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The Role and Status of Women in Nazi Germany

The era of the Third Reich in Germany is one of the most researched subjects, particularly with reference to women. The population policies of the Third Reich were formulated by both, the Party officials and experts. Health officials and professionals involved in population planning contributed significantly to the implementation of social policies based on the National Socialists’ ideologies, for the Volk. Professionals including judges, social workers, party workers, teachers and mayors were included in the family policy making process (Pine, 8-10).

The policies breached the privacy of family life with its objectives being to increase birth rate and racial homogeneity. The identity and role of women was rooted to the belief that women could serve the cause of the nation better, by staying at home. The Nazi’s views on the supremacy of the Aryan race, the need to avoid Jews; all had considerable bearing on the health of the future generations, for which family life and particularly that of women needed to be dictated. German girls were considered subjects of the state, but to gain citizenship only upon marriage (Hitler, 368).

Women were taught that marrying a suitable man and having healthy children contributed to national service. Thus they were domesticated for a national cause, with personal issues like ill health, not wanting to marry, smoking, and even divorce and re-marriage were decided from the angle of producing healthy children. Women with more children received national recognition too. The Nazi philosophy saw the state as an organism with the family a vital cell. It reversed the earlier Weimar attitudes and approaches to family life (Pine, 8-10).

While condemning childless marriage and bachelorhood, the Socialist Party supported the idea of large families which it said were essential to the existence of the nation. While large families got to be proud of their children, unmarried individuals and childless couples were stigmatized. The Law for the Prevention of hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed in July 1943 which sought mandatory sterilization of people who suffered from hereditary diseases. About 320,000 people were sterilized between January 1934 and September 1939, of which about two-thirds were women. Most of these women were ethnic Germans living in poverty.

Although the criteria for mandatory sterilizations was ‘feeble mindedness’, there were no definite standards on which such people were identified. Considered as the foundation of the state, the family concept was looked more closely to ensure the passage of pure and unspoiled German generations (Mosse, 34). It is important for a nation intending to raise a huge army for a war, to direct its labor to those sectors of economy that related to war preparedness. With Hitler preparing Germany for war, the economic recovery was controlled for work creation and allocation of labor.

Public work programs on the lines of ‘work and bread’, was expensive and also took considerable time for planning and implementation (Silverman, 200-04). The Nazis looked to reducing statistical unemployment at the earliest. Several changes and procedures were introduced with respect to registration and incentives to workers, particularly women. Women were encouraged to leave the work force, while the state’s police had the power to control labor market. Whenever family policies were implemented, there is collaboration, maneuvering or rebel against the family policy dictated by the state.

Women willingly cooperated with the implemented programs whenever they see it as being personally beneficial. When the state policies clashed with their interests, they either challenged or manipulated it. When manipulation looked impossible, they tried to evade the policy (Michelle Mouton). The Reich labor minister Seldte, saw women replacing men as a bad policy of the labor market, apart from being psychologically and ethically unacceptable. The Great War had earlier rendered male workers into an unemployment state. He felt that women labor force needed to go back to their domestic roles in housekeeping, for which they are indispensable.

Priority in employment would be given to the male heads of families. Seldte’s intentions were only indicative of the increasing intolerance to women and a wide belief that women who were employed during the turbulent days of unemployment need to be removed and replaced by unemployed men. Men were considered the real breadwinners of any normal household. Although women were generally perceived as ‘double earners’, married women were more prone to the attacks, which saw them earning to supplement the income of a male primary earner, in the household (Silverman, 200-04).

Seldte saw the double income families as being problematic, but refused to subscribe to the views of many Nazi activists for regulating women labor and double earning. He wanted women to be replaced by unemployed men in public and private sectors, which was adopted by the government. No laws were implemented to oust women from the labor force, but local leaders of the party and the Stormtroopers or SA, indulged in illegal activities to drive women out of workplaces. A work creation program implemented on June 1, 1933 aimed at distributing marriage loans for the women.

The loan was provided to the woman who was willing to leave the labor force, which however was actually handed over to the marriage bridegroom. Such loans ensured that women replaced in the labor market, don’t look for jobs again and thus won’t add up to the unemployment statistics. Thus Hitler was able to reduce unemployment without creating jobs. The marriage loans were initially funded by special taxes on unmarried wage earners and unmarried income tax payers. Costing almost nothing to the government, the marriage loans intended to increase the marriage and birth rate in Germany, apart from making jobs for men.

Women started leaving the workforce and unemployment rate among women declined considerably. The marriage scheme was also expected to reduce a man’s marriage age and the requirement of prostitutes. The loans which were to be repaid with an interest of about 1% a month had its principal cut by a quarter for every child born to the couple. Therefore, a loan was effectively waived for the couple, upon the birth of their fourth child. Such schemes encouraged newly wed couples to start having children at the earliest after marriage (Pine, 17). The Nazi facilitated divorce, not on the grounds of liberalistic views but for the benefit of the Volk.

Divorce was granted to marriages which failed to have children. The idea behind such divorce was that, partners can remarry and have children. Judges had the right to reduce or even waive the compensation and maintenance by a man towards his former wife, if he has remarried. The ban on birth control centers, followed by the ban on contraceptives manufacturing and sale were also directed at raising large families for the Volk. Abortion in Germany was made a crime by including it into the penal code, with a relevant legislation under paragraph 218 stating that a pregnant woman who resorts to abortion could be imprisoned for up to five years.

