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Women in Hitler's Germany by Mind Map: Women in Hitler's Germany
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Women in Hitler's Germany

lost senior jobs, were excluded from virtually all positions of power, had to accept lower rates of pay than men and had lower chances of higher education and poorer schooling;

In the years after 1936 the number of women in employment began to increase, but did not reach the levels of the late 1920s, the number of young women getting married had increased. The proportion of women in the wage-paid workforce had increased to a third by 1939 (7m). The increase included some women entering professions, e.g. some became doctors.

Pressure to break up barren marriages: the divorce laws were changed in 1938. You could divorce your partner for infertility or refusal to have children. This led to about 30,000 extra divorces within two years.


Nazi leaders shared the general disapproval of modern women

Argued that women were fitted by their nature to different roles from those of men (a belief not just held by the Nazis).

They said that they respected women, who were not inferior, but that women should keep to their own roles, especially as wives and mothers.

How far can women be blamed for the Nazi regime?

Some historians have said that women voted the Nazis in. In fact very little information about how women voted. However, in a few towns women’s and men’s votes were counted separately, women did tend to vote right-wing. Many women supported parties like the Z or the Nationalists. The Nazi Party was not very different from them. More men than women voted Nazi, but by March 1933 about an equal number of men and women voted for them. But in any case the story that women particularly voted for Hitler is a myth.

It is also often implied that women were fascinated by Hitler and became hysterical on occasions when he appeared in public. The Nazis put great effort into propaganda films and photographs showing this, and women were always put into the front row when Hitler made public appearances. It is very difficult (if not impossible) to discover how much of this was simply propaganda.


Women were banned from ordinary membership of the Nazi Party, and on principle from all leading positions. But the Party had affiliated organisations for women:


In 1931 they brought all Nazi women’s organisations together in the NS Frauenschaft (National Socialist Womanhood).

This was intended to mobilise a mass female vote for the Nazi Party.

This made it a kind of Nazi political female elite.

But the Nazis also declared it was to promote the ‘education and integration of all female forces for the good of the nation’.


The Deutsches Frauenwerk (German Women’s Enterprise) was created in September 1933. It absorbed (‘co-ordinated’) all the non-Nazi women’s organisations which were allowed to continue.

The DFW had a more practical aim than the NSF: it devoted its energies to training and supporting mothers, investigating more efficient housework, and so on. There were various branches, including

(a) the Reich Mothers’ Service, which provided courses on motherhood and housework.

(b) the Domestic Science Department, which advised women on how to overcome the problem of shortages by ‘thrifty recipes, an emphasis on bottling and preserving, and encouraging people to gather wild nuts and fruits in the countryside’.


Both organisations had very large memberships – nearly 6m for the DFW and 2.3m for the NSF.

The Reich Mothers’ Service had put on 100,000 courses by March 1939, attended by 1.7m women in all. These very big organisations, of course, had large numbers of managers (‘leaders’), some of them occupying very responsible positions; and of course these were women. (The NSF had by 1938 3500 full-time officials, 40,000 part-timers and 280,000 cell and block leaders, mostly unpaid.) To that extent women were not altogether excluded from power in the Third Reich.

However, they were not listened to: Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, the leader of the NSF from 1934, ‘had not yet once had the chance to discuss women’s affairs in person with the Führer’ by the end of 1938; and they had to face strong competition from other Nazi institutions like the Reich Food Estate (which wanted to organise farmers’ wives) and the DAF (which organised working-class women). There was also competition from the girls’ side of the Hitler Youth and especially the BDM.


The increase in the number of women who worked had led many Nazis to say that their main purpose was to stay at home. Therefore we might expect Hitler to forbid the employment of all women.

It would have been very unpopular, and in the ‘years of struggle’ the Nazis needed votes. Even after that, it would have had very bad effects on public morale and possibly aroused serious opposition to Nazi rule.

It would have had very bad effects on the economy.

After about 1936, shortages of labour meant that women were actually encouraged into work.

The early period

The marriage loan law was also intended to tempt women out of employment – you could only get it if the wifegave up her job.

Even before 1933 some women in senior positions were sacked; and the payment of women less than men for the same work. The Nazis extended this policy to state and local government.

Hitler prohibited the employment of women as judges and limited the number of women going into universities to 10%.

A low level of women’s employment during the first years of recovery in 1933-6. It is not clear, however, that it had much to do with anything the Nazis did. The recovery was mainly in industries which did not employ many women.

Girls under 18 were made to serve 12 months as living-in domestic servants.

After 1936

Unemployment dropped to the level where serious labour shortages appeared. The government was seriously worried about this and it affected their attitude towards women in employment.

A series of new laws removed many of the restrictions (women did not have to promise to give up their jobs in order to get marriage loans).

In early 1938 a law made it compulsory for all unmarried women under 25 to do a ‘duty year’ before they could take up jobs of their choice. This meant doing work in agriculture or as domestic servants. By 1940 there were 200,000 women doing a duty year.


Before 1933

After WWI there was a lot of alarmist talk, about the decline of the family. Related to a decline in the birth rate.

Nationalists expressed anxiety about the effect this would have on the strength of the Reich.

Conservatives called for a restoration of old-fashioned family values (less sex outside marriage, more people getting married and more married couples having large families).

The Nazis referred to the family as the ‘germ cell of the nation’ (reproduces itself) and called for measures to increase the birth rate.

