A grim, original study of the nurses, teachers, secretaries and wives who made up a good half of Hitler’s murderers.
Doing “women’s work” included participating in the entire Nazi edifice, from filling the government’s genocide offices to running the concentration camps, Holocaust Memorial Museum historical consultant Lower (History/Claremont McKenna Coll.) proves ably in this fascinating history. With a third of the female German population engaged in the Nazi Party, and increasing as the war went on, the author estimates that at least 500,000 of them were sent east from 1939 onward to help administer the newly occupied territories in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and the Baltics. They were also enlisted to run Heinrich Himmler’s Race and Resettlement Office, work in military support positions, and serve as teachers and nurses in the field hospitals and on train platforms. As key “agents of the Nazi empire-building, tasked with the constructive work in the German civilizing process,” why were so few brought to a reckoning after the war? Sifting through testimonies, letters, memoirs and interviews and pursuing the stories of a dozen key players, the author exposes a historical blind spot in this perverse neglect of women’s role in history. She finds that, similar to American women being allowed new freedoms during the war years, young German women often seized the chance to flee stifling domestic situations and join up or were actively conscripted and fully indoctrinated into anti-Semitic, genocidal policies. Many were trained in the eastern territories, and some of their select tasks included euthanizing the disabled, “resettling” abducted children and plundering Jewish property. The women’s newfound sense of power next to men proved deadly, writes Lower. That their agency in these and other crucial tasks was largely ignored remains a haunting irony of history.
A virtuosic feat of scholarship, signaling a need for even more research.