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Everything you need to know about: Hitler's Rise to Power: The effect of Nazi Policy on Women!
In the 1920’s Germany was ahead of most other countries regarding women’s political and employment rights. Women over the age of 20 had the vote, appearance and clothing were less restrictive, they were employed in professional roles and received high levels of education. They worked as civil servants, receiving equal pay to men in some cases and there were many women members in the Reichstag (parliament).
When Hitler became Führur in 1934 he immediately set upon changing the image of women and their role in society. He used policies, incentives and law to control key areas of women’s life. Marriage, appearance, education and employment were most controlled. He believed a woman’s role lay in the three K’s, Kinder (children), Kriche (church) and Küche (Kitchen). A very idealistic but impractical view of women and family life, which would prove hard to maintain during the war years.
Hitler believed women should have the appearance of a traditional German woman. They were encouraged to wear plain clothing and discouraged from wearing trousers or anything considered masculine. They were not allowed to wear make-up or alter their hair in anyway, having to wear it in a plait or bun. Women and especially those who were pregnant were also persuaded not to drink or smoke, associating it with defects in birth. He also advised women be athletic but not too skinny to be able to give birth without complication to ‘good stock’. Propaganda played a huge part in depicting the perfect German woman, pious but proud, with blond hair, traditional clothing, hair up and usually surrounded by children and family.
Hitler set restrictions on the number of women allowed to attend universities and pursue higher education. Before Hitler came to power there were around 18 thousand women students in Germany but this had fallen to around 5,500 by 1939. Only 10% of students were allowed to be female and very few were allowed to study anything other than midwifery, childcare and education and catering and hospitality.
Two Nazi groups were set up providing classes for women. The Natioal sozialistische Frauenschaft (Nazi Women’s League, NSF) and Werk Glaube und Schönheit which translates Work, Faith and Beauty. These German woman Enterprises were set up to teach domestic work, encourage physical fitness and pride in beauty and appearance. They aimed to produce an Aryan race of women, loyal to the Nazi cause and ready to take their place as wives and mothers in society.
Marriage and Motherhood
Single Aryan women were expected to marry and produce as many children as possible. The Nazis advised women follow 10 commandments when choosing a spouse, which included points like ‘remember that you are German!’, ‘As a German, chose only a spouse of similar or related blood’, ‘In choosing a spouse, ask about his fore bearers’ and ‘you should want to have as many children as possible’. Hitler introduced a reward system for those who had more children. On his mother’s birthday every year he would award women with 8 or more children a gold medal named the Ehrenzeichen der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honour of the German Mother). Those who had 6 children would have a silver medal and those with 4 children would receive a bronze medal. To this end, Hitler also introduced the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage in 1933. This offered a 1000 loan, almost 9months salary, for young couples to marry, providing the female had worked for the past 6 months and the future husband earned less than 125 Reichmarks a month. The woman would have to leave her job and both males and female had to undergo medical examinations to test their purity, but for every child the couple had, they would keep 250 Reichmarks of the loan. This meant the loan could be cleared if they had four children. However, most households only had 2 children.
Single men, women and childless families were taxed more heavily than others to encourage marriage and procreation and unmarried women were viewed by the law as ‘subject to the state’, which was the same status given to Jews and the mentally ill. This ‘branding’ and heavy taxation encouraged many to marry and have children as they did not want to be associated with those deemed inferior by the Nazis. Many unmarried women were homed under the Lebensborn policy. Lebensborn, meaning the fountain of life, was originally set up by the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler, in 1935 for unmarried mothers and girls of ‘good racial background’. They provided homes, nurseries, financial aid and support for the increasing number of mothers and their illegitimate children, often fathered by an SS members. Later, these houses were places where members of the SS could impregnate single Aryan women in order to strengthen and purify the race, creating genetically pure children who were then put for adoption by families loyal to the Nazi cause. Hitler also made it illegal to have an abortion, unless on significant medical grounds, and restricted access to contraception. However, those races seen as inferior were freely encouraged to have abortions and later, women who were deemed ‘unsuitable’ to carry children were sterilized under The Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring.
Hitler first dismissed women working in politics and in 1934, married women doctors and civil servants were also dismissed. By the end of 1934, around 360,000 women had given up work in order to get married. This allowed Hitler to tackle the problem of unemployment by replacing those jobs with a male labour force. Labour exchanges were advised to discriminate in favour of men and offer them the jobs first. Despite all of this, women were too important to the German economy to remove them from the works force completely and as a result of a skills shortage in 1937, women up to the age of 25 had to complete a year of service called a ‘Duty year’. During this year, girls were often sent to farms and lived in barrack lik accommodation or worked ‘patriotically’ in a factory to help the Nazi economy and prepare them for possible wartime employment. During this time, women provided a cheap labour force, often being given pocket money rather than actual wages for their ‘duty year’. By 1939 there were an estimated 7.1 million women in the German workforce. As Hitler prepared for war, the need for workers grew. Hitler was forced to discontinue the Marriage Act and without the act and loans to dissuade them, more and more women signed up for work.
Hitler still held onto his Nazi ideal for women and believed only unmarried, working class women should work during the war, and even then it had to be ‘suitable’ for females. Heavy manual work, which included munition work was frowned upon but women had been in this profession since 1936 when Germany began their rearmament programme. The Labour Ministry and the Armaments Ministry asked government for women workers to fill the gaps left by men gone to war. Women’s organisations such as the German woman’s enterprise, (DFW, Deutsches Frauenwerk) led by Gertrud Scholtz-Klink and the National Socialist Womanhood, (NSF, national sozialistiche Frauenschaffe) were set up in early 1930’s to help prepare women for motherhood, domestic bliss and uphold Nazi ideal of women but focus changed towards the end of the 1930’s to teach women how they could aid in war effort. The Women’s Organisations referred to it as the ‘home battlefront’ and taught women how to feed families on rations, provided gardening and farming advise, offered work in hospitals and shown women how to fight fires. They also organised the evacuation of children and organised the distribution of ration coupons. The DFW particularly dealt with women’s work in munitions factories and allocated women to vital job roles. They only worked with German women and fought for their reasonable working conditions. The Ministry of Labour organised the work of other women and those captured from areas like Poland. Their working conditions were very basic and the jobs often emotionally and physically demanding. Eventually, the government was forced to call up all childless, married women to the labour force and it wasn’t until 1943 when Hitler realised his Nazi ideal for women was no longer feasible that they were widely conscripted.
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