Hitler (left), standing behind Hermann Göring at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg (c. 1928) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
*Avert your eyes Yallowitz.
Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
A revelatory new history
of the role of German women in the Holocaust, not only as plunderers
and direct witnesses, but as actual killers on the eastern front during
World War II.
Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of
German women on the World War II Nazi eastern front powerfully revises
history, proving that we have ignored the reality of women’s
participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The
long-held picture of German women holding down the home front during the
war, as loyal wives and cheerleaders for the Führer, pales in
comparison to Lower’s incisive case for the massive complicity, and
worse, of the 500,000 young German women she places, for the first time,
directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.
Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost
generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post-World
War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi
movement-a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These
young women-nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses-saw the
emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial
opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness
and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work
on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with
German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were
more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that
they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also
brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that
they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing
refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower
uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children
of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.
Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs: genocide is women’s business
too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There have been many books, case studies and articles about the Holocaust and many of them have had a special focus but this is the first time I recall seeing an in-depth look at the roles of German women in the Nazi regime. This was a rather ambitious project, with a specific focus and I thought it was compelling.
First of all, let me say that this is a tough book to read without feeling sick to your stomach. That has nothing to do with the abilities of the author of course; I didn’t expect this book to be a happy walk in the park based on the subject matter–and it wasn’t.
The author is very honest with her audience about what she uncovered digging through various archives and learning about the daily lives and roles of these women. The atrocities they not only witnessed but also participated in are not sugar coated. They are outlined in a detailed manner in just the way she uncovered them. If you are not familiar with the many failings of human empathy and compassion that arose during this period, prepare yourself before you read.
One thing that made me like this book, was that the author did not interject a lot of personal feeling into it. It’s not that she was completely devoid of feeling for the period she described, but that she let the research tell the story without offering the sway of her own opinion. I appreciated this approach as it put the facts first.
I was particularly interested in the section of this book that dealt with Eugenics. I had never considered before that German women may have played a larger role and for that matter that more than just the famous few, may have been involved with the ideals of the Reich and the carry out of orders from Hitler himself.
I suppose, before reading this, I thought of these women as being martyrs as well. I would have said that they were forced in a situational way into taking actions to please the Nazi Regime and therefore protect their own lives and that of their families. This book was certainly eye opening to truths that I had not previously considered.
This book features bios of specific women involved in the Nazi movement and really highlights the differences amongst them and the diversity found in their personalities, status and professions very well.
A relatively short look into the lives of these women, this book can be digested in one sitting, yet contains a lot of information. The supportive roles of the women mentioned have been seen in other literature, but not exactly from this angle. Knowing that many of them were there by choice and shared the skewed view of the Nazi administrators was a bit of a shock.
The last chapter of the book, dealing with the court trials, international law mishaps and all of the women who effectively got away with their crimes was also of particular interest.
If you have a fascination with history, or simply want to learn more about a unique aspect of this important period, I would recommend reading this book.
This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher and provided by Netgalley.