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2012 | 2 | 155-169

Article title

Rola i znaczenie kobiety w życiu społeczno-politycznym III Rzeszy


Title variants

The Role and Significance of Woman in the Social-political Life of the Third Reich

Languages of publication



For many years historians largely ignored the female half of the population of Nazi Germany, until feminists sharpened their pens and set to work restoring the balance. The picture that emerged was of a society run by misogynist monsters, brutal machos and mad scientists bent on mass sterilization, in which women were cast into depths of a gynaecophobic hell, where their only function was to bear a series of warrior children sired by callous patriarchs, to be sent to their deaths on the battlefields of Europe. Subsequent research by cooler-headed social historians reveals a more nuanced picture of the women’s social-political role in the Third Reich. For many women life in Nazi Germany was indeed hellish. Jewish women suffered unimaginable horrors, as did the hapless victims of the eugenicists. The wives, daughters and sisters of political prisoners who were punished for crimes committed by male members of the family – a system known as “clan arrest” – should not be forgotten. Nevertheless, the lot of the vast majority of women in the Third Reich improved greatly. Although they were excluded from political power, were underpaid and denied birth control and abortions, their husbands had steady jobs, real wages were rising and the future looked promising. For instance, married couples were given a loan of 1,000 RM, provided that the pair was eugenically acceptable and the woman stayed at home. Generous tax relief was given for children. Medical services for women were also greatly improved; pregnant working women were given six weeks of leave with full pay before and after the birth. The number of women workers increased sharply, particularly in low-paid and unskilled positions, especially during the war. Women were appreciative of these measures, and gave the state their grateful loyalty. It was no hell for women, it was also no paradise, and there were many negative aspects of Nazi policy towards women. Women were to be confined to the home as mothers of racially sound children, all in the interest of eugenics, racial politics and preparation for war. The Führer needed children, and to this end Mother’s Day was made into the central event of the Nazi fertility cult, celebrated with great pomp, ceremony and pathos. Motherhood ceased to be a private affair, and was seen as a public service that helped improve the racial stock and create a genuine “racial community”. Therefore, birth control devices were virtually unobtainable, except for Jews and other undesirables. Compulsory abortions were performed on the racially unwanted and the eugenically suspect. A new law on marriage and divorce in 1938 further reduced women’s legal rights. A lot shorter queues for financial relief at the beginning, brim-full kindergartens in the middle and strictly admonished rations at the end of the Third Reich – it is the lapidary synopsis of the regime’s picture in the eyes of German women.







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