When you think of World War II, the holocaust, and the long shadow cast by Nazism – and you try to think of the people who made those atrocious crimes possible – you probably think of Hitler’s inner circle.
Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Albert Speer, Karl Dontz and – of course – Adolf Hitler himself. Indeed, the vast majority of individuals who were eventually put on trial at Nuremberg were men.
These men are the symbols of the Nazi regime; but a chilling new book is looking at the perpetrators of crimes who have often gone unmentioned.
Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower is a book about the women– the mothers, and teachers, and housewives, and leaders – who complicity or implicitly supported the Nazi regime.
Like the secretaries who typed up Hitler’s orders to kill. Or filed details of massacres. Or ordered paperwork for the clothes and possessions – of dead men and women – that were to be redistributed among the favoured in Germany.
Administrator Liselotte Meier worked for an SS officer, and reportedly joined him on shooting parties in the snow on weekends. Shooting parties were they would hunt – and kill – Jews.
22-year-old secretary Johanna Altvater worked for a commissar named Wilhelm Westerheid in Ukraine. Some reports of her actions during her time in this role included walking through a makeshift children’ ward, and picking up a child and throwing it to the cement three stories below; luring children with lollies before shooting them in the mouth; and herding women and children using a crop.
Irma Grese was a concentration camp guard – and she was one of the few women to ever be held accountable for her crimes. She was seen as so ‘evil’ that she was not even a woman – she was a beast. Her nickname, ‘The Beautiful Beast’, was testament to this.
Her crimes throughout the war included setting starved guard dogs upon prisoners, and arbitrarily shooting and sadistically beating captives. From reports, it appears that she favoured inflicting ‘punishment’ upon other women.
She was hanged in 1945. At the time, she was only 22-years-old – and had still hurt so many people.
And there were many more women. Women who organised the mass executions. Who manned refreshment tables so that the men murdering Jews, could take breaks. Women who would shoot at Jewish prisoners who came by their houses.
In Hitler’s Furies, Lower writes:
“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.”
Had you ever heard about the role of Nazi women during the war?