Nazi Policies After 1933

Increasing Number Of Children, Marriage loans: introduced in June 1933. Couples could have a loan of 1000RM to spend on household goods provided that the woman agreed to give up her job. Each child born knocked a quarter off the debt., Tax allowances for children, paid for by extra taxes on the unmarried; maternity allowances, and concessions on all sorts of things like rail fares, school fees and shopping., Child subsidies: introduced in 1935,involved poor parents with large families (at least four children under 16) getting grants (e.g. 1800RM for farm families) to spend on household goods., Child allowances (introduced in1938) of 10RM per month for 3rd and 4th children, 10RM for 5th and subsequent., All sorts of propaganda methods were used to try to make women feel good about having large families. Women were awarded the Honour Cross of the Mother. Bronze, more than four children, silver if more than six and gold if more than eight., The rate had previously been 1.8, so the Nazis only managed to raise it by 0.2. It wasthat the birth rate would rise in a time of prosperity and rapid economic recovery. As soon as war broke out it fell again, and it rose again after the war., An argument the other way was that there were several things which should have caused fewer births: e.g. shortage of houses (about 1.5m by 1939); labour service, military conscription and the increase in female employment after 1936

Preventing Birth Limitation, Laws against abortion were harshly enforced (The death penalty could be inflicted on doctors who carried out abortions); birth control advice clinics were closed down; and it was forbidden to advertise or distribute contraceptives., Similarly, sterilisation (unless ordered by the authorities) was illegal (unless you were non-Aryan, in which case it was quite OK)., Help for mothers was provided – pre-natal and post-natal accommodation and creches; motherhood and housework classes and foreign slave labourers in the home. This was regarded as especially important where the mother had a job, as nothing should endanger the child., Both prostitution and male homosexuality were much more harshly prosecuted than before, homosexuals were put in concentration camps and murdered in large numbers because they were not fulfilling their ‘duty to procreate’., Illegitimacy was gradually seen as less and less disgraceful. Children were children whether their parents were married or not., Some Nazis (e.g. Himmler) hoped to introduce polygamy [= having more than one wife] – at least for war heroes

Making Sure Children Were Brought Up as Nazis, Mothers were indoctrinated on this point and a great deal of propaganda effort was spent on it, with posters of the ideal Aryan family, ideal German mother. The German women’s organisations concerned themselves with training women to be good mothers and housewives but also with making sure women were ideologically pure., Your children could be taken away from you if you were discovered not to be educating them properly., Sons were taught that women were inferior. This caused complaints about young boys being arrogant with their mothers., The parents might be afraid of betrayal by their children. In extreme cases children might inform on their parents, and parents would not be able to talk freely in their own homes at least until their children were old enough to see the need to keep quiet about what was said., Children were removed from the family for long periods, in the Hitler Youth etc. Meanwhile parents also were likely to be called away by various Nazi organisations.

Making Sure of Healthy Aryan Children, Used Eugenics: Although the Nazis wanted big families they were not interested in children but only useful additions to the Volk. They wanted to prevent children being born who might weaken the race. They also feared that large families were a sign of irresponsibility, which in turn they thought would be a sign of racial inferiority., They made it impossible to get married unless you could prove that you were both Aryan and healthy., young people thinking about getting married were taught the ‘Ten Commandments for the Choice of a Spouse’ to encourage them to select their marriage partner on good racial grounds;, Law for the Protection of the Hereditary Health of the German People (October 1935) banned marriage for anyone suffering from a serious infectious disease or hereditary illness;, To Prevent Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (July 1933) you could be compulsorily sterilised if you were thought to be in danger of creating unhealthy children (and doctors and nurses were legally compelled to inform on you if they thought you qualified)., the ‘race defilement’ laws made it illegal to marry (or have sex with) Jews., there was a national eugenic register which listed separately ‘decent’ and ‘asocial’ large families., With encouragement from Himmler (enthusiast on the subject of race) young girls were offered opportunities to have themselves made pregnant by SS men. The SS also ran homes for mothers (Lebensborn, or Spring of Life) where they could have the best conditions., Victims of sterilisation were disproportionately from the poor, or dischargees from asylums. Procedures allowed ‘bourgeois male physicians’ to impose their own prejudices

Were women ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’?

Women As Victims

Lost senior jobs, were excluded from nearly allpositions of power, lower rates of pay than men and less chances at school.

Treated as inferiors, even by children. (Nazis claimed women were not inferior, only different.)

lost control of their families,children could be taken away

Women As Innocents

An obvious theory is that women inhabited (and in fact were forced back into) the private sphere, whereas the evil of Nazism was created in the public sphere. Therefore women were innocent of the evil.

This is supported by those who say that the private sphere in the third Reich did not change much from what it had been before (whereas the public sphere did).

Women As Collaborators

not all women inhabited the private sphere – e.g. doctors, nurses, concentration camp guards, ‘leaders’ of the big Nazi women’s organisations, teachers and so on inhabited, or at least partly lived in, the public sphere. In many cases they perpetrated evil there (as with the women guards who conducted ‘death marches’ – see chapter 13 of Daniel Goldhagen: Hitler’s Willing Executioners; or with women who participated in the racial hygiene programme or assisted with sterilisations); or that

the private sphere was invaded by the state to such an extent that it ceased to be private at all, so that things women did as wives and mothers can be blamed for the evil of Nazism – ‘they comforted the SS men’. Invasion of the private sphere is in itself a controversy, but certainly the Nazi state did not wish to allow people privacy and took it away wherever it could.

Many women educated their children in the National Socialist spirit. (But what would have happened to them if they did not? and how could we know if they did not?)