Professor of history, but also consultant for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wendy lower focuses in her new book on the role of women indoctrinated by Nazi ideology during World War II; the "Hitler's furies".
Composition of the book
Divided into 7 major chapters, Wendy Lower's book first addresses the context of indoctrination of women in the first two chapters entitled "The Lost Generation of German Women" and "The East Needs You". She then paints a portrait of several women selected and classified by categories "The witnesses", "The accomplices", "The executants". She is finally interested in their motivations before telling us what has become of them. Through a variety of sources: diaries, correspondence, records of trial hearings and interviews with witnesses from those dark years, Wendy Lower determines the essential role of teachers, nurses, secretaries and wives in massacres perpetrated by the Nazis.
Women actresses of war
In the first years of the Nazi movement, Hitler's ideology intended to restore Germany to its place as a great European power, which involved the conquest of fertile territories in eastern Europe. The recruited women are then sent closer to the front to treat German soldiers, indoctrinate populations or work in companies. For example, we meet Erika Ohr, a shepherd's daughter and servant in the pastor's house in Ruppertshofen, approached by Nazi recruiting agents in 1938 to join the ranks of the League of German Girls. Having no choice, she joined the organization, but was not very diligent in meetings, still working in her employer's kitchen. She met two nurses from the Red Cross, a meeting certainly arranged by the Nazi Party, but which played an essential role in her future since as soon as she was 18, in 1939, she enrolled in school. nurses in the city. Her candidacy corresponding to the outbreak of hostilities, she arrived at the right time and could be trained in October 1940. She was assigned in November 1942 to Ukraine.
The portrait of Ingelene Ivens allows the author to evoke the place of female teachers in the East in the indoctrination of populations. Leaving Poland in 1942 to bring good German education there, Ivens was trained as a teacher in Hamburg and was one of the hundreds of schoolmistresses that Germany sent to the remote villages of the Warthegau region in Poland to teach in small one-class schools. Although the Nazi authorities were not in favor of sending single women to these rural outposts, there was no other choice. Whatever the risks these women ran, the Nazi leaders were determined to continue their civilizing mission in the East and schools were part of key institutions in converting the population to the Nazi cause.
Finally, the historian also evokes the greatest contributors to the daily operations of the war started by Hitler: the secretaries and administrative employees. The portrait of Isle Struwe provides an example of the journey of these young women. At her mother's funeral, aged 14, Isle met three young girls, members of the League of German Girls, who made a strong impression on her and invited her to join them. Beaten by a father who was a fruit and vegetable wholesaler and a member of the Nazi Party, she realized with age that there were ways to escape the yoke of the family and the village. She moved to Berlin to study and learn the profession of secretary despite the reluctance of her father who wanted to marry her. She looked for a job in the service of the army in order to escape the paternal authority. It was sent to offices in Paris in 1940, then to Serbia in 1941 and to Ukraine in 1942. It was to open mail, type reports and publish and forward documents and communiques to Wermarcht posts. Representative of the 500,000 female military auxiliaries of the Reich, whose role was to assist the army, air force and navy, Isle was also, like 200,000 of these women, sent to the occupied territories. .
Categories of women
Among these women, many intend to participate in the Nazi regime either as witnesses to the Nazi atrocities. This is the case of Erika Ohr and Isle Struwe who witnessed massacres of Jews in Poland, partly traumatic. They did not approve of these events, but they could not prevent them either, which made them mere spectators of Nazi crimes.
These women were not exceptional cases, they became so after the war since few of them spoke about the atrocities they witnessed. However, if the figure of the performer is often male, many women have also been complicit in these acts or sometimes performers. This was the case with Liselotte Meieir, the concubine and secretary of Hermann Hanweg, responsible for making the region of Lida Judenfrei free from the presence of Jews. The women working in SS offices did indeed prepare thousands of reports on the Einsatzgruppen or the Final Solution. Himmler also considered women to be a decisive work force in the implementation of his genocidal agenda. Secretaries Liselotte Meieir were at the center of the Nazi genocidal machine and like many others they chose to take advantage of their closeness to power and participate in the looting by all kinds of perverse means.
Do not forget to add the executants to this table. However, the first of the Nazi criminals was not the concentration camp guard, but the nurse. Indeed, the genocidal operations planned by the central power did not begin in the gas chambers, but in the hospitals of the Reich and the first victims were the children. During the war, nurses administered overdoses of barbiturates, lethal morphine injunctions or deprived them of food and water to thousands of ill-trained infants or infirm adolescents. Mass executions of patients in mental hospitals are also well known to historians such as the one in the asylum in Meseritz-Obrawalde, a town on the German-Polish border. Between 1942 and 1944 chartered transports from 26 German cities arrived there. Those who left Hamburg in 1944 transported 407 disabled patients, including 213 men, 189 women and 5 children. Few survived. The nurses who confessed to the murder of Meseritz's patients gave the sordid details of the execution giving the Final Solution an aspect of true state policy.
The portraits of these women bring us closer to Nazi horror. Sometimes witnesses, guilty or executors, however, it is difficult to explain their actions today. If the author tries to understand the reason for their participation, the fact remains that after the war they were very often excused or considered to have been obliged to obey orders. These assumptions did not necessarily give them a place in the dock and this explains why they were, most of the time, acquitted. Today, however, we know that women actively participated in the Third Reich.
While the individual motives evoked by Wendy Lower are diverse and varied, scientists mostly agree that the environment is the most important factor in genocidal behavior. There were many personalities and professions who contributed to the functioning and expansion of the Nazi machine of destruction. If it was a German invention, it was not maneuvered only by the Germans since many others, who were not, contributed and were just as opportunistic and anti-Semitic as them.
However, it should be noted that the richness of Wendy Lower's work is indisputable! The portraits presented make it possible to give a new place to women in the history of the Second World War and in particular of the Nazi ideology. Far from the simple figure of a woman subject to orders, we can see that their choices were often the consequences of courses as diverse as they were varied and are part of a real logic of indoctrination perpetrated by the Nazis. This book will delight all enthusiasts of this period who seek a new light on the role of women in the final solution. It also corresponds to the new historical logics in matters of the history of women and of gender, because if women were often the great forgotten ones in history, Wendy Lower here gives them a place in German history.
Hitler's Furies, by Wendy Lower. Text, 2016.