of the Ruins participated in the rebuilding of Germany when they cleared up the ruins resulting from the war. In the Soviet occupation zone, more than two million women were victims of rape.[34] One of them would publish a memoir recalling this experience: Eine Frau in Berlin (A Woman In Berlin).

File:Herta Oberheuser sentencing.jpg
File:Inge Viermetz.jpg

Although they were not judged as severely as the men driving the regime, some women were prosecuted after the war. Thus, Herta Oberheuser, a doctor who participated in Nazi medical experiments at the Ravensbrück camp from 1940 to 1943, was the only woman in the dock at the doctors' trial at Nuremberg. She was held responsible for infecting 86 women with viruses and killing children. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. For her part, Inge Viermetz, was acquitted at the RuSHA trial.

The denazification court was prohibited from targeting Winifred Wagner of the Bayreuth Festival. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was brought to appear in court in 1948, accused of having not paid Roma and Sinti for participating in her film "Tiefland", and for having falsely promised to save them from camps, and is finally discharged.

Some German women interviewed long after the Third Reich, influential or not, confessed that they had not denied the Nazi regime, nor the person of Adolf Hitler, refusing, or not, to acknowledge the crimes committed during those years. Others, like Henriette von Schirach in her book "Der Preis der Herrlichkeit. Erfahren Zeitgeschichte", remained ambiguous, this last challenging a system that passed through "the triumph of vanity".

German women, accountable?Edit

File:Ilse Koch.png

The question of the culpability of the German people in their support of Nazism has long overshadowed the women, who had little political power under the regime. Thus, as explained by the German historian Gisela Block, who was involved with the first historians to highlight this issue, by asking women at the time of the Third Reich.[35] In 1984, in "When Biology Became Destiny, Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany", she wrote that women who are enslaved economically and morally, cannot exercise their freedom by being confined in the home and placed under the rule of their husbands.[36] Thus, we associate studies on the subject during the 1980s mainly with perceptions that women were victims of "machismo" and a "misogynist" fascism.

However, the simplicity of this analysis tends to disappear with recent studies. In 1987, historian Claudia Koonz, in "Mothers in Fatherland, Women, the Family and Nazi Politics" questioned this statement and acknowledged some guilt. Many women admired Adolf Hitler and in fact enabled his electoral successes in the early 1930s. She states as follows: "Far from being impressionable or innocent, women made possible State murder in the name of interests that they defined as maternal."[36] For her, the containing of housewives just allowed them to assert themselves and grasp an identity, especially through women's associations led by Nazi Gertrud Scholtz-Klink. They therefore helped to stabilize the system. The women took pleasure in politics and eugenics of the state, which promised financial assistance if the birth rate was high, so they would help to stabilize the system. Template:Blockquote In addition, if Gisela Block denounced the work of her colleague as "anti-feminist", others as Adelheid von Saldern refuse to stop at a strict choice between complicity and oppression and are more interested in how the Third Reich included women in their project for Germany.[36]


There are many militant neo-Nazis or defenders of former Nazis, such as the Germans Helene Elisabeth von Isenburg or Gudrun Himmler (daughter of Heinrich Himmler), who are active through the organization Stille Hilfe, and the French citizens Françoise Dior and Savitri Devi.


  • Mary Ritter Beard, Women as a Force in History. A Study in Traditions and Realities, New York and London, Collier, 1971.
  • The Competition for a Women's Lebensraum, 1928-1932, in Renate Bridenthal, Anita Grossmann et Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny. Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1984.
  • Renate Bridenthal, "Professional Houswives", in Renate Bridenthal, Anita Grossmann and Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny. Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1984.
  • David B. Hitten, The Films of Leni Riefenstahl. Metuchen, N.J. & London, The Scarecrow Press, 1978.
  • Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich, New York, Pantheon Books, 1979 (Munich, Hanser Verlag, 1974).
  • Katherine Thomas, Women in Nazi Germany, New York, AMS Reprint, 1981.
  • Susan Sontag, « Fascinating Fascism », in New York Review of Books, 1975.
  • Jill Stephenson, The nazi organisation of women, London, Croom Helm, 1981, 246 p.
  • Alison Morton: Military or civilians? The curious anomaly of the German Women's Auxiliary Services during the Second World War. 2012. ASIN B007JUR408



  1. Marie-Bénédicte Vincent, Histoire de la société allemande au XXe siècle. Tome I. Le premier XXe siècle. 1900-1949, Paris, 2011, p. 41
  2. Marie-Bénédicte Vincent, Histoire de la société allemande au XXe siècle. Tome I. Le premier XXe siècle. 1900-1949, Paris, 2011, p. 42
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Script error
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Script error
  6. Script error
  7. Fabrice d'Almeida, La Vie mondaine sous le nazisme, 2008, chapter "Naissance de la haute société nazie".
  8. Fabrice d'Almeida, La Vie mondaine sous le nazisme, 2008, pages 35 et 41.
  9. Fabrice d'Almeida, La Vie mondaine sous le nazisme, 2008, page 44.
  10. Albert Zoller, Hitler privat, Düsseldorf, 1949.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 page 33.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Script error
  13. 13.0 13.1 Script error
  14. Script error
  15. Anna Maria Sigmund, Les femmes du IIIe Reich, 2004, page 180.
  16. Edited by Josiane Olff-Nathan, La science sous le Troisième Reich, éditions du Seuil, 1993, page 98.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Script error
  18. 18.0 18.1 Script error
  19. 19.0 19.1 Script error
  20. Vossische Zeitung, July 6, 1933, available in the Wiener Library Clipping Collection
  21. Frankfurter Zeitung, August 11, 1933, available in the Wiener Library Clipping Collection
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Script error
  23. Script error
  24. Monique Moser-Verrey, Recherches féministes, vol. 4, n° 2, 1991, p. 25-44.
  25. Script error
  27. Marie-Bénédicte Incent, Histoire de la société allemande au XXe siècle. Tome I. Le premier XXe siècle. 1900-1949, Paris, 2011, p. 42-43
  28. Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web p 219 ISBN 0-679-77663-X
  29. Das Deutsche Mädel
  30. Marie-Bénédicte Vncent, Histoire de la société allemande au XXe siècle. Tome I. Le premier XXe siècle. 1900-1949, Paris, 2011, p. 96
  31. Kathrin Kompisch: Täterinnen. Frauen im Nationalsozialismus, p. 219
  32. Script error
  33. Fabrice d'Almeyda, La vie mondaine sous le nazisme, 2008, page 59.
  34. Marie-Bénédicte Vincent, Histoire de la société allemande au XXe siècle. Tome I. Le premier XXe siècle. 1900-1949, Paris, 2011, p. 106
  35. page 39.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Script error

External linksEdit

Script error

Script errorar:النساء في عهد ألمانيا النازية de:Frauen im Nationalsozialismus fa:زنان در ناسیونال سوسیالیسم fr:Condition des femmes sous le Troisième Reich

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.