Women in Nazi Germany (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Women in Nazi Germany

Q1: Hitler said he would reduce male unemployment if he obtained power. How does the information in source 2 indicate the problems he would face keeping this promise.

A1: During the German Depression female labour was cheaper than male labour. Therefore employers tended to sack men rather than women. As the economy grew Hitler had to find a way of persuading employers to recruit males rather than females.

Q2: Read the introduction and sources 8, 11, 12, 14, 18, 20 and 22. Explain how the Nazi government was able to reduce male unemployment.

A2: Hitler's government took several measures to remove women from the labour market. The most important measure was the passing of the Law on the Reduction of Unemployment in 1933. In source 11 Richard Evans points out that generous loans were made available to young married couples if the woman left the labour market. For every child born, reduced the loan by a quarter. With four children couples would not have to repay anything.

This measure was reinforced by visual propaganda. Both sources 8 and 12 are good examples of how the government promoted the idea women should give birth to children.

The Nazi Racial Policy Bureau (source 20) issued instructions for married couples in 1934. This included the statement that it was their "duty to produce at least four offspring in order to ensure the future of the national stock".

Politicians such as Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, made speeches (source 22) encouraging women to leave the labour market and to have children: "Women has the task of being beautiful and bringing children into the world". Goebbels compares the German woman to the female bird that "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".

The unit provides testimony from two women living in Nazi Germany. Isle McKee (source 14) points out: "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." Gertrud Draber (source 18) attended a bridal school: "We were taught everything that was necessary to be a woman; house-keeping, being a mother, and being a good wife... My main aim as a woman was above all, and as soon as possible... to become a mother."

Q3: What does source 4 tell us about life in Nazi Germany.

A3: The photograph shows that teachers in Nazi Germany taught young girls to give the Hitler salute.

Q4: Before the Nazi Party took power in 1933, 10% of the Reichstag were women. Afterwards, there were no women represented in the German parliament. Read sources 5, 6, 7 and 9, and explain Hitler's views on women and politics.

A4: Adolf Hitler believed that the "emancipation of women" movement had been "invented by Jewish intellectuals" (source 5) and Marxists (source 6). Hitler was opposed to the idea of women being involved in politics as this was the "world of the man" and detested "women who dabble in politics" (source 7). Hitler did not believe that women were capable of making rational political decisions: "In political questions, the woman, even if she is extremely intelligent, cannot separate reason from feeling." (source 9)

Q5: Despite his openly expressed sexist views, Hitler received the support of 50% of female voters. Use the information in sources 13, 15 and 17, to help explain his appeal to women.

A5: Jutta Rüdiger (source 13) heard Adolf Hitler speak at a political meeting in 1932. She makes the point that Hitler's appeal had nothing to do with logical argument: "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."

Louis P. Lochner (source 15) observed that Hitler was able to communicate emotionally with women: "I have heard the Fuhrer address a group of German women, speaking so tenderly of his mother, expressing such fond concern for the problems of the housewife, tracing so eloquently what the German women had done and could do for the Nazi cause, that the listeners were in tears."

Traudl Junge (source 17) was Hitler's secretary. She later claimed that Hitler told her that he did not marry because he thought he would lose some of his appeal to women: "obviously, an unmarried man is far more desirable than a boring husband."

Q6: Adolf Hitler rigorously controlled the photographs that appeared of him in the German media. Can you explain why sources 16, 19 and 21 were approved for publication, whereas 23 never appeared in German newspapers?

A6: Sources 16, 19 and 21 all show Hitler with groups of women. Eva Braun was his mistress (they married just before they committed suicide). Hitler kept his relationship with Braun secret from the German population. No photographs of them together were ever published in the German media. Source 23 is a particular intimate photograph as it shows him asleep in her company.

Q7: Sources 8 and 12 were part of a Nazi propaganda campaign. What do they tell us about what Hitler wanted from German women?

In sources 5 and 6 Adolf Hitler makes it clear that he wanted married women to stay at home and have children. Source 8 is a poster published by the German government. It provides an image of an "ideal" German family with a proud husband and wife with their three happy children.

Source 12 was originally a painting by Wolfgang Willrich that was later used as a poster. As one critic has pointed out: "It depicts what could be described as the quintessential Aryan family. With their sunshine-blond hair, strong jaw lines, chiseled Nordic features, and rosy-red cheeks, the members of this family of six could have easily appeared as Aryan ideals... The clothing of the boy in the foreground seems to identify him as a member of the Hitler Youth, while the traditional rustic clothing of the others links them to the rural population so idealized by the regime. Symbols of hard work, fertility, bounty, health and vitality, and connection to the land abound. The family’s home, a half-timbered, thatched-roof construction, is an excellent example of the völkisch architecture celebrated by the Nazis, and, as such, provides a fitting backdrop for this idyllic family scene."