Women in Nazi Germany

After the First World War women in Germany were given the vote and a feminist elite, led by Clara Zetkin, helped to shape the political post-war scene. One of the consequences of this was an increase in the number of women in the work-force. In the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) programme of 25 points published in 1920 stated that it disapproved of women working. Adolf Hitler claimed that the "emancipation of women" was a slogan invented by Jewish intellectuals. He argued that for the German woman her "world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home."

Hitler's view that women should remain at home was reinforced when a third of male workers lost their jobs and became unemployed during the late 1920s. Nazis argued that men were being replaced by female workers who, on average, received lower wages. This was true as skilled women earned 66% of men's wages, unskilled one's 70%. This was the reason why during the depression one man in three was dismissed but only one woman in every ten.

During the election campaign in 1932, Adolf Hitler promised that if he gained power he would take 800,000 women out of employment within four years. By the time he took power in 1933, women formed 37% of the total employed labour force. Hitler told a delegation who had come to discuss women's rights with him he told them the solution was for every woman to have a husband. In August 1933 a law was passed that enabled married couple to obtain loans to set up homes and start families. However, if they accepted this money the woman had to promise not to seek re-employment. To pay for these loans single men and childless couples were taxed more heavily.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink
Gertrud Scholtz-Klink

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 he appointed Gertrud Scholtz-Klink as Reich Women's Leader and head of the German Girls' League. A good orator, Scholtz-Klink's main task was to promote male superiority and the importance of child-bearing. In one speech she pointed out that: "Woman is entrusted in the life of the nation with a great task, the care of man, soul, body, and mind. It is the mission of woman to minister in the home and in her profession to the needs of life from the first to last moment of man's existence. Her mission in marriage is... comrade, helper and womanly complement of man - this is the right of woman in the New Germany."

In July 1934 Scholtz-Klink was appointed as head of the Women's Bureau in the German Labour Front. She now had responsibility for persuading women to work for the good of the Nazi government. The decline in unemployment after the Nazis gained power meant that it was not necessary to force women out of manual work. However, action was taken to reduce the number of women working in the professions. Married women doctors and civil servants were dismissed in 1934 and from June 1936 women could no longer act as judges or public prosecutors. Hitler's hostility to women was shown by his decision to make them ineligible to jury service because he believed them to be unable to "think logically or reason objectively, since they are ruled only by emotion."

Traudl Junge argued that many young women were turned off Nazism by the image projected by Scholtz-Klink. "The Führerin Gertrud Scholtz-Klink was the type we did not like at all. She was just bourgeois and she was so ugly and wasn't fashionable at all. So that was why we didn't bother about joining her organization... It didn't touch me or my friends very much... We were interested in dancing and ballet, and I didn't care much for politics." Junge did not like the message that young women should not wear make-up and had to be "naturally beautiful, sporty and healthy, and giving her leader (Hitler) a lot of children."

Heinrich Himmler complained about the look of the Bund Deutscher Mädel and considered their uniforms too masculine. Himmler told its leader, Dr. Jutta Rüdiger: "I regard it as a catastrophe. If we continue to masculinize women in this way, it is only a matter of time before the difference between the genders, the polarity, completely disappears." A new uniform was designed and it was eventually approved by Adolf Hitler: "I have always told the Mercedes company that a good engine is not enough for a car, it needs a good body as well. But a good body is also not enough on its own." Rüdiger later recalled that she was "very proud that he had compared us to a Mercedes Benz car."

According to Rüdiger, Baldur von Schirach always used to say, "You girls should be prettier.... When I sometimes watch women getting off a bus - old puffed-up women - then I think you should be prettier women. Every girl should be pretty. She doesn't have to be a false, cosmetic and made-up beauty. But we want the beauty of graceful movement." Joseph Goebbels also became concerned about what he called the "masculine vigour" of the BDM: "I certainly don't object to girls taking part in gymnastics or sport within reasonable limits. But why should a future mother go route-marching with a pack on her back? She should be healthy and vigorous, graceful and easy on the eye. Sensible physical exercise can help her to become so, but she shouldn't have knots of muscle on her arms and legs and a step like a grenadier. Anyway, I won't let them turn our Berlin girls into he-men."

Jutta Rüdiger
Jutta Rüdiger

Adolf Hitler argued that the BDM should play its role in persuading women to have more children. "Good men with strong character, physically and psychically healthy, are the ones who should reproduce extra generously... Our women's organizations must perform the necessary job of enlightenment.... They must get a regular motherhood cult going and in it there must be no difference between women who are married... and women who have children by a man to whom they are bound in friendship.... On special petition men should be able to enter a binding marital relationship not only with one woman, but also with another, who would then get his name without complications."