A similar punishment is also applicable to persons helping with the abortion. The policy to discourage women out of the labor market stemmed from the Nazi concern of family and children. There were about 11. 5 million working women in Germany during 1933, of which about 4. 5 million were married women or widows. The Nazi saw some of the employed women as trying to become independent, or aiming for higher family income. The Nazi despised them although it sympathized with women who had to work due to their financial constraints. Nazi leaders saw mothers of large families who worked to feed and clothe their children, as being unjust.

They saw such situations as being detrimental to marriage and family. With both parents working and reaching home tired, they could not concentrate on their household properly. Many surveys revealed that when the mother worked, her children were looked after by the children’s grandmother, neighbor or aunt (Pine, 22). Surveys by the Nazi supported the idea that a mother’s absence cannot be compensated by relatives or other people, outside school hours. When children don’t get the attention of their parents particularly the mother, it affects their development.

The welfare and education of such children is at stake and such children mostly end up in welfare centers. While facilitating early marriages for the youth, the establishment saw late marriages and prostitution as a disgrace to humanity. Prostitution was not expected to be removed by social or charitable ways, but by appropriate restriction and elimination of contributing factors. The role of prostitution in disease propagation, particularly venereal diseases, was termed as contributing to national decay, since it facilitated mass-infection.

Brothels corrupt the youth, who despite their physical training, could not hold on till they grow to healthy men, and succumb to the enticing prostitute. (Hitler, 213-216). The right to marry was certified through physical and medical tests. The military training for men involved two certificates, one attesting his training and ability and the other attesting his physical health, which proved his fitness for marriage. The Socialist Party’s call for women to quit jobs, marry and have children did not go without support from the women.

A considerable women population which felt burdened by the responsibility of managing work and family, longed to get back to the simple life. Girls were taught at school that as women they should care for their husbands and bear children. They were asked to refrain from smoking and dieting as it could affect their ability to bear healthy children. They were also asked to stay way from using make ups like lipsticks, which could affect their natural beauty. The education of the girl was similar to that of the boys except that girls should remember their ultimate goal, that one day they would become a mother (Hitler, 347).

Advice centers were set up with an aim of improving genetic health, and it was in 1934 that it released its ten commandments directed at choosing a spouse. The Ten Commandments reminded women that they are German and that they need to keep their body pure. It suggested that if they are genetically healthy, they must get married (Tatyana Gordeeva). The Ten Commandments requested women to look for a suitable spouse on the basis of love, not for a playmate and have as much children as possible. The desire to raise a family was encouraged among women, with medals for women having many children.

In 1939, three million women received a medal for having four or more children. The Bronze Mother’s Nazi Cross was conferred to mothers with 4/5 children, the Silver Mother’s Nazi Cross for mothers with 6/7 children while the Gold Mother’s Nazi Cross was given to mothers with eight or more children. The medals presented on the Mother’s Day, not only gave public recognition for the German mothers, but also provided them with facilities like privileges and honorary seats in government functions and offices (Mosse, 46). They were provided privileges equal to that of disabled soldiers and martyrs of the national Socialist Party.

It was not only that the Nazi’s were inclined to domesticate women as a mark of male supremacy. The Nazi’s believed that by women contributing to the family life by marrying and raising children, they played a crucial role in the welfare of the state. Just as the soldier owed an obligation to the state, the woman too had a moral obligation to the state, that of bearing healthy children. However, the National Socialists went too far in ensuring those healthy offspring, by not only emphasizing the do’s and don’ts for women but also in certifying their marriage eligibility.

The Nazi’s emphasis on child bearing is evident by their terming of women who have had miscarriages and married women who didn’t conceive as ‘inferior’. Mothers of handicapped and sick children were also seen as being inferior (Mosse, 37). Men too were similarly certified and those sections of the society which were determined as not capable of producing healthy offspring or be in the path of procreation, was punished harshly. Hitler believed the supremacy of the Aryan to have been diluted by breading with inferior race.

The offspring would be a superior to the biologically inferior parent but still being less than the superior parent (Hitler, 238). Thus it is necessary to maintain an unmixed breed, if offspring of optimum health is to be realized. However this concern for family life was given up when women were required in the workplace. A legislation was even introduced in 1935 to make labor service compulsory for women. When economic compulsions came to the forefront, the family values were given up, with mothers and married women asked to join the workplace (Pine, 23).

The Nazi leaders realized that their war compulsions required them to alter their family policy like most other Nazi programs. They realized that the prospects of increasing or even retaining the birthrate with the right morale was becoming nearly impossible with their husbands being called away to serve in the war, and with declining living conditions. The Nazi period would be remembered for several reasons; its perception and attitude to women is definitely one among them. Works Cited Silverman, Dan. Hitler’s Economy: Nazi Work Creation Programs.

Harvard University Press, 1998. Pine, Lisa. Nazi Family Policy, 1933 – 1945. Berg Publishers, 1997. Gordeeva, Tatyana. German Women and 3 K’s. 1998. German Culture. 27 November 2008 http://www. germanculture. com. ua/library/weekly/aa080601b. htm Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Jaico Publishing House. Mumbai, 2001. Mosse, George. Nazi Culture University of Wisconsin Press. 2003. Mouton, Michelle. From Nurturing the Nation to Purifying the Volk. 2007. University of Wisconsin. 28 November 2008 http://www. cambridge. org/aus/catalogue/catalogue. asp? isbn=9780521861847&ss=exc

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