The editorial committee of the “Beiträge zur Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus” plans to focus on the “Volksgenossinnen” of the “Third Reich” in volume 23 of the journal, which will be published in 2007. Attention will center on work from the perspective of the history of experience that has examined the lives of those women who actively participated in constructing the so-called “Volksgemeinschaft” and who were characterized by their political reliability and high level of “racial consciousness”.
When Hitler addressed the role of women in his speeches, he emphasized the “common struggle” of both sexes for the “Volksgemeinschaft” of the “Third Reich”. What was to become of extreme significance during the war was, however, already a motto in peacetime: as early as 1937, the “Führer” called the state Frauenschaft a “complement to the male fighting organization”.
How women identified with the “Volksgemeinschaft”; what the precise nature of the challenge to participate, together (or in competition) with men to build and shape the National socialist state was; what opportunities racism offered women and how they made use of them—these are issues that the “Beiträge zur Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus” aims to probe. Since the two gender-specific life worlds were closely interwoven in the Nazi state, attention will also be paid to male actors. On a temporal level, the focus will go beyond the limits set by the end of World War II. By including the post-war period, the retrospective self-perceptions of women (which can be gleaned from ego documents as well as from files from criminal and court investigations) can become part of the analysis. This may enable us to find answers to a further question: What are the implications for how the Nazi past is dealt with in the judicial sphere as well as in society of women’s common self-understanding as “non-political” individuals—a self-understanding that was not called into question, in the post-war period, whether in public debates or in academic discussions.
The significant role of women in the terror system of the Nazi state—as nurses in euthanasia institutions, as guards / wardens in concentration camps, as physicians and welfare workers in the service of the state—has by no means been investigated in all details, but at least this role has now been recognized. The focus of the planned issue will therefore be on less-studied contexts; the following topics will be the center of attention:
1. Female elites?
Since women were denied political positions in the “Third Reich”, National Socialist women’s groups that emerged in the “period of struggle” disbanded soon after the Nazis took power. Nonetheless, it would seem that female elites existed during the “Third Reich”. Some of the groups whose role might be explored include the functionaries of the National Socialist organizations for women and girls, with some six million members; the activists of other mass formations such as the “Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt” (NSV) and the “Deutsche Arbeitsfront” (DAF); women who were active outside of the Nazi Party apparatus and achieved social recognition and professional success as students, artists, journalists, or aviators and who found a role in the Nazi state. Rather than concentrating on the so-called image of women in the “Third Reich”, contributions to this section should consider the expectations, hopes, and visions of its “Führerinnen”. What political, social, and cultural traditions and experience from the Weimar period continued to influence the Nazi era? And what options for actions did the National Socialist state offer to women?
2. Motherhood and other ways of creating meaning
There can be no doubt that the cult of motherhood was the centerpiece of the opportunities for identifying with the Nazi regime that the “Third Reich” held out to its “Volksgenossinnen”. Women were to meet biological expectations and, as caretakers of the “racial purity” of the German people, guarantee the propagation of the “Aryan race”. Did the regime offer women other ways of creating meaning? What, for example, appeared especially attractive to female youths (in contrast to and presumably in competition with young males)? What opportunities did National Socialism offer for girls and young women? Presumably, a considerable number had reservations about the state’s attempts to integrate them; in this context, the offerings made by other institutions, for example, the Christian churches, may have played a role. Whether this was the case and to what extent and how women dealt with the contradictions that they perceived are issues that call for further investigation.
3. Deployment on the front and on the “home front”
In the summer of 1944, some 50 000 so-called Maiden of the “Reichsarbeitsdienst” were operating the floodlights of the flax batteries. In early 1945, about 500 000 “Wehrmachthelferinnen” were serving in the Wehrmacht auxiliary. Women wore uniforms and lived in barracks like their male counterparts and were even equipped with small arms and antitank grenade launchers at the end of the war. During the final months of the war, Hitler—who had declared ten years before that he would be ashamed if he ever sent women to fight—began planning the establishment of a women’s battalion. Many women—exactly how many is unknown—were taken prisoner by the Allies. Women were not only victims of the war, as suggested by debates about the bombing of German cities, but also contributed to stabilizing and defending the German Reich, through their activities on the home front and in the theaters of war: as workers in war-relevant industries, as nurses in the NSV and elsewhere, in the realm of civil air defense, and as members of propaganda units. Women were furthermore expected to maintain the civilian population’s resolve and help keep up the spirits of those on the home front. Shouldering these tasks may have been facilitated by the fact that they profited directly from the state’s policies of exploiting the countries attacked and occupied as recipients of packages with food and luxury items that soldiers sent to their families in the “Altreich”. The multifaceted and as yet inadequately investigated role of “Volksgenossinnen” in “total war” should form a further major element of the projected issue.
4. The politics of terror and extermination
The “master-race” conduct of the German conquerors in “the East” had a feminine as well as a masculine side. Not only for men, but also for German women, the “Germanization” of Eastern Europe opened up unique opportunities for social mobility. As wives, mothers and brides who moved to the East with their husbands and children, but also as (for the most part unmarried) teachers, secretaries, and employees in private industry, they enjoyed privileges and high social status; they profited from the financial revenue that resulted from “Aryanization” of Jewish property, either as direct recipients or as employees in the Nazi bureaucracy; as so-called settlement assistants and public welfare aids who helped organize the forced deportation of the native population and the re-settlement of German settlers and those of German ancestry, they secured new independence with these new tasks. How did women fulfill their obligations in the process of forming a German societal elite in “the East”? What were their contributions to creating and stabilizing the violent structures of occupation? How did they integrate violence into their daily routines? When and how did they themselves commit violence? Did they follow the examples of the male conquerors in doing so? And to what extent did they differ from the men?
5. Women in the (judicial) post-war history of National Socialism
There were only very few women among the functionaries of the “Third Reich” who were tried before the Allies’ military tribunals and later before the German courts. There are numerous signs of the tendency—in German courts as well as Allied ones—to reach judgments that were influenced by clichés about gender roles. It is striking, for example, that once women were put on trial, they were often stylized as symbolic figures of terror, in a manner that cannot generally be observed for their male counterparts. Did special moral standards come into play for women? And if so, what is the significance of this observation for legal perceptions as well as media perceptions or, more generally, public perceptions of the crimes committed—in much greater numbers— by men? A further question is whether a larger group of male perpetrators were exculpated as a result of the way in which responsibility was resolutely assigned to a few women (in the media and in public).
The “Beiträge zur Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus” requests contributions that are relevant to the questions formulated here. Your exposé for an article (no more than one to two pages) and a biographical note (four to five lines) should be sent to the address below by 1 June 2006. We especially welcome contributions from colleagues from outside of Germany. You are welcome to submit exposés in English. However, we must ask you to send your final contribution in German. Please send all correspondence to:
Dr. Sybille Steinbacher
Neuere und Neuste Geschicte
Neuere und Neueste Geschichte
Germany Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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