exposed as every bit as bad as Hitler’s male followers
Article from the MailOnline by Allan Hall 12th February 2009
They were prolific mothers, skilful homemakers, hard-working secretaries and dedicated auxiliaries. They supported their men at war and devoted themselves to the cause of their Fuhrer. And their Fuhrer treated them with all the delicacy of a courting lover.
When war began, Hitler forbade them to work in the munitions factories for fear they would lose their femininity under the stress of hard physical labour.
Family income benefits were dispensed for every new child, ‘childrich’ families were publicly honoured and the gold Cross of Honour of the German Mother was bestowed on women bearing four or more babies. Hitler needed a docile and devoted female population to breed the supermen he needed to populate his dream of the 1,000-year Reich.
Even as Allied bombers turned Germany into brick dust, Hitler gave orders that industries which logically should have been transformed into armaments plants continue to pump out lipsticks, nylons and fashion accessories ‘for the gracious ladies’. In Nazi art, films and magazines, women were always the fairer sex, defending the home-front as their menfolk fought on the battlefields.
Sinister: Female auxiliary guards at Auschwitz smile as they take a break
But what did Hitler get in return for his dutiful attentions? Until recently, the role of the Nazi woman in the construction of the brutal state machinery of the Reich has never been truly revealed. Now a new book in Germany called Perpetrators: Women Under National Socialism explodes the myth behind the propaganda.
In the first German post-war analysis of the role of women in the crimes of the Nazis, historian Kathrin Kompisch documents the shameful truth about her sex in the war, which until now has been a taboo subject in her homeland.
‘The participation of women in the crimes of the Nazis has been blended out of the collective conscious of the Germans for a long time,’ she writes. The fairer sex venerated by the propaganda machine of Josef Goebbels was, according to Kompisch, every bit as eager to turn the thumbscrews on the victims held in Gestapo cellars across Europe; every bit as fanatical as the male when it came to crushing resistance to the state.
They became assistants to the doctors who first sterilised, and later murdered, the ‘useless’ handicapped. They became head guards in the gulag of concentration camps — like Herta Bothe, known as the Sadist of Stutthof for her merciless beatings. And they were handmaidens to the SS as they staffed the ‘baby farms’ where ‘supermen’ children were born. In these ghoulish clinics, women were the managers and nurses.
And, Kompisch points out: ‘One should never forget the legions of women who stood by their menfolk as they killed people by the tens of thousands in Russia, in Poland, in places like Auschwitz and Treblinka.’
This was the supreme corruption of the old maxim about a woman standing behind every successful man. In the Third Reich, it often meant a massmurderer being silently supported by a woman who would not dream of raising a hand to her child or kicking the family dog.
‘The history of National Socialism has long been reduced to one that blamed men for everything,’ says Kompisch. ‘The fact is women were involved at all levels of the Third Reich’s most infamous and brutal crimes . . . There were always choices, even within the Third Reich, and women often made their own choices as much as men.
‘They typed the statistics of the murdered victims of the SS Action Squads in the east, operated the radios which called up for more bullets, were invariably the secretaries — and sometimes much more — in all the Gestapo posts.
‘And at the end of the war these women tried to diminish their responsibility by saying they were just cogs in the all-male machine which gave the orders.’ Kompisch says women under Hitler — pushed though they were towards a cliched ideal of hearth and home — actually found opportunities for advancement in the regime that normal peacetime would have denied them. Just as the ‘ordinary Joe’ could become an extraordinary killer, so could the ‘weaker sex’ prove itself strong under the swastika.
Analysing pre and post-war statistics, Kompisch found there were more government, private sector and military jobs to be had for women under Hitler than in peacetime. But those who who stayed at home — and had the babies the regime craved — also bloodied their hands.
Influential: Some women had very close access to the Fuhrer
After all, it was largely women who queued up at government warehouses to buy the furniture, jewels, household appliances and clothes of their Jewish neighbours who had disappeared in the night without a word. The high-testosterone, all-male hierarchy of the Nazi state blocked out women from leadership positions from the very start — but the regime actively encouraged female participation in enforcing the Nazi terror at grassroots levels.
Most Blockwaerts — apartment house snoops who reported on un-Nazi activities to the party — were female. Women also made unofficial denunciations to the Gestapo of suspicious neighbours, Jews and other enemies of the state at a rate of three-to-one compared to men. Women also undermined the sacredmarriage illusion which Nazism tried to promote, for they were avid denunciators of their spouses. The surviving files of the Gestapo in the city of Dusseldorf noted they ‘try to change the power balance of the household by denouncing their husbands as spies or Communists or anti-Nazis’.
Kompisch agrees: ‘The cliche of Gold Mother Cross-wearing women having 10 babies and baking bread was a myth. Women could and did advance themselves massively through the Third Reich.’ One only has to see old newsreels of women fainting, crying, screaming with adulation at the feet of Hitler to see what a Messianic effect he had on them in the days before Elvis and The Beatles. So what made the caring sex morph into servants of evil on such a massive scale?
