Hitler’s Furies – German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
By Wendy Lower
Chatto & Windus – £18.99
”As self-proclaimed superior rulers, German women in the Nazi East wielded unprecedented power over those designated ‘subhuman’; they were given a licence to abuse and even kill those perceived, as one secretary near Minsk said after the war, as the scum of society […]. There was no divide between the home front and the battlefront. Women could decide on the spot to join the orgy of violence […]. Wives and lovers of SS men not only consoled their mates when they returned from their dirty work, but, in some cases, also bloodied their own hands. In Nazi thinking, rounding up and shooting Jews for several hours was hard labour, so female consolation extended beyond creating a moral sanctuary at home: women set up refreshment tables with food and drink for their men near mass-execution and deportation sites.”
It’s often said that when women get nasty, they get really nasty.
In fact, women are as just capable of sublime viciousness and ghastly behaviour as that of men. Perhaps even more so; which, when all things are considered – such as women being the supposed gentler sex – is darkly disturbing to say the least. And while there are numerous instances of said comportment throughout world history, none leaps forth with the same amount of thundering anguish and terrible turmoil as the conduct of countless female Nazis during the Second World War.
This partially accounts for why Hitler’s Furies – German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields makes for such unsettling, let alone, almost unbelievable reading.
I write as much, because society has always been led to believe that if there are indeed killers among us, they primarily consist of men. Although this was most definitely not the case throughout Nazi Germany: ”Hitler’s Furies is indelible proof that we have not known what we need to know about the role of women in the Nazi killing fields – or about how it could have been hidden for seventy years. It shows that genocide is women’s business as well as men’s and that, in ignoring women’s culpability, we have ignored the reality of the Holocaust.”
Might it be said that ignorance is an all too oft, convenient and over subscribed human trait – wherein it is far easier and so much more psychologically profitable to turn the other way, turn a blind-eye, turn the other cheek; from that which is ever so slightly reflective of our own short-comings, foibles and dare I say it, lack of humanity.
If nothing else, such is uncomfortably brought to bear in the very opening chapter (‘The Lost Generation of German Women’) of this very readable book, wherein author Wendy Lower wastes no time in writing: ”Terror regimes feed on the idealism and energy of young people […]. A dictatorship does not require a massive secret police force when one’s neighbours are willing to do the surveillance work of the regime, out of fear, conformity, fanaticism and spite. Personal and political scores can be settled. The most vulnerable members of society, those on the margins, are expendable.”
To be sure, so long as we can turn, turn, turn; then surely pain, anguish and guilt will cease to fundamentally (and ultimately) rise to the surface, as the following excerpt from Chapter Six (‘Why Did They Kill? Their Post-War Explanations and Ours’) further makes so evidently clear: ”Besides sharing tools of violence (the hypoderemic needle, the whip and the gun), a passionate commitment to an ideological cause, an immoral perception of duty and pacts of loyalty and secrecy, German male and female perpetrators exhibited similar psychologies of denial and repression. Those confronted with their misdeeds replied along standard lines. I don’t know; I know nothing about that. I can’t remember; I had to follow orders; I was on leave. I heard from others about certain actions against Jews, but I did not see any Jews. When I arrived at my station, all the Jews were gone. Female defendants were aware of male testimony, were well versed in the art of verbal self-defence and also developed their own strategies […].”
Hitler’s Furies seven chapters reiterate the sustained impossibility of the Nazi regime by delving into and highlighting the supreme biological callousness of everything it encompassed and quintessentially stood for. As such, this book and its author, are to be fully commended for bringing home the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – by way of what surely had to have been pain-staking research.
A research that really couldn’t have been that easy to undertake, which is why I’d like to conclude by quoting the following: ”To assume that violence is not a feminine characteristic and that women are not capable of mass murder has obvious appeal: it allows for hope that at least half the human race will not devour the other, that it will protect children and so safeguard the future. But minimising the violent behaviour of women creates a false shield against a more direct confrontation with genocide and its disconcerting realities […]. Can we apply theories of animal behaviour to the Holocaust? When comparing Nazi perpetrators to animals, one is reminded of the eminent Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer’s comment that applying terms like beastly and bestiality to the Nazis is ‘an insult to the animal kingdom… because animals do not do things like that; the behaviour of the perpetrators was all too human, not inhuman.’ Genocide as an idea and an act is a human phenomenon. Perpetration of genocide requires human cognitive abilities, an ideology of hatred with all its mythic and emotional power and well-developed systems for organising and implementing it. Humans are the only animals that commit genocide.”