Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields Hardcover – 3 Oct 2013
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"Hitler’s Furies will be experienced and remembered as a turning point in both women’s studies and Holocaust studies" (Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands)
"As pioneering as it is readable" (Literary Review)
"She writes engagingly, wears her considerable erudition lightly…never allowing her analysis to outweigh the fundamental humanity of the stories" (New Statesman)
"As gripping and eye-opening as it is chilling" (Andrea Walker People)
"Hitler's Furies turns on its head the idea that women are innately more nurturing, kind and moral than men... While the accepted wisdom on female participation in the Holocaust singles out the sadistic behaviour of a few women guards in the concentration camps, such behaviour is usually contrasted with the myth of German female ignorance of the horrors. A veil has largely been drawn over the actions of the rest. Not any more" (Eleanor Mills Sunday Times (News Review))
"Disquieting... Earlier books about the Holocaust have offered up poster girls of brutality and atrocity... Ms Lower's revisionist insight is to track more mundane lives, and to argue for a vastly wider complicity" (Dwight Garner New York Times)
"Through a combination of archive material and interviews, the historian Wendy Lower has unearthed evidence of women who witnessed and even perpetrated atrocities in the Third Reich's eastern-most territories, where most of the murders took place... her stark, often harrowing book is a valuable addition to Holocaust studies" (Ian Critchley Sunday Times)
"Until now it has been imagined that the Holocaust was perpetrated mainly by men and that female involvement was marginal. However, Ms Lower's research contradicts this." (Jewish Chronicle)
"Holocaust historian Professor Wendy Lower has unearthed the complicity of tens of thousands of German women – many more than previously imagined in the sort of mass, monstrous, murderous activities that we would like to think the so-called gentler sex were incapable of" (Tony Rennell Daily Mail Ireland)
"Wendy Lower's book interweaves the experiences of 13 ordinary women who went to work in the East... for some of these women, violence and murder became part of a rich brew of new-found power... Lower argues, they collectively show the role of women in the Holocaust has been underplayed; obscured by their later stereotypes as heroic 'rubble women' clearing up the mess of Germany's past, victims of Red Army rapists, or flirtatious dolls who entertaned American GIs" (Ben Shephard Observer (New Review))
"The Nazi regime is synonymous with men. The horrors of the Holocaust were, in the main, perpetrated by males. But there were tens of thousands of German women who took part in the Nazis' monstrous and murderous activities on the Eastern Front. The stories are told in Wendy Lower's new book" (Jewish Telegraph)
"builds a picture of a morally lost generation of young women, born into a defeated, post-WW1 Germany, and swept up in the fervour of the Nazi movement" (Sunday Telegraph)
A shocking 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 FrontSee all Product description
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There are a couple of little issues I have with the book. First, on page 20 she states the Hitler was not democratically elected. This, though, is not quite true. Although he was not elected to the Chancellorship directly (the Chancellor was appointed by the President, according to the Weimar Republic), the Nazi party was one of, if not the, largest party in the Reichstag. So German women did vote for the Nazi party, even if they didn't vote for Hitler himself. But given that he was clearly head of the party, it must be understood that when they voted for the Nazi party, they were voting for him.
Secondly, there is some confusion in her book. Not all the ideas she presents are clearly spelled out. For example, on pages 160-161 when writing about male Nazi perpetrators, she quotes one psychologist as saying that the head of Einsatzgruppe D was "a sadist, a pervert, or a lunatic," yet she quotes another as saying that Nazi leaders were neither "sick or unusual, in fact they are like any other people we might encounter in other countries of the earth." Yet this is all that is said. Not attempt is made to clarify this discrepancy. She immediately goes on to say that women were not tested by psychologists at all and she continues on from there. I found that quite a bit of the "science" behind this book was lacking.
That said, I think this book definitely begins to open up a new study in Holocaust research and as Lower quotes in her book, "Minimising women's culpability to a few thousand brainwashed and misguided camp guards does not accurately represent the reality of the Holocaust."
When one thinks of the Holocaust, one thinks of the SS, the concentration camps, the camp commandants, the Einsatzgruppen. When one thinks of the Holocaust, one rarely thinks of it also being perpetrated by women. And yet thousands upon thousands of women played roles through the Nazi Party: secretaries managing paperwork that condemned Jews to the gas chambers; personal assistants who accompanied their bosses on Aktions and took part in the shooting; nurses who administered lethal injections to those deemed unworthy of life; teachers posted to the conquered East to instil Nazi doctrine in ethnic German children; welfare officers tasked with kidnapping children with Aryan features or blood; SS wives accompanying their husbands to Poland and Latvia, the Ukraine, Russia, shooting labourers from villa balconies. The standard response after the war was that these women knew nothing of the Holocaust, that they were just minor functionaries, paper-pushers, or they were manipulated and forced by their brutal husbands.
In this revealing and frequently shocking book, Lower exposes the hollowness of these claims through a number of named examples - many were indicted after the war but few were convicted of murder or war crimes. Gender stereotypes worked in these women's favour - few of the largely male investigators and judges could imagine women acting in such a way, and the judicial insistence on relying on documentary evidence over eyewitness testimony meant that there was little 'concrete' proof against these women, since most of their roles were outside of the political and military structure that generated much of this paperwork. There was little understanding at the time of how circumstances and culture can affect behaviour in both men and women (enlightening experiments like the Stanford Prison Experiment were still decades in the future) and it was deemed unthinkable that women could act in such aggressive and brutal ways, therefore these claims could not be true.
As a women, I'd like to say I find it surprisingly that we have waited so long for such a study as this one, since every other aspect of the Holocaust and the Third Reich seems to have been investigated and analysed to death - but in many ways our society is just as patriarchal now as it was in the 1940s, and these issues are still sadly neglected. One hopes Wendy Lower's book opens to the door to more studies on the role of women in Nazi Germany - true sexual equality means taking the bad with the good, after all.
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