On one level, the women who served helping the SS in the death camps — like Hermine Braunsteiner, the ‘Mare of Majdanek’, who killed her victims by stamping on them and Irma Grese, the ‘Angel of Death’ at Belsen and Auschwitz — were poorly educated, dysfunctional misfits who would have faced permanent rejection in ordinary society.
Some 3,200 women served in the concentration camps. Female guards were generally low-to-middle class and had little or no work experience, although SS records show some were matrons, hairdressers, tram conductors or retired teachers.
Dorothea Binz, head training overseer at the all-female camp of Ravensbruck after 1942, trained her female students in the finer points of ‘malicious pleasure’. One survivor stated after the war that the Germans brought a group of 50 women to the camp to undergo training. The women were then separated and brought before the inmates. Each woman was then told to beat a prisoner. Of the 50 women, three had asked for a reason and only one had refused. She was later imprisoned.
Dr Eugen Kogan, a Nazi expert, wrote after 1945 in a report for the Allies about female guards: ‘They were quite simply attracted to the SS ideology as the mode of life that appealed to them and agreed with them . . . Here their “inner son of a bitch” could be projected to someone else and kicked with an enthusiasm that ranged all the way to sadism.’ But not all women were like Binz or Grese.
Cruel: Female SS guards after Belsen was liberated by Allied forces
Even fewer were like Ilsa Koch, the wife of the Buchenwald camp commandant who gave up her hobby of needlepoint for the ‘ entertainment’ of mounting the heads of executed prisoners on wooden blocks as mantelpiece ornaments. Kompisch draws on several case histories of other more outwardly civilised woman to try to get to the core of the corruption of their sex by the Nazi regime.
Karin Magnussen, 20, born in 1908 in Bremen, was a brilliant biologist and physicist. Here was a woman venerated by her profession, unaffected by the financial and political upheavals that propelled Hitler to power — and who ended up using the eyeballs taken from still-living prisoners at Auschwitz by the demented Dr Josef Mengele for experiments on the pigmentation of the human iris.
She became a fanatical Nazi out of choice and belief, not for any advancement of social or fiscal standing that such a step offered the less intelligent or less fortunate in society. At the end of the war she was one of the legions who claimed to be ‘dragged along in things’. ‘I was a Nazi fellow traveller, that’s all,’ said Magnussen in 1945. She was allowed to teach for another 20 years before dying peacefully in her bed aged 89 in 1997.
Dr Ruth Kellermann, born in 1913, was another female intellectual who willingly joined the Nazi crusade. A gifted scientist, she worked at the sinister Race Hygiene and Peoples’ Biology Research Institute in Berlin where she experimented on the cadavers of gipsies killed in Ravensbruck.
She moved to Hamburg, where she was ‘instrumental’ in the round-ups of local gipsies to extermination camps. After the war, there was no longer any call for eugenics and she satisfied herself with a research job as a social historian.
Her past was forgotten until the 1980s, when one of her lectures at Hamburg University about the history of housekeeping turned into a melee as protestors stormed the building accusing her of war crimes. ‘You sent my family to Auschwitz!’ screamed one woman into her face.
After a lawsuit brought by Romany groups in 1986, a German court judged that ‘at the very least you must have known what you were doing would lead to the eventual extermination of the Roma and Sinti gipsies’. A higher court later watered down the verdict, but it was immaterial; Kellermann never served any prison time and she never apologised.
Misfit: Irma Grese was known as the ‘Angel of Death’ at Belsen and Auschwitz
And take Dr Herta Oberheuser. Although happy, talented and a woman of independent means, she joined Ravensbruck concentration camp. Oberheuser killed healthy children with injections made from oil, mixed with the barbiturate evipan, and then removed their limbs and vital organs.
The time from injection to death was around five minutes, with the person being fully conscious until the last moment. Oberheuser also performed gruesome and painful medical experiments, focusing on deliberately inflicting wounds on the subjects.
In order to simulate the combat wounds of German soldiers fighting in the war and identify ready cures, Oberheuser rubbed foreign objects, such as wood, rusty nails, slivers of glass, dirt, or sawdust, into the wounds of prisoners.
Oberheuser was the only female defendant in the Nuremberg Medical Trial, where she was sentenced to 20 years in jail. She was released in April 1952 for good behaviour and became a family doctor at Stocksee in Germany, only to lose her position in 1956 after a Ravensbruck survivor recognised her. Her licence to practise medicine was revoked in 1958.
She said of her service: ‘Being a woman didn’t stop me being a good National Socialist. I think female National Socialists were every bit as valuable as men in keeping what we believed in alive.’
Kompisch’s compelling book shows that women were as drawn to, and degraded by, Nazism as all its male proponents. In contrast to the tenderhued posters of women serving hearth and home, it seems the docile feminine ideal propounded by Hitler concealed a truly deadly core.
Kompisch concludes: ‘The fact is that women allowed their female characteristics to be suppressed to bind themselves to the Nazi state and its agencies.
‘To say, as most did at the end of the war, that they knew nothing of the terror and torture is absolutely unbelievable. They supported and underwrote such terror and torture.’