One of the objectives of the Nazi government was to reduce the role of women in education. In 1934 out of 10,000 girls who passed the Abitur entry examinations, only 1,500 were granted university admission. In the year before the Nazis came to power there were 18,315 women students in Germany's universities. Six years later this number had fallen to 5,447.The government also ordered a reduction in women teachers. By 1935 the number of women teachers at girls' secondary schools had decreased by 15 per cent.

One way that girls had equality with boys was in the ways they were punished at schools. In 1938 the parents of a girl who had been punched so hard by her teacher that she bled from the nose, complained to the official body adjudicating on the rights of young people (Jugendschutzkammer). It dismissed the charge on the grounds that corporal punishment could be applied without distinction of the sexes.

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink was also placed in charge of the Nazi Mother Service. The organization issued a statement explaining its role in Nazi Germany: "The purpose of the National Mother Service is political schooling. Political schooling for the woman is not a transmission of political knowledge, nor the learning of Party programs. Rather, political schooling is shaping to a certain attitude, an attitude that out of inner necessity affirms the measures of the State, takes them into women's life, carries them out and causes them to grow and be further transmitted."

Joseph Goebbels argued: "Women has the task of being beautiful and bringing children into the world, and this is by no means as coarse and old-fashioned as one might think. The female bird preens herself for her mate and hatches her eggs for him." Wilhelm Frick, the Minister of the Interior, suggested: "Equal rights for women means that they receive the esteem they deserve in the sphere nature has assigned to them" (having children). Hitler added: "Women has her battlefield too, with each child that she brings into the world for the nation she is fighting her fight on behalf of the nation."

Gertrud Scholtz-Klink
Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, Heinrich Himmler, Rudolf Hess, Baldur von Schirach and Artur Axmann.

In 1937 Hitler's government changed its attitude towards women in the work-force. With the build-up for war, it now needed married women to seek employment in industry. It now rescinded its stipulation that women qualified for marriage loans only if they undertook not to enter the labour market. Gertrud Scholtz-Klink as Reich Women's Leader, issued a statement that said: "It has always been our chief article of fact that woman's place is in the home - but since the whole of Germany is our home we must serve her wherever we can best do so." However, she admitted in 1938 that she "had not once had the chance to discuss women's affairs in person with the Führer."

Hitler's outspoken anti-feminism drove large numbers of women to join left-wing political groups. In October, 1933, the Nazis opened the first concentration camp for women at Moringen in Lower Saxony. By 1938 the camp was unable to accommodate the growing number of women prisoners and a second one was built at Lichtenburg, near Wittenberg. The following year another one was opened in Ravensbrück.

Martin Bormann suggested that the army should form women's battalions during the war. Gertrud Scholtz-Klink was always against the idea of women serving in the army. She argued: "I have sons in the war, I will protect my daughters." Despite her opposition in 1942 women were assigned to military duties as "Female Wehrmacht Auxiliaries". Scholtz-Klink received support from Dr. Jutta Rüdiger, the head of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls): "It is out of the question. Our girls can go right up to the front and help them there, and they can go everywhere, but to have a women's battalion with weapons in their hands fighting on their own, that I do not support. It's out of the question. If the Wehrmacht can't win this war, then battalions of women won't help either." Baldur von Schirach said "Well, that's your responsibility". Rüdiger retorted: "Women should give life and not take it. That's why we were born." However, when the Red Army was advancing towards in Berlin in 1945 Rüdiger instructed BDM leaders to learn to use pistols for self-defence.

Primary Sources

(1) Adolf Hitler, speech to the NSDAP Women's Organization (September, 1934)

The slogan "emancipation of women" was invented by Jewish intellectuals. If the man's world is said to be the State, his struggle, his readiness to devote his powers to the service of the community, then it may perhaps be said that the woman's in a smaller world. For her world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home. But what would become of the greater world if there were no one to tend and care for the smaller one? The great world cannot survive if the smaller world is not stable. We do not consider it correct for the women to interfere in the world of the man. We consider it natural if these two worlds remain distinct.

(2) G. Zienef, Education for Death (1942)

I spent an hour with the principal, a very friendly, neat lady of fifty. She explained that every class in school was built around a course called Frauenschaffen, activities of women. This general subject was divided into: Handarbeit (handwork), Hauswirtschaft (domestic science,cooking, house and garden work), and most important, the Pflege course (eugenics, and hygiene, devoted to a study of the reproductive organs, both male and female, conception, birth, racial purity, infant care, family welfare).

She told me that the Fuehrer wanted the girls to feel that their bodies were more important for the State than their minds. He wanted girls to be proud of their bodies. He wanted them to get interested in the bodies of their sweethearts. If a girl had a healthy body, fit for childbirth, she should be proud to display it to advantage.

