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Role of women and family

Further information: Women in Nazi Germany

Women were a cornerstone of Nazi social policy. The Nazis opposed the feminist movement, claiming that it was the creation of Jewish intellectuals, instead advocating a patriarchal society in which the German woman would recognise that her “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home”.[259] Feminist groups were shut down or incorporated into the National Socialist Women’s League, which coordinated groups throughout the country to promote motherhood and household activities. Courses were offered on childrearing, sewing, and cooking. Prominent feminists, including Anita AugspurgLida Gustava Heymann, and Helene Stöcker, felt forced to live in exile.[362] The League published the NS-Frauen-Warte, the only NSDAP-approved women’s magazine in Nazi Germany;[363] despite some propaganda aspects, it was predominantly an ordinary woman’s magazine.[364]

Women were encouraged to leave the workforce, and the creation of large families by racially suitable women was promoted through a propaganda campaign. Women received a bronze award—known as the Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honour of the German Mother)—for giving birth to four children, silver for six, and gold for eight or more.[362] Large families received subsidies to help with expenses. Though the measures led to increases in the birth rate, the number of families having four or more children declined by five percent between 1935 and 1940.[365] Removing women from the workforce did not have the intended effect of freeing up jobs for men, as women were for the most part employed as domestic servants, weavers, or in the food and drink industries—jobs that were not of interest to men.[366] Nazi philosophy prevented large numbers of women from being hired to work in munitions factories in the build-up to the war, so foreign labourers were brought in. After the war started, slave labourers were extensively used.[367] In January 1943, Hitler signed a decree requiring all women under the age of fifty to report for work assignments to help the war effort.[368] Thereafter women were funnelled into agricultural and industrial jobs, and by September 1944 14.9 million women were working in munitions production.[369]

Nazi leaders endorsed the idea that rational and theoretical work was alien to a woman’s nature, and as such discouraged women from seeking higher education. [370] A law passed in April 1933 limited the number of females admitted to university to ten percent of the number of male attendees.[371] This resulted in female enrolment in secondary schools dropping from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937. The number of women enrolled in post-secondary schools dropped from 128,000 in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938. However, with the requirement that men be enlisted into the armed forces during the war, women comprised half of the enrolment in the post-secondary system by 1944.[372]

Young women of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) practising gymnastics in 1941

Women were expected to be strong, healthy, and vital.[373] The sturdy peasant woman who worked the land and bore strong children was considered ideal, and women were praised for being athletic and tanned from working outdoors.[374] Organisations were created for the indoctrination of Nazi values. From 25 March 1939 membership in the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for all children over the age of ten.[375] The Jungmädelbund (Young Girls League) section of the Hitler Youth was for girls age 10 to 14 and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM; League of German Girls) was for young women age 14 to 18. The BDM’s activities focused on physical education, with activities such as running, long jumping, somersaulting, tightrope walking, marching, and swimming.[376]

The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct regarding sexual matters and was sympathetic to women who bore children out of wedlock.[377] Promiscuity increased as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often intimately involved with several women simultaneously. Soldier’s wives were frequently involved in extramarital relationships. Sex was sometimes used as a commodity to obtain better work from a foreign labourer.[378] Pamphlets enjoined German women to avoid sexual relations with foreign workers as a danger to their blood.[379]

With Hitler’s approval, Himmler intended that the new society of the Nazi regime should destigmatise illegitimate births, particularly of children fathered by members of the SS, who were vetted for racial purity.[380] His hope was that each SS family would have between four and six children.[380] The Lebensborn(Fountain of Life) association, founded by Himmler in 1935, created a series of maternity homes to accommodate single mothers during their pregnancies.[381] Both parents were examined for racial suitability before acceptance.[381] The resulting children were often adopted into SS families.[381] The homes were also made available to the wives of SS and NSDAP members, who quickly filled over half the available spots.[382]

Existing laws banning abortion except for medical reasons were strictly enforced by the Nazi regime. The number of abortions declined from 35,000 per year at the start of the 1930s to fewer than 2,000 per year at the end of the decade, though in 1935 a law was passed allowing abortions for eugenics reasons.[383]

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