(3) Adolf Hitler, speech (September, 1935)

The so-called granting of equal rights to women, which Marxism demands, in reality does not grant equal rights but constitutes a deprivation of rights, since it draws the woman into an area in which she will necessarily be inferior. The woman has her own battlefield. With every child that she brings into the world, she fights her battle for the nation.

(4) Isle McKee was a member of the German Girls' League, later recalled her experiences in her autobiography.

We were told from a very early age to prepare for motherhood, as the mother in the eyes of our beloved leader and the National Socialist Government was the most important person in the nation. We were Germany's hope in the future, and it was our duty to breed and rear the new generation of sons and daughter. These lessons soon bore fruit in the shape of quite a few illegitimate small sons and daughters for the Reich, brought forth by teenage members of the League of German Maidens. The girls felt they had done their duty and seemed remarkably unconcerned about the scandal.

(5) Jutta Rüdiger, heard Adolf Hitler speak in Dusseldorf in 1932.

It was a huge hall and everyone was waiting for Hitler to arrive... I must say it was an electrifying atmosphere. Even before 1933 everybody was waiting for him as if he was a saviour. Then he went to the podium. I remember it all went quiet, and he started to speak in his serious voice. Calm, slow, and then he got more and more enthusiastic. I must admit, I can't remember exactly what he actually said. But my impression afterwards was: this is a man who does not want anything for himself, but only thinks about how he can help the German people.

(6) Nazi Racial Policy Bureau, ten rules to be observed when considering a marriage partner (1934)

Remember you are a German.

Remain pure in mind and spirit!

Keep your body pure!

If hereditarily fit, do not remain single!

Marry only for love.

Being a German, only choose a spouse or similar or related blood!

When choosing your spouse, inquire into his or her forebears!

Health is essential to outward beauty as well!

Seek a companion in marriage, not a playmate.

Hope for as many children as possible! Your duty is to produce at least four offspring in order to ensure the future of the national stock.

(7) Liselotte Katscher was a member of the National Socialist German Workers Party who worked as a nurse. She later recalled how a sixteen year old girl was sterilized because she was deemed unfit for motherhood.

Henny was examined by a doctor who diagnosed a slight feeble-mindedness - in my opinion it was only a slight feeble-mindedness, and they decided that she should be sterilized. I thought about it a great deal at the time, and I felt sorry for the girl, but it was the law, and the doctors had decided. I personally took her to the maternity ward in the hospital where it took place. But I never got rid of the doubt in my mind that the decision was too harsh. I formed the impression when dealing with this young girl that she was perfectly capable of leading a normal life. The tragedy was that she was released very soon after this, then got a job and met a nice young man, and was now not allowed to marry him because of her sterilization.

(8) Martha Dodd, My Years in Germany (1939)

Young girls from the age of ten onward were taken into organizations where they were taught only two things: to take care of their bodies so they could bear as many children as the state needed and to be loyal to National Socialism. Though the Nazis have been forced to recognize, through the lack of men, that not all women can get married. Huge marriage loans are floated every year whereby the contracting parties can borrow substantial sums from the government to be repaid slowly or to be cancelled entirely upon the birth of enough children. Birth control information is frowned on and practically forbidden.

Despite the fact that Hitler and the other Nazis are always ranting about "Volk ohne Raum" (a people without space) they command their men and women to have more children. Women have been deprived for all rights except that of childbirth and hard labour. They are not permitted to participate in political life - in fact Hitler's plans eventually include the deprivation of the vote; they are refused opportunities of education and self-expression; careers and professions are closed to them.

(9) Joseph Goebbels, speech in Munich (1939)

Women has the task of being beautiful and bringing children into the world, and this is by no means as coarse and old-fashioned as one might think. The female bird preens herself for her mate and hatches her eggs for him. In exchange, the mate takes care of gathering the food and stands guard and wards off the enemy.

(10) Adolf Hitler, speech on 26th January, 1942.

I detest women who dabble in politics. And if their dabbling extends to military matters it becomes utterly unendurable. In no section of the Party has a woman ever had the right to hold even the smallest post.

In 1924 we had a sudden upsurge of women who were interested in politics. They wanted to join the Reichstag, in order to raise the moral level of that body, so they said. I told them that 90 per cent of the matters dealt with by parliament were masculine affairs, on which they could not have opinions of any value. Gallantry forbids one to give women an opportunity of putting themselves in situations that do not suit them.

(11) Jutta Rüdiger, head of the German Girls' League, was shocked when she heard a speech given by in 1939 Heinrich Himmler in 1939.

He said that in the war a lot of men would be killed and therefore the nation needed more children, and it wouldn't be such a bad idea if a man, in addition to his wife, had a girlfriend would bear his children. And I must say, all my leaders were sitting there with their hair standing on end.